The Souls of Half Black Folk

a blog about social and political issues. as i see it. and sports too.

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The Week After 2016

A week ago on Election Day, I made the trip to the Javitz Center in New York City.

I went with the intention of bearing witness to history. I wanted the opportunity to say I saw the exact moment where America turned a corner and took a step towards a more inclusive society.

Instead what I saw before my eyes was hope and optimism turn to tense skepticism turn to sheer horror and genuine, warranted fear.

What I saw and felt was a most painful affirmation that a hearty minority in America was hell bent on preserving a fading cultural identity based on skin color, gender, and sexual orientation under the guise of “economic” understanding and “strong foreign policy.”

The mantra that we draw our strength from our melting pot culture was wholly rejected in just a few hours and I watched it live.

In the subsequent days, I have wrestled with (and continue to wrestle with) the question: where do we go from here?

My politics took a gut punch- I can deal with that. It’s not the first time and likely will not be the last (although perhaps it will be the hardest)- but what really damaged my psyche was the willingness of people who I thought I knew to cast their ballot for someone who qualified on exactly zero levels for the office of President. And perhaps worse, someone who is presently surrounding himself with absolutely no one who will even attempt to enact any mechanism of accountability.

Those that I have shared aspects of my life with, broken bread with, laughed and cried with, embraced and loved decided to side with a candidate who built an entire ethos, persona, and campaign on disparaging others. I don’t know if I will ever be able to reconcile that people who I have made the effort to see the good in decided to choose the principles of endless phobias and isms (and in the post-election, tout this as a massive victory while explaining to others how their reality is in fact not real because things like racism and sexism don’t exist, much to my sarcastic amusement).

Coming to terms with the reality that I personally know people who have made the political decision to embolden neo-nazis, and the kkk among other hate groups gives me tremendous pause and I am really struggling with where, how, and if these people can fit in my life.

Do I hate them? No.

Do I feel betrayed? Absolutely.

What this will mean for the future? I don’t know yet.

What I do know is that it was personal and the wound runs deep.

It’s not a matter of creating political echo chambers. It’s not a matter of creating the safe spaces that are fraudulently disparaged time and time again by those that refuse to take the time to understand the need. It is the pure and simple fact that my trust in them to respect my humanity and the humanity of those that do not share a socially dominant identity is gone.

To me, the claims that now we’re going to be economically prosperous, stronger on the world stage, and that now is the time to come together as a nation under the Star Spangled Banner fall considerably short and feel like a glass brimming at rim with the poison the alt-right has concocted.

The past eight years have seen the economy recover from the brink of long lasting disaster, an increase in those that are insured (although without question, Obamacare has its flaws), crime is statistically at all-time lows (although if you tune in to fox news, you’d think we’re in a constant state of civil war), we’ve made significant strides toward opening the gates to Cuba, and a (tumultuous) legalization of same-sex marriage. All of this while a Republican House of Representatives (and now Senate), tea party movement, birtherism, and the rise of the white-nationalist alt-right worked tirelessly day and night to undermine all of it. One could make arguments all day about their dislike of President Obama and/ or his administration- he isn’t perfect but the numbers and statistics are there, plain for all to see.

Now it may seem as if the blame is being laid solely on Republicans and conservatives, which is simply untrue. Coastal “elites” (a group which one could make a strong argument that I am presently part of) have collectively looked down on those underrepresented and underserved and have not taken seriously the valid concerns that have been put forth. It is this in conjunction with the conspiracy theories about the “liberal media,” akin to denying climate change or the fact that we did make it to the moon that has served as the heavy weight dragging us down into the deep abyss where we are now.

But now that we are here- in the dark trenches of this personal and political despair that I am making the conscious decision to hold on to the virtue of hope. The same hope I watched evaporate in the Javitz Center under a literal glass ceiling that contained us, can be recaptured- it’s going to take hard work and a considerable look in the mirror of who we are as a people, but we have no choice other than to get the job done.

So as we see a spike in hate crimes by folks with dominant identities (in this case, white people) of all ages- physically and verbally harassing people of color, the LGBTQ community and non-Christians, the inevitable thought of “what can I do?” is starting to settle in for many now that the dust has cleared and the early onset of the dark night is upon us.

With such deep cultural and social wounds across a broad swath of American identity and politic, a tremendous opportunity to build strong coalitions and movements based on existing infrastructure and systems presents itself. It is under this framework that the collective intellectual might of the people can be brought together (and when I use together, I mean not in the sense that we blindly support a white nationalist, racist, sexist, bigoted President-elect, but together in the sense that we embrace all of our backgrounds and humanity- something that the President-elect has made clear he will not participate in during his year-and-a-half long campaign).

We can continue to construct the visionary future we deserve with a tenacity and vigor like never before.

We can and must unite in this night.

The key to building is taking the time to acknowledge our own privileges and check them at the door for the greater good.

In other words- get yo’ people.

I know my identity as a cis-gender, heterosexual, Black, “over-educated,” man gives me certain deficiencies in the way I am seen (like being falsely perceived as non-intellectual and violent among a laundry list of prejudicial views), but it also affords me comforts and audience that others do not have access to.

I need to be willing to listen to the viewpoints of those that don’t share my identity and that have been forced to live on different margin of society that I do- perhaps more importantly, I need to encourage- rather demand, those that share my identities do the same.

It’s most certainly not easy or comfortable but it needs to be done and it is long, long overdue.

The highly educated can no longer look down upon those that have not had that opportunity.

Men can no longer grip tight the false belief that they are somehow superior to women.

Black men must come to terms with sexism, homophobia, colorisms, among other isms and false fears that have plagued our community and contribute to the erasure of others.

And those are just things that people who share my identity can do. None of this is particularly new thought, but it yet again demands to be said.

I could roll on with other identities but there is a certain power to self-discovery through the truth of an “other” that I won’t strip from someone reading this.

We’re going to have tumultuous times ahead of us and I take solace in the fact that the majority of those that participated in the election reject the notion that the President-elect represents what our values have the potential to be.

I believe in the power of the people and the power of the people gives us hope.

So as I sit with the inability to dedicate complete focus to anything beyond the thought that we face the steepest climb and most dire (proverbial) battles ahead. I find myself cornered into explaining my reconciliation with truths such as my respect and admiration for those who serve the country in the military with my decreasing ability to find reason to stand an anthem that celebrates a nation that has explicitly spoken out against my very existence through the electoral process (which to be very clear- can be reconciled but many folks have trouble wrapping their minds around it), I offer this:

We must not rest on a crescendo with the bogus notion that things will take care of themselves, but we all must acknowledge that we are enough.

If you’re mad in this moment… Good.

Now use that motivation to do good for yourself and those around you.

Look to your left and look to your right and bring those people on the journey to the top with you.

There are a lot more folks out there counting on you than you might believe.

 

 

 

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Her.

In 2012, I was all about Texts from Hillary. It encapsulated so much about how I identify as a Millennial. The memes were pure magic mixed in with smart pettiness, top notch wit and an ability to capture the internet’s lightning in a bottle. I was there for all of it. It spoke to how my generation communicated and I was ready for the ’16 election.

When I left my job at a power-player communications firm in D.C. to move to the mid-west for grad school in 2014, I thought to myself that it couldn’t be better timing for my then-aspirations to work all the angles to land a job on the Hillary 2016 campaign to help get her to the White House.

But in 2014, the death of Michael Brown brought out some of America’s hidden demons. Like gutter slime crawling out of the bellows of the darkest shadows of our nation’s most sinister sewers; racism and negative race relations came to the forefront of a national discussion.

Now, I have always considered myself a socially conscious Brother, but in 2014- I became more keenly and acutely aware of my Blackness than I ever had before.

For my own survival, my identity shifted from a Millennial who is Black to a Black Millennial.

I started to speak out both publicly and privately. To me, the most salient political issues became the ones that would allow me- along with other marginalized, criminalized and stigmatized communities to live our full lives and access our full citizenship.

As the 2016 race began to heat up, I watched carefully and critically as the candidates distinguished themselves from each other.

No one on the Republican side stood out. With the exception of Rand Paul who said some semi-woke (emphasis on semi) stuff about criminal justice reform, it was clear the GOP was going to completely throw their 2012 autopsy report, which included the provision to actually listen to people of color, out the window and continue their death march to what is now the alt-right.

The GOP wasn’t about me and I most certainly was not about them. Any of them.

On the Democratic ticket, Martin O’Malley completely lost me when he used America’s favorite silencer of Black voices- “All Lives Matter” on stage. Even though he later apologized, I already hit him with the deuces and so it was between Hillary and Bernie.

Bernie Sanders, said the stuff that raised my eye brows and had me nodding my head a bit, all the while story after story broke about the Hillary that had me more and more disappointed.

Her staff that may or may not have shown up to the Movement for Black Lives summit in Cleveland, the ghost of the ’94 Crime Bill, the “super predator” comment, the silencing of protestors at a fundraiser, among other fumbles not the least of which included her number one surrogate and husband, Bill Clinton trying to tell some protesters how they should live their lives.

Nope. I wasn’t having any of it.

I voted for Bernie in the primary.

But as I saw the Grand Old Party light a big orange dumpster on fire and present it to the nation as something that is somehow qualified to be president- I knew that this wasn’t the time to play around.

As the GOP nominee continues to lie to the country, promise to break the constitution to put people of color back in chains by resurrecting failed and outlawed policies and degrade any and everyone who isn’t a white male, it is time I re-examine where I take my vote in just a few weeks.

Like anyone, Hillary Clinton isn’t perfect. She isn’t my dream candidate by any stretch, but through it all, she has demonstrated an ability to learn from her mistakes. Some would call it pandering to our community and some would say that this is the time to protest by not voting but what we can’t overlook is that Secretary Clinton has left several avenues for us to hold her accountable.

Secretary Clinton has made (and it’s on her website, so we have the receipts) issues that pertain to Black people central to her platform. Her positions on dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline, ending private prisons, banning the box, and making college affordable are all pretty much in line with the Movement for Black Lives Policy Platform which launched in August. Is it perfect? No. Does it have everything the Movement has put forth? Far from it. But it demonstrates that unlike the goon on the other side, she is willing to listen. Further- it leaves the door open so we can toast the small victories as we continue to build and organize toward our visionary future.

Even more recently, Hillary Clinton paid homage to victims of gun violence and police brutality in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her opponent doesn’t have the class, dignity, or empathy to do the same. He doesn’t have the courage to face the storm of racism his supporters will inevitably bring if he stood up for Black lives and this cycle, if we choose to abstain from voting or toss our vote to a third-party candidate that is precisely what will make it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

I just checked my watch, and I don’t have time for that.

A direct product of the policies she has advocated for are the people that Hillary Clinton surrounds herself with. We too often see presidential politics be about one person and this race couldn’t be further from that fallacy. Secretary Clinton has created a circle of good people who truly understand the issues the Black community faces at all levels. And although she hasn’t always demonstrated a complete understanding of the issues herself, the people around her will get her up to speed because they know the issues and more importantly, they are connected to the people that live through them every day.

With Hillary Clinton, our community of Black Millennials will have several seats at the table. And although several seats is nowhere near what we want or need, it is a step forward with the alternative being completely locked out of the process, again.

We can’t stand to have walls and chains separating us from who we are destined to become.

And although she isn’t perfect, none of us are.

In 2016, she is the right choice for our community.

When it comes to the election this November…

I’m with her.

 

Full Context of DC Police Shoving Man on 9/17

I was going to post this video last night, but I was so angry after witnessing this, I knew I needed to calm down before I shared this interaction my fiance and I witnessed in DC.

—-

So last night, my fiance and I went out to dinner near the convention center in DC.

As we were leaving, we noticed law enforcement and Secret Service get in to position as the President was getting ready to leave.

When this happens, people that are standing nearby are required to stay on the sidewalk until the motorcade leaves. It’s pretty standard in DC and frankly the novelty is lost because it happens all the time and causes delays as people try to get around pretty frequently.

We watched as the President and all seemingly endless vehicles exited the convention center and presumably returned to the White House.

My fiance filmed the procession from my phone as it was the last time The President was going to attend the Congressional Black Caucus gala.

About a minute after the motorcade had left- and was completely out of sight and sound, the police officers blocking off the side walk had not yet signaled for traffic to resume as normal and an employee who was trying to get to work inside of the convention center approached the officer (it is important to note here that the employee had a bicycle and approached the officer respectfully, slowly and in absolutely no manner that could be presumed threatening in any capacity).

Almost immediately the officer pounced on this dude trying to relive his high school football glory days and yelled at the man to get off the bike.

As the man attempted to get off his bike, he was trying to keep his balance and stay on his feet as the officer kept pushing him yelling “Don’t do it” (“don’t do what” is a question that deserves to be asked because he was doing EXACTLY as instructed- getting off his bike- as a man who weighed significantly more was aggressively pushing him while he was still partially on his bike-).

As the crowd that was there watched, the man vented his frustration as the officer that was just shoving him stood silently, tight jaw and muscles flexed -A stance I have seen from people in the past that were or were about to be engaged in a fist fight-

As my fiance ended her filming of the incident another police officer (the bald one) asked her asked her in a threatening manner “Are you done?” And as he realized that she and I were together, proceeded to engage me in a stare down (again, one that I have seen between people about to engage in a fight).

Once we realized the man was not going to be harmed further or arrested, we left and went home.

——-

Wearing a badge doesn’t give you the right to relieve yourself from having basic human decency or from having compassion for another individual. There were 10,000 other less aggressive and threatening ways this situation could have been handled, but this officer chose to escalate tension through violence in this situation.

I choose to share this because changes need to be made and officers like this need to be held accountable.

We talk about (and these days throw money at) police/ community relation improvement projects frequently, but time and time again, actions speak louder than words.

This man was just asking the officer if he could get to his job and was met with excessive force- and his question unanswered.

We’re years overdue for change.

I Ran Up On a Homeless Dude

It was a sweltering hot Saturday in DC and I had made plans to hang out with some of my friends I hadn’t seen in a while. I had brought back some Cuban cigars from my recent trip abroad and wanted to share the goods while we caught up at their Vegas-style rooftop pool; a quintessential way to spend a stereotypical, millennial weekend with the “bros.”

I pulled up around 1pm and we all agreed it was time to eat- Potbelly’s was right across the street so it was an obvious decision what we were going to do next.

As we walked up to Potbelly’s, a man- who I assumed was homeless- walked up to me and said “Excuse me can I have a moment of your time?” My reaction was almost automatic- “Sorry, not today.” A built up and acquired “defense mechanism” developed from years of getting asked for money on the street when I barely had enough to pay my bills and support myself while working two jobs.

My reaction was instantaneous. I put up a wall blocking all human interaction. To him, it was likely a moment in time where I completely invalidated his entire humanity with a ever-so-polite “fuck you” as I carried on with my day.

He was not satisfied with the fact I was unwilling to listen so he pressed me- “well, why not?”

I replied- “I’m in a hurry and don’t have time right now” as I opened to the door to get my sandwich- a semi-true statement as I was hungry and really had to use the restroom.

As the door began to close behind me- what was likely his building frustration bubbled to the surface and I was the one who he took it out on.

“Fuck you, you mother fucker- you must have forgot where the fuck you come from…”

The door shut and he could be seen, visibly irate, sweat glistening on his forehead storming off down the street.

My first emotion was to kick the door down and storm outside. Run up on this man and give him a piece of my mind. Let him know he has no idea who I was and he had no business talking to me like that. I was going about my day as I pleased and I didn’t want my to be interrupted- that I didn’t want to be inconvenienced…

I calmed down.

I distilled my emotions down to- I didn’t want to be inconvenienced.

I. Didn’t. Want. To. Be. Inconvenienced.

My friend and I then went on to discuss how it’s an unfortunate and a difficult situation to be approached and (what we assumed was coming next) asked for money.

We rarely know a person’s back-story. Who they are, where they come from and how they reached the point of being on the street are usually a mystery. And so our hearts go out, we throw some coins here and there and keep it moving…

I did in that moment what I (and perhaps a collective “we”) do too often. We just don’t want to be inconvenienced- so we say some form of “I’m not going to be bothered with this” and move along.

The rest of the day went according to plan. We hung out at the pool, listened to some music, smoked the cigars, caught up with each other; we enjoyed the day.

As it was time for me to leave, I headed to my car- I was still thinking about this guy. I a bit upset he cussed me out on the street and made assumptions about who I was- but I was more upset at myself for dismissing this man.

To an infinitely less degree, I know what its like to feel that sense of desperation. Like you’re walking around in a glass bubble and no one can see, hear, or be bothered with your struggle. I know that sense of frustration- but I know what it can mean for that one person to smile at you, show you kindness and humanity or just ask how your doing to validate you as a human being.

Driving down the street I saw him again. With a bit more sweat on his brow, pacing the same sidewalk where he read me his version of the Riot Act a few hours earlier.

I kept driving.

But as I reached the first stoplight, I said to myself- “Hold up man, you can’t live like this.”

I pulled a U-turn and parked the car.

I ran up on this dude.

Without hesitation he began to say: “Hey man, I’m really hungry can you help me get something to eat…” The look in his eyes had softened- I don’t think he remembered verbally ripping me to shreds on the ungodly hot sidewalk earlier that day- but in this moment, he looked like a man that just needed and deserved someone to hear him out.

I stopped him mid-sentence.

I said “Look, I’m not sure if you remember me- but I’m the guy you cussed out earlier on the street because I said I was in a hurry.”

His eyes got that “Oh shit, I’m in trouble” wide eye and he immediately proceeded to apologize profusely.

I stopped him again.

I told him “You have no reason to apologize, we both get it wasn’t cool to cuss me out like that but I understand that you’re probably really exhausted and frustrated and you happened to take that out on me when I dismissed you. But I told you I didn’t have time then but I saw you as I was going by again and now I have time. So I came back to listen to you.”

He then told me he was hungry and was hoping for some money so he could get something to eat.

I asked what he wanted to eat and he said “Potbelly’s.”

Unfortunately, Potbelly’s was closed so we went to the Roti next door.

We hopped in line and I asked him what his name was.

Chris.

Chris told me he’s 36 years old and recently got out of jail. He said he was imprisoned for failing to be able to afford a court fee- the same type of issue that caused unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. He said he can’t afford to eat and save money to pay his court fees. He just wanted to get something to take back to his homeless shelter- something to sustain him for the day.

As I looked down at his arm and saw his prison tats and a wristband that identified him to some institution (perhaps a hospital, a shelter, the jail he had said he had been in recently, I’m unsure), I couldn’t help but think of all the possible policy failures he’s encountered in his life that have allowed him to slip through the cracks of our society to reach this point. Racialized politics, economic policy, mental health policy among so many others. My mind was racing.

I asked him what he wanted.

A “chicken sandwich.”

I said: “Do you want two- one for now and one for later?”

He gave me a look that indicated he wasn’t sure if I was serious or not.

“Get whatever you want.” I said.

He got two sandwiches, a large soda and a water. It was $19.74.

As we parted ways, he thanked me what seemed like a hundred times and apologized again.

I told him “No need to say you’re sorry. Just do your best to get back on your feet.”

My words felt like they fell just short. In that moment I had a deep yearning to do more for this man- to help him find a job, a home. To help him gets to where he wants to go.

But in this moment, I was only capable of getting him something to eat.

As I got back into my car I saw him walking down the street sipping his soda. The look of frustration and despair temporarily missing from his face- temporarily missing until he’s forced to do this again the next time he’s hungry.

I went home.

As I processed this and shared with friends what had happened- I got props. People gave me the proverbial pat on the back saying I did a great thing.

I don’t deserve that.

If anything, I owe Chris a thank you.

He reminded me in his moment of frustration that boiled over on a blistering hot day that I have privilege and a power to wield. That I can influence lives and make the world around me a better place.

He reminded me why I chose public policy as a field and why I hope to one day serve my community as an elected official.

He reminded me why I use policy as a tool to contribute to the Movement for Black Lives.

He reminded me that I have something to give and that if I don’t give that each and every day in every aspect of my life, I need to reevaluate what I’m doing.

He reminded me that if we choose to be convenient all the time- we’re never going to come together, that we’re never going to make the progress necessary to be our collective best.

He put me in check and I deserved it.

Perhaps the $19.74 I spent will just go toward sandwiches and soda- but maybe it will give him the boost he needed to take that step to get back on his feet. Maybe this post will inspire someone to pay it forward in some aspect of their life. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t.

Frankly though, this $19.74 and a cussing out on the street reminded me of the man I am and the man I want to become.

I don’t know if Chris will ever see this, but really all I can say to him is:

Thank you.

 

 

 

I Believe

I was recently tasked with writing a This I Believe style piece for one of my graduate school classes. I found it relevant to share as it we deeply personal and reflective for me and I wanted to share. 

I will never forget where I was or how I felt on September 11th, 2001. I was in 8th grade in Albany, New York. I had recently started at a new school and was in the process of making friends and learning my way around. It was Tuesday morning and I was in Spanish class when the teacher paused with concern. I’ll never forget how somber the mood turned when we began to listen to the coverage of the events unfolding not all that far from where we were. I remember as the day went on, I experienced a range of emotions- I was sad, confused, scared, angry all at once. I’ll never forget what that feeling was like; knowing my life was going to be impacted- tremendously and forever but unsure how.

September 11th proved to be a crossroads and an opportunity for our nation to shape its future.

On August 9th, 2014 I remember lying in bed watching television. The news was covering the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Missouri shot by a police officer and the same feelings began to manifest deep within. I knew my life was going to change- and dramatically so, I just didn’t know how.

Racism and systemic oppression in the United States have been problematic in the United States since the days of what some call the nation’s original sin, slavery. Since then, our country has constructed a hierarchal class system derived from hue of skin that has permeated throughout countless aspects of everyday life and has spanned generations from the arrival of early settlers through today.

On August 9th, it reared its ugly head.

Since then, we have seen a tragic polarization of socio-political beliefs that have brought forth ugly divisions previously lurking in the shadows; a polarization that has personally led me to find disheartening fissures even among my own family and friends.

Calls for equal treatment have been manipulated into “anti-cop” rhetoric. Demands for justice have been twisted into charges of hypersensitivity. Acknowledgement of a mantra, #BlackLivesMatter has been stripped of its meaning and intent and rebranded into #AllLivesMatter- an attempt to make a Movement more palatable while silencing members of our society that have been rendered voiceless from the beginning.

This inability to reconcile with our nations shortcomings and history has in just over a year, torn our social and moral fiber asunder. This I believe will prove to be the greatest challenge of our generation.

On August 9th, opportunity presented itself.

No success has been appreciated without adversity. No victory celebrated without threat or challenge and we have reached a crossroads yet again. Do we wish to reconcile with our past and present to shape our future? Or do we wish to turn a blind eye to our brothers and sisters that have yet been granted the opportunity to reach full citizenship?

I have dedicated a large portion of the past year protesting, reflecting, writing and devising ways in which I think our nation can improve. It has led me to great people that I otherwise would have never had met and it has forced me to reconcile with my own beliefs and levels of comfort within my own being.

On August 9th, I reached a crossroads and chose the path I believe will allow me to leave this world a better place than how I found it. It is my belief that our nation will rise up out of the turmoil, division and ashes to rebirth itself into the great nation we purport to be. At this critical juncture, I believe that we must choose the path for better, the one that will shape our future to be the best that it can. This I believe.

Stand Your Ground and Jeb’s Missed Opportunity

Last month, Time Magazine wrote an article titled #BlackLivesMatter Is Winning The Democratic Primary, an ode to the hard work and resilience shown by grassroots activists combating the criminalization and stigmatization of Black Communities around the country. Last week, Presidential Candidate, Jeb Bush took the stage in front of the National Urban League in his home state of Florida with the opportunity to convey the message to people across the country that he and his fellow Republicans take the Movement for Black Lives seriously and are committed to polices that will truly help all Americans. However, he missed a tremendous opportunity to talk about a law that has disproportionately plagued the Black population his state, the Stand Your Ground law.

 Stand Your Ground effectively allows citizens to defend themselves, even outside of their own homes with deadly force if they deem necessary. Florida enacted the law in 2005 and since the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012, Stand Your Ground has been centered in controversy in the American racial and political consciousness. Although initially intended as a measure of self-defense, we’ve seen the law work to further marginalize black people and allow known killers to walk free.

Mr. Bush talked up his record of building schools and giving opportunities to Black youth in Florida, but how does that help the families of Trayvon Martin or Jordan Davis? Both were high school students, now martyrs for those fighting to end systemic oppression while demanding greater equality in our legal system. The lack of mention of Stand Your Ground to a largely Black audience only demonstrated the Bush camp is tone deaf to the issues that our communities face.

In 2010, Marissa Alexander, a then 29-year-old Black woman, mother of three and victim of domestic violence, fired a single warning shot in the air to scare off her abusive husband, she hurt no one.  After a trial, it was ruled that Alexander defending herself from her assailant was worthy the mandatory minimum 20-year sentence. After nearly three years of incarceration, countless protests around the country and intervention from the NAACP, Alexander was released in early 2015. Stand Your Ground did not work for Marissa Alexander who was in fact under attack. Instead under a plea deal, she is a convicted felon- a mark that stigmatizes her by making it more difficult to land a job and losing her right to vote– the cornerstone of American democracy. Is this justice? No.

As we approach 2016, we must understand that the politics of respectability must be cast aside. It didn’t matter that Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis were on the path to becoming high school graduates or something beyond. It didn’t matter that Marissa Alexander is a loving mother who was capable of providing for her children. What we saw was instituted policy that did not work for Black people and further, we saw as a Presidential candidate completely ignore a major issue that has been problematic right in his home state.

It its current form, the Stand Your Ground law leaves much to interpretation based on the perception of individual fear and has the capability to legalize the murder of an individual because of implicit bias, prejudice or racism. Nationally, we’ve seen an increase in justified murders and perhaps more troubling, we’ve see a disproportionate number of white on black killings justified. In order for the law to work, we must establish a higher threshold of individual responsibility for those that wish to employ the law on their behalf.

Mr. Bush said that he will work with us to better communities, as our “neighbor or President” but his remarks on Friday were a painful reminder that he doesn’t understand the plight of all his neighbors. He responded to Martin O’Malley’s apology for his “black lives matter, white lives matter, all lives matter” comment at the Netroots Summit in Arizona by saying “Life is precious. It’s a gift from God.” If he really meant that, he must take a stand against his state’s law and acknowledge that it has destroyed lives and that for black people it upholds inequality.

If Mr. Bush is serious about “working for every vote,” then building the bridge from the community to justice involves the reformation of Stand Your Ground in Florida so that it truly works for everyone. If Mr. Bush is going to be a contender and the candidate for all Americans, he needs to know we’re not just here to win the Democratic Primary, we’re here to win the general election. It’s our duty and Mr. Bush needs to listen.

Politics, Policy and Change, Driven by the People

Aura Rosser March(Photo:Spring 2015 March in Ann Arbor for Aura Rosser who was killed by Ann Arbor Police in November 2014)

Over the course of the past 11 months its feels as if nearly 65 years of history has repeated itself. The deaths of unarmed people of color at the hands of law enforcement, the militarization of police, Black teens harassed and barred from swimming at a pool party, the murder of nine innocent churchgoers at a prayer worship and the burning of Black churches have all highlighted that despite what we may want to believe, much work is left to be done. Over the course of the past few weeks we may have reached a critical junction as lawmakers across the country, at the highest levels office in the nation have begun to take measures that Black Lives Matter even though they may not have said those words explicitly. However, in this moment within the Movement, it is important to acknowledge the work and the sacrifice of community activists and organizers around the country that have got us to this point and will serve as the trailblazers and leaders that guide us into the future of our generation.

President Obama recently commuted the sentences of nearly 50 nonviolent drug offenders and became the first sitting President to ever visit a Federal Prison. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, through an executive order, underscored the need to appoint a special prosecutor in cases involving police murders of those unarmed. Even South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley was on board with the removal of the confederate flag.

Criminal justice, community policing, racism and issues that disproportionately affect communities of color have come to the forefront of American consciousness and it is because of the tireless work of the people.

Politics and policy are largely reactionary bodies. Concerns are raised and through the democratic process, in theory, and change is made to meet the challenges faced by the governed at the time. In December, thousands took the streets of New York City to express their anger and frustration at now Congressman Dan Donovan’s failure to indict the officer that murdered Eric Garner with his bare hands.

The people could not breathe and we demanded space to catch our breath from those we elected to lead.

Seven months later, we have Governor Cuomo announcing plans to mitigate future failures like the one Mr. Donovan committed.

In the twilight of his Presidency, Mr. Obama has implicitly made it clear that he has seen our hands up and has made strides towards making criminal justice reform his enduring legacy. This is a good thing, but again, like Governor Cuomo in New York, this was a move powered by the indomitable will of the people- marching, dying-in, tweeting, writing- demanding change. And although some of the measures that have been established have not gone far enough, organizers and activists have commanded the attention of the political establishment.

Later this month, these activists and organizers will come together in Cleveland, Ohio, a city itself plagued by police violence to discuss the future of the Movement for Black Lives. A show of solidarity, but more importantly the physical manifestation of sentiments that have been brewing for far too long. This convening will provide a healing space, training ground and incubator of activist intellect to develop the strategies and resources necessary to continue to move our nation’s policy makers in the direction of progress. Our Constitution bestowed upon us the right to demand change and if we are to hold true to the notion that ALL men and women are created equal, we must be willing to speak and listen the truth to power and continue to march so that we all have access to full citizenship and that justice- which is something that should be guaranteed, is not something that must be demanded.

My VERY Preliminary Thoughts on Rachel Dolezal and the Need to Listen to What Black Women Have to Say

Recently a friend asked me for my thoughts on Rachel Dolezal via Facebook.

At the moment I was just enjoying the memes, gifs, and other jokes via the internet, specifically Twitter but there is also a serious discussion to be had. In the very early stages of this developing story, I think it is important to step back and understand that we need to be good listeners as Black women speak their truth to power and share their sentiments surrounding the depth and complexities of this particular incident.

Here was my response to my friend and I hope that it contributes to a thoughtful discussion about race, gender and identity.

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Right now I’m just enjoying the jokes because they haven’t gone too far (yet… which they likely will at some point).

The complexities to this are deep and it would be better to formulate a concrete opinion after better understand the WHY part of this first. 

All that said, one can make the argument (in the context of time and what we know) that she did this to profit and raise her profile off of a culture that is oppressed that she does not belong to. I further think it is unfair to use the comparison of race and gender here because although they deal with identity and some would say constructs of society, it’s not the same (similar to comparing experiences across different races, cultures or religions.. read: its not fair to compare the struggles and discrimination faced by Black people and Jewish people throughout history. Both have a deep history of extreme trauma and discrimination endured but to argue which group had and/ or has it worse is unfair, divisive and entirely unproductive). 

It would probably have been better/ not controversial if she just said something like: “I am a white woman who is interested in Black scholarship and would like to use my skills, abilities and passion to be an ally towards making true diversity and equality a real thing.” 

Again- based on what we know now, it seems a bit like cultural theft that can be viewed along the same lines that we have seen criticism of Katy Perry and Iggy Azalea. And own personal, brief and still formulating opinion only very slightly alludes to the experiences of Black women but I am not an authority or expert on that experience so I will step back and allow Black women to speak their truth because me speaking on their behalf is not my place.

Walking the Line of Blackness

Since December, my classmates and I at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy worked hard to put together a video that is a collective of our Black experience. Below is the introduction I wrote for the film’s screening. I hope that you’re able to take a look at this film and see it as a point for conversation. In this world we all have privilege and it is important to acknowledge that we as graduate students understand ours and wish to use it to put forth an important message that too often goes unheard.

Walking the Line of Blackness is a pinnacle moment of pride for me and I hope the film inspires you encourages you to make a positive change in your community, whatever that may be.

Over the past few months, we have witnessed increased media coverage of unarmed Black and Brown bodies- slain after interactions with the police.

The incidents have sparked a national discussion about race and what it means to be recognized as a full citizen within the United States.

As students of public policy, it is our duty to acknowledge and recognize that in order to craft the best solutions to the challenges we face today, it is our responsibility to comprehend that the struggle for an inclusive society cannot be fully realized without acknowledging the backgrounds and experiences of “others.”

Too often we look at issues that face communities of color and we see it as an issue that affects “others.” We don’t see it is our collective problem and we fail to recognize that we are the keepers of our own destiny. If we truly desire to make this world a better place, it starts with us.

Last semester, the Ford School hosted a powerful community discussion about race and although it was by no means comprehensive it inspired a group of students to take action. 

We hope that this film serves as a launching point of inspiration to do something about the issues that we all face today. Further we hope that this brings us even closer together as a community so that we can move forward as one to tackle the challenges of both today and tomorrow.

This evening we will take you on a brief journey, Walking the Line of Blackness to give you a glimpse of what it is like to be Black at Ford, Black at Michigan, Black in America through our own, very personal lenses.

We must understand that apathy is silence and silence is consent. We must further challenge ourselves to have uncomfortable conversations and to see the world through the eyes of persons that may not look like us. Without that compassion, we do not stand a chance.

 

We invite you to walk the line of Blackness with us.

The Movement Must Live

The hardest part of marching, protesting and uplifting #BlackLivesMatter is coming face to face with the reality that people lose human empathy of the color of one’s skin.

The fact is, that each time we take to the streets over the loss of life, it takes me to a dark place in my mind. It’s monumentally difficult to find love in such darkness but that is the burden that I, that WE have been tasked with. We will shoulder that weight and carry it will all of our strength so that my future children and their children will not have to.

If that is difficult for you to understand, I cannot blame you, but it is our reality. Racism is alive and well and we have systems in place that enable it.

My only ask is that you look within yourself and find compassion for your fellow human and acknowledge the reality that we live with today and do your part, whatever that may be to stride towards equality for all regardless of race, gender, creed, sexuality or any other mechanism in place that strives to divide us.

If we cannot overcome, if we cannot find it within ourselves to change the reality we exist in today our society will be torn asunder and our children and grandchildren will be forced to live in a world that we failed to make better.

The only blame that will exist will be derived from the mirror you gaze upon as you sit idle as the fabric that holds us together in brother and sisterhood is ripped apart forever.

The Movement must live. The future depends on it.