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Repost: Michelle Alexander on Recent Shootings and What We Are Called to Do

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Last week was an extremely challenging week on a number of levels. As I continue to process my own thoughts and embrace longings for love to prevail and supersede the hate that is deeply ingrained in our country I share this commentary by Michelle Alexander – one of my absolute favorite authorities on social justice in America. 

I have struggled to find words to express what I thought and felt as I watched the videos of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile being killed by the police. Last night, I wanted to say something that hasn’t been said a hundred times before. It finally dawned on me that there is nothing to say that hasn’t been said before. As I was preparing to write about the oldness of all of this, and share some wisdom passed down from struggles of earlier eras, I heard on the news that 11 officers had been shot in Dallas, several killed from sniper fire. My fingers froze on the keys. I could not bring myself to recycle old truths. Something more is required. But what?

I think we all know, deep down, that something more is required of us now. This truth is difficult to face because it’s inconvenient and deeply unsettling. And yet silence isn’t an option. On any given day, there’s always something I’d rather be doing than facing the ugly, racist underbelly of America. I know that I am not alone. But I also know that the families of the slain officers, and the families of all those who have been killed by the police, would rather not be attending funerals. And I’m sure that many who refused to ride segregated buses in Montgomery after Rosa Parks stood her ground wished they could’ve taken the bus, rather than walk miles in protest, day after day, for a whole year. But they knew they had to walk. If change was ever going to come, they were going to have to walk. And so do we.

What it means to walk today will be different for different people and different groups and in different places. I am asking myself tonight what I need to do in the months and years to come to walk my walk with greater courage. It’s a question that requires some time and reflection. I hope it’s a question we are all asking ourselves.

In recent years, I have come to believe that truly transformative change depends more on thoughtful creation of new ways of being than reflexive reactions to the old. What is happening now is very, very old. We have some habits of responding to this familiar pain and trauma that are not serving us well. In many respects it’s amazing that we endure at all. I am inspired again and again by so much of the beautiful, brilliant and daring activism that is unfolding all over the country. Yet I also know that more is required than purely reactive protest and politics. A profound shift in our collective consciousness must occur, a shift that makes possible a new America.

I know many people believe that our criminal justice system can be “fixed” by smart people and smart policies. President Obama seems to think this way. He suggested yesterday that police-community relations can be improved meaningfully by a task force he created last year. Yes, a task force. I used to think like that. I don’t anymore. I no longer believe that we can “fix” the police, as though the police are anything other than a mirror reflecting back to us the true nature of our democracy. We cannot “fix” the police without a revolution of values and radical change to the basic structure of our society. Of course important policy changes can and should be made to improve police practices. But if we’re serious about having peace officers — rather than a domestic military at war with its own people— we’re going to have to get honest with ourselves about who our democracy actually serves and protects.

Consider this: Philando Castile had been stopped 31 times and charged with more than 60 minor violations – resulting in thousands of dollars in fines – before his last, fatal encounter with the police. See http://www.dailymail.co.uk/…/Man-shooting-death-hand-cop-st….

Alton Sterling was arrested because he was hustling, selling CDs to get by. He was unable to work in the legal economy due to his felony record. His act of survival was treated by the police as a major crime, apparently punishable by death.

How many people on Wall Street have been arrested for their crimes large and small — crimes of greed and fraud that nearly bankrupted the global economy and destroyed the futures of millions of families? How many politicians have been prosecuted for taking millions of dollars from private prisons, prison guard unions, pharmaceutical companies, oil companies, tobacco companies, the NRA and Wall Street banks and doing their bidding for them — killing us softly? Oh, that’s right, taking millions from those folks isn’t even a crime. Democrats and Republicans do it every day. Our entire political system is financed by wealthy private interests buying politicians and making sure the rules are written in their favor. But selling CDs or loose cigarettes? In America, that’s treated as a serious crime, especially if you’re black. For that act of survival, you can be wrestled to the ground and choked to death or shot at point blank range. Our entire system of government is designed to protect and serve the interests of the most powerful, while punishing, controlling and exploiting the least advantaged.

This is not hyperbole. And this is not new. What is new is that we’re now watching all of this on YouTube and Facebook, streaming live, as imagined super-predators are brought to heel. Fifty years ago, our country was forced to look at itself in the mirror when television stations broadcast Bloody Sunday, the day state troopers and a sheriff’s posse brutally attacked civil rights activists marching for voting rights in Selma. Those horrifying images, among others, helped to turn public opinion in support of the Civil Rights Movement. Perhaps the images we’ve seen in recent days will make some difference. It’s worth remembering, though, that none of the horrifying images from the Jim Crow era would’ve changed anything if a highly strategic, courageous movement had not existed that was determined to challenge a deeply entrenched system of racial and social control.

This nation was founded on the idea that some lives don’t matter. Freedom and justice for some, not all. That’s the foundation. Yes, progress has been made in some respects, but it hasn’t come easy. There’s an unfinished revolution waiting to be won.

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Every now and again I meet someone and I am simply in awe! Most times, I had no prior knowledge of this person so my becoming aware of them is by some seemingly random event or introduction. Such is the case with Dr. Freeman Hrabowski. Dr. Hrabowski spoke at the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting last week and this is one speech that I will NEVER forget … take a listen: 

Re-Blog: When A Sanctuary Isn’t Safe: Commentary on the Charleston Church Shooting

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Thursday, June 18th marked the 3-year anniversary of my blog! I wanted to write a celebratory post; reflect on the experience of blogging consistently for 3 years; write about how refreshing and renewing this has been. But instead, I was saddened and literally heart-broken as I watched the events in the Charleston Shooting continue to be uncovered. I’ve struggled for the last few days to find just the words to say, etching out only snippets of thoughts on Facebook and reposting much of what family and friends shared. On today, I am thankful for my friend and author of After the Altar Call for her eloquently written post. I am re-blogging it here:

Hello World,

By definition, a sanctuary is a safe place. And a church sanctuary, a place dedicated to God, should be, just ought to be the safest place on earth to dwell. And so when I heard about the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina late Wednesday night, the fact that a church sanctuary is no longer the safest place on earth was my first thought. And if you cannot be safe in a church sanctuary, well, there is really no place else to go except to Heaven…

But I’m not ignorant of American history. American black churches have long been terrorized by racist acts…

Ku Klux Klan members, planted a bomb at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama and killed four girls, Addie Mae Collins, 14; Denise McNair, 11; Carole Robertson, 14; and Cynthia Wesley, 14 on Sept. 15, 1963.

On June 16, 1964, Ku Klux Klan members, who were targeting white civil rights worker Michael Schwerner, burned down Mount Zion Church in Longdale, Mississippi but not before beating the church members as they left the church.

Within hours of the election of President Obama in November 5, 2008, three white men torched Macedonia Church of God in Christ in Springfield, Massachusetts.

And these are just a few of these terrorist acts…

And for American black people, churches have historically been much more than houses of prayer which is why black churches have been targets for racist attacks throughout the years. Aside from endeavoring to usher black people to Heaven, black churches also contributed to the betterment of their members’ lives on earth by being havens as slaves hid themselves along the Underground Railroad to escape slavery, establishing schools at a critical time in the nation’s history when education was often denied black people and affirming our humanity by refusing to allow members to be second-class citizens in their houses of worship…Below are just a few contributions of black churches to America…

First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia was a stop on the Underground Railroad as underneath the lower auditorium floor is another “subfloor.” Only four feet of height separates the floors.

Springfield Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga. is the birthplace of Morehouse College which began as Augusta Bible Institute in 1867. The name of the institute was later renamed Morehouse College, moving to Atlanta in 1879.

According to the Emanuel A.M.E. website, “in 1822 the church was investigated for its involvement with a planned slave revolt. Denmark Vesey, one of the church’s founders, organized a major slave uprising in Charleston…During the Vesey controversy, the AME church was burned. Worship services continued after the church was rebuilt until 1834 when all black churches were outlawed. The congregation continued the tradition of the African church by worshiping underground until 1865 when it was formally reorganized, and the name Emanuel was adopted, meaning ‘God with us.’”

But as our predecessors knew way back when that we have to realize right now is: Until we get Heaven (if that is where you are headed), we have to live right here in this once slavery allowing, gender pay gap perpetuating , Kim Kardashian breaking-the-Internet glorifying, Honey Boo Boo paying, ozone layer puncturing, obesity causing, transracial entertaining, God’s name in vain taking, black lives minimizing, racist white police officers excusing, school shootings fostering, prosperity gospel teaching, government stalling, election stealing, God increasingly marginalizing country of ours…And I’m sure you could add to the list…In other words, no place, not even black church sanctuaries, is safe no matter what we would like them to be.

So what are we to do on this day June 19, Juneteenth and going forward?

As simplistic as this may sound, first of all, we have to make our souls are sanctuaries. Unless, we purge the hate from our hearts, even our souls are vulnerable to the attack of the enemy which I know is the spiritual force that influenced this most recent terrorist Dylan Roof ,who was allowed to come into Emanuel A.M.E. Church’s Bible Study where he subsequently murdered nine innocent people. Ironically, the Bible is the blueprint for the saving of our souls.

Secondly, we have to acknowledge that racism is still here in 2015 despite our black president and all of the other accomplishments black people have amassed in recent decades. In fact, and I may be mistaken, the election of President Obama seems to have galvanized racists in a way that rivals the terrorism of white supremacists decades ago.

Thirdly, black people, white people, people that love people, all people need to find ways to promote racial reconciliation whether that be in politics, churches, in school systems, at the grocery store, etc.

In big ways and in small ways, we have to REFUSE to succumb to the prevailing notion that we are different. People may have different ways of expressing themselves and we can celebrate and should appreciate our differences, but underneath it all, we are all creations of God no matter how He grouped us.

I don’t know if my words will make a bit of difference, but this is my commentary on sanctuaries, church or otherwise, in 2015. There are none and never have been except the ones that we create within our soulds through God and take with us when we die and return to God.

At the very least, please pray for the friends and families of those slain by this terrorist…And if you live in the metro Atlanta area, there will be a prayer vigil to demonstrate solidarity with those grieving in South Carolina on Saturday evening, 6/20, at 8pm at Stockbridge City Hall, 4640 N Henry Blvd, Stockbridge, GA 30281.

Being Black …

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http://blackartinamerica.com/

http://blackartinamerica.com/

It’s the end of the semester and I so badly want to celebrate, but how can I??? I find myself struggling daily to find hope in what seems to be a season of despair and hopelessness. As I continue to watch responses to the Eric Garner verdict and ongoing responses to the Michael Brown grand jury verdict, I am convinced that there are some people that just don’t get it. While I want more than anything to join my former classmates in a die in, I am stuck finishing homework so I write instead. Sidebar: I am reminded that life is a series of choices. Last week friends gathered to protest but my mom was visiting and at home sick. Today I have chosen to stay at home and finish my homework – I have mixed emotions about my choices and often wonder where I would’ve been during the 60s. If the whole aim is to interrupt, do we not gather in spite of our regularly scheduled programs (schedules)? Food for thought …

My hope is that someone who really wants to understand a different perspective will take a moment to read this post.

I am a 30-something year-old Black woman. I have 3 college degrees and am working on a doctorate. I DO NOT have a criminal record. In spite of the aforementioned, this is what it is like for me to be Black in America:

  • There are neighborhoods that I refuse to drive through after dark.
  • While traveling with my family, friends or white colleagues, I get nervous if we eat at restaurants in neighborhoods that are not diverse or stop in stores that I fear are not accustomed to seeing and serving Black clients.
  • I have entered a room after completing a phone interview and am pretty sure that the people did NOT expect a Black woman to walk through the door.
  • When I travel home to visit my family I am EXTRA cautious about obeying all traffic laws and being at or close to home afterhours for fear of being pulled over by the cops and any subsequent results
  • I often struggle with when and how to comment in class with an acknowledgment that I may be labeled as the “angry Black woman”.
  • I have been the only Black woman in several classes and felt very strongly that the aforementioned is true.
  • I enter high-end retail stores with a presumption that I will be looked at and treated differently because I am not wearing a particular (or often visible) label or other physical status symbol.
  • I often dine at restaurants and wonder if another table will be treated differently than mine or if our service will vary because the waiter/waitress believes that “Black people don’t tip.”
  • I believe the American education, legal and healthcare system has failed Black people on multiple occasions.
  • I THINK ABOUT RACE, THE IMPACT OF MY ACTIONS, HOW I AM PERCEIVED, WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF I AM INVOLVED IN SOME SORT OF LEGAL INFRACTION OFTEN!!!

As a Black woman in the U.S. who has participated in many of the things that other  think guarantee equality – higher education, work force contributions, extensive travel in the U.S. and abroad – I am WELL AWARE that on any given day I AM Mike Brown. I AM Eric Garner.

Bitter Sweet

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Ferguson1

The last 7 days have brought on a flurry of emotions! Just last week as we were at the gym, I remained glued to the television screen: “Ferguson Grand Jury to Announce Decision”. I vacillated between wanting to stop my workout and head home and not wanting to get in the car for fear that I’d miss the reading of the decision.  8pm CST the decision was to be read. We sat there … 9pm EST … 9:05 … 9:10 … 9:15 … the minutes seemed like hours. And finally, the county prosecutor arrived and began reading. As I sat there it almost seemed predictable – the setup was so clear – but I held on. And there it was – no indictment. My heart dropped. Just as I’d hoped for a different outcome with the Zimmerman trial, here too I wanted something different – I longed for an ounce of justice for the family and for this young man whose life was taken way too soon.

I watched the news for hours, literally unable to peel myself away from the screen or social media.  I tried my best to listen to and read both sides of the story, but was unable to bear many of the racist and insensitive remarks. I watched protects spark and unnecessary looting – graciously caught by the media, but remained thankful for the thousands of peaceful protects not only in the US, but across the globe!

On the days leading up to Thanksgiving when I thought I’d be relaxing and enjoying a much awaited week off from classes, I grieved. I grieved and continue to grieve for a country that seems lost. I grieve as the evidence continues to be released and I am further convinced that this process was not followed properly or orthodoxly. I grieve for those who dare not take a second of their day to even attempt to understand what it is like to be Black in America. I grieve for those that believe that money, education, or a reputable job somehow creates a color blind society. I grieve for those who think that a young man who allegedly commits petty theft deserves to die and lay dead in the street as a spectacle. I grieve for those who remain voiceless and opinion-less on matters of justice. I grieve for those who think this is an opportunity to exclusively focus on Black on Black crime and not address police brutality, the policing of Black and Brown bodies, the use of excessive force or the criminalization of Black men! I grieve for those who dare not protest for one day and stay at home to share solidarity on Black Friday. I grieve for those who remain unbothered and unchanged by what is happening all around us. And I grieve for those whose hearts are not the least bit softened by a mother and father who have to spend the holidays without their son and watch replays of an interview with an officer who seems not even the least bit remorseful.

In the midst of all of this we did have dinner with our family on Thanksgiving and on yesterday we attended one of the most beautiful weddings I have witnessed in a long time – the marriage of my very dear friend to her long time sweetheart. So in the midst of tears, anger, resentment, confusion and chaos, I also found solidarity, love, celebration and thanksgiving. Truly bitter sweet.

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