CLMOOC –Letters to the Next President

 

 

Dear Future President,

 

Do you believe that Black Lives Matter? Do you even care? As an Black woman born to a Black man, married to a Black man whose family consists of several Black brothers, nephews, cousins and students, (yes students, they are my family too) this is an issue very close to my heart. In the past eight years our country has witnessed countless killings of Black men and women. In the last 48 hours there have been two black men gunned down by the police, both murders caught on tape and broadcast for the world to witness over and over again. I know as the president there will be several issues that will be important to you. You will have many favors to return and specific interest groups to repay but what about the people whose cries have been ignored for so long? I recently read a Nikki Giovanni poem that prompted me to write this letter to you, our next president.

 

I never even thought or imagined that in my lifetime I would have to proclaim, or remind people that black lives matter. Growing ups as an 80’s baby there was a semblance of racial equality. It was a post Civil Rights America in every sense of the word. We had overcome way before I was born– right? Malcolm X awakened our sleeping brothers and sisters while enlightening the masses that didn’t know or want the enlightenment. While Dr King led marches which united blacks and whites inspiring real change in this nation. These and countless other Civil Rights activists had already lost their lives in pursuit of a better tomorrow. The time had come for our chance to live because we were in charge of our life and now we have real choices. By the time I was born Black people were well on their way to reaching the “mountaintop” — or so I thought.  

 

If i can’t do

what i want to do

then my job is to not

do what i don’t want

to do

 

It’s not the same thing

but it’s the best i can

do

 

My peers in primary school were comprised of mostly Black and Hispanic children in my hometown of Newark, NJ. Yet, it never struck me as odd because my parents had a choice of where they wanted their children to be educated. White people didn’t live in my neighborhood. But, I never thought there was a “race” problem. This was their choice. As it was my parents’ choice to live in a community with their family and friends. My childhood home was smack dab in the middle of a city that looked like a wasteland as a result of the Newark Riots of ’67. While living in this reality I always thought that the ills of the past were just that,  ills of the past.  At home and in school I was taught that there was no limit on what we could do as Black people. (Well, except for becoming president.) Nevertheless, I had no concept or knowledge of Reganomics, police brutality or the need for affirmative action. How could I? I was a child. I was taught that as Black Americans, we were making strides in spite of the devastating crack epidemic that was all around me.  There were Blacks  going to college, becoming doctors, lawyers, politicians, CEO’s, the sky was the limit because we had choices, real choices...

 

If i can’t have

what i want . . . then

my job is to want

what i’ve got

and be satisfied

that at least there

is something more to want

 

In the 1990’s it appeared that America was on its way to becoming the place it was supposed to be for Black Americans. Then, in 1992 the Rodney King beating happened. The violent and brutal police assault of an unarmed black man was caught on camera for the world to see. An attack that looked more like footage from the Eyes On The Prize documentary than the 6 o’clock news.  For me, and some other naive Americans it was a no brainer, those cops were guilty– there was video proof. There was no way they could be anything other than that? The shocking not guilty verdict shattered my “free at last” ideals. For the first time in my lifetime I witnessed the injustice of the judicial system that mirrored something from days passed. Americans of my generation looked to NWA’s F*ck the Police as an anthem to deal with this moment. While I asked, “What’s going on here?” This type of behavior was no longer acceptable, we marched, we sang, we sat — things changed. Apparently, not so much, instead, the not guilty verdict sparked a riot in a city on the opposite side of the country from my Newark, NJ home that destroyed a community. Just like it did in Newark and Detroit almost 30 years prior. What is happening to our choice?

 

Since i can’t go

where i need

to go . . . then i must . . . go

where the signs point

through always understanding

parallel movement

isn’t lateral

 

Everything was upside down for quite sometime as it relates to racial relations. The OJ trial showed the world that all was not well in America as it pertained to race. In pursuit of the “American Dream” my parents’ chose to move their family to the suburbs where I attended Scotch Plains Fanwood High. Now, I went to school with Whites, Asians, Hispanics, Egyptians and a few Blacks. There were many different racial groups in the school, yet the cafeteria tables were segregated based on race. No one’s fault. That was our choice. A decade goes by and once again we see change when the nation that once had my people in chains like chattel then hung us from trees like laundry now had the choice to make one of us the leader of the greatest nation in the world.  Finally, America has allowed Black people to reach the “mountaintop.” Black boys could grow up and actually become the president of the United States of America like Barack Obama– if they live that long.

 

This celebration of equality didn’t last long because shortly into President Obama’s tenure the past is back to haunt us. The people that we are supposed to look to for protection are taking our lives — they don’t think we matter. Police are murdering us in the street with the cameras rolling, hashtags trending and then the courts are giving the assailants pats on the back. Do you know that there is a website with the names of over 100 Black men and women that have been killed by police officers– this is in addition to Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and the more recent Alton Sterling and Philando Castille. In 2016 they are choosing to take us down like animals. Not crocodiles more like gorillas. They are showing us that our lives doesn’t matter at all.

 

If all lives were getting handled this way then there would be a very different public outcry. But it’s only Black people that are getting murdered in front of their women and children. This is a modern day lynching. Where we have members of law enforcement taking our men down, not to disarm but to harm with a lethal blow. This is a very hard pill that I’ve had to swallow because I like so many wanted to believe that things had changed. Instead, I see that life is nothing more than a series of images that change as they repeat themselves. This is not to say that all people in these positions of power are abusing it. But, the harsh reality is that the few are making   a  choice that is overshadowing the ones that are truly protecting and serving.  When the time comes every American will have a choice to make.

 

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” I”m asking that you, future president, future leader of the greatest nation in all of the lands, decide what side of the aisle you’re really standing on because for my people it is a matter of life or death.

 

When i can’t express

what i really feel

i practice feeling

what i can express

and none of it is equal

 

I know

but that’s why mankind

alone among the animals

learns to cry

 

Choices by Nikki Giovanni

 

Sadly, I am fresh out of tears.

 

 

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