The journey toward
Freedom continues despite
the crushing setbacks.
January 15, 2014 marked what would have been the Honorable Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. ‘s 85th birthday. His prolific life as a United States freedom fighter and international peace activist was cut short when he was slain by an assassin’s bullet on April 4, 1968 at the age of 39. As the nation and indeed the world pause to commemorate Dr. King’s legacy, I can’t help but wonder what he would say about the condition of Blacks in America if he were alive today.
I can only just imagine. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela are sitting by the pearly gates in heaven, drinking elixirs of milk and honey, as they ponder the current state of affairs on planet earth. Frederick Douglass, wearing headsets and bopping his head to the rhythms he’s listening to, walks up on the conversation. Fred removes his headsets, starts shaking hands with the brothers. “Hey Martin, Malcolm, Mandela. What are you guys talking about? You’re all looking so intent. Why so serious? ”
“Well,” said Martin, “It’s my national holiday in the United States, not to mention just last August was the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington where I delivered my monumental ‘I Have a Dream Speech.’ And you know, it’s somewhat ironic, that with all the progress we made in an effort to eradicate the Jim Crow laws of the 1950s and 60s, Black Americans today have been confronted with some crippling stumbling blocks that tear at the very core of Civil Rights. Even with all the progress that’s been made, especially with the election of President Barack Obama, there’s still so much more work to be done.”
“I hear what you’re saying,” observed Malcolm. “Who would have thought it would be possible for a Black man to occupy the White House? Yet President Barack Obama was not only elected once but was re-elected for a second term.”
“Truly amazing, even for me to grasp such a fact, although I myself became the first Black President of South Africa, after suffering so many indignities, being imprisoned for more than a quarter of a century,” remarked Mandela. “Look at where we are today. Look at the world’s realities. Look at how things were when I took my last breath and made transition in 2013. Look at all the effects of globalization. Take a look at the unceasing institutionalized racism. Even with progress, you still must acknowledge the negative impact on Africans throughout the Diaspora.”
“Well,” said Frederick Douglass, “I can certainly relate. I recently re-read my own historic speech, ‘The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro,’ which I delivered at Rochester, New York in 1852. In my speech I argued ‘the wrongfulness of slavery’ and how, with all its injustices, it was impossible for Blacks to honor the hypocritical so called ‘July Fourth Day of Independence.’ And you know what? I’m inclined to agree with the lyrics of the modern day rapper Kanye West on his new single, ‘New Slave.’ I was just listening to it as I walked up on you brothers, and I mean, he really makes a point. With all the entrapments of the so-called good life, these millionaire rappers, big time athletes, they all must accept that on some level, Blacks are still in slavery. “
“Man, I couldn’t agree with you more,” said Malcolm. “And even though the point wasn’t explicit in Kanye’s lyrics, you must also acknowledge that slavery for Blacks still exists, especially when you consider the prison industrial complex. I was just reading this book by Michelle Alexander. If you haven’t already, you must read this book! It’s called “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” Sister Alexander is a brilliant legal scholar. She makes an undisputable argument that today’s mass incarceration of Blacks in the United States has significantly undermined the gains of the Civil Rights Movement.
During an interview on National Public Radio with Dave Davies, she makes the case that ‘People are swept into the criminal justice system – particularly in poor communities of color – at very early ages…typically for fairly minor, nonviolent crimes. [The young Black males are] shuttled into prisons, branded as criminals and felons, and then when they’re released, they’re relegated to a permanent second-class status, stripped of the very rights supposedly won in the Civil Rights Movement – like the right to vote, the right to serve on juries, the right to be free of legal discrimination and employment, and access to education and pubic benefits. Many of the old forms of discrimination that we supposedly left behind during the Jim Crow era are suddenly legal again, once you’ve been branded a felon.’”
"So true," echoed Mandela.
"So true," echoed Mandela.
“Now brothers, I know these realities hurt you. They hurt me to my heart too,” said Martin. "I’m certainly not blind to the fact of what’s going on. It tore my heart out to see how that young man,
Trayvon Martin, a defenseless unarmed teenager, was gunned down in cold blood by George Zimmerman. And then to witness the mockery of the American justice system as Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder – allowed to walk free. Reminds me of how Octavius Catto was similarly gunned down in Philadelphia in 1871 at the age of 32 and how his admitted murderer was also acquitted. And then I was thinking about the disappointing Supreme Court Rulings that threaten the Voting Rights Act, and the massive public school closings in Black urban areas across the Unites States. All of these realities hurt.
“But we’ve got to send some encouragement down to our soldiers in the trenches. We’ve got to give them some faith, some inspiration. These are dark times, but there’s light ahead. Progress is being made. Children are being educated. Powerful dreams are coming true, things are happening we never even could have imagined. Barriers are being broken down. But the positive accomplishments aren’t being publicized. So my brothers, I must encourage you to cling to everything that motivated you to make the great strides that you made while you were down there on the ground. Use your superpowers as ancestors to guide the actions of those who are still down there, fighting the good fight. And in the words of this simple three-line,17-syllable Haiku, remember that:
‘The journey toward
Freedom continues despite
the crushing setbacks.'"
Asante Sana. Peace and Blessings Always.