The stuff legends are made of …
By Doni Glover, Publisher
(BALTIMORE – August 23, 2016) – One of the greatest influences on this country’s struggle with Civil Rights has been actor, songwriter, and singer extraordinaire, Mr. Harry Belafonte. Belafonte has been involved with every epoch of the struggle for the past seven decades or so. Belafonte has consistently throughout his career used his celebrity for the cause of black people without regard for his own success. I have always thought that if more black celebrities used their platforms in a similar way – including their tens of millions of followers on social media – to stand up for black people, then we could make significant progress in our struggle for equality in America. This has been seemingly a daunting task.
I think that too often, our black celebrities lose sight of the big picture. I think that too often, we all forget or simply don’t know the lessons of the past … from the Underground Railroad to Black Wall Street Tulsa.
I recall the public riff between now 89-year-old Belafonte and Jay Z. It sort of left a wedge between generations, to a certain degree because they are both well-loved, both from New York, and folks almost felt like they had to choose a side. In short, Belafonte called Jay Z out on the issue of social responsibility. Who was right, wrong or otherwise is not important here.
What is important is that since their public discourse on black civics, there have been countless murders of more young black men by police across this nation. This leaves a nation dazed and even has this country answering questions from the United Nations. How can the US criticize any other nation when it consistently supports the murder of young blacks in the streets of America by law enforcement as if it is open-season on unarmed black men and women?
Like Fannie Lou Hamer’s famous quote, Micah Xavier Johnson comes to mind; he was “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” He had seen enough war on his people and decided to clap back. The streets of Baltimore has taught me that the only thing a bully truly understands and respects is violence. (And please, don’t be shocked at these words.) After all, this country’s history is rooted in violence. Worse yet, this country killed our Prince of Non-Violence, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968 leaving this nation on the verge of great disaster. In fact, this country has repeatedly demonstrated nothing but violence on people of color since our inception – through the Civil War – through the era of Jim Crow – through the 60s’ Black Power Movement and icons like Malcolm X until today.
Of course, our prayers go out to the families who tragically lost loved ones: five Dallas police officers were killed by Johnson. And no, we, as a publication, do not advocate violence. At the same time, we are realists about our situation and we do understand why some black people snap and choose the lethal route to justice. They have often become hopeless when it comes to the plight of people of color in America and they have zero faith in a system that many blacks believe was never intended for us from the very wicked beginning.
At the same time, our prayers also go out to the countless black families across America who lost a son … or a daughter … to law enforcement officials. Most recently, there is a video floating on social media (Thanks, Shaun King) about an elderly black woman being pepper-sprayed in her own house by police in Oklahoma that is a quintessential example of how quickly white officers will bring force upon black people in seemingly any situation. In that same clip, we saw a young black man (who was the actual suspect sought by police) cooperating with police instructions but who still get tazed anyway. Incident after incident where American law enforcement encounters black people clearly proves that no white person in America would want trade places with a black person.
As is the norm, the murders by police get swept somewhere – either under the rug or the case is dragged out so long in court that people eventually lose fervor and ultimately interest: “Business as usual” seems to be the norm.
However, as TV changed the face of the Civil Rights Movement, 21st century social media has put this country’s handling of murders of unarmed black men by police on full blast. Cell phones, the ability to capture video, and the ability to send emails have changed the game. Just like twitter.com changed North Africa in the Arab Spring of 2011, I believe that social media is also forcing America to deal with its dirty habit of treating black people collectively worse than animals.
Being a black man in America with a son and a daughter, times like these leave too many parents feeling helpless. And so, it becomes the perfect time for a leader to step up. Whether it is Jay Z, Harry Belafonte, or now … Colin Kaepernick, times like these are ripe for the right person to step-up and say what needs to be said.
In Kaepernick’s case, he recently chose to sit down on the bench while the rest of the stadium was standing for the National Anthem. He is the quarterback for the San Francisco 49’ers and has just gained a fan for life. He has resurrected the notion of non-violence while playing in one of the most violent sports on earth. And for this, I am so very grateful; he has restored some faith in mankind – especially among athletes of color. To me, athletes of color have a sacred responsibility and an obligation to give back to their community; after all, we must re-invest in home; it’s only common sense.
In a city like Baltimore, for instance, I don’t see enough of it. I see a lot of black celebs from Baltimore doing things elsewhere, but not a lot in Baltimore. And if they do, they should let it be known so as to encourage other black celebs from Baltimore to give back also – like LeBron James has done in Cleveland. James recently gave 1,100 students an opportunity to go to college to the tune of approximately $41 million, according to reports. Now, that’s to be celebrated world-wide. It seems like many athletes of color find stardom, but they too often forget the big picture: that it is not all about them; it’s about making life better for others. Truth is, too many of our pro-athletes are broke by age 30.
And so …. I am extremely proud of Mr. Colin Kaepernick for standing up for righteousness, despite the backlash by people with racist venom bubbling in their veins. I am proud of him because too many celebrities lack the courage to do what he did for fear of reprisals. I am proud because, like other giants before him – including Muhammad Ali – he put others before himself. He put principles over personalities. He has sacrificed his own career for the betterment of this country and I personally believe that he has earned a place at the holy table with our best and brightest of all times, like Harriet Tubman and John Brown, a white man who died fighting against slavery. In a day and time when it is all about self-interest and this American value of entitlement as epitomized by the Ryan Lochte debacle in Brazil, here is a grown man – Kaepernick – doing what a leader does. For sure, Kaepernick has demonstrated true courage in the face of fire – not as an athlete, but as a man and as a true American hero.
Easily, he could have ignored the issues like most. Instead, Kaepernick – whose mom is white and whose dad is black – put his own name on the line and has stepped through incredible opposition into greatness. When the great story is written of people of color in America’s 21st century, Mr. Kaepernick will be mentioned not for his throwing arm or scrambling skills, and not for the number of touchdowns he scored. He will be remembered for doing the unthinkable, for facing fear like the gladiator he is and making the statement by sitting down that all men are created equal.
He destroys the myth with a single action that today’s athletes of color are nothing like their ancestors. In 1968, 200m winners from the USA – Tommie Smith and John Carlos – raised their fists in Mexico City at the Olympics. And in 2016, Colin Kaepernick “shook up the world” by sitting down during the singing of the National Anthem in protest of the abuses of people of color in America. These actions were done in the name of freedom and may we forever hold such sacrifices ever dear in our hearts.