By Charles Robinson, Senior Journalist
(BALTIMORE – December 29, 2016) – Each year as I compile this list, I get a chance to review seminal moments in the Black experience which I have witness firsthand and help chronicle for various media around the country. A lot of it evolves around politics which I cover as a beat but, there are always things which catch my attention that may not catch yours.
So, before I jump into the list, this year, I know I am fortunate that I am allowed to write and get paid (in a trying era of media). This year was like none other. It began with a call from EBONY.com who asked if I was available to cover the Freddie Gray Trials for them online. I was asked to report on who, what, where, when, and why in the Gray case. They also asked me to give insight on what was going on to a national audience.
I am fortunate to have an employer, Maryland Public Television (MPT), who recognizes my political reporter skills. They have always asked me to participate as questioner on some of the most important televised political debates in the State Maryland (this year was no different in the Baltimore Mayoral Debate). I received a lot of kudos from staff and management on my adeptness in questioning potential Mayors.
I have always believed the work I do speaks for itself. So you cannot imagine how humbling it was to receive a star on MPT’s Walk of Fame (the first African-American to receive such in honor). The honor came after a health scare. I want you to know I am better. My parents, who are still alive, were able to witness their son receive this award and it is not lost on me that many of my colleagues in journalism didn’t get to share their achievements with their parents: Simply blessed.
Now for the annual disclaimer, since I have started this list I get lots of criticism about who and what I left off. You don’t have to agree, instead create your own. I am interested in comments, insights, and banter that gets to the point. Can’t wait to see what 2017 brings.
10. Holding on to power in Africa. Next year Robert Mugabe, the President of Zimbabwe, will be 93 years old and has no intention of giving up power. His latest effort to control runaway inflation was to outlaw currency which many people have in their possession in favor of a new currency. People have taken to streets. Mugabe suggests these are just outside interest trying to over throw is country. Hmmm?
9. Complexity on Big and Small Screens. If there was a “white out” at the Oscar’s last year, this year color has poured on to screens in ways never seen. These tales aren’t being created not out of need to pacify Black folks, instead they making money and making a point. Some of the performances I’ve seen are award worthy. These stories were always there but, this year someone said, “Yes.” Here are a couple of examples; Big Screen: Moonlight, Fences, and Birth of Nation. On the small screen: Queen Sugar, Luke Cage, and Atlanta.
8. Artistic Talent Lost – Music has always been my muse. I find joy, solace, love, anger, shock and so many other emotions when I listen to my vast collection. This year was especially hard with the death of so many pioneers, Maurice White, Bernie Worrell (Funkadelic/Parliament) Prince, Denise Matthews (Vanity), Phife Dawg (A Tribe Call Quest) and Nicholas Caldwell (Whispers). It also included a number of individuals who defied labels like David Bowie, Ron Temperton, Leon Russell, and George Michael. RIP
7. Black Politics Lost in the Past – I hope you’ve had a chance to read my treatise, “The State of Black Politics.” One my early arguments I made for electing a Black President was simple, “our time had come.” Now that we have elected a Black President twice, the bench left behind is weak. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. warned us in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “If not now, when?” We’ve gotten comfortable. The system which got of this far isn’t applicable to future voters. Can you name five men and women under 30 you are watching?
6. “The Okey-Dokey” – I am tired of being played. Sometimes it’s in your face. A&E Network greenlights a show about leaving the KKK. They forgot they actually paid KKK members to participate. “I’m with ya! But, Naw man!” Colin Kaepernick taking a knee instead of standing for the national anthem. Righteous! Oh, by the way Kaepernick didn’t vote in the election. “I’m going to sit out the election because I don’t like any of the candidates.”
5. Opioid/Heroin Addiction – Heroin has been a problem in urban communities for years. Now that it has reached the suburbs we believe it’s a health problem? Drug addiction can’t be solved by locking up users, nor can you not expect their not be an explosion of opioid addiction if doctors prescribe pain killers for every ailment.
4. You can’t say that…- Social media is the great equalizer but, when what you say in private goes out on social media, things change. Sometimes it can expose scars. We watched twitter blow up with the varied tweets from the Presidential Candidates. It also showed us the shallowness of people around the world who wanted clicks in order to get paid. From “fake news” to exposed emails these weren’t just “bombs” being thrown. The interesting part for me was how a part of the electorate would believe pure nonsense.
3. Did they die in vain? – I personally watch Baltimore Police Officers lawyers tell a jury and then a judge, “What would a reasonable officer do?” The Freddie Gray Trial came to an end with 7 police officers cleared of any wrongdoing. It was chalked up as an unfortunate accident.
In Charleston, SC, a man who was stopped by an officer was filmed firing 7 shots into a suspect. The officer (who was white) claimed he fired in self-defense. A lone juror said they couldn’t convict the officer. The retrial starts in months.
All too often the death of a suspect is meet with suspicion after the release of video. These are painful to watch and even tougher to prove in a court of law. I know Freddie Gray did not die in vain. In the wake of his death the state of Maryland passed sweeping legislation that will require reporting, new training, civilian review boards, and a modification of the Police Officers Bill of Rights. Unprecedented. Baltimore is also trying to work through a Justice Department Consent Decree before the new President is sworn in.
2. Ya’ll are gonna miss me. – I have the varied arguments over whether President Barack Obama helped or hurt Black folks. It’s a fascinating argument. The Atlantic Magazine has tackled this paradox quite nicely and I would encourage you read the point counter points. I know I will miss the “no-drama-Obama.” I won’t miss, “The told you so!” Obama. History will record the first Black President ran to headwinds none of his predecessors had to deal with. Some people were never going to buy into a Black man being President. The idea of “Hope” which initially fueled his campaign can’t be put back in bottle. In less than 15 years demographers know the United States will be a majority minority country. These are people who believe in the promise of tomorrow not of what it used to be.
2a. Carnage on the Streets. There were calls this year for the President to go to his home town to help alleviate the gun murders in Chicago. But it wasn’t just Chicago which saw an uptick, Saint Louis, Detroit, Baltimore, New Orleans, Memphis, Oakland and many more saw a surge. Is it the guns? Is it moral ineptitude? Or is it simply life is cheap.
1. President Donald Trump – I’ve not put a lot of effort into talking about what the next administration will or won’t do. Nor have engaged in the parlor of game of she won the popular but he won the Electoral College vote. I know one thing, things will be different. I am confident the day after inauguration you will wake up and go to work. You will protect your family and children the best you can. As a reporter, life is likely to get tough. Guess what it was already tough. The resiliency of African-Americans is storied. You can’t just wipe it away and trust me some people have tried to. I am optimist and hope you will be as well.
Person of the Year: Dr. Lonnie G. Bunch, III
Dr. Bunch is the creative force and the museum director of the Smithsonian Museum to African-American History and Culture. Since its opening it has become the most visited site in Washington, DC. Getting a free timed ticket entry is like winning the lottery. It took years and miles of traveling the world in search of items to showcase Black life. Some exhibits are huge, like the Pullman Train Car that was placed in the lower level and the building built around it. Then there are small, but subtle things like the washboard and pan used for cleaning clothes before the era of washing machines (the washboard doubles as a cleaning and musical instrument). There is much to admire, experience and yes taste in the museum (the Sweet Home Café’). You can’t take it all in one day (Yes, I tried and can’t wait to go back). People like Dr. Bunch only come around once in a lifetime and he is the reason why he is my Person of the Year.