Why #BlackLivesMatter Matters

imgresRecently, #BlackLivesMatter initiated a campaign with the goal of forcing black issues into the forefront of the upcoming presidential election. The group interrupted candidate Bernie Sanders, Martin O’ Malley and Jeb Bush in the past two months and that has drawn both criticism and support from political pundits and voters.

Despite the criticism, #BlackLivesMatter has successfully established themselves as a legitimate organization and a political force that must be reckoned with. By attacking Sanders they were attacking the most popular candidate, which naturally garners attention for their cause.  Sanders has taken the attacks seriously and has taken steps to not only appease the activists but prove that he is the best candidate for deconstructing institutional racism and reforming the criminal justice system.  Although he hired a black press secretary, #BlackLivesMatter saw that as minuscule and continued to pressure the socialist until he released a comprehensive racial justice platform. The group wants concrete policies from all of the candidates and so far Martin O’ Malley and Sanders have delivered.  #BlackLivesMatter has promised to protest all of the candidates and force them to release racial justice platforms throughout the elongated election process.

#BlackLivesMatter was started in 2012 after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the murder of Trayvon Martin. According to their website, “#BlackLivesMatter is working for a world where black lives are no longer systematically and intentionally targeted for demise.”

The activist group has come under fire because many feel that the group is targeting the wrong candidate (Sanders.) However, the groups strategy has been successful thus far: both Sanders and O’ Malley have succumb to the pressure and other candidates are sure to follow suit as they continue to campaign around the country.

Their methods are controversial and it has drawn the ire of many around the country, however, the movement is causing candidates to not only rethink the way that they campaign but their political strategies as well. Now, they must focus on black issues instead of relegating it to the back-burner. That is what this movement is all about: forcing politicians to listen and capitulate to our needs, the needs of the people, instead of vice versa.

Kendl Gordy graduated from St. John’s University with a B.S. in journalism.  He has covered multiple Division I sporting events, the U.S. Open and the New York City Marathon.  The relationship between Kendl and MCSR manifested itself during his time at Benjamin Banneker High School in Washington D.C.  as a MOST Club member. He is now continuing his writing career with our organization as a contributing writer on current events and cultural issues.

Briona Butler: The Unheard Voice Behind WISE Club

Briona

You probably aren’t familiar with the name Briona Butler yet and that is through no fault of your own. However, the Grinnell College graduate has a brilliant mind and is not only preparing to impact the lives of our children but the way that they learn as well.

Briona was instrumental in the creation of WISE Club back in 2012. She attended Benjamin Banneker High School in Washington D.C. in which Neil Irvin was the facilitator of the weekly MOST Club meetings. Although the club is targeted towards young men, it managed to garner her attention and eventually led her to ask Neil if some of the females could sit in on a couple of the meetings.

“I like how the onus wasn’t on women to secure their safety,” Briona says, “The club promoted prevention, healthy relationships and not just being an active bystander.”

Despite her infatuation with how well the club ran and its effectiveness, she didn’t want to emulate the exact model for the WISE Club. Young women encounter different problems so alternative methods should be employed in order to reach them.

When asked how WISE should differ from MOST and what she would like to focus on, media literacy was her first response.

“The media can be so insidious, by obtaining a strong mind and knowledge of self we can help improve our self-image.”

After graduating from Banneker, Briona attended Grinnell College in Iowa on a Posse scholarship. She graduated with a major in Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies due to a passion that’s inexplicable. During her senior year at Grinnell, Briona had an epiphany and realized her ultimate goal is to start her own school.

“It’s been building up for a minute,” she says, “I’ve always been interested in the youth and education but I didn’t know how to articulate it.”

“My school will be holistic!” she exclaims when asked to define her dream institution. “Black kids need to play music, understand nutrition, and learn actual history. More importantly, “they need to know how to think and express themselves and manifest!”

She’s now back with the program that she helped start but this time as a consultant. Her current tasks entail helping shape the curriculum for the current WISE Club members and she is also in charge of operating multiple social media platforms for MCSR as well.

So what does success look like to Briona when it’s all said and done? “Money to eat well, travel, be happy and the tools to create whenever I want.”

Kendl Gordy graduated from St. John’s University with a B.S. in journalism.  He has covered multiple Division I sporting events, the U.S. Open and the New York City Marathon.  The relationship between Kendl and MCSR manifested itself during his time at Benjamin Banneker High School in Washington D.C.  as a MOST Club member. He is now continuing his writing career with our organization as a contributing writer on current events and cultural issues.

Cosby, Respectability, and the Black American Dream

Bill Cosby  On Monday, a 2005 deposition was made public in which Bill Cosby admits to using Quaaludes to drug a woman he intended to assault. This latest bit of news comes after months and months of women coming forward to say they’d been sexually assaulted by him. With the number of accusations being around 40 and this new admission from Cosby himself, you would think that would be the end of it for him, right? What possible defenses could still be made at this point? But that thinking underestimates the resiliency of Bill Cosby’s image.

For a long time Bill Cosby has been treated like black people’s loving but stern father, an impression that hasn’t matched the reality of Bill Cosby as a public figure for over a decade. In 2004, Cosby gave a speech at the NAACP Awards in which he chastised poor and working class black people, declaring that after the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, black people could no longer blame poverty, wage gaps, and poor schooling on racial discrimination, but instead had to take personal responsibility for their position. His infamous 2004 “pound cake” comment, in which he audaciously asks why we spend more time outraged about police violence than the criminal activities of black youth take on an even greater significance today when our awareness of police brutality and overzealous prosecution of black suspects for non-violent crimes is at an all-time high.

In 2008 he did a series of “fireside chats” across the country where he doubled down on his previous comments, declaring that Black America’s woes were the result of single mothers, sagging pants and the promiscuity of young black women. If Glenn Beck said these things, we’d rightfully dismiss them, but from Cosby we took them as “tough love.” Bill Cosby has been doing nothing but talk about how irresponsible, lazy, and oversexed black people are for years. Yet, still so many black people defend him and remain unconvinced of his guilt, even when we have actual video evidence of him admitting to drugging women for the purposes of rape. Why?

Beyond the obvious answers of our society’s long-ingrained rape culture and culture of misogyny is another reason: what Bill Cosby offers and has always offered, in each of his poor-bashing, slut-shaming speeches is the promise that attaining the status of respectable middle-class black existence will save us from the violence that we are subjected to daily. Reducing the black struggle against centuries of systemic racial violence to the simple matter of needing to pull up ones pants and close ones legs is reminiscent of the kind of victim-blaming many of his victims are probably facing now. His insistence that we could prosper with the proper conservative attitude and hard-work is why black people loved him and his shifting of responsibility for discrimination back onto the black working class is why so many black middle class people loved to quote him. It’s why young black men and women who Cosby would despise are still defending him. Bill Cosby is too invaluable to the Black American Dream to be taken down without mountains of irrefutable evidence of his guilt and even then, people may still find a way to love him. That’s what has kept R. Kelly career alive, after all.

The Cosby Show’s Cliff Huxtable and his family showed the world that we too could be like the white American middle class. But one need only ask working class and poor whites how well they’re treated by their white middle class to see just how problematic an aspiration this is.

To thrive in that arena of class requires an abandoning of those most in need. It’s the basis of capitalism. We can’t all rise to the top, just like we weren’t all kings and queens. This isn’t due to a lack of talent or work ethic, but because the system we live in thrives on exclusion and exploitation. Some of us will get left behind to be scapegoated and preyed upon by venerated male figures of black prosperity.

Bill Cosby sat upon a foundation of trust and goodwill built from years of portraying aspirational middle-class black life and he used that trust to rape and abuse women for decades. He used the veneer of respectability and morality to get away with assault, publicly chastising young women for expressing their sexual agency while he preyed on them behind the scenes. We don’t owe him anything, so let’s stop enabling his abuse.

Greerlin Thomas is a veteran Men of Strength Club member who graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a B.A. in English Literature. He now works as a youth program coordinator and workshop facilitator for Men Can Stop Rape.

Our Problem

Kendl Gordy“George Bush does not care about black people.”  Kanye West famously stated his opinion during a concert that raised money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.  While Bush’s actions and policies have led many to agree with Kanye’s sentiment, whether or not George Bush hates black people is a matter of opinion and not fact.  However, that statement was not just aimed at Bush; his target, at least from my vantage point, was the entire United States government who continues to ignore the plight of not only blacks but minorities in America.

Although Bush is no longer President, Kanye’s remarks still ring true within this country today.  We reside in a place that worries more about ISIS than taking care of its own citizens.    Kalief Browder recently committed suicide after spending three years on Rikers Island for allegedly stealing a backpack, a crime that he was never convicted of.  The war on drugs has successfully incarcerated minorities at a high rate due to mandatory sentences that began during the 1980s. Decades later the same laws, which have done nothing but help put money into the pockets of those who own private prisons, are still in effect. Meanwhile, minority communities continue to suffer due to the lack of jobs and felony charges that haunt the convicted years after they are released and homes that are fractured because of the high incarcerations.  The cycle has continued and it will continue until the government garners the gumption to cease this travesty.

ISIS and similar terror groups do pose a threat and they should not be disregarded, but is the threat imminent? Surely they do not pose more of direct threat than the police do in minority communities.  The actions of the government continue to prove Kanye’s point, they do not care about minorities but they do care about the profits that both oil and high incarceration rates generate.

So, does George Bush care about black people? Who knows? Better yet, who cares? However, we know for certain that this country does not care about black people or minorities.  The problem is systemic and minorities are going to have to fix it, not the government.

Kendl Gordy graduated from St. John’s University with a B.S. in journalism. He is now continuing his writing career with our organization as a contributing writer on current events and cultural issues.

Should We Have a Problem With Rachel Dolezal?

Kendl GordyBy now I’m sure we have all heard the name Rachel Dolezal, the white woman who has been perpetrating as a black woman for the past decade.  According to Dolezal’s parents, they noticed a shift in her image after her divorce in 2004.  The effort she put into this farce is astounding: her appearance has been completely altered from her childhood, she posted a photo standing next to a black man who she claimed was her father and she even told her adopted brothers, who are black, not to mention her past life as a white woman to anyone.  Ezra Dolezal, one of the four adopted siblings, went to live with Rachel and said he began to notice her physical alterations around 2011.  Her skin was suffused with color and she even modified her hairstyle.

Clearly she was suffering from an identity crisis and maybe she was dealing with demons internally that we cannot begin to fathom, however, should we disregard all of the work that she has done for the black community because of this one mistake?

Her profile on the Eastern Washington University website, where she is a professor in the Africana Studies program, details the work that she has done advocating for the African-American community.  She spent years in Mississippi advocating for equal rights while simultaneously participating in community development projects.   She was the director of the Human Rights Education Institute in which she developed programs that expanded the national audience from 3,000 per year to 23,000 annually.  She orchestrated a myriad of exhibits and panel discussions, scheduled keynote speakers and commenced the Young Advocates for Human Rights program among a multitude of other projects.  All of her aforementioned accomplishments shared the common goals of garnering attention to the plight of blacks and empowering our youth to help continue the evolution of the black community.

Rachel’s work was met with opposition by the Ku Klux Klan, Neo Nazis and the Aryan Brotherhood.  Multiple threats have been made against her and her family, although the legitimacy of those allegations has come into question over the past few days.

Twitter has emerged as a popular apparatus to lampoon Dolezal via the hashtag #AskRachel, while others feel that her actions should be dealt with on a serious platform.  She resigned her position on June 15th amid pressure from the public and possibly her colleagues at the NAACP.

So, again I ask should we disregard all of the tremendous work that she has done advocating for blacks because of this one mistake?  Sure she shouldn’t have lied about her race.  She could have successfully advocated for blacks and accomplished the same goals within the confines of her white pigment.  Yet, she made a mistake and opted for the alternative, which many juxtapose with blackface.  What she did should not be ignored; in fact her actions do deserve some scrutiny.   However, it should not erase all of the amazing work that she has done to help the black community prosper.

Kendl Gordy graduated from St. John’s University with a B.S. in journalism.  He has covered multiple Division I sporting events, the U.S. Open and the New York City Marathon.  The relationship between Kendl and MCSR manifested itself during his time at Benjamin Banneker High School in Washington D.C.  as a MOST Club member. He is now continuing his writing career with our organization as a contributing writer on current events and cultural issues.

Senior Spotlight 2015: MOST Club

Meet our 2015 MOST Senior Spotlight! Selected by facilitator Dontue for his school performance and devotion to MOST Club we want to celebrate this amazing young man with you all!

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Kweku Sumbry, Duke Ellington School of the Arts:

Kweku has been a MOST Club member for 3 years. As a sophomore, he showed leadership and maturity. Now, as a senior, he continues to be a role model for his peers.

“After graduation I will attend The New School  (Manhattan, New York) for jazz and contemporary music in the fall. I was awarded a full scholarship to attend the institution thanks to my 3.48 GPA. “

“During my time in MOST Club I’ve learned so much. We addressed critical issues that young men face daily. We talked about healthy relationships, about how to treat women, how to be allies to women and tactics we can use to prevent rape. MOST club has kept me focused in school and eager in achieving my goals . It’s been a wonderful 3 years with this program and I hope other young men can get thee same benefits as I have.”

Senior Spotlight 2015: WISE Club

WISE spotlight

Meet our 2015 WISE Senior Spotlight! Selected by facilitator Ebony for her hard work and devotion to WISE Club and her community we would like to share and celebrate this amazing young woman with you all!

Briana Mulcare is 18 years old and will be attending North Carolina A&T in the fall. In high school she was apart of the Future Business Leaders of America,  YMCA Youth and Government, College Bound, WISE Club, the Poetry Slam Team and the Hip Hop Club.  She has completed over 150 community service hours with the Girl Scouts and various town hall meetings and youth outreach. She aspires to join the Peace Corps after college.  In high school Briana was on honor roll every year.