Search

AllEyesOnDC

Taking the News to the Streets

Month

December 2015

I’m Tired of Protesting.

In a perfect world, people would stop and give considerable attention to others’ outcries of pain and suffering.

The Babylon I’ve come to know, however, is far from the Land of Milk and Honey my Liberian parents and family members make it out to be. In fact, it’s a Hellhole chock full of zombies culled into a mediocre existence and fixated on the latest fashion and technological trends, thanks in part to the shallow topic matter that permeates the 24-hour news cycle and other forms of media.

Though I’ve come to know this in recent years, this bitter reality dawned on me during the few hours I spent in front of the J. Edgar Hoover building on the corner of 9th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in Northwest. I counted among a dozen or so people who stood in solidarity with Sister Sandra Bland a day after a Texas grand jury failed to indict Waller County jail officials in her death. Three days before she was found dead in her cell under troubling circumstances, a cop violently detained her for what we now know to be the most trivial of reasons – asking questions and refusing to extinguish her cigarette during a traffic stop.

As a young black man in the United States, I know too well the terror that can ensue when a person of African descent comes into contact with law enforcement. Even in the moments where there’s no abhorrent miscarriage of justice, your life still feels threatened. The lessons of yesteryear primed me for that depressing worldview.

During my adolescence as a visitor of East Takoma Park, Maryland for example, it wasn’t uncommon for officers in unmarked vehicles to ambush me and my friends and incessantly ask questions about our whereabouts and what we were doing on the streets. From the time I “hopped off of the porch” at the age of 14 up until my 18th birthday, I had more than half a dozen headshots taken of me by a black female officer by the name of Ms. Tina who, along with her colleagues sometimes, cajoled the young men who posted outside of the Hampshire Tower apartments into the action whenever she saw us. Soon, running away from “the boys” became a survival tactic, even when I had nothing to hide.

One chilly night, an effort to leave Fort Totten Metro Station and get home safely turned into an episode of “Cops” when I stood up against a disrespectful Metro employee who replied to my inquiry about exit fare with “This isn’t Africa boy. You have to learn how to the use the machines.” A white female Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officer nearby walked over to see what happened, remaining neutral for only a second when I lightly brushed her chest in my attempt to confront the guy. Immediately, she detained me and demanded that I give her my full name so she could check if I had any warrants. Now I was a potential villain just for speaking my mind. Desperate to get out of this situation and unaware of my rights, I acquiesced. When my name didn’t show up in the police system, she let me go. The betrayal I felt in that instance would follow me into adulthood.

It was no different in the supposedly safe confines of Foggy Bottom, located in Downtown D.C. One night toward the end of the fall semester of my senior year at The George Washington University, an MPD officer pulled up next to me as I walked outside of my dorm before stopping, stepping out of the car with his hand on his holster, and yelling at me to put my hands in the air. Because I had been dressed in all black from head to toe – to beat the harsh winter weather, mind you – I became a suspect in a robbery that occurred around the corner from my residence. For the next 30 minutes, I pleaded for my life in the middle of that street. An unmarked vehicle, most likely driving the victims of the alleged robbery, pulled up across from where I and the officer stood and shined its light on me. Thankfully, they didn’t identify me as the perpetrator. I would dodge another one.

But Sandra Bland wasn’t so lucky.

By the time her case came to my attention earlier this year, I had become desensitized to the justice system’s lack of regard for black lives. It didn’t surprise me that this grand jury didn’t do its due diligence in holding Brian Encina, the arresting officer, and his colleagues accountable. That didn’t stop me from being angry, and rightfully so. I’ve come to know so many brothers and sisters of various educational and social backgrounds who’ve been beaten down at all levels of the legal system — the streets, court room, and correctional facilities. One “wrong” move on my part and I could have suffered the same fate, so of course I felt the need to honor the memory of my fallen sister in the form of nonviolent protest.

It didn’t take long standing outside of the J. Edgar Hoover building before my eagerness to spread the word turned into melancholy. In theory, chanting and holding our signs in front of this building and the nearby Department of (In)justice would be symbolic middle finger to what we saw as a crooked system. As frustrated, disenfranchised people, it seemed that there was nothing more we could do. Navigating the legal system as Thurgood Marshall and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have wanted us to do hasn’t been effective. At this point, all we could do was yell and hope that folks would hear our cry.

The total opposite happened.

Groups of police officers in full gear and on bikes talked and laughed among each other throughout much of the night. Government employees of various ethnicities scurried on foot, minding their own business. White families happily walked the streets in amazement at the monuments and other symbols of white supremacy. As each minute passed, it became clearer to me that our chants and speeches made by individual members of our group, though full of truisms, couldn’t break the Matrix’s hold on passersby.

Soon, I stepped into traffic with two signs in hand – one reading “What Happened to Sandra Bland?” and the other “If Sandra was white, they would indict.” Annoyed at my obstruction and that of other brothers who too stepped onto Pennsylvania Avenue waving their signs and the Garvey flag, drivers beeped loudly and swerved around us to avoid hitting us and get on with their lives.

Looking back, causing slight displeasure for the unaffected counted as the high point of this dreadful experience. For at least one second, white people had to look me in my eye and read the signs I made. I doubt they could resonate with the significance of the non-indictment but it felt great interrupting their lives as mine and that of other black people have been countless times before. Even so, questions from white, and some black, people about the Sandra Bland case angered me. With all of this news out here about police brutality, how could one NOT know about Sandra Bland? As much as I detest the mainstream media, there was SOME coverage of her case in the wake of her death.

Alas, few people – fewer than I anticipated — knew the details of Sandra Bland’s case and it became more apparent in our march around Downtown. Our journey over the course of two hours took us through Metro Center and McPherson Square before we posted up in front of the White House. By that time, my anger reached a boiling point. A white lady reading my signs asked “Who’s Sandra?” I knew I had to walk away at that point before committing a violent act against her, or at least yelling in her face.

Of course, many of the older men and women in this liberation movement who I’ve come to respect would’ve seen the white lady’s question as an opportunity to educate, but I had no interest in entertaining her or other so-called white sympathizers out and about that night. In my eyes, they had no intention of stopping their lives and taking on OUR fight. Considering the luxuries that the white supremacist system has afforded them and their ancestors, dismantling the forces that dole out black suffering wouldn’t work in their favor. When our group crossed paths with most people, they were overcome with the Christmas spirit. A taste of our reality would put a stop to all of that, and I saw that fear in some of their eyes as an older brother on this march with us calmly explained the intricacies of the Sandra Bland case.

No lie, I admired his patience in breaking down the situation. But I made up my mind a long time ago that I would only engage and enlighten people of African descent. I saw no reason to do otherwise and the events of the evening confirmed it further for me. The silver lining in all of this was the minute I spent with an Ethiopian family in front of the White House. Though they didn’t march with us, they nodded their heads in approval with our actions. Unbeknownst to many, Ethiopians and African Americans share a history of rebellion against imperialistic European forces. I felt that unity in talking with the young brother in that family, so much so that I enthusiastically said “Amasa Genalu” an Amharic phrase meaning “Thank You” to which he and his siblings, perhaps surprised that I could speak a phrase in their native tongue, belted praises.

Other than that, the rallying and marching on that night, or any other instance, hasn’t done much to bring about any semblance of the racial progress I believe black people in the United States deserve. Of course, I had a few other feel good moments. The sight of an entire orchestra group moving away from the White House fence when we interrupted their photo shoot made my heart flutter for couple seconds. I also felt confident staring down a police officer and telling him “yea we’re talking to you” as we walked along 15th Street. Throughout much of the night, looking any seemingly nonchalant tourist in their eye during the protest became a remedy, even if it was a panacea, for my outrage at a multifaceted problem.

But that’s the point. I’m tired of these shallow overtures by “allies” and baseless assurances that we’re making progress. Many of us look at the Civil Rights Movement through rose-colored glasses. The older I get, the more I’m convinced that marching couldn’t have been the only way that the leaders of our past struggle made change. If anything, history has proven that. Though a contingent of Millennials shares this sentiment, there are still many, including myself, who dedicate a significant amount of time to posting long diatribes about America’s race problem on social media. Albeit it’s effective in some ways, oftentimes I get nothing more than a headache from battling white people who want to police my thoughts.

It’s the same case for marching. In a sense, the smirks and looks of indifference from people who walked past us serve as nonverbal cues for black people to “stop complaining.” While we would love to stop doing that, other ways haven’t worked. We use the mainstream media to drum up support. We attain lawyers and follow protocol in bringing complaints against the system. Even with the successes of mass boycott movements, I saw many black people towing large shopping bags after feeding the machine with their dollars.

The powers that be still control the justice system and the means to production that line the coffers of interest groups that work against our freedom. Like the countless disenfranchised people of color across the country, our pleas for justice weren’t heard that night. Frankly, I’m tired of asking for my freedom and telling people that “Black Lives Matter.” That has been the case for quite a while, but this recent experience showed me that I might be on to something by having this mindset.

While many of my counterparts across the world enjoy the holiday, I, as I’m sure, other angry black people will be thinking of other ways to secure justice for Sandra Bland and other people killed by the injustice system. With every book I read and every discussion I hear, however, I increasingly see the need for a revamp of the entire United States and a total separation – economic, social, educational, and whatever else – of African people from the rest of the world. Reaching that goal would take immense planning that can, and should, happen behind the scenes.

In this globalized system, total seperation would be nearly impossible. If Africans must interact with other groups, then let that relationship be equitable. Right now, that’s not the case. If any, it’s grossly exploitative.

Anyone who says differently sure as hell hasn’t had the sense of hopelessness that I felt on the corner of 9th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, contextualized by lessons life thrown my way about what it truly means to be a black man in America.

Rwandans Mull over Possibility of Third Kagame Term

Millions of Rwandans took to the ballot box this week to vote on a constitutional referendum that, if passed, would allow Rwandan President Paul Kagame to stay in office until 2034. The months-long debate about presidential term limits has placed the spotlight on the controversial figure credited with stabilizing Rwanda in its post-genocide era.

Earlier this year, more than 3.7 million Rwandans petitioned the parliament to consider abandoning newly imposed two-term limits on the presidency, citing developmental and economic gains made under Kagame. However, some opponents, including the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, decried the move, describing Kagame as a heavy-handed leader who committed human rights abuses and silenced opposing media voices.

As of press time, he hasn’t finalized his decision to run for reelection in 2017, saying he’ll do so after referendum results are announced. “I did not apply for this. You go and ask Rwandans why they want me,” Kagame told the Agence France Presse, a Paris-based news wire service, shortly after submitting his ballot on Friday.

Kagame came to power in 1994 after his Tutsi rebel force, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, defeated Hutu extremists who killed more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus within a 100-day period. He served as vice president and minister of defense until the parliament officially elected him as president in 2000. He won an election in 2003 under a new constitution and garnered enough votes for a reelection in 2010.

Under Kagame, Rwanda’s child mortality rate dropped by 50 percent, malaria deaths fell considerably, and annual economic growth exceeded 8 percent, even with a dearth of natural resources. Though Gacaca court proceedings to try accused perpetrators of genocidal violence haven’t met international standards, the grassroots justice model has prosecuted hundreds of thousands of Rwandans. Globally, Kagame has maintained a positive relationship with his fellow East African Community members, including Kenya and Uganda, the United States, and, as of 2009, France.

Controversy over the impending constitutional referendum changes, however, threatens that goodwill. During his visit to the Motherland in September, U.S. President Barack Obama cautioned Kagame against seeking a third term, noting political instability in neighboring Burundi and Congo-Brazzaville due to similar issues. The European Union has also weighed in, expressing worry that opposition forces didn’t have enough time to campaign against the referendum.

Some people like Rwandan refugee Susan F. said such course of action by the Western powers won’t suffice. While talking to AllEyesOnDC, Susan, who requested the use of a pseudonym, expressed her disappointment in the in what she described as the United States’ lack of consistency in addressing African political matters.

“President Obama has looked at Africa ambivalently. The West only steps in to get rid of the dictators they don’t want anymore,” Susan said. “They’re pleased with puppets. I would like to see the day when they give all African dictators equal treatment when they commit wrongs against their people. When a report came out accusing Kagame of downing the plane of President Juvenal Habyarimana, it suddenly disappeared. Why is that? The west has some interest in keeping him in power. They support what he’s doing,” said Susan, who currently lives on the east coast.

But expert Sam Phatey shared a different sentiment, saying that a third Kagame term wouldn’t serve the United States’ best interests or that of other African countries.

“If President Kagame keeps himself in perpetual power, he won’t stay in office until 2034. This is a recipe for military expeditions to overthrow his government,” Phatey, a student in the U.S. Institute of Peace’s conflict analysis program in Northwest, told AllEyesOnDC. In 2012, Phatey conducted research about the economic causes of the Rwandan conflict. These days, he talks extensively about the implications of a third Kagame term with his colleagues.

“[A third Kagame term] will destabilize Rwanda. If Kagame says he needs to stay longer to maintain stability, that means he has failed as a leader to build strong institutions,” Phatey, 26-year-old Atlanta resident, said “He’s not the only one in Rwanda with great ideas and leadership skills needed to make Rwanda a progressive nation. Kagame thinks that staying in power would be Rwanda’s bet interest but it could deprive the country of a lot when it comes to international cooperation.”

Eugenie Mukeshimana, a Rwandan woman who has lived in the U.S. for 14 years, has a more nuanced view on presidential term limits, telling AllEyesOnDC that people in the East African country only want to do what they think benefits them the most, even if it means Kagame staying in office.

“What’s complicated about Rwanda is that people don’t feel like they have to listen to those outside of their country. Right now, they’re fearful that the president succeeding Kagame could damage what we have worked so hard to build,” Mukeshimana, a social worker living in Baltimore, said. As much as people think of democracy on their own terms, it doesn’t fit everyone that way.”

Even so, she admitted that a third Kagame term could open up Pandora’s Box, allowing future leaders to consolidate their power. “Right now, three terms may work for Kagame. We want a continuation of the successful policies that he has put in place. But you’re setting a precedent that would allow someone in the future to make similar changes. They will change the constitution so that it works for them,” said Mukeshimana.

Wilson High School Reels from Gun Incident

More than a week after security personnel retrieved a gun and knife during separate incidents at Woodrow Wilson High School in Northwest, questions remain about how such oversights could have happened on a campus known more for it scholastic and athletic achievements than instances of violence.

Despite concerns about safety and the increased presence of Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officers on the premises, the Tenleytown-based school has maintained some normalcy. Some students have taken the changes lightly, saying they hope to move on with their lives.

“It really surprised me. There are [small] fights once every two months at this school,” Joseph Hernandez, a 12th grader at Wilson who asked his name be changed, told AllEyesOnDC. Hernandez, a transfer from what he described as a violent D.C. high school located east of Rock Creek Park, said those who allegedly possessed the weapons most likely walked through one of more than 50 unsecured side doors.

“Things are pretty strict these days. Police officers stand by all of the doors and make us take off our jackets [and other articles of clothing] when we enter the school. The teachers haven’t been talking too much about it. Honestly, I think it’s done,” Hernandez, a Northwest resident, said.

On the afternoon of Tuesday, Dec. 1, officers arrested a student after a teacher discovered a semiautomatic handgun in their book bag, school and D.C. Public School (DCPS) officials said. Less than an hour later, a fight erupted outside. One of two juveniles detained had a knife. Representatives said that before this month, a weapon hadn’t been found inside a D.C. school building in more than a decade.

As of press time, an MPD investigation is still underway. Officers said it’s unclear whether the fight was related to the student with the gun.

On the day of the incident, the metal detectors and scanners functioned properly, Michelle Lerner, DCPS press secretary, told AllEyesOnDC. A review of Wilson’s security protocol has been opened to ensure the best rules are in place. School principal Kimberly J. Martin also posted an open letter on the Wilson’s website, giving kudos to those who reported the gun and assuring members of the community that administrators had the matter under control.

Since last Tuesday, Wilson has increased security staff, appointed a special officer, and repaired side doors. After school hours, personnel conduct “sweeps” for weapons and escort idle students off of school grounds. Even so, assurances from Martin and others have fallen on deaf ears, particularly among teachers frustrated by what they call lethargic communication from higher ups.

“Some teachers are on edge and mad that they didn’t hear about the gun from the administration. From the start, they weren’t in the know, “David Brooks, a first-year teacher at Wilson, told AllEyesOnDC. Brooks, who also asked his name to be changed, recounted hearing about the discovery of the gun from students as he walked back onto campus from a nearby library.

“Maybe the administrators were trying to contain the situation but you never want the students to find out about things like this before the teachers. Now, it’s really going to get tight in a space like this. It’s not really the type of environment you want to be in.”

Wilson alumnus Brad Lee pointed to a change in administration and lax security, caused in part by boundary changes and shifting student demographics as a probable cause of the security slip. Though Lee, a 2009 graduate who used a pseudonym, expressed some bewilderment that the teachers found weapons on school grounds, he recounted methods delinquents often used to circumvent surveillance when he attended Wilson.

“It was common for people to bring their friends through the tunnels built for the athletic department,” Lee, now a D.C. government employee, told AllEyesOnDC. “We would often see a lot of folks who didn’t go the Wilson. They would meet their friend at Tenleytown Station so they can be brought into the school. I have no idea why a student brought a gun inside the school this time, but the most important dilemma for me is how it got past security.”

Wilson, located at the intersection of Chesapeake Street and Nebraska Avenue Northwest, has a student body of nearly 1,800 representing a variety of District neighborhoods and ethnic groups. It’s considered one of D.C.’s highest performing schools, with more than 75 percent of its graduates moving on to postsecondary institutions.

The prospects of long-term academic success compelled Ramone Carter to attend Wilson. Carter, an aspiring graphic designer, remains undeterred by the events of last week, saying he will stay at Wilson if it means being in the best position possible to attend a quality university.

“Even with what happened, I feel safe here,” Carter, who used a pseudonym, told AllEyesOnDC. “The opportunities for a successful life made me want to come to Wilson. It’s a good school to come out of when you’re trying to go to college.”

Black College Students Show the Power of Unity

If there has been any doubt about the power of grassroots organizing, a recent gathering at Howard University (HU) ’s Blackburn Center, has, to some degree, given some hope to the disillusioned. For much of the day on Friday, Dec. 4, student leaders and administrators from a bevy of local universities engaged in raw, thought-provoking dialogue with their administrators about problems black students face on campus. These talks bore some similarity to those I participated in at the height of my undergraduate career at The George Washington University (GW).

This daylong event came on the heel of successful uprisings at universities across the country, each one fueled by frustrations about what black students have described as an institutional lack of regard for the daily hardships they endure and white supremacy’s chokehold on higher education. Last month, protests at the University of Missouri and a strike by the revenue-generating football team compelled the board of trustees to oust the president and chancellor. In the nation’s capital, officials at Georgetown University announced that they will rename two buildings memorialized for university presidents who arranged the sale of enslaved black people in 1830s to pay campus debts.

While these incremental gains have elicited rounds of praise from those on the sidelines of this ongoing fight for social justice, some white people have been perturbed, even going as far as to form white student groups on their campus in response to “reverse racism and discrimination” against students of European descent.

But students and administrators who attended the event at HU, named “HU Beyond Dialogue” agreed that there’s much work to be done in ensuring that black students — descendants of what’s arguably the most marginalized and victimized ethnic group domestically and globally — can matriculate safely and with the holistic support that has been guaranteed to their white counterparts since the creation of Harvard University, America’s first college, in 1638. Decades after Thurgood Marshall successfully argued the merits of school desegregation, this nation has yet to atone for its past and see to it that black students can thrive mentally and emotionally in academic environments.

As Friday’s discussion revealed, reaching that goal would be a huge undertaking, like that of knocking down a building, brick by brick.

Throughout much of the day, dozens of participants from more than half a dozen local colleges and universities divulged qualms about on-campus racial profiling, financial aid troubles, academic settings that are unwelcoming to black students’ ideas, the lack of diversity, cultural insensitivity, the aggression of the university security personnel, dearth of meeting space for black students, and other microagressions that ultimately deter academic achievement. Administrators later weighed in, pledging to destroy barriers that impede racial progress on their respective campuses. In true millennial fashion, guests recounted the activities of that morning and early afternoon on social media, using #HUBeyondDialogue15.

While it remains to be seen what will come out of this meeting of the minds, few students left the meeting confident that some incremental change will take place. Leslie Ogu, a junior at GW and president of its Black Student Union (BSU), said he’s been waiting for an opportunity to affect change since his freshman year. Weeks earlier, Ogu and his colleagues representing a slew of student organizations protested in the middle of their campus, later making some headway with university officials in their talks about on-campus racial tension.

Lisa Pointer of the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) too reveled in the chance to have her voice heard months after a student said officers from the Metropolitan Police Department “brutalized” him near at ATM. During breakout sessions, she conversed with students from other schools about solutions they thought could curb racial insensitivity and create equal access to opportunities for black students. Later that day, she and three of her UDC colleagues reported to the larger group, a feat that she chronicled on Facebook. Stanley Berry, also a UDC student, took to social media in a similar fashion. Though he expressed thanks for the event, he lamented that administrators led the discussions instead of letting students have their say.

Thus ended what will most likely be one of the most beneficial sessions in those students’ college career outside of the classroom. In his award-winning book “The Miseducation of the Negro,” African-American historian Carter G. Woodson touted the benefits of gaining an education in this manner, reminding us that sitting within the confines of a white-centered academic structure ensures that we’ll remain cogs in the machine of white supremacy. The same remains true for students at historically black colleges and universities, many of which were founded with support from “well-meaning” white people. Without some form of on-campus or extracurricular involvement that contextualizes their studies, college graduates are nothing but theorists and parrots of the texts their teachers touched on during discussions.

The efforts of those who converged on HU last week are a testament to the importance of racial and cultural student groups. As a college graduate and one-time black student leader, I can guarantee that institutional change in the university setting will be slow to come. Like the student leaders at Friday’s meeting, my colleagues and I discussed the same issues with university administration during closed meetings with some promise that things will get better. Years later, much hasn’t changed. That’s why incoming black students, no matter their state of residence, ethnic group, and socioeconomic standing, have a resource in campus organizations and multicultural resource offices that represent their interests.

Those aforementioned entities can spur into action during times of racial unrest, pooling the tangible and intangible resources student leaders developed in parlaying and working with members of the community.

In organizing and preparing a presentation for the policy makers, these young brothers and sisters have groomed themselves for a much more multifaceted battle that’s unfolding beyond the boundaries of their campuses. Hopefully, they also learned that people in positions of power will do and say anything to quell an impending uprising, especially when it’s led by “angry” black people. At the age of 20, I didn’t have any conception of that. Future experiences with people in positions of power — of any color — would give me the taste of reality that has made me a proponent of grassroots organizing and truly black-centered institutions four years out of undergrad.

Unknown to me at the time of my campus involvement, the code of conduct among black student leaders at GW incorporated ideals inspired by Marcus Mosiah Garvey, founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, and the seven principles of Kwanzaa.

Understanding that institutions ran by white people had no intention of ensuring progress as black people saw it, Garvey espoused the building of a black nation, a remnant of which I saw in the collaborations between the BSU, Caribbean Student Association, Organization of Latin American Students, Minority Business Student Association, and GW NAACP during my junior year. In forming those bonds, we also practiced all of the Kwanzaa principles, especially Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), and Ujamaa (cooperative economics).

A couple years earlier as a freshman, black students in positions of power took me under their wing and guided me along my path of enlightenment. The next year, I launched ACE Magazine, a student-ran multicultural publication and antithesis to the GW Hatchet, the main campus publication that often painted black campus leaders in a negative light. That very same year, I served as a board member of the Black Men’s Initiative, a program dedicated to ensuring black males at GW graduate on time and without trouble. Toward the end of my undergraduate career, black student leaders held weekly meetings to keep up the spirit of unification within our community.

Today, I maintain genuine relationships with many of the brothers and sisters I’ve built with in my time at GW, all due to the hurdles we had to jump together in creating at atmosphere welcoming to black students. While our methods and skill sets are different, the respect for black life and passion for our people unites us. Indeed, I couldn’t have built these kind of relationships if I had the mindset that white people had about affinity groups. If anything, their unwillingness to let black people celebrate their blackness is more than enough reason for us to build our own institutions and control our destiny within this ever-increasing interconnected, globalized system.

The group of students who gathered at HU carried out that mission with passion and poise last week. While that’s commendable, they too must carry the spirit of Thurgood Marshall and Carter G. Woodson and be relentless in pushing long-lasting, structural changes for black people. That means not just taking their administrators at their word, but perpetually holding them accountable and encouraging students coming after them to do the same. To do less would be a mockery of their legacy and an invitation to just be another cold, powerless black body at the table of white supremacy.

 

Drawing Inspiration from Rosa Parks in Our Fight Against the System

Sam read this reflection on the 60th anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott during the AllEyesOnDC’s “Night of News and Music” event at Sankofa Video Books & Café (2714 Georgia Avenue NW) on the night of Tuesday, Dec. 1st. The version below was edited for clarity.

Sixty years ago today, police officers arrested Rosa Parks when she refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama bus. That event sparked off the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a more than 365-day campaign during which black people in that region refused to use public transportation. Black residents’ act of resistance against their oppressors forced a change in policy. Historians consider the Montgomery Bus Boycott one of the most effective economic protests led by people of African descent in the United States.

Legions of brothers and sisters carried on that tradition last weekend, refusing to shop with major corporations. Many took to the streets, protesting on shopping strips throughout the city and scouring local black businesses in search of holiday deals. This assault against the system and the black solitude that came out of it mirrored similar events across the country. In Chicago, Black Friday sales along the Magnificent Mile, its shopping district, fell by nearly 50 percent because of black agitators who posted up in that area. Now that’s what I call Black Power, as Willie Ricks and Stokely Carmichael eloquently exclaimed decades ago.

The question remains of whether we’ll follow in the footsteps of our Alabaman ancestors and carry out this boycott in D.C. and across the country in full force throughout the rest of the shopping holiday and into 2016. This grassroots reporter thinks it’s possible. He also thinks that black people can continue to support black business. However, that can only with the appropriate knowledge of where to shop for amenities, accessories, necessities and other materials vital to good living. I suggest IDontDoClubs.com, AfricanUnification.com, and BlkTown.com for information about local and national vendors.

Word of mouth also helps. Let’s follow the example of Miss Princess Best, the homegrown artist also known as the Hip Hop Momma. She hits Facebook and other mediums day in and day out to find black vendors for the things she need, even hipping me to a black seller of toilet paper in Baltimore. This is the only way to go.

Financial management is the key in the long haul game that is the attainment of our freedom. We can talk but for only so long. When the oppressor doesn’t listen, it helps to just take things to the next level, keeping quiet and letting our money. I close my “This Week in News” statement by encouraging you and yours to visit the websites I mentioned and make that conscious shift toward supporting black businesses. While doing so 100 percent may not be possible, it’s in our best interest to make an attempt and keep our dollars in our community for more than six hours. That’s real Black Power.

Meet the Brothers and Sisters Who Bought Black before It Was Cool

People of African descent across the United States refused to participate in mass consumerism last weekend, choosing instead to spend Black Friday with family and on the front lines of protests against major corporations they say fuel a system bent on ending black lives. .

Their efforts weren’t in vain.

For the second consecutive Black Friday weekend, sales fell by double-digit percentages with stores accruing $1.6 billion less in sales than the year prior – though experts pointed to a surge in online shopping for the slump instead of activists’ cry for change. While some question black people’s ability to sustain the mass boycott during and beyond the holiday shopping season, those who have long heeded to the call to keep their dollars in the community say it’s about time.

“If we’re going to spend dollars of Black Friday, we should spend it with black-owned businesses,” Alyssa Jerome, a social worker who lives in Landover, Maryland said, telling AllEyesOnDC that her study of slavery’s long-term psychological effects on people of African descent compelled her to change her shopping habits more than two years ago.

These days, Jerome shops at Black Owned 19XX and gleans the black business directory on AfricanUnification.com. During previous holidays, she doled out gifts from black businesses to family members, encouraging them to follow her in patronizing black vendors. Though Jerome has received some pushback, she says making the conscious decision to buy black has instilled a sense of pride in the work of up-and-coming black-owned ventures she encounters.

“We should start caring for each other more and shop among each other as soon as we get those paychecks,” said Jerome, 25. “The major companies don’t care too much about our communities. Once we start supporting our own, they should return the support to the community. That’s what truly constitutes as a black-owned business.”

A bevy of public figures, young and old have struck a similar note in their rhetoric as black people reel from the state-sanctioned deaths of Ferguson, Missouri teenager Mike Brown, Tamir Rice of Cleveland, Sandra Bland of Illinois, and countless others for which no one has been held accountable. With the character assassination of each victim and subsequent non-indictment, protestors have grown wearier, acknowledging it will take more than hashtags, hand-made signs, and chants to affect institutional change.

Such a mindset urged Rahiel Tesfamariam, social activist and founder/editor of the Urban Cusp, to launch the #NotOneDime movement last year, shortly after a jury didn’t convict former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in Brown’s death. In the months leading up the “Justice or Else” march on the National Mall in October, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan too explained the need for an economic boycott, telling TVOne’s Roland Martin that black people have to “redistribute the pain” before the state hears their concerns.

Determined brothers and sisters in the D.C. metropolitan area did just that on the Friday morning after Thanksgiving, gathering at the Columbia Heights shopping area and Walmart on Georgia Avenue, both in Northwest. Their actions bore some similarity to that of people in Chicago who converged on the city’s highly esteemed Magnificent Mile, days after a dashcam video showed a police officer shooting 16-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times at point-blank range.

While the few shoppers who chose to brave the lines at these stores suffered the scorn of protestors, those who ventured into local, black-owned businesses, like Nubian Hueman, an ethnic-centered boutique in the Anacostia Arts Center, had a different, more pleasant experience.

“They said they wanted to make sure they passed through. They were there to make a difference,” Anika Hobbs, owner of Nubian Hueman, told AllEyesOnDC.

Since its 2013 inception, Nubian Hueman has gone beyond selling custom clothes and wares, making its mark in the Anacostia community by partnering with Calvary Women’s Services, Orr Elementary School, and other organizations. Residents far and near returned the favor on Friday and Saturday. Hobbs said she saw more than 30 customers on those days — including Courtney Snowden, D.C. deputy mayor for planning and economic development — an increase of 75 percent from a regular weekend.

“For me, that’s a great thing,” Hobbs added. “We’re learning about the importance of supporting each other and the weight of where we spend our money. I hope this goes beyond the holiday season. Ninety-seven percent of our buyers are black so we’re maintained by the black community. This is not just good move for black business but black lives. That’s how we flourish as a people.”

Seeing black support of black business come to reality, however, would require much sacrifice, some people contend. A significant number of up-and-coming black entrepreneurs go into clothing; toiletries, fragrances, and restaurant management, leaving other industries remain without substantial representation. For the average consumer of African descent, the lack of affordable alternatives makes the idea of a mass boycott less appealing.

“We’re the entitlement generation so that’s the biggest challenge,” Yuri Norrell, regional manager of a black-owned mental health agency in Virginia, told AllEyesOnDC. Norrell, who said he boycotted major corporations in his holiday shopping more than two years ago, said he too found it difficult to convince family and friends to forego amenities from Wal-Mart and other retailers.

“Getting a mass group of people behind this movement will take a cognitive exercise in seeing the larger picture,” Norrell, 33, added. “The Montgomery Bus Boycott took a year. It would probably take five years of boycotting for [the state] to be ready to make a change. By the time they’re ready to do that, we shouldn’t even want to go back. We would have our ducks in a row and tell them ‘naw we’re good,’” said the Richmond, Virginia resident.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑