Who was Julian Bond?

Today I’m writing to all the would-be dreamers, the young people who would believe they could make a difference if only they knew what to do, and our future leaders—the only leaders who will be left in 50 years time.

You may have heard that Saturday, August 15th, Julian Bond died. Who was Julian Bond? He was, at least when he was young, no different from any other person who knew something needed to be done.

Back in the 1960s, Julian Bond was just a college student. He was studying English at Morehouse College, and he had a sense that Blacks in America deserved something better than segregation.

How did he respond? While he was a student at Morehouse, he and over 200 other Black students attended a meeting organized by Ella Baker, someone who had learned how to organize people in the 1930s. This student organization became the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and it grew and grew until it became the driving force behind the Civil Rights Movement. Its members organized sit-ins, freedom rides, and voter-registration drives.

—But Julian Bond, at the start, was only a small part—just one person who believed in something and decided to get involved. Does that sound like you?

After leaving Morehouse in 1961, Bond traveled around the Southern United States as the Communications Director of SNCC. He eventually went back to Morehouse to finish the Bachelor of Arts in English that he had put on hold while traveling. In 1971, he started a law firm called the Southern Poverty Law Center with two lawyers, Morris Dees and Joseph J. Levin Jr., who had experience owning and operating a business.

I describe the unfolding of these events in this way because I remember how I felt when I was in my twenties. I was unsure of myself, wondering whether I would make a difference in this world. I had my cynical days, my days when I felt I was extremely unqualified or unprepared. But I think Julian Bond probably felt this way, too, when he was the humble but driven leader of a student org.

Maybe he felt this way when he was a representative of Georgia, and when he was a senator, and when he was chairman of the NAACP.

In 2000, Bond wrote about what the SNCC did. It destroyed, he said, “the shackles which had kept black southerners in physical and mental peonage; SNCC helped break those chains forever. It demonstrated that ordinary women and men, young and old, could perform extraordinary tasks.” It focused not only on integration, but on Black empowerment.

Julian Bond was one of the extraordinary ordinary men of the 20th century. Read up on him, and remember that all it takes to be extraordinary is a decision to get involved and stay involved. Making a difference is not a privilege of the gifted few.

I am sad to see him pass, but he sure left a lot for us to work with. So let’s work with it.

What to do:

Find a group near you that is fighting for justice.

If there is no such group, start one.

If you won’t lead the group, write your representatives and ask for help.

You don’t need to be special to make a difference. But you do need to do something. So do something.

What do they think of me?

slaves picking cotton

According to political conservatives, racial discrimination is said to no longer be institutional and there is no longer any need for policies that provide socioeconomic protections for blacks. Further, according to political conservatives, if any racial discrimination is happening, it is being committed by a few bigoted individuals, socialized to hold bigoted notions, believe that blacks are lazy, and inferior and that it is okay to commit racism against them.

With the press concerning the reported negative racial attitudes that some whites exhibit concerning blacks, I wonder what do they think of me.  I am a black woman.

The Donald Sterling’s and Robert Copeland’s of the United States have been undoubtedly shaped by a culture that supported racism sanctioned by U.S. government, that gave them the privilege and permission to openly denigrate blacks. Whites in the age range of 70 or older are 57% of the black population. Put another way, whites 70 years or older in the United States, total 25,417,300 as compared to ALL blacks in the United States who total 44,456,009, based on U.S. Census data as of July 1, 2012.

Whites age 70 and above engaged in race relations through the phenomenon of Jim Crow.  Jim Crow continued legally and unrestricted in this country until the 1954 Brown v. Board of Ed decision. Aimed at integrating schools in the south, Brown v. Board of Ed had broader implications in overturning Jim Crow laws in the U.S. Jim Crow officially became illegal with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. Given this statistic, more than 25 million people in the United States were taught it is okay to engage in racial discrimination during the 1920s through the mid 1960’s. I am not suggesting that whites born during America’s support and sanction of racial discrimination or even those who migrated here during that time are automatic racists. If they are, however, of the same ilk as Donald Sterling and Robert Copeland, socialized during the 1920s through the mid 1960’s, when it was legally permissible in the United States to commit racial discrimination, 25+ million is certainly not a few bigoted individuals! It is certainly not legally permissible now to discriminate against blacks absent a bona fide occupational qualification as it was then, and it is not socially acceptable now as it was then to disparage blacks.

The larger implication here then is that it is very possible that racial discrimination is not committed by just a few bigoted individuals, racial discrimination is still very much institutional, and as such, blacks need to lobby for policies that protect their socioeconomic interests against racial discrimination.

So to those of you who may be reading this and are also black, does this make you wonder what they think of you?

Black News and the Black Community

Newspaper-Black-BoyThe very essence of the Black community is enshrined through Black news mediums.  They give expression to Black pluralistic cultural identity, allowing Blacks to pool and to share their resources.  The famous African proverb extols the notion that it takes a village to raise a child.  Black news mediums allow that village to operate on a national and global scale.  Black news mediums unify Black culture and provide Blacks with a valuable voice.

Historically, Black media has passed through many forms, but has always retained its central importance to Black cultural identity.  People are defined by the sum total of knowledge acquired and passed on by generations, which helps them deal with challenges unique to the group.  At first, Black cultural norms were transmitted orally, from one generation to the next.  When verbal communication was forbidden, Black messages were relayed through the rhythmic reverberations of the drums.  Black news mediums continue that sense of rhythmic reverberation even today, as Blacks continue to pass down Black cultural traditions through word of mouth.

Black news mediums constitute the life force that mobilizes the Black community to action.  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. himself showed the power of Black radio when addressing the Association of Television and Radio Broadcasters.  By underscoring the intricate role Black radio played in helping keep the Civil Rights Movement alive, Dr. King emphasized how Black media served as a primary source of information.  He noted that while televisions and newspapers were popular and often times more effective mediums, they rarely articulated information that Black folks could relate to.

Even today, Black news mediums of all kinds help to unify the Black community.  A vital role that Black radio now fulfills is to provide current events and news to the portion of the Black community that may be visually impaired and cannot take advantage of news media in print.  Print news media in the form of Black newspapers, Black magazines, and Black websites are vital because they serve as visual stimuli that reinforce and indelibly imbue images of Black uniqueness while preserving the group’s indisputable contributions to history.

Not only do Black news mediums unify the Black community, they provide an alternative to the majority, mainstream media.  Majority news media in general can be a form of mind control.  The infamous former Minister of Information in Iraq, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, epitomizes this quite nicely:  he could tell the people of Iraq anything, they believed him without question.  As such, the people of Iraq were surprised to see the U.S. military in Baghdad, when their trusted news service transmitted over their television and radio sets stated that Iraq’s Republican Guard slaughtered them.  The power of a majority voice that is unchecked is dangerous; Black news mediums provide an important alternative voice which is crucial for American democracy.

Ultimately, Black news mediums are the keepers of the gate.  Not only do they shape Black perception of themselves by unifying Black history and cultures, but they play a crucial role in the fabric of American speech and democracy.  Black news mediums are the encapsulation of Black culture.

To Blacks: Keep off the sidewalk!

sidewalkIn the aftermath of the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the death of the unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin, Robert Zimmerman Jr. in a post-verdict interview said Trayvon Martin was “… armed with a sidewalk.”  Really?

Sidewalks according to Robert Zimmerman Jr. are weapons.  I thought they were paved walkways along streets for walking on.  I imagine Trayvon was walking on a sidewalk before George Zimmerman got out of his car and began to follow him.  By that logic then, anytime a black person is on a sidewalk, they are to be considered armed and by extension dangerous.

It is a sad day in America when blacks are not able to walk on sidewalks without being profiled, criminalized and killed!

Can common fate and collective action displace discordance to stabilize Howard University?

Originally published June 17, 2013

In Vice Chair Renee Higginbotham-Brooks’ April 24, 2013 letter to the Howard University Board of Trustees, she advised that the University is essentially in financial trouble and failure to act collectively will mean the demise of the institution within three years.

Howard University’s troubles detailed in Higginbotham-Brooks’ letter include:

  • The combination of fewer students who can arrange financial aid, coupled with high school counselors who are steering students to less expensive state and junior colleges, has resulted in lower enrollment and this trend is expected to continue.
  • Howard’s Federal appropriation is expected to be decreased because of sequestration and the rationale for the University’s existence is expected to be challenged since African American students can attend any college or university today.
  • The Hospital has become a serious drain on the budget of the University and we need to either sell it or get the D.C. government to properly reimburse us for the care provided to its citizens.
  • We lack an infrastructure for fundraising to replace decreasing tuition revenue and shrinking Federal dollars, and we lack access to the larger philanthropic community.
  • We have too many employees on our payroll (approximately 5,000 employees to serve less than 10,000 students)

Higginbotham-Brooks also raises issues concerning a lack of common fate and collective action in governance.  She cites concerns about direction and leadership at Howard and failure of the Board to address these issues.

Board Chair, Addison Barry Rand in a statement responded, indicating that the institution and board are working “tirelessly” and the issues are being addressed, adding the institution “remains competitive and is continuing to grow (The Washington Post).”  Faculty member, Richard Wright, who is also on the Board and a faculty member as well, indicated faculty are concerned about the University’s financial situation, but added he did not “…see anything that’s going to shut us down in a few years (The Washington Post).”

One implication noted by Higginbotham-Brooks is the possible shuttering of Howard University within three years.  The financial strain on Howard due to decreased federal dollars, diminished capacity to fund raise and resource demand of its hospital on the University budget, coupled with decreased enrollment, attributed to less expensive alternatives for black students in the form of state and community colleges, has the potential, according to the Vice Chair, to make it difficult for Howard to justify its continued existence.

An additional implication I raise is the elimination of preferences for blacks in education, which serves as a gateway to middle and upper class status.  According to the U.S. Department of Education, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) “… principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans … (http://www.ed.gov).”  As such, Howard University plays an important role in educating and graduating black undergraduates as well as black doctors, lawyers, architects, PhD and other professionals.  If Higginbotham-Brooks’ prediction bears out, this could have the potential to erode black access to educational opportunities that serve as the first step to professions in which blacks are underrepresented.

Historically, when black’s attitudes about their reality have been in alignment relative to their real socioeconomic outcomes, black common fate and collective action served to rally blacks to call attention to their situation and work collectively to improve it.  When black’s attitudes about their reality have been out of alignment relative to their real socioeconomic outcomes, there is “sunny appraisal” and loss of gains.

Hopefully, common fate and collective action can coalesce to displace discordance and put Howard University on stable ground.

© 2013 Lessie Branch. All rights reserved.