Reclaiming Our Way promoting the well-being of African American children & families


The Root of this is Racism: Ferguson Activist Speaks Out on Police Abuses After Meeting Obama

From the Democracy Now broadcast on December 2, 2014:

One week after the grand jury decision in the Michael Brown case, President Obama has given his first major policy response to the protests from Ferguson and beyond over racial profiling and police brutality. At a meeting with activists and officials from around the country, Obama unveiled a process to address what he called "simmering distrust." The administration's response comes as protests continue nationwide over the non-indictment of former officer Darren Wilson over killing Brown. On Monday, demonstrators walked out of workplaces and classrooms in some 30 cities with their hands raised, the symbol of Brown's death and the movement that has emerged since. As the "Hands Up Walk Out" took place, some of the movement's key leaders were not out in the streets but inside the White House.

Obama's guests included seven young activists who have helped organize the protests in Ferguson and in other communities of color. We are joined by one of those activists:

Ashley Yates, an activist, poet and artist who is co-creator of Millennial Activists United. "While that is a step towards ending this real problem," Yates says of Obama's reforms, "the real root of it has to be addressed. And the real root of it is racism in America, the anti-black sentiments that exist. Until we begin to address that, we really can't have any real change — all we have are these small steps towards justice. We need leaps and bounds."

Powerful and clear perspective by Ashley Yates shared at approximately 4:15 into the video clip below.


Harry Belafonte: Dr. Martin Luther King ‘helped me grow as a person’

Below is a brief video of Chris Witherspoon of the Grio talking with Harry Belafonte on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  In this 5-minute video, Harry Belafonte reflects on the foreign policy record of the Obama administration - the disappointment and the possibility, as well as his own relationship with and admiration for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I've always appreciated Mr. Belafonte's clear analysis, and his willingness to be openly critical of a person's perspective and track record, but always leaving open the possibility of change and his willingness to engage toward that end.


Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


Cornel West: Obama’s Response to Trayvon Martin Case Belies Failure to Challenge “New Jim Crow”

The video below features Cornel West taking issue with President Obama's remarks last Friday about the Trayvon Martin tragedy, as well as the not-guilty verdict reached in the George Zimmerman trial. The full transcript from this interview is available at Democracy Now.

Among the issues Cornel West raises...

  • The contradiction when the President identifies with Trayvon Martin as a Black male who has been racially profiled (with tragic consequences), but offering little in terms of leadership or a federal agenda that transforms this nation's criminal justice system... one which targets and criminalizes poor, Black and Brown brothers and sisters across the country.
  • The contradiction presented when the president decries racial profiling in the case of George Zimmerman while simultaneously celebrating and praising the work of New York's police chief Ray Kelly, who is actively affirming and justifying the use of 'Stop and Frisk' as the policing policy in New York City - a policy fundamentally profiling and targeting Black and Brown communities.
  • Forecasting an impending moral test for Black leadership in this country who have rallied behind the President at every turn, yet who may run up against a brick wall while pressing the federal government (via the Department of Justice) to push a civil rights case against George Zimmerman in the wake of his targeting and killing of Trayvon Martin.  West comments on the signals offered by the President that the federal government might have limited influence in this regard, an assertion West says is so far from the truth, and further highlights a lack of commitment to these issues on the president's part.
  • Also forecasting what he fears will be a lack of strong moral courage and critique of government by the establishment Black leadership class during the upcoming activities commemorating the 50th anniversary the 1963 March on Washington, and the disgrace this will bring to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the many other leaders who challenged injustice in all of its forms and places.

I'd love to hear what you have to say about Cornel West's comments...




Turning Points: A Racialized Presidency Intensifies

In case people's memories get foggy and fuzzy about the racial text and subtext of President Obama's presidency and reelection candidacy, here is an older interview from The Ed Show on MSNBC.

This brief interview (video below), from October 26, 2012, and nearing the end of the President's successful reelection campaign against Mitt Romney, features two Republicans making the case for why President Obama was the right choice for President, and why he should be elected to another four years in office.

Moreover, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, the white and Republican military leader, as well as General Colin Powell's chief of staff during his time as Secretary of State, offers a very clear analysis of the racism and racial politics that undergirds a significant amount of Republican opposition to President Obama:

My party, unfortunately, is the bastion of those people, not all of them, but most of them, who are still basing their decision on race. Let me just be candid: My party is full of racists. And the real reason a considerable portion of my party wants President Obama out of the White House  has nothing to do with the content of his character, nothing to do with his competence as commander-in-chief and president, and everything to do with the color of his skin. And that’s despicable.”

I would offer that this analysis doesn't end with the Republican party (in terms of elected officials), but unfortunately extends to a large segment of the country's population.

The larger point, however, is that the racial character of President Obama's time in office is enduring, and has only intensified during each of the last four plus years.

It's only likely to intensify as this country continues to wrestle with the demons of its racial past (and present), and the prospects for its multi-racial future.

Racism and white supremacy is so embedded in some people's psyche that they can't imagine any other way of relating to other people.  White people who know better must do better, and do more.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


President Obama’s Remarks on the Trayvon Martin Tragedy

On Friday, President Obama weighed in once again on the killing of Trayvon Martin, and the 'not guilty' verdict reached by the jury in George Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial.

In his remarks, the President speaks more openly than we've heard him before about the history of race and the legacy of racism in this country (far more I would argue than the 2008 Philadelphia speech), and how that becomes the lens through which African Americans - and an assortment of other advocates for justice - view this tragedy.

Instead of a winding narrative summarizing my take on the President's remarks, I'd rather offer a guided tour of what I think are some of the highlights, in the President's own words...

You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there's a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it's important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn't go away.

There are very few African American men in this country who haven't had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. There are very few African American men who haven't had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me — at least before I was a senator. There are very few African Americans who haven't had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.

And I don't want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it's inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear. The African American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws — everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.

Now, this isn't to say that the African American community is naïve about the fact that African American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system; that they're disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence. It's not to make excuses for that fact — although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context. They understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.

And so the fact that sometimes that's unacknowledged adds to the frustration. And the fact that a lot of African American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that African American boys are more violent — using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.

Within these comments, which come early in his remarks, the President offers what could be interpreted as concluding statements from a Racism 101 course to help the larger American public understand the nature of the public divide in terms of reactions to this tragic killing and the resulting trial verdict.  What he also offers, which is noteworthy given his seeming reluctance to talk publicly about racial disparities, is an acknowledgement of the racism and bias embedded within the criminal justice system (including the juvenile justice system), and also that the history of racism in this country accounts for a great deal of the violence (multiple forms I would suggest) we see in some of our communities.

I say this is noteworthy because much of the President's commentary about African American community dynamics and challenges thus far has come in the form of (what I have perceived as) lecturing about the need for more personal responsibility among Black men and fathers.

Later in his remarks, President Obama offers reflections that many of us have talked about, but which I would imagine takes a great deal of courage for him to offer publicly given his office and track record...

And for those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these "stand your ground" laws, I'd just ask people to consider, if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman who had followed him in a car because he felt threatened?

After laying out some of the policy implications, and some of the steps the federal government and some states have worked to advance, he then goes on to signify some hope for the future...

And then, finally, I think it's going to be important for all of us to do some soul-searching. There has been talk about should we convene a conversation on race. I haven't seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations. They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have. On the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces, there's the possibility that people are a little bit more honest, and at least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can? Am I judging people as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin, but the content of their character? That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.

And let me just leave you with a final thought that, as difficult and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, I don't want us to lose sight that things are getting better. Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race. It doesn't mean we're in a post-racial society. It doesn't mean that racism is eliminated. But when I talk to Malia and Sasha, and I listen to their friends and I seem them interact, they're better than we are — they're better than we were — on these issues. And that's true in every community that I've visited all across the country.

While the President's remarks are modest in the greater scheme of public figures, scholars, educators and others who have talked at length about the plight of - and solutions for - Black men and boys in this country, they are still noteworthy (perhaps even courageous) given his own track record, and that of other Presidents.

Along these lines, Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree, who has likely known President Obama far longer than most of the President's advisers, and indeed longer than most of the journalists and other talking heads and media pundits we find commenting on the President, argues just that point...

It was the most refreshing, startling and amazing comment I've ever heard him make in the 25 years I've known him on the issue of race; very poignant, very personal and very much, I think, a rallying cry for African-Americans and a point of contention for those who really resent the fact that he's bringing race into this equation.

Ogletree's brief interview is worth listening to (approximately 5 minutes), and places the President's remarks within the larger context of the Presidency, and also within the context of President Obama's leadership and advocacy when it comes to the experiences of other groups within this country.  Here is the brief audio, with the transcript also available online.



It's worth watching the President's remarks in their entirety (approximately 18 minutes) to best understand how challenging these comments appeared to be for him, as well as how thoughtful and deliberate he appears to be in his choice of words.  The transcript of his remarks are also available online.




Obama appellate court nominee behind ‘driving while Black’ case

Interesting the things you do and don't hear about people and events in the news, at least not from major news outlets .  During the early reporting yesterday, at least during my very early scan of the news, I hadn't heard about the connection of Judge Wilkins to the 1992 racial profiling incident and lawsuit in Maryland.  I remember the case well, but didn't remember the name.

From the Pittsburgh Courier online...

A federal judge President Barack Obama wants to promote to the appellate bench successfully sued the Maryland State Police for racial profiling after his family was pulled over and searched for drugs while driving back from a funeral.

The 1992 search has been at the center of two decades of litigation that's become known as the "driving while Black" case. U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins has shown an unyielding effort to combat racial profiling in drug stops through three subsequent lawsuits, the final one ultimately decided just this year.

Wilkins, whom Obama nominated Tuesday to the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, has said his family's roadside detention for an eventual search by a drug-sniffing dog was a "humiliating and degrading experience" and he's been determined to use the courts to prevent it from happening to others.

The Wilkins stop came on May 8, 1992, during an all-night road trip home from his grandfather's funeral in Chicago. His cousin Scott El-Amin was driving in their rented Cadillac, and his uncle and his uncle's wife were also in the car. Wilkins has said they were hurrying because they were all due at work in the morning — Wilkins, then a public defender in Washington, had a court appearance scheduled.

Read the full story...