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


Timely Speaking — James Baldwin, 1968: “I can conclude what white people think and feel from the state of their institutions…”

In this 60 second clip, James Baldwin is especially on point. Still applicable some 47 years later.

In the very brief piece, brother Baldwin makes the case that in every significant institutional relationship or arrangement between this American society and the African American community, we are on the more disadvantageous side of that relationship. And note that these are institutional arrangements, guided by laws, policies and practices, and not the individual arrangements between individually bigoted people and other individuals they wish to exploit. (Although, individuals indeed accept and breathe life into, sometimes intensifying, these arrangements.)

He then dismisses what is seemingly an appeal for Black folks to have more faith in, and be more optimistic in our assessments and willingness to trust, the collective good will and intent of whites in this country.

Now, this is the evidence. You want me to make an act of faith risking myself, my life, my woman, my sister, my children, on some idealism which you assure me exists in America which I have never seen!

I've said this to people I've worked closely with over the years, and it's still the case today... I'm not impressed with the ability of people from different racial and ethnic groups to get along and socialize together, even to support one another as individuals in times of human need. That shows that we have some level of humanness in our spirit that allows us to be humane to other people. I think that's important for sure, but it doesn't suggest a high level of courage; nor does it suggest some level of remarkable character. It shows one to be human in a most basic sense. Given the society we live in, that may seem commendable. Given the examples of civilized societies we've seen throughout history, it reveals a very low moral and ethical bar.

I'm far more interested in whether they/we do the harder work of telling the truth about the worldviews, value systems (and the institutions they produce) that undermine the human potential of some groups of people while stacking the deck in favor of other groups of people. Moreover, I'm interested in whether people do what is within their/our power and sphere of influence to work towards the destruction of that way of living in the world, in favor of a world that is just, that is humane, and that supports the healthy development of all people to their fullest potential.

Having said this, I must also say, consistent with brother Baldwin's reflections, that I'm not as yet convinced that everyone is capable of living in such a world, as the evidence would suggest that some people only know how to live in an environment with hierarchical, exploitative and oppressive human and social relationships, and in which they are on the top and/or in control. The sad reality is that for these people, at least as the evidence would suggest, such a world characterized by exploitation, domination and oppression is in essence their view of what constitutes healthy human relationships.

This notwithstanding, or should I say, because of this, the struggle and everyday work of humanizing - and bringing about justice within - this world, and among the people in it, continues. I am certain that there are courageous folks of all walks of life who are committed to this. For each of us, however, the test of our commitment is in what our actions produce, and not what we profess to believe... in what we do to create justice, optimal health and well-being for all people, and not in how many people we count as friends from other "racial" groups.

Watch the very short clip of Baldwin just below...


Ta-Nehisi Coates w/ Fareed Zakaria

Here's a brief discussion between Ta-Nehisi Coates and Fareed Zakaria; a discussion that more directly addresses some of the most frequently used diversions so as not to address the history and present impact of racism in pubic policy.

(approx. 7 minutes; starts after the first 16 seconds)


Black Student Activists and Black Athletes Stand in Solidarity Against Racism on University Campuses

Yesterday on Democracy Now...

Despite what some people say, the landscape of anti-racism organizing is very different today. Universities, as with other institutions, will have to be far more responsive to the increasingly public student protests against racism and hostile educational environments experienced by Black students and other groups of students who find themselves on the receiving in of white racism and related hostility. Whether it will fundamentally transform the mission, nature and culture of these educational institutions, I'm not as convinced; however, that has to remain the goal.

Black Student Revolt Against Racism Ousts 2 Top Officials at University of Missouri

A revolt by African-American students at the University of Missouri has forced two top officials to resign. On Monday, President Tim Wolfe and Columbia campus chancellor R. Bowen Loftin announced they will step down in the face of protests over their handling of racism on campus. African-American students have staged weeks of demonstrations against what they called a lax response to bigotry and vandalism. In a key moment Saturday, African-American football players joined the protest, vowing to boycott games and other team activities until Wolfe resigned. We are joined by Mizzou student Danielle Walker, who has organized "Racism Lives Here" demonstrations on campus; and University of Missouri Black Studies Chair Stephanie Shonekan. "[Racist] incidents just seem to be almost a rite of passage for black students when they enter the University of Missouri," Walker says. "I think it is atrocious that these protests had to get to this point in order to truly bring about change, that a student was willing to give their life in order to bring the necessary attention [to] what we have been experiencing so long at this university."

(approx. 23 minutes)

How Black Football Players at University of Missouri Changed the Game on Racism

The protests at the University of Missouri have been growing for weeks, but a turning point came this weekend when African-American players on the school’s football team joined in. In a tweet quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the players wrote: "The athletes of color on the University of Missouri football team truly believe 'Injustice Anywhere is a threat to Justice Everywhere.'" They announced they will no longer take part in any football activities until Wolfe resigned or was removed "due to his negligence toward marginalized students’ experience." The coach and athletic department soon came out in support. We are joined by Dave Zirin, sports columnist for The Nation magazine and the host of the Edge of Sports podcast.

(approx. 9 minutes)

"Another Yale is Possible": Students Confront Racism at Ivy League School

The protests at the University of Missouri come as a similar dynamic plays out at one of the nation’s top Ivy League schools. On Monday, more than 1,000 students at Yale University in Connecticut held a march over racism on campus. The "March of Resilience" comes after several incidents where students of color said they faced discrimination. One woman of color was reportedly denied entry to a fraternity party because she is not white, and a faculty member drew criticism after rejecting calls for students to avoid culturally offensive costumes on Halloween. Monday’s crowd chanted slogans including: "We are unstoppable, another Yale is possible." We are joined by Lex Barlowe, African American studies major at Yale University and the president of the Black Student Alliance.

(approx. 9 minutes)


Bree Newsome: As SC Lawmakers Debate Removing Confederate Flag, Meet the Activist Who Took It Down

Our struggle will continue, and we shall win. There are courageous people among every generation who are willing to speak truth to power, and take an active stand against the historical and present-day racial injustices in this nation and throughout the world. Bree Newsome is one in that long tradition. This is what courage looks and sounds like.

As South Carolina state lawmakers begin debate on whether to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state Capitol in Columbia, we are joined by Bree Newsome, the 30-year-old African-American woman who took down the flag herself. On June 27, 10 days after the Charleston massacre and one day after the funeral for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Newsome scaled the 30-foot flagpole at the state Capitol and took the flag in her hand. "I come against you in the name of God!" Newsome said. "This flag comes down today!" As soon as she reached the ground, she and fellow activist James Tyson were arrested. The protest went viral and was seen around the world. Newsome and Tyson join us to discuss their action in an extended interview.

From Monday, July 6, on Democracy Now


Charleston AME Church Massacre: Additional Perspectives on Terror and White Supremacy

From today's edition of Democracy Now...

Segment 1:  Dylann Roof’s White Supremacist Views, Links to Hate Group Revealed After Charleston Church Massacre

Church bells tolled Sunday and hundreds filled the church’s pews of the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, for the first service since Dylann Roof’s attack on a Bible session in its basement last Wednesday. An estimated 20,000 people formed a Bridge to Peace unity chain on the Ravenel Bridge to show solidarity with his victims. A website discovered Saturday called "The Last Rhodesian" shows photographs of Roof at Confederate heritage sites and hosts a 2,500-word manifesto he is believed to have written that explains why he chose to carry out his mass murder spree. "Roof might have been a high school dropout, but he was an excellent student, it seems, of the white supremacist world," says Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center. He is co-author of an editorial published today in The New York Times titled "White Supremacists Without Borders."


Segment 2:  "That Flag Represents White Supremacy": Confederate Flag Still Flies at South Carolina State Capitol

Wednesday’s massacre of nine African-American churchgoers by white supremacist suspect Dylann Roof have reignited protests over the Confederate flag, which still flies on the grounds of South Carolina’s Capitol. In photos posted online, Roof is seen posing with the flag and in front of a car with a front license plate that reads, "Confederate States of America." "People’s tax dollars ought not go into supporting the idea of the Confederate States of America," says Kevin Alexander Gray, a South Carolina civil rights activist and community organizer who edited the book "Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence." As former president of the state ACLU, he argued, "the flag flying on the statehouse dome was compelled speech. You were compelling people to support an ideology of white supremacy."


Segment 3:  "A Classic Case of Terrorism": Is FBI Ignoring White Violence by Refusing to Call Roof a Terrorist?

 Civil rights activist Kevin Alexander Gray and Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, discuss whether the shooting in Charleston was an act of domestic terrorism. "Dylann Roof was a human drone, and every Tuesday morning the Obama administration uses drones to kill people whose names we don’t even know and can’t pronounce," Kevin Alexander Gray says. "So I don’t know if I feel comfortable with the idea of expanding this word 'terror.'" But Richard Cohen calls the shooting "a classic case of terrorism." "It’s politically motivated violence by a non-state actor and carried out with the intention of intimidating more persons than those who were the immediate victims," Cohen says. "I think in some ways it’s important to talk about terrorism in that way, not so we can send out drones, not so we can deny people their due process rights, but so we can understand the true dimensions of what we’re facing."


Roots and Branches: We Are the Bridge Between the Elders and the Children

MMM - Logo 6

I was very fortunate to have spent many of my childhood years growing up around, and to some extent getting to know, my grandparents.  There were many lessons they tried to teach us, rules for living really, that I've always remembered and still reflect on in my adult years.  The most consistent messages were to always listen to my parents, and to always seek out as much education as we could possibly get.

As for listening to our parents, our grandparents were absolutely clear that our parents had a responsibility to be hard on us, but that they knew far better than we did what it would take for us to grow up and be successful in this country and in this world.  They also made it clear to us that our parents knew what was at stake if we didn't listen, and if we didn't grow up to be responsible and hard-working.  They helped to translate the rhyme and reason for the strict childhood we were experiencing.  The stakes have always been high for our children growing up in such a racist society.  And as much as our grandparents may have spoiled us, they also didn't play games.  We did chores around their house, we ran errands for them and we did anything and everything they asked of us.  And when necessary, they disciplined us just as 'intensely' as our parents did.  Our grandparents didn't play.

In terms of education, they made sure we knew that formal schooling (as in going to school to learn and get diplomas, degrees, etc.) wasn't always allowed for our people, and that anything we wanted to be and do in life would require a strong educational foundation.  They also made it clear that there were some things we needed to learn that wouldn't be taught in textbooks... like respect for elders, how to conduct ourselves in public (we represent our parents and extended family at all times), how to treat other people and our lifelong responsibility to our family and community.  It was clear that getting an education wasn't just about our own individual success, but those were all tools and processes we needed to exploit in order to make our mark - in support of our community - in this world.

While there was so much that I did get, the one thing that I wish I got more of directly from my grandparents was greater insight about what their childhoods were like - what it was like to have grown up so close to the years during which our people were enslaved.  I appreciate now how hard and traumatic some of those memories were, and also how their insistence on being forward-looking accounted for a lot of that.  The good thing is that my parents, as well as my aunts and uncles, have over the years helped me and some cousins understand what those earlier years were like.

Now, in my adult years and as a parent of two growing children, I watch with great appreciation as my children interact with their grandparents, as well as with their great aunts and uncles.  It's such a blessing that they get to soak up some of the same stories that I'm hearing for the first time, as young children.  It's also powerful to watch them listen to some of the reflections from our elders about the long history of racism that we continue to fight.  One of the most pronounced messages they're hearing is that this isn't new, and that there are a lot of lessons to be learned from the experiences - successes and no so successful strategies - of our long fight for freedom and justice so that they can be better prepared as the face and tactics of racism and white supremacy continue to evolve during their lifetime.

I share some of these reflections as a reminder that we have so much to learn from our elders about life and about our history in this world.  We can't blow them off, and we also can't afford to let their stories, experiences and wisdom leave us when they transition from this physical life.

For years now, I have kept a small statue of an elder on my desk, and it reminds me of the many years of life that have been lived by others before me, and that have made it possible for me to be here.  I, and we all, have to tap into that wisdom if we really want to turn this pathology of racism and white supremacy on its head.

There's little new under the sun.  And that's certainly true when it comes to our effort to heal and develop our families in the face of white supremacy.  If more of us better understood the look, feel and ever-changing landscape of this racist pathology, we would be able to focus our energies and strategies so much more effectively.  Studying our history is our best starting point, including both our ancient ways of living in the world and our collective response to racism and white supremacy during the lifetimes of our elders and ancestors.

We have many elders in our midst right now.  We should start today by asking questions, making sense of that experience and gaining any insight about how to apply it to today's circumstances.

The only generational gap that can ever exist is the one that we deliberately refuse to bridge.



Michelle Obama at Tuskegee University Commencement: Racism is Real, Yet We Still Have a Timeless & Sacred Purpose

Interesting remarks provided by First Lady Michelle Obama at Tuskegee University's commencement ceremony this past weekend. The message in a nutshell... Race and racism absolutely matter. But this is not new for us. Remember that other people don't define us, and can't ultimately keep us from our potential. You must be mindful of your place in the larger flow of our history, as you make your mark in the future. But whatever you do, remember the where, what and who that produced you. Ours is a sacred mission, and we must use our education to serve our people.

You can read along with the transcript provided by the White House, as you watch the video...

...And whether you played sports yourself, or sang in the choir, or played in the band, or joined a fraternity or sorority -- after today, all of you will take your spot in the long line of men and women who have come here and distinguished themselves and this university.

You will follow alums like many of your parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles -- leaders like Robert Robinson Taylor, a groundbreaking architect and administrator here who was recently honored on a postage stamp.  (Applause.)  You will follow heroes like Dr. Boynton Robinson -- (applause) -- who survived the billy clubs and the tear gas of Bloody Sunday in Selma.  The story of Tuskegee is full of stories like theirs -- men and women who came to this city, seized their own futures, and wound up shaping the arc of history for African Americans and all Americans.

And I’d like to begin today by reflecting on that history -- starting back at the time when the Army chose Tuskegee as the site of its airfield and flight school for black pilots.  (Applause.)

Back then, black soldiers faced all kinds of obstacles.  There were the so-called scientific studies that said that black men’s brains were smaller than white men’s.  Official Army reports stated that black soldiers were “childlike,” “shiftless,” “unmoral and untruthful,” and as one quote stated, “if fed, loyal and compliant.”

So while the Airmen selected for this program were actually highly educated -- many already had college degrees and pilots licenses -- they were presumed to be inferior.  During training, they were often assigned to menial tasks like housekeeping or landscaping.  Many suffered verbal abuse at the hands of their instructors.  When they ventured off base, the white sheriff here in town called them “boy” and ticketed them for the most minor offenses.  And when they finally deployed overseas, white soldiers often wouldn’t even return their salutes.

Just think about what that must have been like for those young men.  Here they were, trained to operate some of the most complicated, high-tech machines of their day -- flying at hundreds of miles an hour, with the tips of their wings just six inches apart.  Yet when they hit the ground, folks treated them like they were nobody -- as if their very existence meant nothing.

Now, those Airmen could easily have let that experience clip their wings.  But as you all know, instead of being defined by the discrimination and the doubts of those around them, they became one of the most successful pursuit squadrons in our military.  (Applause.)  They went on to show the world that if black folks and white folks could fight together, and fly together, then surely -- surely -- they could eat at a lunch counter together.  Surely their kids could go to school together. (Applause.)

You see, those Airmen always understood that they had a “double duty” -- one to their country and another to all the black folks who were counting on them to pave the way forward.  (Applause.)  So for those Airmen, the act of flying itself was a symbol of liberation for themselves and for all African Americans.

One of those first pilots, a man named Charles DeBow, put it this way.  He said that a takeoff was -- in his words -- “a never-failing miracle” where all “the bumps would smooth off… [you’re] in the air… out of this world… free.”

And when he was up in the sky, Charles sometimes looked down to see black folks out in the cotton fields not far from here -- the same fields where decades before, their ancestors as slaves. And he knew that he was taking to the skies for them -- to give them and their children something more to hope for, something to aspire to.

And in so many ways, that never-failing miracle -- the constant work to rise above the bumps in our path to greater freedom for our brothers and sisters -- that has always been the story of African Americans here at Tuskegee.  (Applause.)

Just think about the arc of this university’s history.  Back in the late 1800s, the school needed a new dormitory, but there was no money to pay for it.  So Booker T. Washington pawned his pocket watch to buy a kiln, and students used their bare hands to make bricks to build that dorm -- and a few other buildings along the way.  (Applause.)

A few years later, when George Washington Carver first came here for his research, there was no laboratory.  So he dug through trash piles and collected old bottles, and tea cups, and fruit jars to use in his first experiments.

Generation after generation, students here have shown that same grit, that same resilience to soar past obstacles and outrages -- past the threat of countryside lynchings; past the humiliation of Jim Crow; past the turmoil of the Civil Rights era.  And then they went on to become scientists, engineers, nurses and teachers in communities all across the country -- and continued to lift others up along the way.  (Applause.)

And while the history of this campus isn’t perfect, the defining story of Tuskegee is the story of rising hopes and fortunes for all African Americans.

And now, graduates, it’s your turn to take up that cause.  And let me tell you, you should feel so proud of making it to this day.  And I hope that you’re excited to get started on that next chapter.  But I also imagine that you might think about all that history, all those heroes who came before you -- you might also feel a little pressure, you know -- pressure to live up to the legacy of those who came before you; pressure to meet the expectations of others.

And believe me, I understand that kind of pressure.  (Applause.)  I’ve experienced a little bit of it myself.  You see, graduates, I didn’t start out as the fully-formed First Lady who stands before you today.  No, no, I had my share of bumps along the way.

Back when my husband first started campaigning for President, folks had all sorts of questions of me:  What kind of First Lady would I be?  What kinds of issues would I take on?  Would I be more like Laura Bush, or Hillary Clinton, or Nancy Reagan?  And the truth is, those same questions would have been posed to any candidate’s spouse.  That’s just the way the process works.  But, as potentially the first African American First Lady, I was also the focus of another set of questions and speculations; conversations sometimes rooted in the fears and misperceptions of others.  Was I too loud, or too angry, or too emasculating?  (Applause.) Or was I too soft, too much of a mom, not enough of a career woman?

Then there was the first time I was on a magazine cover -- it was a cartoon drawing of me with a huge afro and machine gun. Now, yeah, it was satire, but if I’m really being honest, it knocked me back a bit.  It made me wonder, just how are people seeing me.

Or you might remember the on-stage celebratory fist bump between me and my husband after a primary win that was referred to as a “terrorist fist jab.”  And over the years, folks have used plenty of interesting words to describe me.  One said I exhibited “a little bit of uppity-ism.“  Another noted that I was one of my husband’s “cronies of color.”  Cable news once charmingly referred to me as “Obama’s Baby Mama.”

And of course, Barack has endured his fair share of insults and slights.  Even today, there are still folks questioning his citizenship.

And all of this used to really get to me.  Back in those days, I had a lot of sleepless nights, worrying about what people thought of me, wondering if I might be hurting my husband’s chances of winning his election, fearing how my girls would feel if they found out what some people were saying about their mom.

But eventually, I realized that if I wanted to keep my sanity and not let others define me, there was only one thing I could do, and that was to have faith in God’s plan for me.  (Applause.)  I had to ignore all of the noise and be true to myself -- and the rest would work itself out.  (Applause.)

So throughout this journey, I have learned to block everything out and focus on my truth.  I had to answer some basic questions for myself:  Who am I?  No, really, who am I?  What do I care about?

And the answers to those questions have resulted in the woman who stands before you today.  (Applause.)  A woman who is, first and foremost, a mom.  (Applause.)  Look, I love our daughters more than anything in the world, more than life itself. And while that may not be the first thing that some folks want to hear from an Ivy-league educated lawyer, it is truly who I am.  (Applause.)  So for me, being Mom-in-Chief is, and always will be, job number one.

Next, I’ve always felt a deep sense of obligation to make the biggest impact possible with this incredible platform.  So I took on issues that were personal to me -- issues like helping families raise healthier kids, honoring the incredible military families I’d met on the campaign trail, inspiring our young people to value their education and finish college.  (Applause.)

Now, some folks criticized my choices for not being bold enough.  But these were my choices, my issues.  And I decided to tackle them in the way that felt most authentic to me -- in a way that was both substantive and strategic, but also fun and, hopefully, inspiring.

So I immersed myself in the policy details.  I worked with Congress on legislation, gave speeches to CEOs, military generals and Hollywood executives.  But I also worked to ensure that my efforts would resonate with kids and families -- and that meant doing things in a creative and unconventional way.  So, yeah, I planted a garden, and hula-hooped on the White House Lawn with kids.  I did some Mom Dancing on TV.  I celebrated military kids with Kermit the Frog.  I asked folks across the country to wear their alma mater’s T-shirts for College Signing Day.

And at the end of the day, by staying true to the me I’ve always known, I found that this journey has been incredibly freeing.  Because no matter what happened, I had the peace of mind of knowing that all of the chatter, the name calling, the doubting -- all of it was just noise.  (Applause.)  It did not define me.  It didn’t change who I was.  And most importantly, it couldn’t hold me back.  I have learned that as long as I hold fast to my beliefs and values -- and follow my own moral compass -- then the only expectations I need to live up to are my own.

So, graduates, that’s what I want for all of you.  I want you all to stay true to the most real, most sincere, most authentic parts of yourselves.  I want you to ask those basic questions:  Who do you want to be?  What inspires you?  How do you want to give back?  And then I want you to take a deep breath and trust yourselves to chart your own course and make your mark on the world.

Maybe it feels like you’re supposed to go to law school -- but what you really want to do is to teach little kids.  Maybe your parents are expecting you to come back home after you graduate -- but you’re feeling a pull to travel the world.  I want you to listen to those thoughts.  I want you to act with both your mind, but also your heart.  And no matter what path you choose, I want you to make sure it’s you choosing it, and not someone else.  (Applause.)

Because here’s the thing -- the road ahead is not going to be easy.  It never is, especially for folks like you and me.  Because while we’ve come so far, the truth is that those age-old problems are stubborn and they haven’t fully gone away.  So there will be times, just like for those Airmen, when you feel like folks look right past you, or they see just a fraction of who you really are.

The world won’t always see you in those caps and gowns.  They won’t know how hard you worked and how much you sacrificed to make it to this day -- the countless hours you spent studying to get this diploma, the multiple jobs you worked to pay for school, the times you had to drive home and take care of your grandma, the evenings you gave up to volunteer at a food bank or organize a campus fundraiser.  They don't know that part of you.

Instead they will make assumptions about who they think you are based on their limited notion of the world.  And my husband and I know how frustrating that experience can be.  We’ve both felt the sting of those daily slights throughout our entire lives -- the folks who crossed the street in fear of their safety; the clerks who kept a close eye on us in all those department stores; the people at formal events who assumed we were the “help” -- and those who have questioned our intelligence, our honesty, even our love of this country.

And I know that these little indignities are obviously nothing compared to what folks across the country are dealing with every single day -- those nagging worries that you’re going to get stopped or pulled over for absolutely no reason; the fear that your job application will be overlooked because of the way your name sounds; the agony of sending your kids to schools that may no longer be separate, but are far from equal; the realization that no matter how far you rise in life, how hard you work to be a good person, a good parent, a good citizen -- for some folks, it will never be enough.  (Applause.)

And all of that is going to be a heavy burden to carry.  It can feel isolating.  It can make you feel like your life somehow doesn’t matter -- that you’re like the invisible man that Tuskegee grad Ralph Ellison wrote about all those years ago.  And as we’ve seen over the past few years, those feelings are real.  They’re rooted in decades of structural challenges that have made too many folks feel frustrated and invisible.  And those feelings are playing out in communities like Baltimore and Ferguson and so many others across this country.  (Applause.)

But, graduates, today, I want to be very clear that those feelings are not an excuse to just throw up our hands and give up.  (Applause.)  Not an excuse.  They are not an excuse to lose hope.  To succumb to feelings of despair and anger only means that in the end, we lose.

But here’s the thing -- our history provides us with a better story, a better blueprint for how we can win.  It teaches us that when we pull ourselves out of those lowest emotional depths, and we channel our frustrations into studying and organizing and banding together -- then we can build ourselves and our communities up.  We can take on those deep-rooted problems, and together -- together -- we can overcome anything that stands in our way.

And the first thing we have to do is vote.  (Applause.)    Hey, no, not just once in a while.  Not just when my husband or somebody you like is on the ballot.  But in every election at every level, all of the time.  (Applause.)  Because here is the truth -- if you want to have a say in your community, if you truly want the power to control your own destiny, then you’ve got to be involved.  You got to be at the table.  You’ve got to vote, vote, vote, vote.  That’s it; that's the way we move forward. That’s how we make progress for ourselves and for our country.

That’s what’s always happened here at Tuskegee.  Think about those students who made bricks with their bare hands.  They did it so that others could follow them and learn on this campus, too.  Think about that brilliant scientist who made his lab from a trash pile.  He did it because he ultimately wanted to help sharecroppers feed their families.  Those Airmen who rose above brutal discrimination -- they did it so the whole world could see just how high black folks could soar.  That’s the spirit we’ve got to summon to take on the challenges we face today.  (Applause.)

And you don’t have to be President of the United States to start addressing things like poverty, and education, and lack of opportunity.  Graduates, today -- today, you can mentor a young person and make sure he or she takes the right path.  Today, you can volunteer at an after-school program or food pantry.  Today, you can help your younger cousin fill out her college financial aid form so that she could be sitting in those chairs one day.  (Applause.)  But just like all those folks who came before us, you’ve got to do something to lay the groundwork for future generations.

That pilot I mentioned earlier -- Charles DeBow -- he didn’t rest on his laurels after making history.  Instead, after he left the Army, he finished his education.  He became a high school English teacher and a college lecturer.  He kept lifting other folks up through education.  He kept fulfilling his “double duty” long after he hung up his uniform.

And, graduates, that’s what we need from all of you.  We need you to channel the magic of Tuskegee toward the challenges of today.  And here’s what I really want you to know -- you have got everything you need to do this.  You’ve got it in you. Because even if you’re nervous or unsure about what path to take in the years ahead, I want you to realize that you’ve got everything you need right now to succeed.  You’ve got it.

You’ve got the knowledge and the skills honed here on this hallowed campus.  You’ve got families up in the stands who will support you every step of the way.  And most of all, you’ve got yourselves -- and all of the heart, and grit, and smarts that got you to this day.

And if you rise above the noise and the pressures that surround you, if you stay true to who you are and where you come from, if you have faith in God’s plan for you, then you will keep fulfilling your duty to people all across this country.  And as the years pass, you’ll feel the same freedom that Charles DeBow did when he was taking off in that airplane.  You will feel the bumps smooth off.  You’ll take part in that “never-failing miracle” of progress.  And you’ll be flying through the air, out of this world -- free.

God bless you, graduates.  (Applause.)  I can’t wait to see how high you soar.  Love you all.  Very proud.  Thank you.  (Applause.)


S.C. Judge Says 1944 Execution Of 14-Year-Old Boy Was Wrong – Justice 70 Years Delayed

george stinney jr south carolina

George Stinney, Jr., a 14-year old boy in South Carolina, was convicted and executed in 1944 of killing two young white girls. The 14-year old boy didn't have a chance in the old south.

Stinney's trial lasted two hours.

He was convicted by a jury within 10 minutes.

Eighty-one days passed between his day of arrest in March 1944 and being convicted and executed on June 16, 1944. During that time his father was fired from his job, and the family forced to leave town under threat of lynching. He was left without the presence of active support throughout the process. But his family never gave up seeking justice in his case.

Stinney was exonerated this week on December 17, 2014, approximately 70 years after his unjust conviction and execution.

Constitutionally protected due process was not given... so says the court system some 70 years later. Practically everyone involved knew this was the reality at the time.

You can read more... via NPR coverage or via Washington Post coverage.


Bryan Stevenson – One Lawyer’s Fight For Young Blacks And ‘Just Mercy’

Bryan Stevenson discusses his new memoir, Just Mercy, detailing the influences that drove him to a career bringing justice to many that others tend to ignore. This discussion was aired Monday on NPR's Fresh Air (approximately 38 minutes).

When Bryan Stevenson was in his 20s, he lived in Atlanta and practiced law at the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee.

One evening, he was parked outside his apartment listening to the radio, when a police SWAT unit approached his car, shined a light inside and pulled a gun.

They yelled, "Move and I'll blow your head off!" according to Stevenson. Stevenson says the officers suspected him of theft and threatened him — because he is black.

The incident fueled Stevenson's drive to challenge racial bias and economic inequities in the U.S. justice system.

"[It] just reinforced what I had known all along, which is that we have a criminal justice system that treats you better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent," Stevenson tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "The other thing that that incident did for me was just remind me that we have this attitude about people that is sometimes racially shaped — and you can't escape that simply because you go to college and get good grades, or even go to law school and get a law degree."

Stevenson is a Harvard Law School graduate and has argued six cases before the Supreme Court. He won a ruling holding that it is unconstitutional to sentence children to life without parole if they are 17 or younger and have not committed murder.

His new memoir, Just Mercy, describes his early days growing up in a poor and racially segregated settlement in Delaware — and how he came to be a lawyer who represents those who have been abandoned. His clients are people on death row — abused and neglected children who were prosecuted as adults and placed in adult prisons where they were beaten and sexually abused, and mentally disabled people whose illnesses helped land them in prison where their special needs were unmet.

Listen below.  Read more at Fresh Air.


This is Not New: Pastors, Activists and Everyday People All Fed Up with Ferguson and St. Louis Racism

Interesting discussion from Democracy Now on Tuesday. This is an old pattern and problem, but - fortunately - new and younger people are now beginning to understand more clearly the ugly persistence of white racism and state-sanctioned oppression of Black people.

Ferguson is the most recent and most naked example, between the actual execution of Michael Brown and the subsequent (and continuing) state occupation of the Black community in Ferguson, but be clear that there are many "Ferguson" communities all around the country that must get our attention.

Broken into 4 separate segments...

  1. Pastor: In Ferguson Police Crackdown, I Need a Gas Mask More Than My Clerical Collar (approx. 15 min.)
  2. Activist: For a New Generation, Ferguson Marks Historic Nonviolent Resistance to Police Repression (approx. 10 min.)
  3. St. Louis Activist: Decades After 1968 Urban Uprisings, Key Economic & Race Issues Remain Unresolved (approx. 10 min.)
  4. "Overpoliced & Underprotected": In Michael Brown Killing, Neglect of Black Communities Laid Bare (approx. 3 min.)

Segment #1:  Pastor: In Ferguson Police Crackdown, I Need a Gas Mask More Than My Clerical Collar

We go to the streets of Ferguson to speak with Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, a pastor from the First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, who was dispatched to Missouri by the Fellowship of Reconciliation. "It is a tragedy that as a clergyperson I need a tear gas mask more than I need a collar to be able to do the work that I feel called to do," Sekou says.

Approximately 15 minutes

Segment #2:  Activist: For a New Generation, Ferguson Marks Historic Nonviolent Resistance to Police Repression

As protests continue in Ferguson, activists are traveling to Missouri to join the movement in solidarity. We speak with one activist who has just arrived to Ferguson from Florida, Phillip Agnew, the executive director of Dream Defenders, a network of youth of color and their allies who engage in nonviolent civil disobedience and civic engagement to bring about social change. "I came here to be part of resistance," Agnew says. "We have not seen a reaction of nonviolent civil disobedience [to] officers of the state like this in my lifetime." Agnew helped organize protests to the 2012 shooting of unarmed, African-American teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.

Approximately 10 minutes

Segment #3:  St. Louis Activist: Decades After 1968 Urban Uprisings, Key Economic & Race Issues Remain Unresolved

The upheaval in Ferguson, Missouri, has called to mind the racial divisions that split open in the 1960s with a series of uprisings in cities across the country. In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson established what became known as the Kerner Commission to investigate the causes of the unrest. In February 1968, the commission famously concluded: "Our nation is moving toward two societies — one black, one white — separate and unequal." Just a month later, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sparked uprisings in more than 100 cities across the United States, including Kansas City, Missouri, where the National Guard was deployed and at least five people were killed. We speak with Jamala Rogers, who was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and witnessed the 1968 uprisings. She recently did a commentary for St. Louis Public Radio titled "Kerner Commission Warning Comes True — Two Societies, Separate and Unequal." Rogers is a founder and past chair of the Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis, Missouri. She joins us from the streets in Ferguson.

Approximately 10 minutes

Segment #4:  "Overpoliced & Underprotected": In Michael Brown Killing, Neglect of Black Communities Laid Bare

As we continue to discuss the developments since the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer, we turn to john a. powell, professor of law, African American studies and ethnic studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society. "The black community tends be overpoliced and underprotected," powell says. "That’s a very serious problem."

Approximately 13 minutes