Thursday, November 21, 2013

The State of Black Youth

This morning, I entered my office to find the article from the Huffington Post that I was reading yesterday still available on my screen. The article was acknowledging the efforts of the Black students from The University of Michigan taking to Twitter with their #BBUM (Being Black at U of M) to share their experiences; whether good or bad. As I followed their tweets, I received my emotions. From some of the posts, I was happy to see the positives and the celebratory messages that highlighted what it is like to be a student at U of M. But then I also felt pain and sadness that some of their posts were still happening to us today. And in all honesty, I was not surprised but it affects me personally to hear how cruel people can be to others. In a setting of higher education, I am always challenged to hear that students still receive oppression of any sort.

As I left the Twitter feed and actually found time to read the Huffington Post (which is rare), I ran across another article that read Renisha, Jonathan, Trayvon ... The New Strange Fruit? written by Avis Jones-DeWeever. Although I enjoyed her article, more things became brighter in my light of awareness. I have always found myself to be one who recognizes signals and symbolism, particularly in heightened moments. The first thing that I noticed was that after listening to India.Arie's rendition of Billie Holidays Strange Fruit, I have heard this song in many places, quite often as a matter of fact. And it was even more interesting that I had just heard it last night on the latest episode of Criminal Minds; which was ironically the title of the episode. But it has hit me as the latest way to define the inhuman treatment of our youth. Of our people.

Reading the many articles and petitions for change that are flooding the media, I am moved to share my thoughts regarding (1) identifying our youth as strange fruit and (2) the cycle that has plagued our community since our arrival into the United States. It is hard for me to accept the idea that we are still in a time where Non-Blacks are still surprised when they see a Black person in their physical presence. Because of the work that I do, I am highly aware that Blacks internationally are received differently but to believe that we are seen as "Strange Fruit" still in 2013 is mind blowing. What is so strange about us? About our youth? What is more strange about us that isn't any stranger of other cultures, ethnicities, or races? Why have we accepted this term to define the treatment of our young? Our people? I have younger cousins and nothing about them is strange - maybe the music but that changes with time. If one is to listen to the words of the song, it may become even more unsettling to connect that context to our Trayvons, Jordans (whom I reference further in the reading), Renishas, and Jonathans.

The Black students of The University of Michigan receives many kudos from me. As someone who promotes and encourages individuals to tell their story, I was moved by their efforts to bring attention to the reality that is their lives. Being an Alumnae of a Historically Black University, I have no reference to what it is like to be Black at a Predominately White Institution, which further defines why I am appreciative for those students to share and inform. But why are we still encouraged to inform that these experiences are reality? With so much conversation around everything else that is taking place in our society, it is evident that we have not healed from all that has occurred to the African Americans. And by no means am I lessening the experiences of any other culture in the U.S. but because of the context, I am mentioning this particular group.

And as I continue to read various articles still reciting the names of the latest incidents that have affected our community since the death of Trayvon Martin, I am challenged to see that many have already forgotten about young Jordan Davis, a young man who was killed in November of 2012 in Jacksonville, Florida at a gas station for being in a vehicle that had its music too loud, according to his killer Michael Dunn, who is still awaiting trial. We recite the names of Trayvon, Renisha, and Jonathan, but we have already forgotten about Jordan. Why? Why have we chosen to pick and choose who we advocate for? Why have we allowed society to determine which cases receive our attention? There are many young blacks who have lost their lives from coast-to-coast and the conversations seem limited to the most recent publicly displayed tragedies. Why?

After George Zimmerman attempted to use the infamous "Stand Your Ground Doctrine" to justify his actions, many were unaware that the same defense was being attempted but denied for Marissa Alexander, another resident of Florida. Although a life had not been taken in her case, she was still within the parameters of usage according to the law. As all of things have taken place, I reference back to the Trayvons, Jordans, Renishas, and Jonathans of my era; the Amadous Diallos & Sean Bells; and of course, they were shot by Police Officers but their deaths are no less than those who have been take by the hands of civilians.

The state of black youth is a statement and a question that many are posing in hopes that it (1) brings attention to the disproportionate treatment of Blacks in America, (2) encourages conversation and action around taking back our communities and protecting our lineage, (3) shows that we are aware of what is going on in what has been said is our country, and (4) proves that as much as we would like to say we have overcome, we are still faced with more obstacles to cross.

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