A lot of our youths are seeing things like the Charleston massacre and the killing of Trayvon Martin and other forms of injustice. “Black Lives Matter” has become a chant throughout the nation.
These are not new issues. I remember attending a journalism camp for African Americans at UNC in the late ’70s where we had to write an essay about what Martin Luther King would be doing do if he were still alive. This was just a little more than 10 years after his death, and I remember saying he would on better race relations, that he would be fighting against unnecessary wars and an unfair criminal justice system, and working on environmental issues.
It’s a little over 35 years since I wrote that essay, and I feel a lot of what I wrote is still true.
Yes, Dr. King and other civil rights activists would love that we have elected our first African-American president. But, they would see so many other areas of improvement that are needed.
As a youngster in Durham, I hung around the Malcolm X School which was started here by my Dad and others. He was in the trenches of change during the ’60s along with folks like Howard Fuller who is now known as an advocate for charter schools. And, no matter what your view of these schools are, there is no doubt that change is needed in our education system in order to make it more equitable.
I also remember going to school in Milwaukee in the ’80s and protesting against the unlawful death of Ernest Lacy. In June of 1981, after my freshman year, the Milwaukee police were cruising the downtown Milwaukee area looking for a "rape suspect" when they came upon the troubled young man. When they tried to talk to Lacy he began to struggle with them. Lacy was eventually arrested and placed into the rear of a police van where he was later found dead.
A Marquette University student, Mary Keane, saw the incident from across the street. She later testified that Lacy was already motionless while being pinned to the street by the officers. According to Keane, Lacy began to “spaz out” as the officers loaded him into the back of the police van. A couple of years later the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission found five police officers guilty of failing to render first aid to Lacy.
The case became a lightning rod in that city, especially in the African-American community which was fed-up with the brutal tactics of the police chief at the time, Harold Brier. Nearly 1,000 people showed up at a jury view of the scene in 1982. The crowd began chanting, “What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now.” Does the chant sound familiar?
In recent years, we have seen that racial issues are still a very important part of the landscape of America and yes, even of Durham, even though I am proud to say that for the most part, Durham has been one of the more progressive cities in terms of race relations.
But, this does not mean that things are all wonderful here. All we have to do is look at the dropout and incarceration rates of our African-American youth to see that room for improvement is definitely there.
I am glad that people in our community and some of our churches and political leaders are tackling these difficult issues. Let us not turn a blind eye in the 21st century to problems that continue to exist but let us instead work on finding a way to improve things across the board so that all of our youths are treated equally.
One of my favorite songs growing up was “Imagine” and even here in Durham, I hope that one day these lyrics will ring true for everyone ... and while the song may slam religion, the gist of the song in my mind is living in a world of peace and equity.
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one
Yes, I am glad that a lot of positive changes have been made, but I want to see us work on even more and making this a even better city, state, and nation.
You can reach Marc S. Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org