What WE Can Do: Partial Thoughts In the Aftermath of the Shooting of Michael Brown



August 9th, a police shot and killed an unarmed African American male teenager in Ferguson, MO. The issue of police brutality is nothing new. Seemingly unwarranted police killings often occur across the country over the last several years. As I continue to reflect on the shooting death of Michel Brown and others, I remain quite emotional. Some of my emotions are very personal as the situation makes me reflect on my own story, and other emotions are focused on my intense sympathy for the victims and those who are close to the situation of Michael Brown, including his family and friends. I could only imagine their pain.

Similarly to many tenderhearted, understanding people who are in MO and those of us who follow the case in the newspaper, online, social media and television, my heart aches with them. As a Christian, my spirit is troubled by this tragedy. I ask, \”Lord, how long?!\”

The thoughts that follow come from only one of the angles from which I view the situation. I hope that as cluttered as my thoughts are on this issue, these comments come across as more thoughtful than mere emotional. I am concerned that this will be another tragedy that as the media moves on, the intensity of concern for the betterment of our communities and society also fades. So, if I am not spot-on with my thoughts — though I really think that I am, I want to contribute to advancing the conversation surrounding,  or \”What does this situation teach us?\” or “What can we do about this?” Even then, there are many things that we can do. We definitely need better training for police and we need open and frank conversations about feelings of racial profiling. I hope to address those issues in future blogs. For now, I want to contemplate the concern for what the community (primarily African Americans) can do to help to strengthen our communities for better days ahead.

Too often, efforts of help and outrage come as an emotional reaction to tragedy. Yet, tragedies must ignite something within us to press harder toward change for the better. As in the Michael Brown Murder in Ferguson, MO, the African American community and others have shown impressive collective concern for the blight of community as related to police brutality, in particular. This case and many others suggest that “something needs to be done\” to address the issue.

Not to cast shadow on this deeply concerning case, police brutality is not the only issue that needs to be addressed. It is part of a larger picture, a wider, deeper problem. As an African American, it is not hard for me to see historical traces of racism at work in this case. When I see it, it makes me feel frustrated and even angry like many African American and others who sympathize with what appears to be evidence of racial profiling. It is unfortunate that an unarmed teenager(s), usually African American male(s), fall victim of this bigger crisis in many American communities.

Again, this is a multi-faceted problem that I hope to address from various angles in future posts. For now, I believe that a more proactive approach to address the bigger problem is to look for foundational solutions to repair brokenness all-around. While the issue of what appears and feels to be racism at work is significant, one of the more pressing concerns, in my view, is the situation of education disparities in African American communities. Given the African American value placed on family and education during Jim Crow, we would expect that after the Civil Rights Movement things would be far better today than they are. Moreover, there is much justifiable blame to go around; yet, I do believe that while we are addressing those issues, we can also revisit the fundamental emphasis on education that our forefathers and foremothers saw as key to lifting up the African American community from its historical tragedies to triumph.

I see education as a value, a principle, and a fundamental virtue for community transformation. Anywhere there is increased emphasis on education that community, that nation, tends to excel. While we do need to discuss what “they” can do, we also need to discuss what “we” can do. “We” includes them and “us” (African Americans). Mainly, the issue of concern presses upon “us” more than them (whomever that is). No one would care about issues of concern more than those whom it directly impacts. But, we can’t care only when we feel overtly attacked. We must become vigilant and proactive in advancing values that will help us now and in the long run.

Far too long, African Americans have suffered in an under-privileged state. Granted, we came to the Americas as slaves. One wonders if the systems at work are designed without our interests in mind. And that seems to be true more than not. As a result, we constantly feel victimized by those systems.

With a renewed emphasis on education, we will emerge as leaders in the world rather than victims. We have enough educated African Americans, Black entrepreneurs, millionaires, billionaires, community leaders, politicians, actors, athletes, entertainers and more to come together on the common grounds to fix the plight of African American communities. Historically Black Colleges and Universities were founded with the basic premise to education African Americans for their own betterment and for the betterment of society. It is unfortunate that with more resources and more educated people among us today than then, we struggle with much low rated data on the issue of African American advancement and the betterment of society. I think that what we can do, as a community – including our churches, is renew our value for quality education and place greater emphasis on family.

While most of what I have to say in this blog has to do with renewed value of education, it is crucial that families become more intentional in training children and working with educational systems to educate them. I digress.

Let’s face it. One can only begin to be a leader in any corporate system when she or he is at the table of decisions. Indeed there are many who want to exclude others from the table because they remain stuck in a pile of isms (racism, sexism, age-ism, etc). Yet, in a world of unanswered questions, brilliant answers become a nations’ quest. Notwithstanding, education prepares one to have her or his own table to which she or he invites others. But, it takes education and personal discipline to beat the odds and have your own table.

I believe that we (African Americans) will advance like we did during the Civil Rights Movement when we come together and collectively work on the problem of education in our communities. The entrepreneurial attitude that fills the communities of the world have filtered into families, schools, and churches – “every person for themselves.” We cannot afford to adopt the mindset that says, “my education, my money, my religion, my church.” It is not about the success of any individual person. We need our communities to succeed. A significant level of unity was the spirit of the Civil Rights Movement that overcame Jim Crow. That was also the spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation Council of South Africa that overcame Apartheid.

African American Communities suffer the greatest in economic, literacy, High School dropout rates, college dropout, and health disparities. It is just not enough for me to sit in the ivy tower, as a professor doing his own thing, with that ole “I got mine and you get yours” mentality. We must find ways to work together to fix the problems. Having one African American president cannot bear full responsibility for fixing the problem. Certainly have President Obama in office does not prove that we have overcome the race problem in the country. In some cases, it has done more to uncover the race problem that has always been here.

We must work together as a village to fix our communities. As a country, we all must work together to overcome the race problem. Yet, reactionary rioting, looting, and protesting can only be short-lived, rendering very minimal, if any, results. We need ongoing, less emotionally driven, strategic discussions with action items following.

Here is what I propose:

1. We need unity on the issue of education as the starting place. Research supports its value in lowering crimes, reducing recidivism rates, increasing of skill development, empowerment, and character growth, increase one’s economic value for the workplace and sustainable livelihood, to name a few.

2. We need the community to help to tutor our boys and girls.

3. We need to commit to long-term mentoring toward success.

4. We need parents to be intentional in training their children, to cooperate with the schools, becoming more involved in PTA, proactively engaging teachers and administrators, returning their calls and seeing to it that children finish their homework.

5. We need a closer relationship between the community and police. Proactively, we need to organize forums in which the police and the community could have dialogue about police procedures and the community needs to voice their concerns. This way, the community becomes more educated about police training and they can hold each other accountable to common knowledge.

6. (a) We need African Americans and others with resources (financial and otherwise) to invest in young African Americans, particularly African American men (who seem to suffer greatly from the lack of proper support). African American young men need more male role models and attention starting at a young age.

(b) Also, they need more liberal financial support from the financially resourced African Americans and others, starting from a young age that will help them to develop their skills and critical thinking. To many of our young African Americans experience the “summer slump” because they do not have the financial resources to help them to maintain their standards of learning through the summer. As a result, they are all too often behind other students on their grade-levels who have summer educational support and exposure to education through meaningful travel experiences during the summer. Additionally, they need life-long emotional and financial support to nurture them along the right path toward success. This includes more financial and mentorship during college. We need to do all that we can to help them finish school! In fact, we should think about investing more in young African Americans to get them into the Police Academy. They should be leaders in law enforcement, particularly in mostly African American communities, rather than the victim of police brutality that appears to be coated with racism.

7. African American Churches continue to have a key role in African American communities — the very small churches and the mega churches. The pastors need to think of ways to work together toward a common vision to help our African American communities, particularly the problems that are rampant among African American males. Divisions among churches and the arrogance of success only cripple the communities. The people belong to God. It is our honor to serve them, advocate for them, and teach them the Word of God. When we work together, we get powerful results. By-in-large-part, the Civil Rights Movement was successful because many pastors worked together to bring the people together based on common concerns. Martin Luther King, Jr depended on the pastors to help him to unify the people. And we can do this today. But we need to work together.

Also, as in the Civil Rights Movement, as in the Truth and Reconciliation Council, we can change our communities and our world. Let’s come together and do more collective partnerships to lift the veil of underperformance. Let’s come together to invest in our communities by investing in our children. In only a few years, they will be the leaders of the communities. They will be the police to protect rather than to brutalize our young African American men. At the same time, we will reduce the changes of our children’s likelihood for incarceration, criminal activity, homelessness, low wages, illiteracy, etc. I do believe that we can do this, if we work together.

Notably, none of these strategies can cure racism. And, as stated earlier, we do need that conversation. However, these strategies will help to strengthen African American communities and put us in positions of proactive leadership of our communities to reduce disadvantage that lands us on the underprivileged, disempowered side of the equation. Education empowers and helps to resist resistance in a way that accomplishes more than looting, rioting and carrying signs. We need real change. A massive education strategy will help us to get it.

Dr. Antipas L. Harris
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