Reflections for the “Other Side”

Medgar Evers

Civil Rights Activist Medgar Evers

I really don’t want to spend the next three years writing and responding to Donald Trump. In an attempt to maintain my composure – I’ve opted to take frequent breaks from theorizing our current state of affairs. However, one thing that recently struck me was Trump’s insistence that the violence in Charlottesville, VA at a white supremacist rally was caused by “both sides.” He was referring to white supremacy advocates versus their opponents – people that are anti-hatred.

Throughout American history, people in opposition to progress have always blamed the “other side” for violence that ensues when countering oppression. The issue isn’t that the “other side” is violent. The issue is that the other side won’t be passive, won’t accept things the way that they are and won’t fearfully bide in silence.

Thus, they are labeled trouble makers for their insistence that society must make positive and progressive changes.

Harriet Tubman was labeled a thief and an outlaw.

Martin Luther King Jr. was beaten and jailed.

Fannie Lou Hamer was beaten and jailed.

Angela Davis was labeled a fugitive and jailed.

Nelson Mandela was imprisoned and labeled a terrorist.

Medgar Evers and countless others were murdered.

They were the “other side.” Today, history is on their side.

Playing the blame game is an old tactic and I’m not surprised at all. So to members of the “other side” – keep dreaming, keep pushing, and keep disrupting.

Keep on being the “other side.” We need you.

 

Jessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is the founder of OurLegaci.com. To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com. Follow her on Facebook at Facebook.com/JAMAiwuyor.

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Remembering George Stinney Jr., Lena Baker and Countless Others When Pondering Dylann Roof

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Recently Dylann Roof, the white gunman that murdered 9 Black church members during a bible study, was sentenced to death. Honestly speaking, my heart felt that anything less would have been insufficient. Yet, the death sentence itself is still unsatisfactory. There is no joy here. No ease away from pain, knowing that the final minutes of the victims’ lives were engulfed in terror as they were slain in their sanctuary.

If it were up to me, perhaps Roof would be sentenced to life in prison and forced to watch an endless loop of family videos and photos of all the beautiful people he murdered every single day for the rest of his life. He would wake up and recite their names, ages, and the number of loved ones they left behind. He would hear their stories. His life would be inundated with their existence, his atmosphere would be permeated with their spirits. Every single day. And it still wouldn’t be enough.

Knowing the evil of what he has done can easily lead many to the rightful conclusion that he does not deserve to enjoy life. And yet with his sentencing, there is a constant ringing in the back of my mind that prevents me from feeling like any justice has been served. There is a Dylann Roof. A man that we all know without a shadow of a doubt is a racist murderer.

Then there is George Stinney, Jr., a young Black boy that was sentenced to death and electrocuted for a crime he did not commit. There was Lena Baker, a Black woman that was tortured by an employer, fought back in self defense, then sentenced to death. More recently there was Larry Griffin, Troy Davis and countless other Black and Brown people that were unjustly convicted of murder and sentenced to death. There have been a large number of unaccounted for state sanctioned killings of innocent Black people under the death penalty.

A study published in 2014 titled, “Rate of False Conviction of Criminal Defendants Who Are Sentenced to Death,” found that one in every 25 people on death row are innocent. Furthermore, with the high number of racial profiling, wrongful arrests, and false convictions the Innocence Project states that 63% of individuals exonerated by DNA evidence have been African Americans. Additionally, “An analysis of the 297 DNA exonerations reveals minorities make up approximately 70% of those proven innocent through DNA testing. (Innocence Project, 2014)”

This showcases a massive racial inequality in terms of wrongful sentencings and executions. And this is one of the key reasons that I am against the death penalty. The unknown number of innocent Black and Brown people that have been wrongfully executed is chilling. Curing this ill would require an end to racial profiling, prejudice and racial inequality – which is no small feat. So in the meantime, ending the death penalty could save a great number of innocent lives as our criminal justice system works through a number of much needed reforms.

Being human, I want Dylann Roof punished to the fullest extent of the law. However, in a society where innocent people are systematically imprisoned and killed simply due to their racial makeup in the name of “law and order” – it’s hard to see the shine of justice here. While Dylann Roof is sentenced to death, the criminal justice system continues to unjustly ruin and take the lives of the same people he terrorized. There is overt terrorism and covert terrorism but it is terror just the same.

It’s a troubling paradox that is hard to grapple with.

The one death sentence of Dylann Roof neither makes up for the deaths of the innocent lives he took or the trove of innocent Black and Brown people being executed along with him. I’m not sure what justice is in this case but I know for sure that the death penalty is no friend of my tribe and never has been.

 

“The fate of millions of people—indeed the future of the black community itself—may depend on the willingness of those who care about racial justice to re-examine their basic assumptions about the role of the criminal justice system in our society.” ― Michelle Alexander

Jessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is the founder of OurLegaci.com. To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com. Follow her on Facebook at Facebook.com/JAMAiwuyor.

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New Year, Same Power

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For many people, 2016 ended with a great number of mixed feelings, anxiousness and anxiety. This is especially due to the fact that Donald Trump was elected President of the United States and has went about bringing every elitist, racist, and womanizing lawmaker along for the ride. It’s easy to get bogged down with the imagery in front of us.

There are legitimate fears that many could lose much needed healthcare, immigrant families could be split apart and police could starting fulfilling a renewed mandate to further the criminalization of Black and Brown people.

However, as I am reminded by older generations, if they could survive Reagan – we can survive Trump. Furthermore, if our ancestors could mobilize in the face of chattel slavery and Jim Crow, surely we can find some ways to utilize the modern tools in front of us to continue the push for social justice in all forms.

At a time when reading was still illegal for enslaved Africans in America, Frederick Douglass was publishing The North Star, an abolitionist newspaper that advocated for freedom and the plight of enslaved persons in America.

At a time when Jim Crow was in its prime and women did not yet have the right to vote, Mary Mcleod Bethune started a school to ensure the education of future generations Black children (at the supreme disapproval of the KKK).

At a time when African Americans faced stiff, often deadly backlash to civil rights and social justice initiatives, Ella Baker worked as a key grass roots organizer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Times can appear hopeless, but history serves as a reminder that the same energy used to overcome past oppressive forces continues onward. So with this new year, let us be comforted and empowered knowing that the never-ending strength of grassroots “people power” remains unwavering.

Here are a few ways you can be a social justice advocate in 2017.

Read Indivisible.

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Indivisible is a document created by former congressional staffers that contains information on how to organize a group in your local community to put pressure on your elected officials and representatives. Described as, “A practical guide for resisting the Trump agenda”, tactics in this document help to make sure your representatives hear your grievances and vote in your best interest.

Join the Movement for Black Lives.

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The Movement for Black Lives is a collective of Black organizations joining together to protect the lives of people of African descent across the country. They are currently organizing to “build safe and vibrant communities for all Black people.” The collective has issued a call to action for those who want to get involved.

Join the NAACP.

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Members of local NAACP Alabama branches, led by NAACP president Cornell Brooks, were recently arrested during a sit-in protesting the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions for the role of Attorney General. Sessions has a well known anti-civil rights record. The NAACP will be fighting against Sessions’ nomination and working to continue the struggle for civil rights.

Grow your own movement.

There may be something you’re passionate about starting yourself. Team up with friends, family members, and other community organizers to work towards collectively building an organization that will meet an unfilled need of your community. There are a huge number of opportunities to work with other activists and grow. Idealist.org and WorkForGood.org are two websites that can serve as a starting point for finding volunteers and other activists in your area.

In conclusion, the above listed are just a few ways to get started working on social justice and civil rights in 2017. The opportunities are endless and the power is waiting.

 

“Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.” – Frantz Fanon

Jessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is the founder of OurLegaci.com. To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com. Follow her on Facebook at Facebook.com/JAMAiwuyor.

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Why are we so invested in lying to ourselves about Kanye West?

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About 3 years ago to this day, I wrote an article about Kanye West titled, Kanye’s Frantz Fanon Complex. The response has been very interesting. I’ve received a plethora of emails from scholars, journalists, and bloggers agreeing or disagreeing with my initial thoughts. There was also some hate mail and angry tweets. Additionally, I was lambasted in a book that thankfully no one has read. So there’s that.

Among all of the hoopla and the never ending Kanye antics, my article continues to circulate widely, being read by over 200,000 readers and counting. Apparently, I’ve hit a nerve with an enduring sting.

Yes, there is room for discussion about life circumstances, pain and mental health. All of us need to have these discussions because they are legitimate and acknowledge our shared humanity. But there is also room for discussions about hypocrisy, accountability and social responsibility.

Right now, closing arguments for the Dylan Roof murder trial are taking place. Roof is on tape acknowledging that he went specifically to an African Methodist Episcopal church because he knew that African Americans would be there. Founded by members of the Free African Society in 1794, he knew that the AME Church was our home. Roof murdered 9 defenseless worshippers hailing the same confederate flag that Kanye wears as a provocative fashion statement.

While processing this, the hoops that people jump through to excuse Kanye West licking the boot heels of oppressors and toying with Black lives simply amazes me.

I keep coming back to the question. Why are we so invested in lying to ourselves about Kanye West?

Perhaps because the truth hurts too bad. Kanye West is an amazing artist. The Black community and beyond knows this. But his obsession with approval from white elitists is driving him further and further away from reliability.

He has lamented on stage and in his songs against the establishment. Yet longingly awaits its sweet embrace. This is a sad truth.

Another sad truth is that Kanye is all of us. 

Life is not Black and White. Nothing is so simple. We live within and navigate gray areas at almost every turn. We lament against oppressive forces, yet if given the opportunity would run towards a seat at the table instead of: tossing it over, building our own table, or forgetting tables all together by starting our own paradigm.

The man who stated, “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people, ” is now chasing after Donald Trump – a man who is endorsed by the KKK and Neo-Nazis. Donald Trump has placed every elitist, racist, hateful bigot that he can into leadership roles controlling our future. While our voting rights, health care, education, and lives are at risk, Trump is the man that Kanye seeks to rub shoulders with. This is the height of hypocrisy from a man that rails against the system.

Still, we are all hypocrites in one way or another. But our saving grace is the ability to continually work towards justice even in the midst of our own inner-most conflicts.

That’s what Kanye’s Frantz Fanon Complex is about. It’s really a critique of all of us. Fanon wrote about how members of an oppressed group/the colonized often end up idolizing and molding themselves in the likeliness of their oppressors (exhibiting the colonized mind). That is precisely what Kanye is doing. This is precisely the temptation that each of us faces everyday as we navigate the center and margins of society.

We don’t have time to continue lying to ourselves about Kanye West because that would mean we’re lying about our own fluctuating realities, getting us nowhere. In order to stay grounded and forward thinking, we need to hear the truth – even if it is painful.

 
Jessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is the founder of OurLegaci.com. To reach JAM, email her at JAMAiwuyor@gmail.com. Follow her on Facebook at Facebook.com/JAMAiwuyor.

*Hey, I’m writing a book. If you know a good literary agent send them my way! JamAiwuyor@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

On Election Day: Local Races Matter Too

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(African-American lawyer Vernon E. Jordan working on a voter education project, seated at a desk with a typewriter at the Southern Regional Council, Atlanta, Georgia) – Library of Congress

Today is election day. It seems like it took forever for this day to finally come. Last year, I had imagined this day a bit differently. Perhaps I was a bit naive about our progress as a society but I did not foresee such a lack of choice and diversity amongst the presidential candidates. Furthermore, the rise of blatantly racist, sexist, elitist Donald Trump mentally stumped the majority of the American public.

In the media whirlwind infatuation with Trump, local races have been all but ignored. Unfortunately, many will see the names of local election candidates for the first time today. Before stepping into the booth, take time to look up candidates for your local Board of Education, circuit courts, senate, congressional races and etc. Start with a simple Google search of articles that discuss the candidates’ records and stance on important issues.

These are the people who will be determining keep aspects of our lives. Electing the right local candidate can ensure funding for public schools in need, a quality justice system that uplifts instead of criminalizing, and legislation that accurately represents the needs and wants of the local community.

We’re so focused on the possible negative outcome in the presidential election that we sometimes forget the very important outcomes of local races. Local elections matter too. Don’t just pick a name. Even if it’s just a few minutes, take some time to research so that you can vote responsibility when voting local. Your everyday life depends on it.

JAM-TwitterJessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is a poet, writer and social justice advocate. She’s also the founder of Our Legaci.

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A Message For Writers: Stop Waiting For Permission

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There are so many different rivers to cross for writers. Writing is a field that presents rejection as a rite of passage. At every turn, writers are expected to present our work to gatekeepers for approval, acknowledgement, and accolades. The chase to be accepted is never ending and at times can be overwhelming. This, in turn, can halt progress. So much looming rejection, can lead us to forget why we’re writing in the first place. Truth be told, most writers didn’t first pick up a pen thinking about whether or not their structured thoughts would be accepted into a literary journal.

We started writing because we had a passion for something. We had a voice that needed to be released. We had a purpose that needed to be fulfilled. In the digital age, there is more flexibility than ever for writers to both hone their skills and move forward with their careers, without first needing the approval of gatekeepers. Some see this new found freedom negatively, desperately touting the need for restrictions. However few acknowledge that the current publishing industry is built on exclusionary, elitist practices that traditionally marginalize writers from under-privileged groups.

Are we to stop writing if our work is not welcomed with opened arms into prestigious literary circles?

If you have an idea for a book, get started. If you want to create your own syndicated column, podcast or video series there is nothing stoping you but you. Hone your craft, listen to your gut and move forward. There will always be time to submit to journals and send out proposals. Don’t let this process halt your progression.

Stop waiting for permission to be yourself and fulfill your purpose.

 

JAM-TwitterJessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is a poet, writer and social justice advocate. She’s also the founder of Our Legaci. Rant or rave to JAMAiwuyor@gmail.com. Don’t forget to join our mailing list!

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Where Children Touch The Walls

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From the moment I first learned about its development, the National Museum of African American History and Culture held a special place in my heart. After the last few years of construction, it finally opened this fall.

A major attribute of people of African descent (and in this case African Americans specifically) is our standing glory and liveliness. Whenever there is an upcoming Black cultural experience, I always hope for a layered approach. One that embraces the complexity of our existence, which is often laced with joy and creativity in spite of attacks or marginalization. Walking in the National Museum of African American History and Culture is like walking into a bubble of Black self-love and never wanting to come out. It’s where we can come face-to-face with our truths and stand in awe of everything we have been through, everything we have accomplished and everything the future holds for us.

There was a deep ache in the room that housed pieces of slave ships and shackles. The voice narration lingered throughout the air, speaking of slave traders raping girls not older than 10 years old. It spoke of people throwing themselves off of ships, starving themselves in hopes that with death, they will return home to Africa.

There was a rumble in the room that housed Emmett Till’s casket, while a video of his mother played on rotation. She spoke of her son, how playful he was, how much joy was inside of him. And she spoke of how he had been butchered. She recounted how murderers tried to chop off his neck, how his right eye dangled from the socket down to his cheek. She spoke of how she wanted the world to see what had been done to her son. “Let the people see what I’ve seen.”

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This is the pain, the grief that in the era of Black Lives Matter, we instinctively relive as a collective. This is not because we want to but because in many instances death associated with anti-Blackness continues to be a cruel reality.

And yet, we are still vibrant. The walls are lined with quotes from Black artists, scholars, and activists reminding us of our humanity while rejoicing in our colorful splendor. Many things were stolen from us, still many parts of us can never be stolen. I never wanted my visit to this historic museum to be about pain. Yet, the pain that I had initially set out to not feel became the catalyst for gratefulness and pride. I became more and more enamored with each step.

The greatest experience during my visit was seeing and hearing the reactions of youth.

One little boy exclaimed, “Gosh, they were strict. I’m glad I wasn’t born back then.”

A little girl read a quote on the wall about the slave blocks. She reached up high to rub the words with her fingers. She then looked down and told her sister,”They sold women and children.”

Another little girl, when seeing a hat from modern day Liberia, said her friends “Our African heritage!”

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Then there was the child, that was completely in awe of Huey P. Newton’s photo displayed in the Black Power/Black Arts Movement section.

Finally, at Emmet Till’s casket, there was a teenaged girl sobbing in her father’s arms.

Just around the corner, these same children then saw Public Enemy’s bright red banner, Oprah’s stage, huge photos of the Obamas, beautiful pieces made by artisans in the 1700-1800s, Nat Turner’s bible, Langston Hughes words towering over visitors, Fannie Lou Hamer’s voice ringing and so much more.

The children are seeing, hearing, and feeling. They are literally touching the walls absorbing history, Black history…America’s history. The museum’s ability to transport children back in time to experience the tragedies and triumphs, while ushering them into a vibrant future is perhaps it’s greatest attribute of all.

This is a place where children touch the walls.

 

JAM-TwitterJessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is a poet, writer and social justice advocate. She’s also the founder of Our Legaci. Rant or rave to JAMAiwuyor@gmail.com. Don’t forget to join our mailing list!

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