Greetings and thanks to the introduction and to all of you for attending today’s program. It is always a pleasure to join you brothers and sisters during Black History Month.
On this wet and rainy Friday, I am glad to begin this presentation with some truly good news. Today some more Black history has been made. Today, President Biden nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to be the first Black woman to serve as a Supreme Court Justice.
It should be noted that in the 233-year history of the Supreme Court, she will be only the third Black American to serve on the Supreme Court – and that we are still talking and rightfully celebrating Black “firsts” in the third century of this country’s existence is yet another illustration of the racist and supremacist virus that still courses through the veins of this nation.
Of course, during Black History Month we celebrate what has been – but we also have to take to time to observe, assess and consider the present and the future because if we ignore the present and fail to consider the future, then we do so at our own peril.
It should be noted that the origins of Black History Month began with the work of the great Black Historian G. Carter Woodson. The celebration began in February because the birthday of the great Frederick Douglass was in February. And I would like to begin with a quote by Brother Douglass:
There is no Negro problem. The problem is whether the American people have honesty enough, loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough to live up to their constitution.
Over the last six years it would seem that nothing could be worse for Black America than the presidency of one Donald J. Trump. And then came the torrent of sanctioned murders of Black Americans including George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and so many more (and of course we should remember that Eric Garner was strangled to death by NYPD Officer Pantaleo and there has never been justice for him and his family even though the President and the Attorney General of the United States were Black at the time.
We have seen the birth and the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement and white corporate America has paid lip service to the concept – but institutional change has been elusive at best for Black America.
By every indicia – family income, infant mortality, life expectancy, incarceration rates, poverty levels, education and income deficits – the narrative of this country is that no matter where we live, no matter how much money we make, no matter where we went to school – if you are a Black woman, man or child – we live in a different country than that of our white sisters and brothers.
It would seem that since I first had the honor of joining you 4 years ago – so much has happened. And now so much is about to happen. Since the November 2020 election we have seen the deconstruction of American democracy moving from slow motion to warp speed. And even though American democracy has never been the saving grace of Black America that it should be, its demise simply cannot be a good thing. That is because the successor to American democracy could be very well be an authoritarian America that will certainly not be the friend of any Black woman, man or child.
Since January 1, 2021 19 states have passed 34 laws that make it more difficult to vote and in particular making it more difficult for Black Americans to vote. As you might guess, this is no accident.
Since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 – and I realize that many of you gathered today were not even born then and therefore have enjoyed a level of franchise entitlement that never existed for Black people before that year and…. may soon evaporate within the next 36 months.
We have seen the deconstruction of the Republican Party, at one point the party of Reconstruction- seemingly a million years ago, and is now the vehicle for a proto-conservative, authoritarian, neo-fascist, jackbooted and tattooed cadre of shock troops hell-bent on a reconstruction of America that will not resemble anything that has been seen in this country’s history.
We must understand that instead of worrying about how many times Joe Rogan says “nigger” we should be worrying about how many members of Congress and the Senate will no longer consider Black Americans as a legitimate part of their constituency. And once that becomes the case, the remaining guard rails are coming down.
Due to our collective inattention and lack of focus, the Supreme Court now has a 6-3 proto-conservative majority. My sad prediction is that the following rights are on the chopping block and will be eviscerated or eliminated within the next 36 months – abortion rights, universal healthcare, universal voting rights, affirmative action, rights to public accommodations, gender equity, rights of the differently abled, same sex marriage and anything resembling for undocumented immigrants.
And keep in mind that this Court will have this right wing of the right wing majority for at least the next two decades – and that’s why elections do matter.
The American house is on fire. Like many house fires it may not be that noticeable at first – there might be some oily rags in the garage waiting for a moment of ignition or some old and moldy magazines smoldering in the attic and then – conflagration.
In the future we should never look back and say that we had no idea that it could get this bad. We have been warned and we have a choice. As Frederick Douglass said:
Power concedes nothing without demand
The question now is what do you demand? What do we demand?
We can regroup and reorient our focus towards resistance and resilience. We have to realize that our forebears didn’t even have shoes, but they marched to freedom – spiritually and literally.
Anything that we might consider to be freedom today is in jeopardy.
And if we just hope for better times, if we just go about our daily business with the assumption that things really cannot get that much worse, if we cross our fingers and refuse to imagine a more negative scenario than that in which we live, then we dishonor and disrespect everything that Black History Month is supposed to stand for:
-We will dishonor the enslaved mothers and fathers of our people who endured unspeakable horror, somehow holding on to the hope that if not their lives, the lives of their descendants would be better
-We will disregard the historic and epic achievements of Harriet Tubman and Nat Turner and Frederick Douglass on through to Fannie Lou Hamer, Harry T. Moore, Martin Luther King, Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X and so many others whose names we will never know
-and we will disrespect the rich legacy of hope and expectation that has been our inheritance
What can we do? We can invest strategically in that aspect of the political process to which we still have access and demand of our elected officials that every moment of every hour of every day should witness their working with the realization that we are at an existential point in American history and our continued existence is not a given – we don’t have time for political labels or petty partisanship or anything else that does not aim for resistance and resilience
What can we do? We can focus on education, healthcare and community development as if our lives depend on it – because they do.
What can we do? We can immediately stop acting like business as usual is going to yield useful results.
What can we do?
We can get more serious about voter registration and, as importantly, voter education and, most importantly voter engagement – in your neighborhood and in your community.
We can learn from the opposition to play the long game – focus on the community boards, the school boards, the state legislators.
We can develop a real agenda that needs to be supported by candidates at every level – local, state and federal– healthcare, housing education, police/criminal justice reform, voting rights, abortion rights – what exactly do you want? You cannot complain that the system isn’t serving your needs if you don’t know what you want, and you don’t know what you need.
What can we do?