By: Brian Williams
Every generation of Americans has its time to have an impact on the country. As a young Black male who has experienced more than enough police harassment, I know that the roots of the cause for the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and countless other Black men who are vilified and characterized as dangerous before anything other than speculation can be proven.
Why should I, a Black man and a human being, be fearful of being killed by those who are sworn to protect my civil liberties as an American citizen?
As the tree of American prosperity grows from soil fertilized by the blood, sweat, and tears of enslaved African-Americans, there should be a point of acknowledgement that our nation has yet to reconcile with our community. In the days leading up to the Ferguson decision, major media outlets across America continued to reiterate the message of fear and expected violence from protestors even though protests have been going on for several weeks and months, without violence. That same mentality has pervaded the fabric of American history and race relations for decades. Before the March on Washington in 1963, media outlets expected “violence” at the same event where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech. Before the Million Man March in 1995, there was a heavy police presence with the expectation of violence from the massive outpouring of Black men from across the country.
Furthermore, the presence of ex military equipment to “contain” riots of people were not necessary and served no purpose other than to show the extensive distrust that still may pervade the consciousness of those who do not truly understand Black people.
Millennials like myself grew up listening to the sad and terrifying stories of our grandparents, and their struggles to live a normal life amongst the pangs of discrimination, terrorism, Jim Crow laws, violence and death committed against Black people. Often these crimes were for reasons as simple as trying to start a business, get an education, eat at a restaurant, vote, and live the American life that our constitution promises us.
Millennials like myself grew up listening to the sobering stories of our parents, and their fights against the establishment, their cries for equality in the face of staunch oppression, their establishment of African American studies programs and Black Student Unions across the country with the goal of preserving and teaching us about our own history from our own perspectives. We heard the stories about the police brutality, unfair juries, and the murders of Black leaders advocating for community solidarity, amongst countless other displays of disregard for the African-American community.
As a young Black Man, who has experienced being stopped by police on my way home from school, in full uniform with my academy crest, for being “suspicious,” I can relate to the same stories as many Black men when it comes to feeling like an outsider in my own home. I can relate to that feeling of nervousness when engaging a police officer, not because I am guilty, but because I know he may prematurely find me guilty, and in the same moment, convict, sentence, and execute me right there on the spot. I understand the majority of Black men when they remember the conversations they have had with their parents about how to talk to police, how to never move quickly, never reach for anything, never get anything out of a glove compartment, and to remain calm regardless of provocation or disrespect.
Earlier, an author I greatly respect named Lawrence Otis Graham wrote an article about how, even though he has had the opportunity to gain an ivy league education and make an excellent life for himself and his family, his young son was still impacted by the unavoidable pain of racism. This caused his son, who has not experienced the harsh racism experienced by many poor inner city brothers and sisters, to feel the same fear and apprehension when he steps into the world outside of his window. I immediately understood Mr. Graham’s son, and as I grow older, I believe I understand Mr. Graham himself.
It’s a combination of helplessness, fear, anger, and fury. It’s an acknowledgement that the status quo for America’s treatment of Black men and Black women is not what we deserve. It’s a realization that as much as we would like to believe we are the same in every way as any other American, in practice, we are not. It’s a process that grows towards systemic change resulting in a correction of the institutionalized wrongs designed and committed against communities of color.
We are tired of being treated like we are not human, like we are criminal, or like we are preemptively guilty. We are NOT criminals, we are citizens, and whether people realize it or not, we have a long history of not accepting injustice against us without striving for the civil liberties that we so drastically deserve.
This is bigger than the death of Michael Brown Jr. This is the culmination of all that has come before. This is African-Americans taking another forward step in the same ideological direction as Washington, Garvey, Du Bois, Randolph, Davis, Shakur, King, X, Cleaver, Seal, Newton, Jackson, Carmichael, and countless others, and that direction is a better life for people of African descent. That direction is now allowing others to determine how many fifths of a human we are, or if our vote counts, or if the way we walk, talk, dress, wear our hair, and behave is suspicious or not. It is exercising those certain unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, without friction from those who are tasked with defending those rights for us.
Most of all, It is a change in the American psyche about Black people.
And it is something that we, Black Millennials, are willing to materialize in our time. It’s our turn to take the next step forward for Black people.
“True peace is not the absence of tension, it’s the presence of justice”
-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Brian Williams is the founder/CEO of PurchaseBlack.com, an ecommerce marketplace focused on African-American products from the businesses that sell them. He received his MBA from The University of Texas where he studied African American business success. Brian’s primary concern is leaving his community better than he found it, and doing all he can to make a large, positive impact through business. @PurchaseBlack on Facebook, IG, and Twitter, blog.