award-winning educator, mental health advocate, social entrepreneur, inspirational speaker, author/writer, program executive, and radio host
It’s difficult to accept that in the 50+ years since the March on Washington on August 28, 1963 – and even with the many advances achieved – that there’s still a long way to go to achieve various types of equality (e.g., income, racial, sex). Part of the issue is that numerous individuals – who aren’t part of a protected class (e.g., black, women, hispanic, gays, or otherwise disenfranchised) – communicate that safeguards are no longer required. Unfortunately, this isn’t true, which can be validated by a cursory review of court sentences, civil rights complaints, and employment discrimination that continue to plague these communities.
There are too many black men who are profiled, given tougher sentences, or not given opportunities solely based on their skin color. This reality represents a cultural breakdown in which someone’s skin color or ethnicity presupposes that anyone who possesses certain characteristics is guilty or not qualified just because of visual appearances. These types of misguided beliefs or actions help to continue the cycle of purposeful, systematic, and sometimes orchestrated racial biases.
Injustices that indiscriminately apply to or impact segments of our population minimize opportunities for our country to move beyond race-based issues. Unless we – as a nation – collectively work to identify, address, and correct reprehensible biases, our country will continue to be burdened by the historic weight of injustices. This is a compelling reason that everyone shouldn’t be afraid about or uncomfortable with discussing any type of social discrimination, but instead be willing to engage in meaningful conversations that will help this great nation move closer to achieving Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream of racial equality.
The challenge for many black men – like me – who work hard to pursue their American dreams, pursue higher education, and seek to give-back to this nation is that we’re still profiled without regard or consideration that we also want to make meaningful contributions, drive positive changes, and have significant economic/societal impacts.
My personal experiences with discrimination and racism demonstrate that there are ample opportunities for improvement, as many times I’m evaluated as a ‘color’ first and a ‘man’ second. The issue with this type of evaluation is that my abilities, capabilities, potential, and projected worth are determined based on superficial judgments.
A few of my experiences:
* Standing in front of a well-known hotel in which I was registered – in clothing that wasn’t similar to the valet staff – and a white man attempts to hand me keys to park his car;
* White women moving their purses as I walked toward them;
* Accused of stealing water at a store that didn’t sell the type of water I had in my possession by a middle-eastern man without any basis for the accusation;
* Stopped by a black police officer as I walked down a street, asked to walk toward him, and then the police officer pulled a gun on me without any warning or explanation;
* Being told after I met individuals in-person – oh, you don’t look like I expected or you sounded “white” on the phone --- by non-blacks and blacks.
Preconceived notions about black men and who we are is a major factor that prevents our country from moving past questionable practices that promote discrimination based on race. As long as generic stereotypes are used, race will continue to be an unresolved discussion point. Therefore, efforts should be directed toward treating everyone with dignity, respect, and also helping others to pursue positive opportunities to experience unbridled happiness --- without any concerns based on race or any other misguided and biased considerations. This kind of change would be a momentous milestone for everyone to be evaluated based on their actions, behaviors, and not cursory observations.
Enacted laws are an important step to provide equal protection; however, laws are just a part of the journey and not a destination that represents that inequalities no longer exist. There must be orchestrated, open, and ongoing conversations to help resolve any discriminatory behaviors or biases --- especially those which aren’t based on facts.
My hopes and dreams are that it will not take another 50+ years or generations to have purposeful conversations and serious advancements that move beyond race or any other factor that makes each of us unique. In the meantime, don’t just complain about these problems… do something every day to drive changes. Take action by: speaking-out against discriminatory actions/behaviors in public forums, initiating changes in your community, helping others who are disenfranchised to make positive forward-progress, and using one of the greatest benefits of a democratic nation… the power to vote.
Your vote and actions matter! Countless individuals – over decades – fought, were beaten, were jailed, and died for many of us to have freedom, opportunities to pursue our dreams, and chances to be judged based on ‘character instead of color’.
Get involved, take action, make a difference, and influence changes that will drive progress toward equality in this country for everyone. Complaining without action won’t make things any better; real change requires ongoing commitment to address systematic oppressions that have held this country back from achieving its ‘true’ potential for far too long.
How will your energy and voice be used --- to ‘make noise’ or ‘promote positive progress’?