"Go back home Ebola!" the group of middle school students chanted as they brutally punched and kicked 11 year old Amadou and his 13 year old older brother, Pape over and over again.
As I learned more about the harsh justice that was inflicted upon the sons of Senegalese born Ousmane Drame on October 24, 2014, in what has now come to be known as the Ebola Beatings, it conjured painful memories of my own youth...
I remember being a young Nigerian girl roaming through the Bronx, braids flowing free, contemplating what life had in store for me. I was a dreamer. I still am. However, there were many instances when my dreams felt the brutality of a world more passionate with "othering" me as an African, than seeking to understand who I was and what I had to offer.
In the early 90's while wearing African Medallions was considered being in vogue, actually BEING African was not. African Booty Scratcher was an insult often hurled my way. Even worse, were the reggae-style songs the local bullies sang to me as I made my way towards the entrance of the apartment building where I lived. The weight of such daily bullying took its toll on me. I began to seek haven at the local library, staying later and later. Each day I would walk to the corner of my block to see if the perpetrators were still standing outside. If they were, I would walk all the way back to Fordham Library and wait until the coast was clear, praying to be rescued from the mean streets of Marion Ave.
"They call me from the school tell me come, they're beating your children... He was crying, laying on the floor, more than 10 kids beating him." Mr. Drame was thankful for the rescue call that rushed him to be by his son's side that day. During my interview with Charles Cooper, Jr., Chairman of the African Advisory council, the advocacy group that played a pivotal support role during this incident shared with me that, "One of the things that people don't realize is that due to what happened to these kids, they have been so deeply impacted. They don't feel safe anymore. They just want to go back home."
This is not the first time that global fear has created local brutality. When the World Trade Center Towers fell, anyone who even looked Muslim became a target. Muslim lives didn't matter. People just wanted someone -- anyone -- to pay for the injustice that had just occurred. Perhaps it was this "make the 'other' pay" mentality that fueled the teen mob as they jeered, screamed and kicked: Ebola! Ebola! Ebola!
Amadou and Pape were hospitalized after having only been in the USA for little over a month. What a welcome. While the physical injuries that hospitalized the brothers would heal, the emotional scars of being attacked for being "other" linger on for much longer. The sons of Ousmane Drame couldn't help being born to a continent that was the host to an unwelcome virus on the move. As Ebola became the global boogeyman, Amadou and Pape were turned into helpless victims in a painful play where African lives didn't matter...
How can we continue to exist in a world where people are made to suffer abuse simply for being who and what they are? What happened to Ousmane Drame's sons is unconscionable, but when viewed from a 360 perspective, a pattern emerges.
The treatment of Amadou and Pape is one incident in a growing litany of injustice, where it is not the individuals that created the rising action that brutalized them, but a warped perception of reality and "otherness" that did -- a perception that devalues the life of the "other" by deeming them dangerous.
We are living in what many consider to be the most connected time in the history of humankind, yet the empathy and feelings of deep connection we feel for each other has never been so disjointed. Rooted in every injustice perpetuated against one group or another, there is always at some level the belief that _____ lives DON'T matter. When we engage #BLACKLIVESMATTER, we are inviting a deeper level of inquiry into the value of human life itself and the inhumane actions that occur when we disregard it. Inhumane actions like those that generated the need for #BLACKLIVESMATTER in the first place.
Imagine a world where each of us must place the honoring of life front and center, combined with a willingness to become radically accountable for our own perceptions and the actions that arise from them. Imagine a world where we support our young ones in doing the same. Where we teach them that "othering" is the first step towards creating injustice, and that if injustice exists anywhere, it exists everywhere. The end result would be the cultivation of a version of human brilliance so bright that it would shine a light and a pathway towards a core fundamental truth: that #ALLLIVESMATTER. Once we as a global society accept and act from this truth, everything will change.
This post is part of the "28 Black Lives That Matter" series produced by The Huffington Post for Black History Month. Each day in February, this series will shine a spotlight on one African-American individual who made headlines in 2014 -- mostly in circumstances we all wished had not taken place. This series will pay tribute to these individuals and address the underlying circumstances that led to their unfortunate outcomes. To follow the conversation on Twitter, view #28BlackLives -- and to see all the posts as part of our Black History Month coverage, read here.