Since a number of the discussions I've recently had about the events in Ferguson, MO seem to devolve into accusations that I'm either a racist, a liar or an idiot allow me to immediately address some facts that are not in dispute:
The number one cause of death for African American males age 15-34 in this country is homicide, disproportionately committed by someone of the same race. In addition, as the largest racial group, whites commit the majority of crimes in America. In particular, whites are responsible for the vast majority of violent crimes.
Last week, as I watched the onslaught of breaking news about Ferguson, I felt the sense of powerlessness that many of us do in the face of a power structure that does not seem to value the individual liberty of each of its citizens. The powder keg that had erupted in Ferguson was ultimately about more than just the shooting death of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson. However, that incident seemed to reinforce the belief seemingly held by certain segments in our society that some lives matter more than others. It was a betrayal of our most essential human right.
At the same time, as the latest Ice Bucket Challenge video graced my social media timelines, I was inspired to create a challenge of my own. Since I had already been called out to participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge by a number of celebrities and fans, I wanted to utilize the energy and awareness around those videos while simultaneously expanding the conversation to other diseases that I believed weren't being sufficiently discussed in the public square.
My "bullet bucket challenge" video, in which I poured a few hundred shell casings over my head in memory of those who fought and died in the struggle for human rights, was intended as a shocking visual that would illustrate the realities of violence and how it is affecting our communities, our children and our future. But the disease I was most interested in addressing was apathy, a condition in which we express collective outrage over a societal ill and then eventually the anger dissipates as things return to "business as usual." Until it happens the next time. That's a hole in each of our buckets that I believe needs to be patched up.
In the video, I called myself out for culpability since I had not previously spoken up when I was aware of an injustice being committed against those without the tools to defend themselves, regardless of whether they were black or white, rich or poor, allies or adversaries. I demanded of myself adherence to three basic principles; to listen without prejudice, to love without limits and to reverse the hate. The response from those who saw the video was overwhelmingly kind and hopeful. There were, of course, those who found fault with all or part of what I said and how I said it. Some maligned my character or called my intentions misguided or naive.
The challenge was never intended as a call to have anyone dump bullets on their head. One individual who responded to the challenge opted to dump a bucket full of voter registration ballots on his head and spoke to his belief that voting was a vital part of any civic engagement. Others have responded with their own creative approach.
I also wanted to make people aware of the seeming contradictions in my own life. I am a black man. I am a reserve deputy sheriff in the state of Louisiana. I am a lifetime member of the NRA. I'm also a celebrity and a Southerner. Those realities inform my perspective on a number of issues that are almost certainly at odds with some members of those respective groups. Instead of pointing fingers or assigning blame (to white people, to police officers, to government) I am more interested in finding common ground with those people who think differently than I do. That's not an easy task but it's one I believe is essential if we are to succeed at affecting systemic change.
We're in the throes of an "US vs. THEM" quagmire, but it's not just about black vs. white or rich vs. poor. The US are those of all races, religions and socio-economic backgrounds who want to leave the world for their children a little better than they found it. The THEM are those people who continue to benefit from the status quo or have been led to believe that "outsiders" are putting their freedoms in jeopardy. They don't think there's a problem (or worse they believe that we're the problem) and will vilify our efforts at every turn. To be clear -- we can and will passionately disagree on a number of issues but I believe that we'll achieve our greatest outcomes by embracing our common goals. If those on our side can all work to advance the cause of human rights for all then our collective efforts will create allies where previously we had adversaries.
So what comes next?
People far smarter than me will weigh in on specific policy solutions but I remain committed to the ideas and ideals that can emerge from the constant barrage of communication in which I hope to engage. And I believe technology plays a vital role in challenging, informing and mobilizing us to action, just as it did with the ALS initiative. From the micro-targeting of Obama's Organizing for America Campaign to the success of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and beyond, we've seen countless examples of how grass-roots activism, access to technology and actionable goals can raise awareness, deliver results and affect change. That's why I sit on the board of organizations like LA based jrCEOs, a nonprofit that teaches STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) focused entrepreneurship, financial literacy and business fundamentals to minority and lower-income middle and high school students. That's also why I've joined forces with technology products company iPowerUp to launch the "iPowerUp for Change" campaign that will provide cost-effective cutting edge technology solutions to help power social action initiatives around the country and across the globe. I'll be announcing more about my specific plans and what I hope to accomplish in the coming weeks.
If we are to successfully #ReverseTheHate we need to use all available tools, both analog and digital, to speak in a clear voice, to listen with an open mind and to tell our stories.
If we make that a priority, I believe we can turn our efforts to advance the cause of human rights into its own viral phenomenon.
To learn more about ALS and donate to fund research to help those who suffer from the disease please visit -- http://www.alsa.org
To champion freedom, justice, and equality by working to eliminate poverty, build community and foster peace through nonviolence please visit -- http://www.thekingcenter.org/