Many have criticized President Obama for his lack of action on inner city violence. I find us all to be guilty.
Perhaps looking back might help us move forward. Below is a statement made by Maime Till-Mobley in the documentary The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till.
Emmett was the catalyst that started the Civil Rights Movement because when people saw what had happened to this little 14-year-old boy they knew then that not only were men, black men, in danger, but black children as well. And it took something to stir people up and let them know that we're either going to stand together or we're going to fall together.
Together. What that entails should have changed since 1955; it should have evolved even as recently as last year ... but I'm not sure that it has. There's evidence that warrants optimism, an indication of forward movement. Yet, there's also an overwhelming amount of evidence that points to a stagnant mind frame, a hollow follow through on a triumphant new beginning.
Evidence marked by the violence and hatred exemplified in what took place last week when 16-year-old honor student Derrion Albert met his early end walking home from school. Perhaps we've become numb to the circumstance, another day, another child, and another violent act. We're conditioned to look to those who lead, forgetting that the movement we built last year encouraged responsibility and ownership over our own circumstances.
When I heard about Derrion, I thought of Emmett.
I understand that the circumstances are different. Till's life was ended by race-based violence, he was hunted down, kidnapped, and brutally murdered. Derrion was a bystander who only dared to walk the streets of his neighborhood. Those who look like him, at a moment where another man with a similar resemblance occupies the highest office, caused his death.
The circumstances are different, and yet the contrast offers a teachable moment.
Emmett was the catalyst for a previous generation, perhaps Derrion can be the catalyst for ours. An American outcry that insists that unless we stand together, black, white, Latino and Asian, we'll all fall. We should draw on history to inspire our action, to help shape our courage and encourage a better response.
His story isn't merely a referendum on black youth and gang violence, rather it warrants a reflection on what "together" means. A term that should resonate throughout our politics and policy, a term that should speak to the ideal America, where there is no black or white, red or blue, or at least an America where these intangible points of reference don't dictate the terms of the debate, has not been realized. We've yet to redefine this term, electing Barack Obama was not the end of our journey, but the beginning.
Perhaps we never understood the weight of what we signed up for, the implicit obligation that we made when we were afforded the opportunity for change.
If we don't seize the belief that we are more than our circumstances then we fail. If we don't come together as a people to address problems that weigh us all down, problems that have earned prominence in certain communities but compromise the state of our country, then we fail. Derrion Albert's death should resonate from coast to coast, because his early departure represents a lost opportunity; a life that could have given back has been taken. We should all be outraged not only by this but by evidence that suggests we're moving backwards.
We're still susceptible to identity politics and willing to compromise nuanced discussion for cheap assumptions. We still doubt Alabama's ability to elect a black governor clinging to the same skepticism that we've already disproved. We watch fear evolve into birthers and partisan politics cloud the very real reality that our futures are being shaped. All of this is maintained by the utter silence of the masses. The tea parties, the right wing pundits speak louder than we do, but I'm certain, they're not speaking for the majority of us.
As we struggle to determine policy solutions, the question of race bubbles at the surface. Last year, our country elected a candidate not because of the color of his skin, but because of the content of his character and the reach of his vision.
Don't ever forget that.
I never doubted it was possible because I knew that we weren't fighting to disprove the existence of racism, but rather to confirm that it need not determine the outcome of the debate.
I've previously written about what it means to be young and black in the age of Obama, but perhaps the time has come to be abundantly clear.
I did not support Barack Obama because he was a black man and he never asked me to.
I supported him because his candidacy was founded on the belief that while our country might be comprised of different ethnicities and races, while we may hail from different backgrounds and experiences, while we may view our futures on different terms, when we work together across these lines, there is nothing we can't do. At this moment in history, "together" must encompass us all.
There is a generation of Americans desperate to get beyond the terms of this debate. A generation of Americans eager to not only look but to listen. A generation who through the efforts of Global Grind tweeted, blogged and stood up when one of their peers was struck down.
Can those in office, of both parties and all backgrounds, lead by example?
If not, can we remember that just as the presidential campaign was not about Barack Obama, neither is this administration. It's about our ability to organize and create political capital, our ability to push back when we disagree and stand together when we've identified something worth fighting for. It's about our ability to make as much noise as the fringe movements without ever forgetting that we're not fighting them, we're fighting ignorance, fear, and the ingrained mentality that suggests that we should have a minimal role in the process.
We are the Obama effect. What that means is yet to be seen.
In Gwen Ifill's book The Break Through, NAACP President Ben Jealous recalls the words of Julian Bond from a 1993 rally,
If you perceive that I have a torch that represents power and you want it you shouldn't be asking for it. You should be snatching it.
Derrion Albert can be our catalyst to do just that.
It's left to us to determine if we fall or stand.