While I’ve been regarded by some critics as arrogant and others as a trouble maker, I have always tried to stand up for that which I believe. Whether it is my effort in the Driving While Black campaign, the Fayetteville City Seal issue or police officer shootings of black males, I’ve always tried to be a notable advocate of what I regarded as positive change. I am proud of my efforts to stand up for what I believe is right and constantly challenge others to do so as well. While private huddles around the barbershop, shoeshine shop and water fountain serve a useful purpose, at some point one’s voice must resonate in the face of opposition if change is to occur.
As a Historical Black College Graduate (Howard University in Washington DC), social activism was instilled in all students. We were also charged with the duty of not allowing success to cause us to lose focus of our social responsibilities. To do so is to disregard the elders who sacrificed to create opportunities for us to enjoy the privileges we have today. Therefore, we must fight injustices wherever we meet them. This is not always popular and at times does come with some consequences. However, we must choose faith over fear.
As we enter the 2016 NFL season no story is greater than that of San Francisco’s quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, who has taken center stage in bringing attention to the disparities realized by Blacks in America. Colin has chosen the national anthem as his moment to use his stage to bring attention to the injustices seen in police shootings across our country and other injustices predicated against people of color. While he’s been criticized by many, his efforts have inspired others. I have been extremely encouraged by those who have sought to understand the message rather than simply get stuck on his approach. As a proud veteran and loyal American my initial impression was best described as that of mixed feelings. My first thought was, “How can this millionaire athlete who hardly lives in the realities of so many who deal with stereotypes and struggles due to racism identify with their plight?” However, as I took a more critical look at his actions I gained a greater appreciation for his courage and his exercise of free speech. Free speech is an essential ingredient of our democracy, thus it became obvious to me that his conduct could just as well be a tribute to America’s greatness while still being viewed by some as a disrespectful slight. Colin Kaepernick makes millions but yet would sacrifice endorsements, fan appeal, and front office criticism for a cause that is potentially below his income bracket. While far too many sit in silence even in the face of blatant discrimination and stand for nothing other than self-preservation, Colin Kaepernick stood up. However, I was deeply touched as I listened to the following commentary from a sports anchor who gave a rationale so clear and crisp that his words were like a beam of light in the darkness of night, and who passionately used his stage with integrity to share his truth (excerpt below).
“I’VE ALWAYS STOOD FOR THE ANTHEM — BECAUSE I BELIEVE IN THE PROMISE OF AMERICA, WHAT THE FLAG IS SUPPOSED TO SYMBOLIZE. EVEN THOUGH AMERICA OFTEN FALLS SHORT OF WHAT IT’S SUPPOSED TO SYMBOLIZE. MY DAD SERVED IN THE ARMY, AND DEALT WITH DISCRIMINATION IN THE ARMY — CAME BACK FROM HIS SERVICE IN WORLD WAR II AND WAS NOT AFFORDED THE FULL RIGHTS AS A U.S. CITIZEN AFTER HIS SERVICE. SO DON’T TALK TO ME ABOUT SACRIFICE AND THE MILITARY, BECAUSE HE WENT THERE. MY MOM WAS THE VALEDICTORIAN OF HER HIGH SCHOOL, COULDN’T GO TO COLLEGE IN LOUISIANA MAINSTREAM UNIVERSITIES BECAUSE THEY WERE SEGREGATED. THEY DIDN’T WANT TO HEAR ABOUT HER GRADES — YOU CAN’T GO BECAUSE YOU’RE BLACK. THERE’S STILL PROBLEMS TODAY: DISCRIMINATORY LENDING, HOUSING, HIRING, PAY, THE JUSTICE SYSTEM. THESE ARE REAL PROBLEMS. PEOPLE AREN’T JUST MAKING THIS UP, AND THEY’RE TRYING TO FIND WAYS TO SPEAK OUT ABOUT IT — AND YOU’RE NOT ALWAYS GOING TO AGREE WITH THE METHOD, BUT LET’S PAY AS MUCH ATTENTION TO THE SUBSTANCE AS WE DO TO THE SYMBOL.”
Rather than villainize Kaepernick for taking a stance, many like this sportscaster around the country have applauded him for standing up for the very principles that make America great. He could have done like so many who, after attaining a certain status, take the “I have mine, you get yours” attitude. Kaepernick has chosen to use his national stage to advance a worthy cause. And while we are far from the Jessie Owens’ moment, the cause is just as great and even more so given the way our world has shrunk because of technology and access.
While it may be uncomfortable for those who feel these issues were made antiquated with the election of President Barack Obama, there is little else to suggest these issues aren’t still relevant. America is indeed great when opportunities and responsibilities are equally enjoyed and shared. We must all be diligent in assuming our rightful place in both. We must stand up for what’s right on our stage of life.
As Black men we must become intolerant of the habitual bastardy that is rampant in our community with 24 year-olds fathering children from multiple women who use their birthdays as another excuse for a an adult celebration. This irresponsible behavior breeds contempt within the hard working wage earners whose taxes are increased as the responsibility falls on the shoulders of the working masses. It also should be contemptuous to those who seek to overcome these stereotypes by their positive work ethic, family values, and productive life. We must stand up to those contributing to this infectious moral dilemma because it too is killing us.
While Police are sworn to protect and serve, they are human and thus capable of errors of judgement that are a product of their life experiences and human frailties. Thus, we cannot characterize all police officers as bad because of excessive use of force incidents nor do the incidents in any way demean their profession.
The fair characterization of a particular incident should in no way subject any person to a pro-police vs. anti-police status. Because we are Americans, we stand up for what we believe is right and when we disagree about a particular, we must regard the disagreement as essential to our fabric and core values as Americans and remember to respect everyone’s right to free speech and expression. It’s a value which is inherently a product of who we are as a nation. A value that cannot be limited to those with whom we agree. Free Speech is at the core of being an American and in many ways Colin Kaepernick is protecting our core values with his actions more so than his patriotic critics. Stand up for something . . .