Filed Under:  OpEd, Opinion

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12th January 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Edmund W. Lewis
The Louisiana Weekly Editor

Where do you find the “soul food” and inspiration to fuel your energy, lively up yourself and get things in gear for the never-ending quest to improve your personal situation and conditions in communities of color?

Do you find it in a good book, in a great film, in a gripping academic lecture in the community or at one of the local universities or in speaking with the elders and others in the community who are committed to making life better for all of us? Perhaps a Kwanzaa celebration or a celebration of the legacy and contributions of leaders like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?

If we are honest with ourselves, we can find inspiration in all of these activities and many more.

When was the last time you got together with your friends over a cup of coffee or a drink to talk about the state of Black New Orleans and what each of you can do to make life better for the Black masses? When was the last time you and your friends got together to attend a MLK Day event or a lecture on Black history or culture at one of the local universities?

Sometimes inspiration can be found by just going out into the community and offering yourself up as a volunteer mentor or tutor. One can gain fresh perspectives by simply interacting with young people and allowing them to share their stories of struggle, adversity and triumph.

There are certainly some great films that can deliver inspiration, cultural awareness and a sense of purpose to people of color seeking to re-commit to collective efforts to improve the community. Among these films are Get Out, a bit of a sleeper that packs a powerful message and ultimately underscores the need for all of us to “stay woke.” Then there’s Crown Heights, which is based on the true story of a Black teenager who was framed for murder by New York police and ultimately spent two decades behind bars before regaining his freedom. The film brings to mind all of the cases in Orleans Parish in which white district attorneys, prosecutors and cops framed people like Shareef Cousin, Curtis Kyles. John Thompson, Jerome Morgan and so many other Black men and boys for murder. Crown Heights, which told the story of a murder committed in 1980, is also a stark reminder that what happened nearly 40 years ago is still happening in places like New York, Chicago, Memphis, Houston, Miami and yes, New Orleans.

We need to watch this film together as a community and share ideas about what we can do politically and economically to bring an end to the prosecutorial misconduct, unconstitutional policing, sentencing disparities, mass incarceration and underfunding of public defender offices that fuel the continued growth of the prison-industrial complex.

At the very least, we need a justice summit in New Orleans, a gathering to examine all of the local agencies that contribute to the miscarriage of justice in this city and state. We need to look very closely at the state attorney general’s relationship with New Orleans, how Black victims and suspects are negatively impacted by mostly white grand juries in Louisiana, the ineffectiveness and ineptitude of the criminal court system, ongoing problems with the NOPD even as it tries to end its federally mandated consent decree and listen closely to the stories of former inmates like Jerome Morgan and John Thompson who were framed for murder. We also need to deal with the District Attorney and his office’s use of “fake subpoenas” to try to force residents already victimized to do whatever prosecutors want them to do.

If you haven’t viewed them yet, be sure to check out the James Baldwin documentary “I Am Not Your Negro” and Tariq Nasheed’s critically acclaimed documentary “1804: The Hidden History of Haiti.”

You will want to make both of these films a permanent part of your personal library.

We need to develop a voracious appetite for knowledge and seek out documentaries that tell our stories and the stories of people like political prisoner, revolutionary journalist and former Black Panther Mumia Abu Jamal, the late Marcus Garvey, the late William Edward Burghardt DuBois, Nat Turner, the late Bishop Henry McNeal Turner, the late Kwame Toure (Stokely Carmichael), the late Fred Hampton, the late Huey P. Newton, the late Alex Haley, and the late James Baldwin.

Don’t be afraid to pick up a book of poet Langston Hughes’ poems or his collection of short stories, The Ways of White Folks. Revisit the liberating, revolutionary poetry and prose of so-called Harlem Renaissance writers like Countee Cullen, Sterling Brown, Zora Neale Hurston, Waring Cuney and Paul Laurence Dunbar.

While mainstream media paints an image of Black fathers as missing in action, negligent or indifferent about their children, Paul Laurence Dunbar captures a different image of Black fathers and their relationship with their children in the moving poem “Little Brown Baby.” Check it out for yourself.

As you put together a reading list, I highly recommend the late, great Dr. Frances Cress-Welsing’s The Isis Papers, Chencellor Williams’ The Destruction of Black Civilization, Haki Madhubuti’s Black Men: Single, Obsolete & Dangerous?, George G.M. James’ Stolen Legacy, Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, Dr. Carter G. Woodson’s The Miseducation of the Negro, Dr. Molefi Kete Asante’s Afrocentricity, Ivan Van Sertima’s They Came Before Columbus. Lerone Bennett Jr.’s Before the Mayflower and Dr. John Hope Franklin’s From Slavery to Freedom and Dr. Benjamin Quarles’ The Negro in the Making of America.

There are also a number of great lectures and essays by African-centered scholars on the Internet. Take advantage of the Information Superhighway to empower, enrich and ennoble yourself and those in your circle.

All of us should be on the lookout for lectures, panel discussions, exhibits and other events that highlight and celebrate the rich history of the Black experience. With the MLK Day holiday and Black History Month right around the corner, there should be lots of events to feed our collective hunger for knowledge and a sense of purpose.

We should also make every effort to surround ourselves with some authentic Black music, the kind of songs that, as the late Maya Angelou used to say, add “starch to your backbone.”

When compiling personal playlists on your computer or phone, don’t be afraid to mix the old with the new. Some of the songs that are getting heavy rotation on my computer these days are Donny Hathaway’s “Young, Gifted & Black,” Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions’ “People Get Ready,” Mali Music’s “Royalty,” Esperanza Spalding’s “Black Gold,” Eric Roberson’s “I Have A Song,” Nnema Freelon’s “Lift Every Voice & Sing,” Nina Simone’s “Blackbird.” Stevie Wonder’s “Misrepresented People,” Black Men United’s “You Will Know” and Teremce Trent Darby’s “As Yet Untitled.”

“Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today,” the late Malcolm X once said.

In that spirit, we should all keep in mind that education is a lifelong process and that we should never view ourselves as too old, too important, too successful, too busy, too educated or too cool to learn. As we learn, we continue to grow and expand the boundaries of what is possible and better equip ourselves to deal with the challenges that confront us.

Now get out there and learn something and share that knowledge with everyone you love.

This article originally published in the January 08, 2018 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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