Reclaiming the narrative

Just 100 miles from where Trayvon Martin was killed, the slaying of an unarmed Black teenager that unleashed intense racial anger and antagonism, there is a new example of the racism and racial insensitivities that continue to punctuate our society. With Martin’s death still a bitter memory, a Port Canaveral Police Department firearms instructor did the unthinkable — Sgt. Ron King offered paper targets resembling Martin to fellow officers for shooting practice in the Florida town. King claims the targets were teaching tools for what not to shoot at, but his supervisors deemed his action inappropriate and he was fired last weekend. Throughout each day, newspapers, the airwaves and Internet routinely crackle with stories like this one, stories demonstrating that racism and the centuries-old racial hierarchy still exists. This destructive belief that skin color makes one group of people superior to another has dominated American culture, our institutions and our narratives consciously or unconsciously for centuries.

When Roland Martin says race played a role in his firing from CNN, when racial incidents erupt at a high school in Grand Haven, Mich. or when there are a series of hate messages at Oberlin College, all these events are widely reported in the media. Not much adverse news about racial biasis missed with the 24/7 news cycle, abundant talk radio, social media channels and the ever-expanding blogosphere. But do these stories represent the real real story about our communities? Not long ago, reporting on acts of racism was considered progress. After these media reports, it becomes less likely that incidents can be covered-up. Once hostilities are out in the open, frank and honest discussions can occur and perhaps lead to solutions that address the root causes of racism. Yet those committed to positive change and healing the wounds of racism, both past and present, recognize there is also a changing America out there.

This is also a nation of people with positive stories to tell about our communities, to tell about families of all different races and ethnicities — the neighbors that we love and respect regardless of the narratives dividing us. Americans are working together, finding common ground in diverse neighborhoods and bridging their differences to sustain racial harmony in their communities, in their schools and in an array of public and private institutions, including the criminal justice system. But these are the stories that aren’t reported in the media and aren’t reflected enough in narratives regarding race.

In Michigan, the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services is healing divisions between Arab and non-Arab Americans. The center engages communities to document and share personal narratives and collective histories of the national Arab American community’s experience after 9/11. It includes an exhibit, a series of public programs, educator’s workshops and community dialogues.

In New Orleans, the Ashé Cultural Center is utilizing art and culture to create a safe and healing space for all who come through its doors, especially young people in the community. Its Truth Be Told project includes commissioning and producing original art works that are made available to other groups, gatherings, and events to stimulate thinking and dialogue in the community. The center is expanding interracial participation in their commemorations and producing a series of film screenings, panel discussions, roundtables, and lectures to upgrade knowledge, thinking on race and the impact and influence of racism.

And in Chicago, the Collateral Damage Project conducts interactive research on gun violence, racial discrimination and gang participation in urban communities. It has resulted in a traveling exhibition, multi-media documentary and the development of a social networking website for youth. Their work explores the lives of 46 youths who lost their lives to gun violence and examines the destructive role that violence, discrimination and residential segregation play in urban communities.

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