By Lorron James, CEO of James Group International
Excerpt from a 37 year old, black male from Detroit, Michigan:
My parents live in a nice house in a suburb that would statistically be identified as predominantly white. Though born on the northwest side of Detroit, I (we) moved into this house when I started high school in 1997. Unlike some black stories you may be used to hearing today, I grew up “privileged”. I had countless advantages and opportunities to advance in life from the inside of my family, into the outside world. I purposely put the aforementioned word privileged in quotes; because it didn’t matter who I was or what good I did in the world. I would forever be judged by who people assumed I was on the inside, primarily by how I looked on the outside.
I took a rare trip back to my parent’s home to introduce them to someone I had been dating. The conversation was light and flowed even more naturally than I thought it would. There was however one subject that was close to impossible to ignore. Like most cities, there were protests against police brutality against black people specifically and we had witnessed several nights of this from my condo, which is located in the heart of downtown Detroit. After sharing these events with my father, he then said, “…in my almost 80 years of being on this earth, I’ve never seen so many different races of people protesting for the same thing”. That statement naturally sparked a healthy amount of inquires, in which some were answered and some were not. I always consider it a treat when I could get glimpses into what life was like for my father and his eight siblings in rural Mississippi in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s. Unlike the ‘privileged’ life I grew up with, he and my mother (also from the same small town in Mississippi) didn’t have a lot, nor were they given equal opportunities to succeed. When my father graduated from high school in the late 60’s, he wasn’t allowed to attend the major university that was located just a stone’s throw from his house. That particular school had not been integrated yet and he chose to attend a historically black college 100 miles away. My mother was a part of one of the first integrated classes of that same major university. Though accepted by the school to attend, her presence there surely was not accepted by the students or the faculty. Although times had changed for my mother, reality had not. After graduating, my father was then drafted by the United States Army to fight in the Vietnam War. I can only imagine how he felt when he got the news to leave his family to fight (and potentially die) for a country that undervalued him as a human being. He went, he served honorably, came back home, moved to Ohio then ultimately landed in Michigan. He worked for Chrysler and had a side hustle of using one truck to haul goods to Wisconsin. He earned the respect of his peers and dignitaries around the city, which enabled him to turn one truck, one employee and zero excuses into a trucking company that became Ford Motor Company’s largest trucking distribution at one time. (This was only after he had to take the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to the United State Supreme Court in order to gain operating authority to haul car parts across state lines which required then sitting President Jimmy Carter to pass the Motor Carriers Act of 1980!) He got married, had three children and transformed his trucking business into the logistics conglomerate that it is today. Because of the path he blazed for us, my siblings and I have been able to be pretty successful in our own rights. I’m now the CEO of our family firm, my brother is running for United States Senate as a conservative and my sister is Ivy League educated on how to run foundations, non-profits and has first hand experience treating people with mental health issues as a therapist at a women’s sewing/transition facility. The MVP of our family, our mother, is the glue that keeps everything and everyone together. I only mention these things to give what I’m about to say some context.
Though there are PLENTY of successful black families in America (many of which are much more successful than ours), you rarely hear about them. People that I would call my friends appreciate and respect my family’s history and current philanthropy efforts. But, what I found so odd is that they thought all of the stuff I mentioned insulates me from the prejudices and injustices that, as one person put it “other black people” endure. Though I liked and respected the person who said that, it was one of the single most absurd things I had ever heard. How could someone so affluent, so nice, so educated, be so ignorant? My highly decorated/respected father is just as susceptible of being pulled over or profiled in a nice store, as someone who looked like him but didn’t have the same life. Referring back to how I used the word ‘ignorant’, I didn’t mean it in a negative way. That word has such a negative connotation that the actual definition usually gets lost in translation. The adjective ‘ignorant’ literally means ‘lacking knowledge or awareness in general’. There isn’t a single person on earth that isn’t ignorant about something. That said, the gap on ignorance as it relates to race is closing more quickly than it ever has. We just have to be careful about what ‘paid’ media outlets we welcome into our brains. Just because I say my life matters, doesn’t mean I don’t think yours does. Dismantling the police focuses on redistributing funds more appropriately amongst communities. It does not mean defunding the police and allowing anarchy. Media outlets these days cater to their viewer base. Getting what you think is factual news is actually a form of entertainment that reinforces what you WANT to believe. I think that’s extremely toxic. That said, not all media outlets are bad. You just have to know where to find the objective ones.
I have to be honest. When I was first asked to write about how I felt about the resurrected movement as it pertains to black lives specifically, I didn’t know where to start. Slavery? The civil rights moment? The 21st century? I hit a roadblock, not because I didn’t know what to say, but because I didn’t know how to say it. I was stuck, until I thought about my five nephews: The next generation of blacks men in America. Their ages currently range from one to seven. My brother has three and my sister has two. To say that it saddens me to know that there are still so many people in the world that don’t value their lives as black boys is an understatement. In one instant a person, or even law enforcement officer can take their lives from them, just because how they were born into this world doesn’t make them comfortable. If he were alive today, you could ask young Trayvon Martin. Common sense told Trayvon that he didn’t have to stop and identify himself to someone that wasn’t a police officer. In this case and many others, common sense and knowledge of the law is not enough. The mere fact that he looked suspicious was reason enough for George Zimmerman to kill him in cold blood. No matter what crime you think George Floyd committed, did it warrant someone that took an oath to protect and serve, to force his knee into the back of his neck until he suffocated to death? Though equally tragic in their own rights, these are just two out of hundreds of thousands of black people who have been discriminated against, jailed and SLAIN just for having black skin.
The Black Lives Matter movement isn’t saying that black lives matter MORE than anyone else’s. It highlights the fact that the detaining, arresting, over-sentencing, incarcerating and KILLING of black people in the United States is an epidemic and needs to be singled out and addressed. There has been protesting and rioting for years from people who have not been heard otherwise! I don’t condone rioting or looting, but so many people are focused on that act and not WHY it’s happening. One of the most impactful statements that were made on social media was made in regards to what happened in Central Park: “Amy Cooper mortgaged her entire future to try and harm a black man for telling her to follow rules. Racism is POWER. She was saying: ‘your position in society does not allow YOU to talk to ME like that. And now, you will be punished for not knowing your place.” (Quote from JayDav-O). As if that wasn’t disturbing enough, the main reason this issue was even address is because it was recorded! Think of all the injustices that happened before camera phones. (See: Emmett Till) Even peaceful protests by athletes like Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Colin Kaepernick and Lebron James made some people uncomfortable because it was seen as a disruption to the American ideals and society they knew and grew up in. Well guess what America, now that we as black people have the most powerful platform the world has ever seen, you are going to REMAIN uncomfortable until you get onboard with what we have to say. Black people are not going away and now more than EVER, we are not backing down from speaking, shouting or even marching for what we know is right! This movement isn’t Blacks vs. Everybody Else. It’s Equality vs. Everybody Else!
I truly believe that there are a good amount of whites and non-blacks that are:
- Aware that this is an issue
- Think things need to change
- Are truly sincere when asking questions about issues they don’t understand.
I believe that the next steps we really need from our white and non-black brothers and sisters are for them to:
- Speak out and correct people in your circles when witnessing racial prejudice
- Surrounding yourself with more black people will only enrich your perspective
- Include black people in your organizations, while supporting theirs (ours)
Some other great memes/quotes/inspiration from social media includes:
“Let’s be clear. We said:
Black Lives Matter
We NEVER said
Only Black Lives Matter
That was the media, not us.
In truth, we know that
All Lives Matter
We’ve supported your lives throughout history. Now we need your help with
Black Lives Matter
For Black Lives are in danger”
“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” –Ben Franklin
“You keep saying ‘It’s horrible that an innocent black man was killed, but destroying property has to stop. Try saying, ‘It’s horrible that property is being destroyed, but killing innocent black men has to stop.’ You’re prioritizing the wrong part.
“Racism in NOT getting worse, it’s getting filmed” –Will Smith
“Accountability feels like an attack when you’re not ready to acknowledge your behavior”