Say it Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud!
Health, Poverty, Action, Social Justice Access. Justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society. “Social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities. Social workers aim to open the doors of access and opportunity for everyone, particularly those in greatest need.” National Association of Social Workers. “Social justice encompasses economic justice.
The last day to do all-in-one early voting (applying for your ballot and voting it early in person) is 5 p.m. October 27. You may continue to drop off your mail-in ballot in person until November 3, so long as you’ve applied for it before October 27.
The Office of Mayor William Peduto has submitted the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act to City Council today to offer additional protection from hairstyle discrimination for Black Pittsburghers in employment, housing, education, and public accommodations.
Black individuals’ natural hair grows in different textures, lengths, and colors, and can be worn in a variety of hairstyles, which hold cultural and personal significance in the Black community. However, modern ideas of professionalism tend to reflect European or white standards. The recent CROWN study conducted by the JOY Collective indicates that 80% of Black women in the study said that they felt the need to alter their natural hair to “fit in” in professional setting. The CROWN study also indicates that Black women are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from the workplace because of their hair, their hair is 3.4 times more likely to be considered “unprofessional,” and they are 83% more likely to report being judged more harshly on their looks than white women nationally.
The Gender Equity Commission’s 2019 “Pittsburgh’s Inequality Across Gender and Race Report” suggests that these national trends are reflected here in Pittsburgh as the report outlined that personal, professional, housing, and educational outcomes are the most inequitable for Black women in the city. Locally, some workplaces, schools, and other groups have created grooming policies that create the opportunity to exclude Black women, Black men, and religious minorities in that space. This legislation seeks to remove these barriers and protect residents and employees from this type of discrimination.
“The City of Pittsburgh is committed to equity and to eliminating the barriers that unfairly affect our communities,” said Mayor William Peduto. “Black hair is and always has been professional, but that has not always been reflected by employers, schools, or agencies in this city. This legislation affirms our commitment to improving outcomes for Black residents and make certain that they do not face natural hair discrimination in the workplace, when searching for a home, or when entering a business.”
The legislation would provide legal recourse for individuals experiencing hairstyle discrimination. Claims or reports of hairstyle discrimination can be reported to the City of Pittsburgh’s Commission on Human Relations (CHR), who have already received numerous complaints. The CHR will be releasing guidance for landlords, employers, and business owners to understand the ordinance, understand hairstyle discrimination, learn best practices for creating a welcoming environment, and promoting actions to proactively prevent this type of discrimination over the coming weeks.
“Pittsburgh’s CROWN legislation is an important step in creating explicit protections that can help us realize a more inclusive and racially-just city,” said CHR’s Executive Director Megan Stanley. “While claims of natural hair discrimination may have been filed previously under the classes of race or religion, we want to make clear that natural hairstyles and coverings are welcoming, do not affect a persons skills or abilities, and that no person should be treated differently based on how they choose to wear or treat their hair. Sadly, we know this to be an issue both locally and across the country, and we hope that the legislation introduced and the companion guidance documents will help to create a more equitable Pittsburgh.”
Similar legislation has been passed and implemented in California, Colorado, New Jersey and has been passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, PA State House of Representatives, and is being pursued by the Philadelphia City Council. The CROWN Act in Pittsburgh has been supported by the local community.
“Black women and girls have historical been negatively judged and excluded both personally and professionally based on the texture and/or style of their hair,” said Kathi Elliott, Executive Director of Gwen’s Girls. “Society has taught us that it’s not professional or not beautiful. To be sent home from school or denied a job because ‘it’s a distraction’ or not professional, is an remnant of systemic racism. As the Crown Act continues to make progress on the state and federal levels, it’s encouraging to see the City of Pittsburgh taking this step, sending the message that this discrimination will not be tolerated and that violations will be met with legal recourse. Now we need school systems and businesses to review and change their policies and practices that perpetuate this discrimination.”
The legislation will be introduced during the regular City Council meeting on Tuesday, October 6. The full ordinance is available here: https://pittsburgh.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=4657946&GUID=6A9AB631-2E7D-46EE-89A6-FC104157984D&Options=ID|Text|&Search=2020-0769
Gwen’s Girls and the Black Girls Equity Alliance releases a new report, Understanding and Addressing Institutionalized Inequity: Disrupting Pathways to Juvenile Justice for Black Youth in Allegheny County.
Local data presents a stark picture of the ways Black children are disproportionately arrested
and cited at school, often for minor offenses.
For the last four years, Allegheny County, Juvenile Probation Office (JPO), Allegheny County
Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police have engaged with
the Black Girls Equity Alliance, providing and analyzing data and discussing the practices that
contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline.
“This report specifically opens up an educational dialogue about system response to African
American youth and Minority groups. I would ask that each partner takes this report back to
their agency and have "real conversations." Then we can help each other come together with
solutions,” Kimberly Booth, Assistant Chief Juvenile Probation Officer, Allegheny County.
“This report makes it clear: Pittsburgh’s schools, like its other institutions, are racially biased against Black students,” said Kathi Elliott, CEO of Gwen’s Girls and convener of the Black Girls
Equity Alliance. “The over-policing of students doesn’t make our schools any safer – many of the arrests, referrals or citations are for minor incidents considered disorderly conduct, such as being loud and disruptive, swearing, or making obscene gestures. Black students engaging in
typical teenage behavior are treated as criminals and that record follows them for years. It’s time to focus on solutions. We are looking forward to collaborating with the many system leaders to implement policies and practices that support our students and not criminalize
• Pittsburgh Public Schools police are the largest juvenile justice referral source for Black
girls in Allegheny County.
• The majority of arrests made by Pittsburgh Public Schools police are for minor offenses
that are not safety related. In 2019, 54% of PPS police’s arrests of Black girls and 42% of
Black boys ultimately resulted in a criminal charge of disorderly conduct, a highly
discretionary charge that is frequently affected by racial biases.
• Students with disabilities constitute a large proportion of Pittsburgh Public Schools
students referred to juvenile justice by the Pittsburgh Public Schools police.
• Black youth are 10 times more likely than White youth to be referred to juvenile court
for failure to pay fines.
The report concludes with recommendations for schools, law enforcement, judges, policy
makers, funders, and service providers.
Source: Gwen's Girls
Presenting Breonna Taylor for Vanity Fair’s September issue, “The Great Fire.”
Five months have passed since police killed Breonna Taylor in her own home, a violent crime that our September issue guest editor Ta-Nehisi Coates ascribes to a belief in Black people as a disaster, as calamity. “I don’t know how else to comprehend the jackboots bashing in Breonna Taylor’s door and spraying her home with bullets, except the belief that they were fighting some Great Fire—demonic, unnatural, inhuman.”
Coates chose the "The Great Fire" as the theme for the issue, which assembles activists, artists, and writers to offer a portrait of hope in a world where the possibility of a legitimate anti-racist majority is emerging for the first time in American history. “Something is happening,” writes @tanehisipcoates, “and I think to understand it, we must better understand the nature of this Great Fire.”
For his cover story, Coates tells Breonna’s story through the words of her mother. Also in the issue: an oral history of the historic days after George Floyd's death; a portfolio of creatives and visionaries who capture the spirit—and urgency—of the moment; director @ava DuVernay's conversation with revolutionary Angela Davis; and much more. Read “The Great Fire” at the link in bio now. Painting by Amy Sherald (@asherald).
The City of Pittsburgh remains committed to fighting housing discrimination, despite recent actions by the Trump Administration to roll back fair housing rules.
The Department of Housing and Urban Redevelopment stripped protections from Affirmatively Further Fair Housing (AFFH) regulations, which are meant to reduce residential segregation, housing discrimination, and unlawful housing practices that were borne out of systemic racism.
Despite this move by the Trump Administration, Mayor William Peduto and the Commission on Human Relations (CHR), with the support of the Fair Housing Partnership of Greater Pittsburgh, remain committed to reducing discrimination, and will continue to enforce AFFH regulations as they have since 2015.
“This is just the latest move by the Trump Administration to reinforce generations of systemic racism plaguing our communities, in which government housing policy is used to negatively impact black people by not allowing the same opportunities that other neighbors have,” Mayor Peduto said.
“With rising rents nationwide, a shortage of affordable housing, and new housing instability created by COVID-19, we must create just and equitable housing opportunities in order to provide safe housing as a human right, available to all and free of discrimination,” CHR Executive Director Megan Stanley said.
The new rule increases the risk of segregation and harmful practices rooted in systemic racism, as practices like redlining continue in Pittsburgh and other communities around the nation. It comes as the Commission has adjudicated 25% more housing discrimination complaints than the previous year, which shows the City needs more, not less, protections and policies in place to reduce unfair housing practices.
CHR has partnered with CREATE Lab on Earthtime visualizations on the need for AFFH in Pittsburgh and is now extending these efforts into City Planning and public engagement.
It also formed a AFFH Task Force, which released a report on fair housing this spring.
Source: City of Pittsburgh
Mayor Bill Peduto committed to Fair Housing and reducing discrimination.
In the last several weeks, POISE has been approached by a number of Black-Led Organizations, Activists, and individuals inquiring if the Foundation has a Fund that supports Black social justice and equity efforts in light of current events concerning police violence, social injustice and systemic anti-Black racism.
In 2018, POISE Foundation created the Human Equity and Justice Fund (HEJF) in the wake of the killing of Antwon Rose in Pittsburgh, PA and the shootings and beatings of numerous other Blacks, including high school children at the hands of the police.
The purpose of the Human Equity and Justice Fund (HEJF) is to provide immediate financial support to organizations and movements that are on the frontlines responding to crises that significantly impact the Black community.
In light of the recent killings of Blacks across the country by law enforcement, racial disparities across education, income and employment and the extreme disproportionate manner in which COVID-19 is affecting African Americans both at home and throughout the country, POISE is proactively opening up a grantmaking program today through the HEJF. Grants will fall into two categories:
Rapid Response Mini-Grants
These grants will provide immediate financial support up to $2,500 to support Black-led, Black-serving organizations and movements that are on the frontlines responding to a crisis that could not have been anticipated which significantly impacts Allegheny County’s Black community.
Racial Equity Seed Grants
These grants will provide programming support up to $5,000 for Black-led, Black- serving organizations that are advancing youth-led social change, and community-based intergenerational collaborations and programming within the racial justice space.
For more information about the HEJF, including details about how to apply for a grant and eligibility criteria please visit our HEJF website page at: www.poisefoundation.org/hejf
Mark S. Lewis, President and CEO of POISE Foundation commented:
"We are in a moment where our country recognizes the inhumanity that has existed for centuries cannot continue. We also recognize that moments fade. We need to ensure that this moment becomes a movement with no end until human equity is achieved. This fund seeks to support both this moment and building capacity for the movement."
POISE Foundation is actively fundraising for the HEJF and hopes that individuals and organizations from throughout the country who are concerned with promoting equality and social justice will strongly support this initiative by making contributions to the HEJF at: https://poisefdn.fcsuite.com/erp/donate/create?funit_id=1140
POISE is coordinating its HEJF fundraising campaign right now in association with Black Philanthropy Month 2020 that starts on Saturday, August 1, 2020 and continues throughout the month. Black Philanthropy Month (BPM), observed every August, is a global celebration and concerted campaign to elevate African-descent giving. More information about BPM is outlined below.
Most recently, important funding for the HEJF has been provided by the Henry L. Hillman Foundation and McAuley Ministries. A list of Individuals and Organizations that have recently donated to the HEJF are outlined on POISE’s website at: www.poisefoundation.org/contributions-to-the-fund-hejf
Source: POISE Foundation
On Tuesday July 28, 2020 Pittsburgh City Council finally passed five pieces of legislation sponsored by Council members Rev Ricky Burgess and R. Daniel Lavelle to reform the Pittsburgh Police. Those five pieces of legislation include:
Rev. Burgess says “We can cannot ignore the large national outcry from protests including Pittsburgh residents about the unjust deaths of unarmed people of color like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. We must implement fundamental police reforms and significantly fund evidence based violence reduction social service programs. The best way to improve public safety is not just additional police officers but rather by increasing the community’s confidence in the police. It is time to have an open inclusive conversation about the future of policing in this country and here in Pittsburgh”
Councilman Lavelle says, “During these times it is critically important that we not only acknowledge the voices of those marching in the streets but also provide a legislative platform for them to directly engage in the governance and policing of our city. The idea that more policing can solve a broad range of community problems is misguided. What our communities need, particularly communities of color, is more direct investment in things like: affordable housing, better education, counseling for trauma and addiction, youth development, workforce development, and public transit.”
On June 30, 2020, the SSA Board of Trustees voted unanimously to discontinue the use of the Indian as Shady Side Academy's mascot and the name of its competitive teams, effective July 1, 2020.
Statements on the Changing of Shady Side Academy’s Athletic Mascot from SSA’s President and Athletic Director
Shady Side Academy President Bart Griffith Jr. ’93:
“Shady Side’s administration fully supports the trustees’ decision to discontinue
the Indian as the Academy’s mascot, and we look forward to leading our
community through the process to select a new mascot in the coming months. As
a proud alum and someone who appreciates both the history and continued
evolution of Shady Side, I believe we have a unique opportunity to establish a
symbol that more fully unites our community and assists in building upon the
already strong spirit of the school.”
Shady Side Academy Director of Athletics Gene Deal:
“I am confident our administration, faculty, students, and parents will embrace
this challenge with respect and kindness. This is an opportunity for us to come
together as a community and embrace a larger vision. I am excited for our
student body to have a mascot that we can all rally behind and cheer for at our
athletic games. I predict this will elevate our school spirit to a new level. Onward
NFL clubs today adopted new procedures in diversity, equity and inclusion. In approving a resolution and other rules changes, league officials will implement wide-sweeping workplace reforms to increase employment opportunities and advancement for minorities and women across the league.
"We believe these new policies demonstrate the NFL Owners' commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in the NFL," said Pittsburgh Steelers owner and chairman of the Workplace Diversity Committee, Art Rooney II. "The development of young coaches and young executives is a key to our future. These steps will assure coaching and football personnel are afforded a fair and equitable opportunity to advance throughout our football operations. We also have taken important steps to ensure that our front offices, which represent our clubs in so many different ways, come to reflect the true diversity of our fans and our country."
The resolution changes the current Anti-Tampering Policy by establishing a system that prohibits a club from denying 1) an assistant coach the opportunity to interview with a new team for a bona fide Offensive Coordinator, Defensive Coordinator, or Special Teams Coordinator position; (2) a non-high-level/non-secondary football executive from interviewing for a bona fide Assistant General Manager position. In either case, a contract could not be negotiated or signed until after the conclusion of the employer club's playing season; and 3) requires all clubs submit in writing an organizational reporting structure for the coaching staff with job descriptions for any coach who is a coordinator or co-coordinator within that structure. The resolution also requires that any dispute regarding whether the new team is offering a "bona fide" position will be submitted promptly to the Commissioner, whose determination shall be final, binding and not subject to further review.
The resolution was put forth by the Workplace Diversity Committee, chaired by Rooney and the Competition Committee, chaired by Rich McKay (Atlanta Falcons). The league also announced expansion of Rooney Rule requirements and implementation of enhanced diversity policies.
The enhancements to the Rooney Rule include changes both on and off-the-field. Clubs will now be required to interview at least two external minority candidates for head coach vacancies; at least one minority candidate for any of the three coordinator vacancies; and at least one external minority candidate for the senior football operations or general manager position.
For the first time the Rooney Rule will also apply to a wide range of executive positions. Clubs must now include minorities and/or female applicants in the interview processes for senior level front office positions such as club president and senior executives in communications, finance, human resources, legal, football operations, sales, marketing, sponsorship, information technology, and security positions. The league office will also adhere to these requirements.
"The NFL is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion, which I believe is critical to our continued success," said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. "While we have seen positive strides in our coaching ranks over the years aided by the Rooney Rule, we recognize, after the last two seasons, that we can and must do more. The policy changes made today are bold and demonstrate the commitment of our ownership to increase diversity in leadership positions throughout the league."
Comprehensive diversity, equity, and inclusion plans will be implemented at all 32 clubs and the league office to include education, training, and universal data collection. Additionally, an advisory panel, with input from the Fritz Pollard Alliance, will be convened to promote ideas to foster an inclusive culture of opportunity both on and off the field.
In other steps, for the first time, all 32 NFL clubs will host a coaching fellowship program geared towards minority candidates. These fellowships are full-time positions, ranging from one to two years, and provide NFL Legends, minority, and female participants with hands-on training in NFL coaching. While positions at each organization vary, these programs help identify and develop talent with the goal of advancing candidates to full-time coaching positions through promotion within.
Additionally, the NFL has two long-standing fellowship programs focused on increasing the pipeline for minority coaching and player personnel candidates– the Bill Walsh NFL Diversity Coaching Fellowship and the Nunn-Wooten Scouting Fellowship.
The NFL's Workplace Diversity Committee is comprised of owners and executive personnel to include: Chair, Art Rooney II (Pittsburgh Steelers); Michael Bidwill (Arizona Cardinals); Arthur Blank (Atlanta Falcons); Ozzie Newsome (Baltimore Ravens), Kim Pegula (Buffalo Bills), George H. McCaskey (Chicago Bears). E. Javier Loya (Houston Texans); and John Mara (New York Giants).
The NFL's Competition Committee consists of two owners, two club presidents, two general managers, and three head coaches: Chair, Rich McKay (Atlanta Falcons), Ozzie Newsome (Baltimore Ravens), Stephen Jones (Dallas Cowboys), John Elway (Denver Broncos), Mark Murphy (Green Bay Packers), Sean Payton (New Orleans Saints), John Mara (New York Giants), Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh Steelers), Ron Rivera (Washington Redskins).
The policy changes were developed in consultation with the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which advocates for diversity and job equality in the league.
White supremacy is a long-rooted destructive social determinant that contributes significantly to disparities in education, health, housing, wealth, and, in general, quality of life. When addressing this Revelations-like “Beast,” we must understand that institutional statements about Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity, Diversity, and Inclusion are just statements unless oppressed people force institutions to also proactively pursue equity and social justice. Otherwise, we witness appalling things such as the Rooney Rule being adopted in 2003 when there were 3 Black Head Coaches and, in 2020, there are 3 Black Head Coaches.
Because of its ability to regenerate, White supremacy deserves responses as rigorous as those made to Covid-19, i.e., systemic interventions by all societal sectors. Regarding Blacks’ responses to White supremacy, this article was stimulated by my colleague, Dr. Curtiss E. Porter (Chancellor Emeritus, Penn State Greater Allegheny) who wrote, “I am concerned about this generation’s response to White Supremacy… It appears to me, that they think ‘words are enough,’ which I will generalize in the headline ‘Dear White People.’ They are brilliant in articulating the vectors and intersections of racial substance, thought and action, such as the negative outcomes posed by micro-aggression but, in the end, it appears, that much is directed toward some ‘great white ear’ which will hopefully respond munificently.”
In the spirit of Sankofa, a backward look was taken to recall what “brought us thus far” and, based on current circumstances, discern implications for today’s fight against White supremacy. This brief reflection confirms, for example, that “Freedom only comes through persistent revolt, through persistent agitation, through persistently rising up against the system of evil.” (Martin Luther King Jr.) As corroborative evidence, consider two significant periods during the war against White supremacy.
1663-1865 The African Holocaust in America, also known as slavery, remains one if not the worst example of inhumanity --one that produced such excruciating suffering that “ride-or-die” folks were needed in the pursuit of freedom. The horror produced by demonic White supremacists led to people who  leaped from slave ships into the seas;  conducted more than 250 slave rebellions;  implemented work slowdowns by breaking tools and setting fire to crops;  killed newborns rather than let them grow up as slaves;  served as “House Negroes” but spied on masters in order to help “Field Negroes” plan attacks against the master; and,  fled from plantations. These were the proverbial “desperate times that required desperate measures,” including the fact that it took the bloodiest American war to end slavery.
1954-1980 Immediately after the Civil War, there were continued bombings, burnings, lynchings, and shootings of Blacks. Jim Crow laws were passed to enforce racial segregation. Racism became institutionalized. For more than a century, by law and in practice, Blacks were subjugated second class citizens. Therefore, the Civil Rights Movement was driven by a sense of urgency as well as commitment to a wide array of direct actions undergirded by Martin Luther King Jr’s exhortation “…that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
Accordingly, instead of simply hoping that White leaders would respond munificently,  Black students confronted and made demands on historically White institutions of higher education;  Black national organizations won a series of key court cases;  Black community activists boycotted, marched, sat-in and made demands on local governments, schools, and businesses;  Blacks, by way of urban insurrections, exploded like a “festering raisin in the sun;” and  Let us not forget that Dwight Eisenhower sent troops to Arkansas and, later, Lyndon Johnson sent troops to Alabama.
Blacks’ direct action was supplemented by a plethora of efforts to raise “race consciousness,” i.e.,  to move from an inferior and subservient self-concept as a “Negro” to a proud and self-assertive “Black” mentality; and  to gain “Black power” which included Blacks doing for self as well as taking their rightful places in public spaces, e.g., to freely attend public schools as well as build Black owned and operated schools; to work in corporate positions as well as become entrepreneurs; to be fairly covered in the White-owned press as well as create Black newspapers; and to dine at any public restaurant as well as own and operate restaurants.
2000-2020 “Diversity and Inclusion” replaced “affirmative action” but did not significantly advance “equity and social justice” for Blacks. During this period, members of the “talented tenth” became the first Blacks to occupy various managerial, political, and staff positions; Black students gained a significant but token presence in higher education; and more Blacks escaped the worst of poverty. However, by 2020, disparities were growing like a lethal virus as evidenced by widening gaps in Black home ownership, health, educational achievement, and wealth. This scenario reminds one of when more than 40,000 Blacks got back on the White folks’ buses instead of also building upon the transportation system they developed during the Montgomery boycott.
Regarding Blacks’ addressing White supremacy, I have a dream that, one day, the very best Black student-athletes, other students, faculty, administrators and staff will choose to take their talents to several leading historically Black colleges and universities and turn them into externally verified world class colleges and universities. I have a dream that there will be more OWN channels, Tyler Perry Studios, Black law firms, Black banks, Black construction companies, Black grocery stores, and, in general, an exponential expansion of Black entrepreneurship.
In my dream, Blacks will deal with the full implications of Carter G. Woodson’s statement, “The education of the Negroes, then, the most important thing in the uplift of the Negroes, is almost entirely in the hands of those who have enslaved them and now segregate them.”
I dream of White supremacy withering on the vine when  Blacks become the largest active voting block and Black elected officers are multiplied significantly;  Black civic organizations, churches, and families regain their critical importance;  Blacks’ undying love for their people is wed to sustained systematic actions;  the most talented and highest achieving Blacks constantly speak truth to power instead of being muzzled by “30 pieces of silver;” and  the struggle against White supremacy is joined by all people purporting to endorse freedom, justice and equality.
Jack L. Daniel
Co-founder, Freed Panther Society
Contributor, Pittsburgh Urban Media
Author, Negotiating a Historically White University While Black
May 13, 2020
“I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,
When he beats his bars and he would be free’
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
A plea, that upward to Heaven he flings-
I know why the caged bird sings.”
-Paul Laurence Dunbar-
Wearily we watch as “Black babies face double the risk of dying before their first birthday” (see Gaby Galvin, August 1, 2019). Tragically, Black teens have the highest probability of becoming a homicide victim. The most gifted Black child’s life can be halted when a wanton bullet finds its deadly mark. Black men know that jogging while wearing a “hoodie” and a Covid-19 protective mask could contribute to them being murdered. Like Sandra Bland, days after a traffic stop arrest, a Black woman can be found dead in a cell, or, as with Breonna Taylor, be aroused from sleeping and murdered during a “botched” police raid.
Far too many Black lives are ones in which hopes are routinely dashed; excruciating pain is daily delivered; spirits are constantly broken; and life is like trying to breath inside a stifling vault. For no other reason than being Black, these harsh things and more are strapped on Blacks’ backs and, in turn, contribute to the rapid rise in mental illness among Blacks (See Cordilia James and Petersen Pedersen in the Wall Street Journal, July, 21, 2020).
More than a century after Dunbar wrote the above poem, my father-in-law (Nathaniel S. Colley, Sr.) experienced what all highly accomplished Blacks know, i.e., that “doing the right things” does not provide him/them with a pass to escape the deleterious fate of being born Black in America. He did his undergraduate work at Tuskegee; earned his law degree from Yale; served as an army officer during World War II; was a NAACP Western Region general counsel; and, while assisting President John F. Kennedy, he agreed to take part in an inspection of military troops stationed in Japan.
While in Japan, a Japanese citizen sought to understand the extent of White American racism by asking, “Mr. Colley, if you go to Mississippi, will they also put dogs on you too?” My father-in-law said, “Yes, if I go to Mississippi, they’ll put dogs on me too!” For the rest of his life, Colley Sr. reminded himself and others that neither his Tuskegee and Yale degrees nor his many distinguished trial lawyer accomplishments would prevent “dogs from being put on him too” ---that Malcolm X spoke truth when he asked and answered, “What do Whites call a Negro with a PhD? A Nigger!”
Recently, I had a reminder that “dogs could be put on me too. The rear deck of my home is about 15 feet from the water that feeds into the Chesapeake Bay. An armed White police officer walked past my home many evenings and spoke to me as I sat on my deck. His seemingly friendly “hellos” caused me to have a lapse in judgment, but I was reminded of who I was when I went down to the boardwalk to fish.
As the White officer approached, I said “Hello,” and he said, “Excuse me, do you live here?” I said “Yes” and, pointing to my home, I added, “I speak to you from that deck behind us when you pass by each evening.” He said, “Oh and, by the way, you have to move your stool off the boardwalk. There are no chairs allowed on the boardwalk.” Noticing the gun strapped on the officer’s hip, I knew being a Black man was in play, not “Dr. Jack L. Daniel, the emeritus Vice Provost and Distinguished Service Professor.” Hence, I said nothing and moved my stool.
After the officer left, I thought about what could have happened had I gotten angry, jumped up and asked, “How can you ask me if I live here when, after so many evenings, you passed by my home and spoke to me?” In minutes, the story could have become, “After fearing for his life, officer accidentally shoots angry man who was breaking the law on residential boardwalk,” followed shortly thereafter with “#Jack L. Daniel, say his name.”
If you are Black in America, then you don’t drive your car; walk down the street; barbecue in a public park; enter your own apartment late at night; fall asleep in the reception area of a dorm hall; attempt to cash a check with “Dr.” in front of your name; or engage in any normal activity without the nagging realization that you could become a fatal statistic. You can’t be stopped at a red light without the possibility of a White male throwing lighter fluid on you and setting you on fire as was done recently to a Black woman in Wisconsin. Even in death, as was the case for Congressman John Lewis, racist derived inhumanity was put on full display when, in their “tributes to John Lewis,” Republican Congressman Marco Rubio and Senator Dan Sullivan mistakenly posted pictures of themselves and Elijah Cummings.
Notwithstanding the woes of being Black in America, we of good faith will continue to do as John Lewis commanded, i.e., “get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and redeem the soul of America.” We will do so because we know, as John Legend sang, “One day when the glory comes; It will be ours, it will be ours; One day… When the war is won; When it's all said and done; We'll cry glory, oh glory.”
Jack L. Daniel
Co-Founder, Freed Panther Society
Contributor, Pittsburgh Urban Media
Author, Negotiating a Historically White University While Black
July 29, 2020
Civil rights legend Rep. John Lewis.