“Our country has entered into a debate on race and social justice. This debate has manifested itself by protest both physical and symbolic. The protests suggest something as yet undefined by both sides is needed. What is it that needs to be expressed and how do we best go about achieving this?”
Judge Charles Williams, Circuit Court Judge, Sarasota, Fl, Civil Division
By expressing our inner feelings on race, diversity and inclusion, first emotionally, then rationally, then in a structured environment that will serve to be a central receiving facility for concrete ideas and action will be first steps in the process for the solution.
It starts with our online forums, progresses to our live panel discussions, as we exchange information, advise each other of what is already in place and what else is needed then we retreat in thought, debate and dialogue to come up with the programs, initiatives, and solutions.
These small steps on this journey as they become greater and greater through sheer numbers of participants will echo a new protest, a protest that we hope will result in positive social reform for all those who seek justice and equality.
Ed James III, Political Strategist
What we are seeing around the country aren’t simply protests, in fact calling “die ins” that have shut down highways in New York City, Boston, Oakland, Chicago, Miami, and Jacksonville “protests” trivializes the magnitude of this mass display of political resistance spreading in the hearts and minds of consciously awakened citizens in the USA. If we look at these social movements from a nuanced perspective it becomes very clear that we are witnessing a systemic uprising seeking to obliterate every vestige of oppression emanating from the insular structures that haven’t always protected the interests of all Americans. While the media jockeys to make this an “us vs. them” narrative exacerbating divisions in our country; activists on the ground are struggling to reclaim their ability to manifest their collective destiny.
As a political strategist, I often ask myself what I can do to influence public policy in a way that creates a more perfect union. From where I sit, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Rodney Mitchell, Jordan Davis and the countless other lives lost to senseless violence in this country are not just victims of racism, but victims of a system that has perpetuated their marginalization as human beings. A system that has far too often packed minority voters into compact districts to dilute the vote. Also, a system where their earning potential is significantly less even if they are equally or more qualified than their colleagues. Yet, there is still hope on the horizon.
There is hope because people of all backgrounds are finally changing the language used in the discourse on equality to recognize the humanity of people who have been “othered” for so long that their perceived inferiority has become a part of the American schema. There is hope because our public policy is slowly catching up with the words spoken by Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address in which he stated, “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” The only way for the United States of America to continue its path forward is to give its citizens the space to freely express their concerns so that all voices are heard in the policymaking process.
Gilbert King, Pulitzer Prize winning Author
Racial issues are always going to be an unavoidable part of the American experience. Slavery played a critical role in the early economic development of our nation, and we eventually went to war against ourselves over it. But the Civil War did not magically bring about racial equality, as race-based violence thrived during Reconstruction and nearly a century of Jim Crow laws in the South.
As a nation, we are still trying to come to terms with the remnants of legalized white supremacy. That is why it is so important for us to objectively examine our country’s past, and art and literature can play an essential role. Acknowledging our shared history will bring a deeper understanding to the issues of race and social justice in America, and resolving to understand each other just a little better is such a worthwhile place to start.
3 thoughts on “FLY—Online Contributors Responses”
Kate Alexander spoke with the Honorable Larry Eger, Public Defender of the 12th Judicial Circuit to discuss the dialogues about race in Sarasota today.
“Without the dialogue, without the conversation, we move on to the next victim.”
“Theatre opens up the dialogue. You don’t just leave it sitting there. You take it to the next step.”
“Conversation is the way to break down fear.”
See the entire conversation at #FSTRaceDialogues on Twitter.
Mark St. Germain, Playwright
A “debate” on race and social justice can only be effective if people talk to each other, not by shouting or lashing out. We need to at least try to define what is yet undefined. Not in soundbites. And don’t just talk: listen. We’re not doing that now in American politics, and this stubborn stalemate blocks any attempts to address real problems of our entire country, not just a single political party.
I wrote a play called BEST OF ENEMIES that was performed at Florida Studio Theater a few years back. It’s based on a true story that seems almost impossible on first hearing. In the 1970’s, Durham was still ignoring Brown vs. the Board of Education.
Schools were still segregated and the quality of children’s education were wildly different.
The government sent a man, Bill Riddick, to organize a “charette” in Durham for the community to talk about the problem.
His reception, as a black man, was what you expected with many of the whites.
What Bill did caused an immediate uproar. He cleverly managed to recruit two co-chairs to lead the discussions:
Ann Atwater, a formidable black activist, and her long time nemesis, C.P. Ellis, head of the large Durham Ku Klux Klan.
It was hate on first, second and third sight. They clashed on panels they formed, on curriculum for the schools, and in front of the large crowds they addressed. As the weeks went on, the relationship began to change. Both found themselves ostracized by many in the black and white communities for working together. Both had children in school that suffered as well. And both realized that much of the prejudice of the white power structure wasn’t just based on skin color, but economics.
Durham had two upper class; one in the white, the other in the black community. The first black run Insurance Company was founded in Durham and one of the partners was a former slave. The more affluent blacks had much less interest in pursuing civil rights – many considered themselves above the fray. On the other hand, the town’s white power brokers encouraged C.P. and the Klan to keep the fires going that divided black from white.
What Ann and C.P. started to realize that the most privileged children in town were treated far better than the poor.
If a daughter of a wealthy executive forgot her homework, she was told to bring it the next day.
In the same class, if an underprivileged student forgot it they were promptly punished.
Ann and C.P. found a solidarity in that. At a celebration at the end of the charette C.P. made a short speech and tore up his Klan membership card. They developed a lifelong friendship as C.Ps cut off by every former friend but one. Even there, when C.P. would visit him in the hospital, driven there by Ann, he wouldn’t allow her to come into his room.
The story sounds like a fairy tale, but it’s real. What began with anger on both sides without any opportunities to address it gradually changed when Ann and C.P. actually listened to what the other was saying.
I believe that a large part of our population would rather believe that racism magically ended with the creation of Martin Luther King Day, and that the atrocities still occurring are aberrations will go away as well. Turning our heads, we can’t move forward. We need to create opportunities to talk, and listen, to everyone, not just those who agree with us.
Trevor D. Harvey, President-Sarasota County Branch NAACP, Area XI Director
We need to be able to have open and frank discussions about race relations in America even if it is painful to discuss. America must realize that it herself has gone against what our Constitution was based on, when she has created laws and standards that make one race of people feel they are not valued.
I think to achieve the levels of equality and social justice in America, we need to go back and look at our Constitution.
Our Constitution established a government in which the power structure of this nation was divided into three independent branches: The Legislative, The Executive and The Judicial. The exercise of power requires the cooperation of all three branches, and each, therefore, operates as a “check” or “balance” on the unlawful use of authority by the others.
The most significant piece of this structure is the “Judicial” branch, which was created to protect the rights of citizens that are guaranteed by the Constitution, and that laws might not be obstructed or enforced prejudicially.
The “Fourteenth Amendment”, guarantees the Equal Protection of Laws to all citizens. If this country would just operate under the guidelines established by our Constitution, many discussions centered on Race wouldn’t be needed, but until we fully operate under the Constitution, we will continue to push for Equality and Social Justice for all…….