Monday, October 16, 2017

The Day I Was Dissed by Dick Gregory: Excerpts from my Washington University Memorial Tribute Speech


Last time I was down South I walked into this restaurant and this white waitress came up to me and said, ‘We don’t serve colored people here.’ I told her: ‘That’s all right, I don’t eat colored people. Bring me a whole fried chicken.”
- Dick Gregory comedy routine at the Chicago Playboy Club, 1961


And now we're ready to change a system, a system where a white man can destroy a black man with a single word: Nigger.”-Dick Gregory from his blockbuster, best-selling book “Nigger” 1965



My Moma used to grab me and wash my face…America ain’t got no mama to wash her face…all we did was went from this filth we was in to putting on some new clothes and no one has said, ‘hey, somewhere we got to apologize.” 
-Dick Gregory State of Black America 2008




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I would like to thank Professor Jack Kirkland for inviting me to share a few remarks about this incredible inspirational human being. We’re here today to celebrate, to remember and honor the life and legacy of comedian, civil rights activist, social critic, writer, entrepreneur, and all-around humanitarian, Richard Claxton Gregory, known world-wide simply as Dick Gregory.

We are here to pay tribute to a home-town hero’s incredible journey from a pioneering comedian who successfully crossed over to white audiences, to a civil rights activist who sacrificed a career of comedy for a lifetime of service for the oppressed and voiceless.  We’re here to remember the audacity of an entrepreneur who developed a multi-million-dollar industry based on a simple desire to help people live healthier, longer lives.

But, before we do this, I’d like to share a video of the last time I saw Dick Gregory in person. It was in 2014, during the protests in Ferguson, MO. Please bear with me, it’s not that long.

(Note: I wasn't able to show this video at the event, so I described it)



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Now I know a lot of you are asking, "err, Sylvester, why did you show that video? I mean the man literally dissed you, called your question ‘stupid’ and said you were wasting his time."

I get it. I showed it to emphasize a couple points. First and foremost, it’s not important what Dick thought of me that day, it’s what I think of him, what I’ve learned from him and what I hope to accomplish because of his influence.
Some of you may know that I am the founder of the Sweet Potato Project. Let me give you the one-minute spiel I teach my students: We recruit inner city youth to plant  sweet potatoes on vacant lots. We provide them with a 10-week summer job where they learn marketing, branding, sales, product development and more. At the end of the summer job, they turn their produce into products. At this time, the students sell sweet potato cookies. The whole idea is to show our kids how to become entrepreneurs in their own neighborhoods.

It’s not important what Dick thought of me that day, it’s what I think of him, what I’ve learned from him and what I hope to accomplish because of his influence.

So, yeah, Dick hurt my feelings a little bit that day. But after really listening to his words, I had to put those feelings aside. I was reminded of the true essence of Dick Gregory’s words and their relevance to our modern times. It is my desire that this unflattering video will also underscore our responsibility to carry on, to live lives that reflect his passions. I’m hoping that we all walk out of here asking the “WWDD” question, not what would Jesus do but “what would Dick Do” in these challenging times.
 

I’m hoping that we all walk out of here asking the “WWDD” question, not what would Jesus do but “What Would Dick Do” in these challenging times? 

Right now, people mostly young people are protesting in the streets. No matter where you stand on “why” they're out there, we must force ourselves to focus on “who” is out there and what Dick told me in that video:
“Whenever you have explosions like this, I go. If I came here and my head was bleeding, you know something’s wrong, right? When you see people rioting, you know something’s wrong. It’s like hearing a baby cry and you go tell him to ‘shut up.’”

Dick Gregory, the activist, encouraged kids to get involved and engaged on social issues:

“I tell students they should be concerned that some of their classmates can’t walk down the streets in certain cities without the fear of being shot by both gang-bangers and misguided police officers.”
Today, there are those who have mastered the art of propaganda. When protesters say they're out there because black lives matter and they want cops to stop killing unarmed black men, women and children, the antagonists say they want to 'kill cops.' When people say they're 'taking the knee at football games to highlight police brutality, the propagandists say they're 'disrespecting the flag and our troops.' 
Whether we’re talking about police misconduct or challenging police brutality or judicial oppression, Dick, way back in 1961, worked hard to make sure the messages weren’t misconstrued  

“We’re not saying, ‘Let’s go downtown and take over City hall. We’re not saying, ‘Let’s stand on rooftops and throw bricks at the white folks. We’re not saying let’s get some butcher knives and some guns and make them pay for what they’ve done. We’re saying, ‘We want what you said belongs to us. You have a constitution. I’m a black man, and you made me sit down in a black school and take a test on the United States Constitution, a constitution that hasn’t worked for anyone but you. And you expect me to learn it from front to back. So I learned it. You made me stand up as a little kid and sing ‘God bless America,’ and ‘America the Beautiful,’ and all those songs the white kids were singing. I pledge Allegiance to the Flag. That’s all I’m asking for you today. Because for some reason God has put in your hands the salvation of not just America-the thing is bigger than just this country-but the salvation of the whole world…”


“We’re not saying, ‘Let’s go downtown and take over City hall. We’re not saying, ‘Let’s stand on rooftops and throw bricks at the white folks...I’m a black man, and you made me sit down in a black school and take a test on the United States Constitution, a constitution that hasn’t worked for anyone but you...We’re saying, ‘We want what you said belongs to us." - Dick Gregory, 1965  

Let us not tell the baby to 'shut up!' Let us stand with them. Dick said, “If the old folk rise up and say we’re not going to do this anymore, the children will do the same.”

So, let us challenge police who are intent on criminalizing and intimidating our youth and anyone who stands with them. Like Dick said, let us endure the explosion with them, let us demand that they not be treated as anarchists, or terrorists. Let us acknowledge that these courageous, bodacious young people feel they can make a difference. Let us find ways to embolden them and help them channel their creativity and passions into and beyond the protests. Let us find ways to empower them in their own communities and hold them accountable for the progressive change they seek.
Now, I wasn’t planning to talk with Dick about my project that day because, in all honesty, we talked about it a year before in Washington D.C. when we were both being interviewed for a documentary on Dr. Bill Cosby.
Now, I totally understand that Dick didn’t remember me or the project but he did ask me what I was doing to help black kids.
When I did,  he pushed back saying, “You need to talk to somebody who doesn’t know that, because I didn’t. I ain’t never heard of you. There are people who live here who don’t know ya’ll doing that!”

The push-back was justified. There are many, many people who've never heard of the Sweet Potato Project. I'm working on that. But, in retrospect Dick showed me he has the desires of young folk and entrepreneurism, as a salvation for our many, many ills, at heart.

Yes, my desire is to put some of the thousands of vacant lots in St. Louis into the hands of young folk, like the Black Lives Matter group, churches and community organizations. My desire is to have a collective of low-income youth and adults owning land, growing food and creating an economic, food-based engine in North St. Louis. But we do have to challenge the powers-that-be, forcing them to understand that people are just as worthy of an investment as fortune 500 companies and the already rich developers.

One of Dick Gregory’s goals was to improve the life expectancy of African Americans, which he believed was being hindered by poor nutrition. He was an avid advocate of healthy eating as well as a vegan-living. He created the “Slim-Safe Bahamian Diet”—a meal replacement powder to help with weight loss. According to Black Enterprise in 1989, Gregory, at one point, averaged a revenue of $30,000 per day just from Slim-Safe sales alone.

Dick once said, the whole country is set up for entrepreneurship.” In order to reach Americans, he said, we have to do it with glamour. “I want to glamorize health and nutrition the same way we have glamorized athletics and sports. We have to make teenagers just as excited about drinking juice as they are about buying a pair of Michael Jordan’s tennis shoes.”

I share his sentiments. We have to glamorize the idea of young people as entrepreneurs, as stewards of economic change in our neighborhoods. The Bohemian diet serves as a model of what we can do to empower individuals and neighborhoods.
I ran across a Youtube video titled Dick Gregory: Advice to Black Youth where Mr. Gregory stressed the importance of entrepreneurism among our youth. This is what he said:
“I would say to young folk, ‘don’t be in a state of denial of the racism and sexism but don’t that block you. I would also like young black folk to understand that about 80% of all employment happens through small businesses. I would say, we will never catch up with white America until we get into business. We will never survive as a group until we have communities, not neighborhoods but communities that control the police, the banks and control of the flow of money.  I have no problem when I go into a Jewish neighborhood and the shop -owners are Jewish, are an Italian neighborhood and the shop owners are Italian. I have a problem when I come into a black neighborhood and the shop owners are not me.”

Ladies and gentlemen, every now and then the universe, God or a higher power will toss down the gauntlet of change before us. It will demand that those of us who stand for justice, dignity and humanity make our voices heard. Each of us must search our souls and find a way to fight back. We have to stand before the Almighty and say “here I am Lord, send me, send me.”

"I would say, we will never catch up with white America until we get into business. We will never survive as a group until we have communities, not neighborhoods but communities that control the police, the banks and control of the flow of money."-Dick Gregory -"Advice to Black Youth"  

On his own life and legacy, Dick said:

“We thought I was going to be a great athlete, and we were wrong, and I thought I was going to be a great entertainer, and that wasn't it either. I'm going to be an American Citizen. First class.”  
How do we all strive to be “First-Class American citizens? My way, if you will, is the Sweet Potato Project. But how should you honor the legacy of this great, brave, bodacious American icon? How can we all grasp and utilize the WWDD mantra?
I believe Dick’s son, Yohance Maqubela, gave a wonderful example in a recent interview I read in the Economist when he said:

“Every sacrifice that my father made whether it was financial in stepping away from the comedy and entertainment to support civil rights, whether it was in the business world where he was one of the leading entrepreneurs in the area of health and nutrition and not compromising his values. He did so much work in the Black community because he realized that you can’t help somebody else until you are whole and healthy yourself.


“So, if you’ve ever been moved, touched, or motivated by the words of Dick Gregory, by the writing of Dick Gregory, by the albums of Dick Gregory, by the videos of Dick Gregory and you want to honor him, please take action. Please go forward in the areas that my father stood for and represented." 

 

“So, if you’ve ever been moved, touched, or motivated by the words of Dick Gregory, by the writing of Dick Gregory, by the albums of Dick Gregory, by the videos of Dick Gregory and you want to honor him, please take action. Please go forward in the areas that my father stood for and represented. Whether it’s being a part of the national Black Lives Matter movement or volunteering your time at a local school or soup kitchen, just be involved. Continue that legacy which is lifting the human spirit and the human condition, and that’s how you honor my father.”  

Thank you very much.

-End of Speech-



Monday, October 2, 2017

The Plan After the Protests...

Photo by Richard Reilly

Say what you will about our racially-divided, culturally-backwards, pro-police city there’s one distinction where St. Louis has become the absolute best: Protesting. No other region has been more resilient, more diverse in age and race, more spiritual, determined, persistent or more braver than ours.  The level of creativity, organizing and deciding where, when and how to protest has captured the world’s attention and exposed the deep, deep layers of systematized racism in a major metropolitan area.  History will record St. Louis as the 21
st Century version of Selma Alabama in terms of civil unrest and push-back against non-violent demonstrations against unwarranted police aggression.

But then what? Where will this audacious movement take us?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticizing the protesters. They’re doing what they’re supposed to do: Protest. People, mostly young people, have put their safety, their jobs and their lives on the line to confront and expose injustices. Young, progressive politicians, religious leaders and business-owners have stepped to do their part as well. They’ve made it abundantly clear that this city will not be cowered by police acts of oppression or intimidation. Yet, it can’t be denied that the rest of us have not done our part.

But then what? Where will this audacious movement take us?

In one of my recent commentaries, I quoted Mayor Lyda Krewson who defined St. Louis’ current climate as one impacted by “institutionalized racism.” I agree with that definition but we must honestly unpack our collective culpability in enabling and abiding the “systems” that have deemed black lives expendable and worthless.

Brace yourself. I’m not going to detail our region’s long history of economic, housing, criminal justice or educational disparities along racial lines. That’s well documented.  I’m going to discuss how we, black folk have failed our young people; how we, black folk, need to develop plans to combat institutionalized racism in our region; how we, black folk, need to create our own, alternative systems to finally, finally uplift and protect our young people. I'm writing about how we can ensure that they can transform the historic societal nightmare into the ballyhooed “American Dream.”

At some point in time, black people, and those who love us, must confront the fact that this system was not created for our benefit. It is a greedy, class-based, racially-tilted structure designed for the advantage of mostly wealthy, mostly white men. The civil rights movement was mainly about racial equality but there's still much to do in addressing racial equity. Many of us settled. We allowed ourselves to believe that integration and access to politics, being allowed to move into white neighborhoods, work for white-owned companies and, eventually, elect a black president would solve our collective ills. We were wrong.

Back in the late 1960s, when laws outlawed overt segregation, many of us abandoned traditional black neighborhoods for better opportunities elsewhere. Some celebrated upward mobility while turning blind eyes to those left behind. We willingly turned our young people over to the employment, educational, social welfare and criminal justice “systems.”

At some point in time, black people, and those who love us, must confront the fact that this system was not created for our benefit. 

Let’s be honest, poverty, which nurtures and breeds crime, is disproportionate in black neighborhoods. America, which doesn’t have the capacity or compassion to tackle generational, race-based poverty has opted for the detrimental preschool-to-prison pipeline as its solution.  Because of this moral deficit, our children are adrift. Many are caught up in the dangerous game of survival by any means necessary. All must fight the battles of their parents, grandparents, great grandparents and the stinging legacy of slavery and racial oppression.

So, again, what’s the plan after the protests?

Krewson, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and many other media outlets point to “solutions” outlined in the Department of Justice’s report and the report compiled by the “Forward Through Ferguson” Commission after the 2014 police shooting of Mike Brown. There’s nothing wrong with these assessments. Both stress systematic injustices, both address police reform and one highlights job opportunities inherent in the corporate world. What they don’t do, perhaps can’t do, is detail how black people can “do-for-self,” sustain themselves and their neighborhoods and create environments where they control wealth, politics and police interaction with the targeted populace.

Herein is where liberal ideologies collude with far right-wing fears. You see, oodles and oodles of whites (both conservative and liberal) believe blacks should be treated fairly; that unarmed blacks are killed disproportionately by police and that blacks have received a bum deal in this society. However, some balk at the idea of truly “empowering” black people by giving them the same resources historically gifted to whites. Most won’t admit it, but many-and public opinion polls back this up-believe that if blacks “get something” it will be at the expense of whites. They believe that investing in real “black power” is the antithesis of Dr. King’s "dream" where all races reach the proverbial “mountaintop” together.

However, some balk at the idea of truly “empowering” black people by giving them the same resources historically gifted to whites. 

It is in this radical, revolutionary arena where black leaders and those who truly empathize with the plight of black people must step up.  It is here where the lessons of Marcus Garvey, Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X must be mainstreamed and adapted into a modern-day game plan for social, educational and economic progress. What they preached back in the day-land-ownership, economic independence and growing our own food-is just as pertinent today.  

Let us take a candid look at black communities here and around the country. For centuries, every ethnicity (accept black people)-Jews, Germans, Koreans and Middle-Easterners-have capitalized off the wealth of black neighborhoods. To be clear, I’m not criticizing people who were smart enough to decipher how, why and when black people spend their money. In fact, I am in awe of the numerous gas stations and convenience stores operated by Muslims in the ‘hood. They have studied us. Walk into any of these operations and you’ll find they sell the “bling,” the fast, fatty foods, the cell phone services and other commodities unique to the black consumer base. This maxim also applies to the myriad of fast food restaurants, pay-day lending and check-cashing operations owned and operated by non-blacks in black neighborhoods.  

I am in awe of the numerous gas stations and convenience stores operated by Muslims in the ‘hood. 

In my 30-plus years of researching, writing and talking publicly about black people and our many, many societal woes, I’ve concluded that the only way to end the trajectory of “victimhood,” is to do-for-self and build “systems” that we control. This is why I, along with the North Area Community Development Corporation (NACDC), created the Sweet Potato Project.  Since 2012, we’ve provided at-risk youth (16-21) jobs where they learn how to grow produce on vacant and community lots. We teach them marketing, branding, sales, product development and how “supply & demand” dynamics work inside and outside their neighborhoods.

Our vision is that of a large collective of North St. Louis land-owners growing, packaging and distributing fresh food and food products together. This, I maintain, is a practical, common-sense approach to addressing unemployment, food deserts and nutritional needs and community redevelopment.

How? Well, imagine young, urban youth trained to be a part of the burgeoning locally-grown food movement? Envision them owning vacant properties, growing food and making money off their yields. What may happen if their parents, siblings, and peers plant and grow together? Well, they will be empowered and accountable for the safety and stability of their neighborhoods. Furthermore, imagine the all-around impact of restaurants, bakeries, grocers, schools, hospitals, public institutions and individual consumers all buying food and food products from this collective. We will then have a food-based economic engine in North St. Louis designed to fuel sustainable entrepreneurism, jobs, and small business growth.

Please don’t misunderstand or assume that I’m offering an all-out panacea for the ills that impact poor black people. I’m not na├»ve. However, I do believe it’s a viable plan. It’s one way to introduce do-for-self economics and entrepreneurism into black communities. The goal is for other entities to build off the template. I recently read about a housing initiative in Detroit where Cass Community Social Services are building 250-to-400-square-feet “tiny homes.” At building costs ranging from $40,000-to-$50,000 each, low income people rent-to-own homes in seven years or less.

This may be a sensitive subject for some. But I’ve been sharing this message since 2015 when I spoke at the Conference for Catholic Bishops in Washington D.C. There an audience member asked “what can whites do” to better the conditions of African Americans? My suggestion was/is: “Bet on and invest in Black. Look for ways to socially and economically empower black people where they live.”

Let’s give the Black Lives Matters group and other bodacious young protesters another place to practice their resiliency, creativity and resolve. Imagine a housing program like this added to a land-ownership, food-growing initiative in St. Louis. Those 21-year-olds or older, who own land, grow food and make money will have the additional opportunity to build off their accumulated wealth in their own neighborhoods.  With city resources and institutional support, they can use their combined collateral to open restaurants, coffee shops, grocery stores, nightclubs and alternative educational institutions. Their collective economic influence can be used to finance the campaigns of progressive, political candidates, develop private security operations and demand police give them the same attention and respect afforded more tonier areas.

Let’s give the Black Lives Matters group and other bodacious young protesters another place to practice their resiliency, creativity and resolve. 

This has been the clarion call of the Sweet Potato Project for six years. Fortunately, we’re not alone. We’re working with other like-minded nonprofits who are similarly intent on using food to empower poor people. What’s missing is vision, powerful alliances and partnerships and, frankly, the involvement of black people who believe in the potential of ourselves and our young people.  

In a recent commentary, I chastised the Post-Dispatch for insisting protesters have “a plan.” In a city tethered to the teat of uber-rich developers and void of urban solutions, I challenged the newspaper to examine its role in codifying the status quo.


Today, in all sincerity, I challenge black leaders, black people and those loyal to our cause to step up. For once, let us commit to forging a progressive, all-encompassing path forward after the tumultuous protests.  




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Sylvester Brown Jr. is a writer, community activist and executive director of the Sweet Potato Project, a program that seeks to empower low-income youth and adults through land-ownership and urban agriculture.



    

     




Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Right Now, there is a kid…

Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Sun/2014

by Sylvester Brown, Jr.
Sept. 27,2017

Right now, on this day, at this moment, there is a kid….
He or she may be 12 or 22. This kid no longer believes in his parents, his president or his country. She/he now understands that “democracy,” “freedom of speech,” “protect & serve,” “due process” and “justice for all” are all convenient, regurgitated, adult lies.

Right now, this kid grapples with the memory of a 200-pound cop’s knee pressed against his, her or a grandmother’s neck, roped like a mad steer outside the Gap’s door.
She has seen the trusted “man in blue” gleefully, willfully, tactfully, militarily and purposefully surround her, trap her, spray her, shoot at her, assault her, ridicule her…and then, arrest her for doing the “right thing.”

Right now, this innocent, brave, bold and righteously rebellious kid no longer relishes in the comforts of childhood. She/he has been thrust face-first into the bowels of hypocrisy, smeared with the 241-year-old shit of the Founding Fathers.

Right now, this kid who is black…or not, who is poor…or not, who is gay…or not, now knows their rights, their “freedoms,” are not as sacred as that of a Nazi or a Skinhead. He/she can’t understand why the “very fine people” with torches and guns, blabbering racist, anti-sematic sounds are better received than a football player who placed a knee on “hallowed” ground.  

Right now, a kid has been teleported to the 1960s. This time, however, the tools of vicious, slathering dogs, skin-blistering water hoses and raw, naked aggression has been upgraded with left-overs from middle-eastern excursions. This time, “the occupiers” occupy their streets, steal their narrative and relegate their principles below profits.

Right now, compromised adults teach their young to compromise. Children must now figure out their place in a country that’s vowed to be “GREAT”… again.   These pubescent souls must make the premature decision to become rebels, outsiders or mindless followers. Right now, today, at this moment, they must choose to be someone who stands for something or falls for anything.


Right now, there is a kid…

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Real Question: “What’s Your plan?” An open letter to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Editorial Board


When did the St. Louis Post-Dispatch decide its editorial board should reflect the sentiments of 70-year-old, white men? Was it back in 2005, when you were acquired by Lee Enterprises? Or, was it more recent? Was it during the mayoral race earlier this year when one, black, female candidate put you on national blast for your curmudgeonly, good-ole-boy focus on derailing her campaign?

When did the Post-Dispatch decide its editorial board should reflect the sentiments of 70-year-old, white men?

Your Sept. 18th editorial, “Mayhem is not a plan. Protesters need to outline their goals,” to me, was a throw-back to 1960s-style journalism that criticized civil rights protesters while simultaneously stoking the fears of white folk.
Let's start with the opening word of your piece: “Mayhem.” Seriously? You define an entire breathtaking, bold movement, consisting of thousands-blacks, whites, old, young, and “other,” by a handful of acts of vandalism?
This is reminiscent of the days of 1963, when white people, especially, were fearful that the infamous March on Washington, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would lead to riots. The Chicago Sun Times amplified those fears, writing:
“This is the day of the march for civil rights in the nation’s capital and the dread specter of possible violence hangs over the proceeding.”

Around that same time, days before the march, NBC News hosted a program with a group of all-white, all-male panelists who interviewed Dr. King and NAACP chair, Roy Wilkins. The first question, from journalist Lawrence Spivak, was this:
“There are a great many people who believe it will be impossible to bring 100,000 militant Negroes into Washington without incident and possibly riots.”
One would think the Post-Dispatch would understand the dangers of amplifying widespread fears of whites when it comes to black protesters. Consider the June 10, 1966, cover of Life Magazine. Above a photo of actress Elizabeth Taylor was the blaring headline; "Plot to Get 'Whitey': Red-hot young Negroes plan a ghetto war."


No, you’re not as blatant as Life Magazine, but your words describing an “unfocused movement,” with “angry people” who are just venting and causing “meaningless destruction,” feeds the narrative that justifies abusing, arresting and intimidating protesters, supporters and sympathetic business owners.

Your words feeds the narrative that justifies abusing, arresting and intimidating protesters, supporters and sympathetic business owners.

When I first started at the Post in 2003, the higher-ups wanted me to spend time in the editorial room. They thought I could learn a thing or two from seasoned reporters before I started writing my columns. I did. I was thoroughly impressed (and a bit intimidated) by the wit, knowledge and historic recall of the editorial writers. I listened to guys like Bill Freivogel and Richard K. Weil-reporters who witnessed and reported on the civil rights era. I can only imagine them visibly wincing and rejecting such a divisive and demeaning word as “mayhem” to describe today’s protest activities.
How is it your board sees “mayhem” first as history unfolds before your eyes? Why aren’t your reporters following the young protesters to jail? Instead of reinforcing the narrow-minded description of angry, black looters out to destroy businesses, why aren’t you telling stories, putting human faces on those risking their livelihoods for justice? Why aren’t you helping your readers understand why a 20-year-old, white kid from the ‘burbs is willing to take a cop’s knee to his/her neck, pepper spray in their face or arrest for a cause that, mostly, impacts people who don’t even look like them?

How is it your board sees “mayhem” first as history unfolds before your eyes? 

You see mayhem, I see a very progressive, divinely diverse, creative and resilient movement. Has the fear of losing ad revenue or push-back from pro-cop supporters and “red state” readers caused you to abandon your role as keepers of the 4th Estate? During the civil rights era, most American newspapers forced the country to confront its ugliness, its hypocrisy and its utter brutality.


 

Your whole thesis revolves around the need for protesters to have “a plan.” Without a clearly “articulated goal,” you naively claim, those poor government officials, police and business leaders will have no solutions to work toward. Let me be perfectly clear; protesters protest. Their job, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his infamous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” is to fight racial injustice. The “goal” of the demonstrations, he added was “to dramatize the issue (so) that it can no longer be ignored.”



I would say today’s young protesters are living up to the legacy of 1960s.

Their job, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his infamous "Letter from Birmingham Jail," is to fight racial injustice....to dramatize the issue (so) that it can no longer be ignored.” 

In your editorial, you claim protesters have no goals but toward the end, you quote Rep. Bruce Franks, who outlined them succinctly:
The reason we’re out here is because we’re dying, so when we stop dying, when we stop being affected disproportionately by the system, then we’ll take a break.”
What part of Franks’ explanation escaped your “journalistic” reasoning?

It wasn’t the obligation of protesters during civil rights, woman’s rights or gay rights movements to have the plans. Their job was to highlight and confront the issues. Leaders like King, Jessie Jackson, Susan B. Anthony, Gloria Steinem, Cesar Chavez, Audrey Lorde and Harvey Milk articulated and implemented the plans. These individuals led demonstrations that forced politicians, business and church leaders and, yes, newspapers, to adopt and push “plans” that made the country more equitable for all its citizens. In this area, there’s still much work to do.
It’s incumbent on those of us not in the streets, not in the jails or not being beaten or pepper-sprayed to do our part as well. I have a plan. I’ve been writing about “race” and our city for more than 30 years. My plan is to keep using my words to inform, perhaps persuade and challenge media outlets, like yours, when you bastardize our profession.

It’s incumbent on those of us not in the streets, not in the jails or not being beaten or pepper-sprayed to do our part as well.

Secondly, my goal is to put vacant land in the hands of young and poor people so they can grow food and create an economic engine in low-income neighborhoods that lead to sustainable jobs, small business growth and neighborhood stability.
That’s two small plans. Better Family Life, Beloved Streets, Good Life Growing, Inc., the Urban League, the Arch City Defenders, the ACLU and dozens of other agencies and nonprofits have plans to address injustice, offset inequity and empower poor people.
So, the real question, Post-Dispatch, is; What’s your plan?
Is it to continue your role as a propaganda tool for police? Is it to remain a spoke in the wheel of systematic racism and oppression? Will you go forward with the exchange of dollars for journalistic dignity? Do you plan to become relevant again?

Will you go forward with the exchange of dollars for journalistic dignity?

Focusing on the few instances of destruction and property damage while ignoring thousands of examples of bravery, humanity and historic alliances is a cowardly cop-out.  Calling for protesters to present a “plan” only serves as cover for journalistic laziness. It’s a manipulative distraction from the fact that “leaders” in our region are the ones with no plan. You, PD, are among those with no gumption and no backbone to seriously addresses rogue cops, the killing of unarmed black men or to take on the powerful but biased, pro-cop criminal justice system that condones murder and intimidation.
In closing, Post-Dispatch, be “the plan” you’re trying to shift to others.

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Sylvester Brown Jr. is a writer, community activist and executive director of the Sweet Potato Project, a program that seeks to empower low-income youth and adults through land-ownership and urban agriculture.