By PAT WATSON
Just about everybody likes to party and have a good time. Last weekend, a party of sorts, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Image Awards brought forth a dazzling lineup of African-American achievers.
But amidst Hollywood-type glamour and the dazzle of well-earned praise, veteran activist and entertainer Harry Belafonte’s speech was a sobering moment. He reminded the audience that Black activism must not stop, and he wondered where the leaders are who will work on the front lines to curb the high rate of shooting deaths in Black America.
Here is just a bit of what the 85-year-old Belafonte had to say:
“In the gun game, we are the most hunted. The river of blood that washes the streets of our nation flows mostly from the bodies of our Black children. Where is the raised voice of Black America? Why are we mute? Let us not sit back silently. Let us not be charged with patriotic treason.”
His message – which is that of a frustrated activist – is familiar. There is work to be done to pull the African Diaspora out of a socio-economic complex that sees too many ending up in lives of unfulfilled promise, early death or incarceration. That pattern among Black people does not stop at the Canada-U.S. border.
Belafonte’s message stands in contrast to what the annual celebration of Black History Month is. His apocalyptic characterization of the lives of African-Americans, including the fact that the majority of the two million-plus in the U.S. prison system are Black, spotlights one grim reality of North America’s Black population. So Belafonte is right in his call for more activism; where there is work to be done, workers are needed. We are duty bound not to forget that, nor to be complacent.
Yet, at the same time that we must work for the change we envision, history points to unimagined outcomes, seemingly the work of the greater forces of Nature. Contradictory? Yes. Life does not exist in an either-or dimension; it is multidimensional, highly complex and nuanced.
So some circumspection is prudent when it comes to expecting that things will happen on our schedule from our efforts. Sustained activism will have an effect on the injustices we fight to change, but it helps to recall the quiet understanding found in the final speech by iconic civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on April 3, 1968, the day before he was shot to death in Memphis:
“I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead…But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”
So our activism has its own impetus along a river of events toward the change we envision, a river longer than the efforts of the actors of any one era, yet ultimately dependent on the continued commitment throughout the ages to grasp the baton and carry it forward.
We fight in our many ways to bring about the change that will ensure equality and justice, but change decides its own time. King did not live to see Barack Obama become the first Black president of the United States of America, but the work that he and the thousands of his era did led to this moment in time.
So there may be a feeling that we as a people are not doing enough to advance our own interest in human rights and justice. We come down on the comfortable, that they are not doing enough to bring the rest forward, and there is certainly a measure of truth to that. At the same time, many are fighting for our salvation. All you have to do is look across this city to the many community organizations that are doing everything within their means to continue the fight to uplift a whole community. It is a heavy load and it is an uphill climb. It is also rewarding work.
On a family note of Black history…
With dedication, the support of his family and community, Matthieu Watson Santerre has achieved a lifelong dream of being admitted to the London School of Economics to pursue graduate studies. Hongera. Congratulations.