BY TRONE DOWD
Community activists, reporters and civic leaders gathered in the York College Faculty Dining Room to answer a question that may be a bit controversial to those in minority communities: Do Black lives matter to Black people? It was a topic that was well explored by the star studded panel and discussed with the more than 100 members of the audience consisting of activists, church leaders, community members and students from throughout the five boroughs.
The event was hosted by radio show host and Distinguished York College professor Dr. Ron Daniels. The event itself was organized by York faculty, Interim Dean of Student Development Dr. Vincent Banrey alongside Dr. Jean Phelps and Dr. Anthony Daniels after the shocking killing of 18-year-old York student Peyton Manwaring in Rosedale last November. Manwaring’s death caused ripples in the school environment according to Banrey, and organized the event to bring attention to an issues plaguing black communities nationwide.
“We have a dual problem,” Daniels said. “Police harassment and misconduct and killings which we lament and organize against. But also, internal to our community is violence and murders that are taking place. We’ve come together tonight to identify the source of the crisis [..], but not just to lament the crisis but to discuss what we can do about it, what should be done about it, what we can collectively do in terms of the crescendo of voices that will make change.”
Manwaring’s surviving family was in attendance for the discussion as well as the Man-Up Mentoring that works with young black men to equip them with the resources to lead inspiring lives. Also prominently in attendance was the organization Mothers In Charge. Dorothy Johnson, who’s son was shot seven times over a parking space in Philadelphia 15 years ago, founded the group to help grieving mothers who suffered the same fate. Johnson was the keynote speaker before the start of the panel discussion.
“We are now a national organization with 10 chapters across the country” Johnson said. “But I always say Mothers In Charge is a group that we really want to be out of business. We don’t want to continue to have mothers come to us because they had to bury their children. But yet still, we exist and unfortunately, we are growing. Because more and more mothers and fathers are having the horrible tragedy of laying their son or daughter to rest.”
Johnson shared a number of shocking statistics with the audience. Among them was that homicide is leading cause of death among African- American men between the ages of 14 and 34.
“It’s not some incurable disease, it’s homicide,” she reiterated. “Every year 16,000 murders across this country happen. 11,000 of them are African-American males.”
Johnson said that what breaks her heart the most is that there is little to no outrage over these numbers compared to the outrage directed towards other issues affecting the black community.
“There should be outrage every time Joey, Johnny, Khalik or any of the names that we hear in the news loses his life,” Johnson said. “There should be the same kind of outrage that there is when the police officer kills one of ours.”
The panel, featured six people who have been involved in the issue: Sugar Wright, Founder of Keep Our Streets Safe, Andre Mitchell the Executive Director of Man Up, Inc., Jasmine Graves, a member of the Black Lives Matter movement in New York City, Gregory Hetmeyer, head of York College’s Social Work Club, Ashley Oliver, a reporter for the award winning York College student newspaper Pandora’s Box, and Donald Vernon, a lawyer and York College Alumnus. They all shared what they saw as a way to confront the issue of black-on-black crime.
Wright said that the problem was rooted in how easy it has become to get a firearm in minority communities and the lack of gun laws to keep this issue at bay.
“I can stand two blocks from my house where there isn’t a gun shop and if I ask the right person to go up, they can buy as many guns as they want for me, whether I’m authorized or not,” she said. “The way these guns are getting in here is the loophole in our government.”
Mitchell believed it was in the very culture America.
“We’ve got to get involved and get in front of it, the problems and what’s causing it,” he said. “I don’t see it stopping anytime soon because we didn’t start it. The Star-Spangled Banner was the first gangster rap record. It talks about the ‘bombs bursting in the air.’ If you do your research, you’ll see that this country was founded in violence. This is the most violent country in the world. Our neighbors are blown away at the amount of violence that takes place here.”
Mitchell said that he thinks the best way to battle this conflict is by limiting the amount of violence one takes in their daily living, be it through the news, social media or entertainment.
Oliver believed that the problem could be addressed by acknowledging that the glorification of negatives in the black community is not doing youths any favors. She said that the community should take initiative and push networks like BET to show off black contributions rather than the “buffoonery” it shows today.
Graves said that reaching out and humanizing the individuals vulnerable to gun violence, both as victims and as aggressors, would make it all the easier get into neighborhoods and solve this issue. Graves, who also works as a social worker said that based on her experiences, many times aggressors are victims themselves of loss and of other societal issues like poverty and unemployment.
Lastly, Hetmeyer said that having the men in the community step up to the plate and be the workforce behind improving these communities is key, rather than letting prison be the solution.
“They gave birth to us,” he said. “Now it’s time for the men to step up and say you know what? Our lives matter. You gave birth to me and now it is my job as a man to look to another young man and say, ‘listen bro, there’s another way of handling that situation. That’s called intervention. But if you think that the solution is to throw him in prison and that he’ll come back out remorseful, that’s a pipe dream. We have to look at things on a macro level and see how we’re handling our situation.”
Johnson succinctly closed out the town hall discussion with some food for thought to the audience.
“There’s something that each of us can do and I hope that we can focus on that tonight,” she said. “We don’t want to continue to see our young men being shot down like dogs and their blood running in the streets and across the country like a river. It’s not normal and we can’t accept this being normal. We have to get involved and make a difference. There’s something that each and every one of us can do.”
Reach Trone Dowd at (718) 357-7400 x123, firstname.lastname@example.org or @theloniusly