On July 26, the Network of Immigrant and African-American Solidarity (NIAAS) held a community dialogue in Boston with nearly 40 community leaders to talk about the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin.
This dialogue was an open space for people to share their reactions to the verdict, tell their own stories of racial profiling, and pose questions about what is to be done about the persistent racial inequality that plagues this country. Furthermore, given the persistent racial profiling and criminalization of both African Americans and immigrants of color, particularly black immigrants, it was extremely important to have these two communities engaged in this discussion.
The format of the dialogue was a community circle. All voices were important. Leaders invited to speak as “panelists” served as “conversation generators”, speaking from particular perspectives which participants were invited to respond to and/or tell their own stories. These conversation generators included Joel Mackall, a NIAAS advisory board member and local black historian, who provided a historical context to the U.S. narrative of black bodies — particularly black men and boys — as “threats’: Rev. George Walters Sleyon, of the Center for Church and Prison Project at Boston University, explained why the so-called juidicial system is applied so unevenly across race; Ayeesha Lane from The Inclusion Initiative and mother of a young black son, shared the emotional challenges of talking to him about the verdict; and two youth organizers, who both spoke candidly and eloquently of their experiences as young black men in Boston.
Patrick Breton, a graduate of YouthBuild, spoke of losing a brother to gang violence and having a father who is incarcerated, and how young black men like himself often act out because they feel isolated. Dalitso Ruwe, a young black immigrant who works at Project Hip Hop in Boston, talked about initially being confused as a target of racial profiling, but how his organizing work with other black youth helped him to understand his experience.
As a community we tried to answer questions such as: why the judicial system is applied so unevenly across race? Why does it presume that black men and boys are guilty? What do black parents tell their sons? What is the historical context of how this injustice is targeted uniquely to black men and boys? And why “looking suspicious” has become the facto practice of racial profiling?
Rev. Walters-Sleyon talked about the “Zimmerman mindset” that view problems through the lense of race and class and drives the adoption of many mandatory minimum sentence laws, such as the “Stand Your Ground” in Florida. This mindset views black men and boys as “perpetual problems who have infected our criminal justice system, our schools and our politics and policies.” This mindset has had devastating consequences, including the birth of a prison system unprecedented in world history, where mostly black and brown people are incarcerated or detained, and strips millions of people of their basic civil and human rights.
What do we say to our black sons? Very simple but crucial: We need to tell our black sons every day that we love them and that they matter. That their lives are as valuable as any other lives and that all of us are there for them. We need to work together, involving our sons in the quest for solutions to the problems aiming to achieve justice and equality for ALL.
Let us know what do you think? Let’s continue the dialogue together!