“With the people, for the people, by the people, I crack up when I hear it; I say, with the handful, for the handful, by the handful, ’cause that’s what really happens.”
— Fannie Lou Hamer
As we celebrate the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., my mind reflected on this thought: What if, while he was still living, he turned to one of us and said, “Okay, your turn”?
What if Fannie Lou Hamer, after countless beatings and eviction from her sharecropper home, got tired and turned to us and said, “Your turn”? What if Malcolm X, newly enlightened after his trip to Mecca, would have decided to work on other things, and he turned to you and said, “Your turn”?
This year, beautiful people of the village, it’s our turn. If we want things to be different, to improve, then we must recognize that the solutions we’ve been offered, the prescriptions written by politicians and self-proclaimed leaders, haven’t worked.
The “solutions” presented by the ideology have resulted in lack of access to a decent public education, violence rates and criminal acts that make you want to lose your mind, and a pressure-cooker environment where breaking the chains of economic segregation is a daily struggle.
It’s your turn to ask the superintendent of the Minneapolis Public Schools why the highest rate of suspensions in the district is for Black kindergartners.
It’s your turn to ask the president of the North Side Achievement Zone how the organization will become transparent and accountable to the community before we get to the end of the five-year $28 million award.
It’s your turn to ask the mayor why the $29 million Empowerment Zone money didn’t result in the economic empowerment of the people of the village.
It’s your turn to ask the Hennepin County commissioner for the North Side how and why it is that 80 percent of the people living in zip codes 55411 and 55412 are on some kind of county assistance.
We need to see and understand what is happening to us. We must meet the fears that keep us bearing the secrets of the misdeeds of others, and speak up. We don’t have to be rude or condescending; we just need to ask questions until we understand.
We need to remove from the equation the personalities of the people who say they are our leaders and elected officials, and we need to ask ourselves instead the question, “What did we get?” We should assess whether our lives and the lives of our families have improved since all of the promises were made.
Slavery taught us not to speak, forbade us to read, sold off our family members, raped our women and made them bear the children of their oppressor — and then we were threatened to keep its “secrets.” What would have happened to the ideology of supremacy if the people, the masses, knew that Thomas Jefferson was making children with his slave, Sally Hemings. What would that say about his belief in a superior race?
This year we must get highly intentional about seeking out what the school books still don’t teach — the beauty and significance of our history and the transformative value of the contributions of our people across the globe. We have to learn so that we can teach the next generation, returning to our tradition of storytelling to preserve our precious history.
I am clear that there can only be a handful of the Fred Hamptons and Fannie Lou Hamers, and only one each Malcolm and Martin, but even they couldn’t do it alone or two by two. Today the cost of our collective silence is too high — stray bullets killing babies at home; children warehoused in schools and denied an education; and families separated by the drug trade that thrives as a result of systemic urban economic oppression.
Get involved by speaking up. Free our babies from the secrets that have bound us too long, threatening the collective health of the village. If we can’t speak it up, we can’t heal, and our futures stay stuck.
Join in or kindly step aside. Progress is calling. “Ok, your turn.”
Hear Lissa Jones’ radio show “Urban Agenda” on 89.9 KMOJ-FM Thursday nights at 6 pm, stream her live at www.kmojfm.com, or read web posts from Lissa at www.kmojfm.com. She welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.