By Kevin Reese
In the previous two columns: On February 7 and 8, 2014 there was a Black History month celebration here at Lino Lakes Correctional Facility where I am currently housed. It was an amazing two-day event filled with heavyweight speakers, soulful music, topped with deep and rich history lessons… Everything was in its place except for one thing. The elephant in the room: all of the empty seats.
I see the empty seat as not simply just a chair, but as a behavior and an attitude of unaccountability and complacency. This same behavior and thinking says progress is going to be made without work, or someone is going to do the work for us, so there is no need to be involved in the process, this me-me-me sickness so many of us have been infected with.
This is the same behavior and attitude that has us in captivity and losing our lives daily around the country. I call this attitude “mental genocide,” and it needs to be confronted and adjusted.
When I think of these seats I picture Harriet Tubman running through a swamp on her way to freedom — we owe her our seat! “I prayed for freedom for 20 years and my prayers were not answered until I prayed with my feet” — Fredrick Douglas — we owe him our seat! Imagine Malcom X in his prison cell learning the dictionary word for word so he could have the language to fight on our behalf. We owe him our seat!
I wonder if I could ask Trayvon Martin what he thinks of the people who passed the Stand Your Ground law, what he would say. But I can’t because his voice was stolen. We owe him our seat! What if occupying our seat and using our voice could help heal the heart of the mother of Terrelle Mayes, a three-year-old innocent victim of gun violence in Minneapolis, a senseless act that could have been prevented? We owe her our seat!
We owe our children their birthright of knowing where they come from, and provide them with some tools to help guide them in this society that is going to try to strip them of their heritage, exploit them for their culture, and rob them of their identity. We owe them our seat!
This Black History Month Celebration was a good thing and we have to support the good things. Whether they are behind the gate in a correctional facility or out in the community, we cannot leave our seat empty; we have to be there to support them.
I am currently in a battle with administration here at this facility for a men’s group where we can gather and address these issues from the inside out. In the meantime, I try to teach and learn in whatever time and space is available to me behind this gate. I would like to urge all the brothers and sisters in the community to do the same and get involved.
I know we are tired of sitting at the children’s table where we have to accept whatever cold dish of law or policy of exploitation, inequality of subjugation that the powers that be dishes to us. If we are tired, let’s take our rightful seat at the adult table and begin to work on behalf of our people and our community.
If you need more reasons to find value in your empty seat, then I suggest you learn some history, pay closer attention to our present conditions, or think of our children and the world they will inherit. I see these empty seats and our current conditions as one and the same. We can’t get our piece of the pie until we take our seat at the table.
Kevin Reese in an inmate at Lino Lakes Correctional Facility.