When good people essentially do nothing



Power, politics, and policy and the influence they have over African American people


Many children win medals for being the fastest runner in their school, yet for two siblings who attended a Crow Wing County school in Minnesota, their fate proved otherwise. Imagine being forced to push the merry-go-round as a six-year-old while being called “ni**er bi**h, coon, monkey,” and other defamations, until finally one day you grow tired and simply say “No!”

The reaction of your recess teacher is shock — who is this little Black child who would dare question the authority of a White woman living in America? So again the teacher yells, “Push the merry-go-round you Black ni**er bi**h,” and again you look her dead in the eye and tell her “No.” After all, you want to experience the same joy you witnessed on the other kids’ faces as you pushed and pushed the merry-go-round for countless recesses.

Immediately the teacher grabs you by the ear and drags you to the principal’s office, with all the other children following, proclaiming to onlookers that they will teach this “coon, ni**er, monkey, and child of Satan” a lesson! As if the girl understands that there is power in numbers, she breaks away from her teacher and runs as fast as she can inside the building, down the hall that had suddenly grown despairingly dim, and abruptly into the classroom in which her sister resides.

Out of breath, tears mixing with the perspiration that now paints her face and heart racing uncontrollably, the girl tries her best to explain that she needs help! The sister, who is three years older and had assumed the position as mother since the two were adopted, immediately goes into survival mode. She grabs her sister’s hand, and before long the two are fighting their way through an angry crowd of racist White children and adults from their school.

In the end, the two girls were suspended and a new rule was created to empower the school to take action against the likes of these two African American girls — my sister and myself. Years later I realized that power, politics and policy, the very tools used in the Civil Rights Movement, is the same ammunition that had been used against me as a child.

These are also the same weapons used to oppress, depress and suppress African American people to this day. As Michelle Alexander’s book so eloquently speaks to, we are living in a “New Jim Crow” society!

What does that mean, you may ask? After all, haven’t the headlines proclaimed that we are “post racial”? Is it not true that the “talented tenth” are working as politicians, doctors, lawyers, CEO’s, actors, businesspersons, millionaires, homeowners, and even the first African American president in America?

Are we not living in the “dream” that someday all men will be created equal? Do we not wake up every morning knowing that we are seen as human beings? After all, Chris Mathews “forgot that [President] Obama was Black for an hour.”

In spite of it all, African Americans still have the highest achievement gap in Minnesota. We still have the high unemployment rate for African Americans. We are still disproportionately locked up in the prison system, and the list of statistics could go on.

My people, we must wake up! No longer can good people sit back and essentially do nothing. In order for us to be effective, we must seek out power, pass policy, and cultivate politicians who will advocate on our behalf and be held accountable for the offices in which they serve, while preserving who we are as a people.

Next month we will explore in greater detail power, politics and policy and the influence these have within the African American community. Many of you may have stories like my own, and I would love to hear about them. Feel free to email me and discuss how you personally have been affected by power, politics or policy.

I personally want to thank Melissa Owens, Timothy Franklin, Florida Powell and Nsikak Ekereuke for sending in responses to my last article. I am working on ways to engage the community more and anticipate hearing more from each of you!


Mary Anderson is a community engagement facilitator for a local nonprofit in the Twin Cities area who has served more than 17 years in civic engagement, community organizing, and a host of philanthropic initiatives in the U.S. and abroad. She welcomes reader responses to mnaaac@gmail.com.




22 Comments on “When good people essentially do nothing”

  1. I was told as a child: If you don’t stand up for something, you’ll fall for anything. Having grown up in a small town and seen actions like those mentioned above, I refuse to sit by and watch history repeat itself with my daughter. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Tyren,

      Thank you for your comments and sharing. I hope that you will be inspired to stand up for your daughter and get involved in your community.

    1. Thank you Tia,

      I hope as you thought about your own life that you were inspired to make a difference. For like the article indicates, no longer can good people essentially do nothing!

      Thanks for your feedback and sharing.

  2. Nice article. If you haven’t read already Powernomics, that may be a good book to view. He has some minor distortions, (Willie Lynch & view of Booker T. Washington), but in all his ideas are pretty sound.

    1. Thanks AfroTapp!

      I have not read PowerNomics; however, I have been meaning to read the book. As soon as I read your post, I tried to go and purchase the book but found out that it is hard to come by. I will order it directly from the website. But if you know of a place that I can get a copy, please let me know via my email. I would love to know more about your insight on the book; as you say there are minor distortions, what does that mean?

    1. Mr. Williams,

      Thank you for your kind words! You are absolutely right: We must effect change if we want to be able to control our destiny. Look forward to hearing your comments next month on the next article.

      Thank you!

  3. When good people essentially do nothing, good things get out of hand. Nice article and thanks for standing up for your rights even when you were a kid. You still have that spirit in you and thanks for what you’ve become in life, what you are doing for your community and African Americans and Africans in general. Kudos for your sacrifice and perseverance.

    1. Mr. Yaw,

      You are welcome. Many of us have stood up to society when they have treated us poor. I proudly carry on the torch in which our ancestors passed on to me, and I plan on helping to light the torches of others who never had theirs lit! I encourage you to do the same, and thank you for your kind words, sir.

    1. Mr. Ekereuke,

      As always, your feedback is always supportive and uplifting. I would love to hear the more detailed thoughts you have around the subject matter, as I know you bring insight that many of us do not have. Please feel free to share more; after all, this is all about engaging the people.

    1. Markesha,

      Thank you. When you write an article, one never knows if people will find it newsworthy. To hear your comment is very helpful and encourages me to do my best for future articles. Thank you for the feedback!

    1. I am glad you enjoyed Waleedauto! I hope you will come back next month to read more about this series. Thank you for your support!

  4. Dear Sister,

    Thank you for sharing these precious jewels from your life experience that I feel is so essential to keep things in perspective of a suppressed reality in our community. I’ve always respected you and my respect for you has increased. Keep it up, Sista!

    1. Brother Muhammad,

      It is with great humility that I share my story so that others will gain perspective and empower themselves to change their communities. Thank you and your family for the support over the years and I hope you join me again next month! The article will come out the first week after the 5th of every month.

  5. Very sad. After years of hearing, seeing and experiencing such trauma, it’s remarkable the beauty and grace we still hold as a people. I feel that the power in you voicing this experience is a testament to your strength, and also a great lesson for parents, families and our children to understand that we have to be in the walls of the buildings/institutions we send our children. We have to question, speak up and not just take the voice of the adults but look at the spirits of our children that in settings like those are definitely under attack. Thank you for sharing and keep doing that.

    Parent get on the buses, wait at the bus stops, go into school in the morning, in the afternoons, through out the day, even just for a few minutes because although the adults may change their behaviors in your presence, many times the children cannot. If it doesn’t feel right … it isn’t.

    1. Rekhet,

      I am one of many, and it is amazing how we are a powerful people who take hits and still rise. You said it best as parents we have to be present for our children, stopping in, speaking up, talking with them, and being their number 1 cheerleader. Thank you for sharing and leaving such a heartfelt response…..made me want to go and hug a child and just ask “what can I do to help”!

  6. When my siblings and I of five came to Minnesota we went to a shoe store on Broadway, and the sales person would not help us, just ignored us the whole time. Even though we were mad about it, my mother who was so humble and kind just told us “if someone treat’s you like that, just don’t do business with them”.
    When my children were young,now they’re 25 and 30, we would walk in our neighborhood in Brooklyn Park often. One day, a car full of white people drove by and shouted “nigger” I don’t know who they were talking to because I know that me or my children where not niggers. Thank you for your story. It brought back so many memories.

  7. Mary, We are approaching the one year anniversary of you posting this article. We can all show our appreciation for the content of this wonderful article by showing up to general elections on November 5, 2013 and voting ONLY AFTER researching candidates, their platforms and their willingness to work to build One Minneapolis representative of the rich cultural background of its residents.

    To do so we need to have people of color represent the populous as elected officials, and sitting on policy boards and commissions.

    Collectively we have power, as individuals, we will get business as usual: Integration without representation.

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