Keenan Ivory Wayans’ satire The Great White Hype has a scene in which a reporter, played by Jeff Goldblum, begins to define the term oxymoron to a cynical fight promoter portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson, who replies, “Oh, you mean like Black unity.”
South Minneapolis’ Corcoran Neighborhood Organization Executive Director Alicia D. Smith is passionately committed to making that punchline a thing of the past. As a result, she took on the responsibility to be moderator, public relations contact, and logistics liaison for a community forum on Black unity called “On The Ground Strategy.”
A Twin Cities alliance formed, among them Rev. Jerry McAfee, activist Harry “Spike” Moss, members of the Minneapolis anti-violence group A Mother’s Love, Black legislators involved with the United Black Legislative Agenda, and the Stairstep Foundation, a Black church group. Also in attendance were representatives from the Minneapolis’ City Council and Minneapolis and St. Paul Police Departments.
“It’s important for the officers and elected officials to be present for a plethora of reasons,” said Smith, “mainly because they work in these entities that systemically keep us in a cycle of oppression. It’s important that they hear from us directly while being a part of the solution.”
The inaugural gathering convened June 27 at Protect MN in North Minneapolis. The second session, held July 18 at the Minneapolis Urban League, welcomed as featured speakers Justin Terrell, executive director of the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage; and Minnesota Assistant Commissioner on Public Safety Booker T. Hodges.
Smith started the initiative out of a pressing sense of purpose. “It’s about the urgency for a solution to the issues our community faces. It’s not new, but it’s an elevated state of emergency. We are desperate for a change, and we’ve been allowing others’ struggles to hitch onto our caboose.”
For example, the #MeToo movement was originated by Tarana Burke, a Black woman, but hardly focused on Black women, especially at its heights. Smith further stated, “The All Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter movements, they latched onto the Black Lives Matter fight. It is time we focused on our agenda. While can help others push their agendas, we have to drive our own that we can take to the state level to introduce some policy changes and legislation.”
Smith emphatically underscored the need for “programs that we can implement, that we can lead, not that other agencies can come into our communities and tell us what we need.” Smith says On The Ground can start that work.
“I trust this collective of individuals because they all recognize that we are beyond a state of emergency. We are in a place that it’s either now or never for us. Everyone is agreeably on the same page and understands the severity we’re dealing with for our children, our children’s children. In this, everyone seems to be addressing a unified approach and unified solution to the violence, to housing, the trauma. Collectively [we are] on the same page.
“Since our first arrival in this country, it’s been the plan to keep us divided,” Smith said. “The reality of oneness [in] the Black community scares the masses. We’ve been indoctrinated to believe we are against one another when the reality is that we are our best selves when we are united.
“This is a series of conversations addressing how we save ourselves. It’s about unity in the community.”
“It’s been extremely rewarding,” said Smith of the forum conversations. “We’ve had people in the room attending from all parts of the metro area and some first-ring suburbs. We’ve had leaders talking about issues they know from their communities. It’s powerful, and I’m hoping more residents will be able to come as more people find out about it.”
The third forum takes place August 24 with the GOD Squad’s Reverend Darry F. Spencer as featured presenter.
On The Ground Strategy meets August 24, location to be announced, 11:30 am to 1 pm. The public is encouraged to attend. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 612-724-7457.