Beyond chocolates & roses: Community, love and commitment after the Kimani Gray shooting

DR. TOBY JENKINS | 3/28/2013, 11:58 a.m.

Well, one thing that we should have learned from protests of the past is that we need diverse strategies to create sustainable change. We do need folks to take to the street to shine a light. But we also need political, corporate, law enforcement and grassroots allies to effect policy change. Of course, violence, arrests, physical abuse and stealing is never OK and should not be condoned--we definitely need some healing and constructive intervention there. However, I do support the foundational ethic behind speaking out. In a broad sense, I am concerned that our country has raised citizens who are not taught how to be critical thinkers--to question, to learn, to criticize the status quo. We seem to be zombies who recite catchphrases and key words that sound poetic; meanwhile we ignore practices, policies and laws that oppress people around the world and in our own country. And so when some folks act out in rage, there is shock and awe.

As a citizen, I love my country like a mother loves a child. You love your child so much that you don't want to see her do wrong, and so you discipline and correct every wrong turn. We correct our children out of love. So why don't we see people who take that same approach outside of their family as being true patriots? If we were to see a child acting out in public, the first question we ask is, "Where are the parents?" and we often negatively judge their parental abilities. So why don't we do the same thing to citizens who live blindly in our country, who take no interest in truly learning our country's history, who recite news bites without doing further research? Why don't we judge their lack of critical and deep engagement as citizens? Instead, we define patriotism through words rather than action. And so this is an issue of defining active citizenship within all of the spaces that we occupy ... our country, our companies and our communities.

I used to work at Penn State University, where I led a cultural center named after Paul Robeson--another great activist in history who was persecuted and attacked for challenging the politics of the day. Though many people today applaud Robeson as one of the greatest domestic and global humanitarians of his time, when he was alive, this country applied its full weight to crush him because of his outspoken work and criticism against segregation, lynching and global oppression in Africa. Attacked as a communist because of his active travel throughout the world and open sympathy for the struggles against oppression of all people, he was eventually called before the House Un-American Committee. This was the infamous committee before which many actors and celebrities were called to testify at hearings to determine their involvement in the communist party. This committee was essentially a judicial board established to chastise and legally silence anyone who posed a threat to the American right-wing. At his hearing, Robeson made history as the only person to directly challenge the committee.