I am a man and my life matters


By MICHAEL ALEXANDER BLAKE | 8/21/2014, 5:50 p.m.
I have only heard of Birmingham...the marches...the protests. I wasn’t there. But now we have Ferguson.
Ferguson Courtesy of St. Louis American — Wiley Price and Lawrence Bryant

I have only heard of Birmingham...the marches...the protests. I wasn’t there. But now we have Ferguson. I’ve never seen the visual of officers and troopers looking at our citizens as the enemy. But now we have Ferguson. I never marched during the 1960s; I never had the honor. But, I did walk in solidarity through the streets of New York City with those demanading justice last year after George Zimmerman was allowed to walk free after killing young Trayvon Martin.

But now we have Ferguson.

Yes, this kind of pain happens in the Bronx or Chicago every day, but we are all unified in our focus because now we have Ferguson.

This all makes me reflect on what was the spirit, the aura, the energy present during those painful times in the 60s, and I revert to the signage that so powerfully strikes me every time I see it when I go to Memphis—I Am a Man.

The signs that the sanitation workers were holding during their protests for a higher wage were their demands for economic justice. They realized that race, poverty and manhood were intertwined negatively. Dr. King unfortunately lost his life for this justice, for this equal manhood, and more protests and marches ensued. Unfortunately, we are still marching to a seemingly unreachable Zion in pursuit of what should be an attainable dream of “All men are created equal.”

But now we have Ferguson…and Mike Brown...and Darren Wilson, and we are reminded that the dream still hasn’t been realized. Instead of putting his hand up to ask a question at college, Mike Brown put his hands up before being shot down.

The attack against young men of color in this country is inhumane, unjust and must end immediately, not only because of the loss of life and the destruction happening right now but also because of the devastating long-term impact it’s having on our communities by creating the perception that being a young man of color equates you to being a thug, criminal or a less-equal member of society. The continual injustice against young men of color at the hands of a few bad officers (most of our officers are law-abiding citizens who are keeping us safe) appears to only occur because of the color of their skin. I serve a God who I believe does not see color, and I would expect that the unjust officers doing these acts would follow the same accord.

From Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. to Ezell Ford in Los Angeles, Calif.; from Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla. to Jordan Davis in Jacksonville, Fla.; from Lloyd Morgan in the Bronx to Eric Garner on Staten Island, we are losing Black males because a bullet is the first option and a chokehold the second, rather than a conversation and peaceful discourse.

As a former director of African-American outreach at the White House under President Barack Obama, where I witnessed the highs and lows across our country because of voter suppression and voter jubilation and also as a Bronx, N. Y. native who regularly sees how the community is fearful rather than prideful to engage with police officers,

I can say firsthand that we are all at risk for not only losing more lives but also for losing hope and losing a generation. Too many mothers are losing their babies; too many fathers are losing their sons. Hope will only be sustained if justice prevails. Desk duty is not sufficient. Protests are not sufficient. Roundtable discussions are certainly not sufficient. We need justice in the form of criminal, civil and financial penalty while also instituting policies that call for a one-and-done approach. We need Jobs so that our young people are less compelled to walk the streets or a join a gang or steal something from a store and more compelled to get to that job, get those benefits and get the dignity that comes from bringing home a well-deserved paycheck. Help them pick up a book and pick up a paycheck, rather than them or you deciding to pick up a gun.

Let’s reflect on the imagery of men of color over the past five years and even the past five weeks—lifeless bodies on a ground, men arrested at a border for just asking for reform, an African-American President told that he lies and policies and progress blocked for no other apparent reason than preventing the success of a man of color. We have become accustomed to only seeing large groups of our people during protests and marches and in long unemployment lines rather than seeing us march across graduation stages or waiting in line to pick up our children from school after a long, dignified day at work. The image of Jacob Philadelphia, the 5-year-old boy who wanted to touch the president’s hair to know that it felt like his, is the image that resonates with me because he saw something beautiful and amazing in a Black man, a man of color. He saw hope.

So in the coming days, when the Caravan of Justice crosses the Verrazano, becoming our modern day Freedom Ride or when the funeral of a young man preparing for college, who lay in the street for hours, conjures up emotions like those for Emmitt Till, who lay still for the world to see, let us be reminded that I am a man. I am a proud man of color. We are men. We are humans. We are people. If anything is going to change, we as a people together must be equal.

We need people to know that if you end a life, your life cannot continue in the same way as if the life you took doesn’t matter. It is time for all of us to stand up and demand justice and not stop until it’s achieved. In the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “In the end, we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” No longer can we remain silent. No longer can we sit on the sidelines. Being a Black man is not a crime. Being a Latino man is not wrong. Being a man of color means that I am a man, I am a human, and we deserve justice.

If all men are created equal, then allow me to have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But before I can pursue that happiness, I must have liberty and most certainly, I must have life!

Michael Blake is a former director of African American outreach for President Obama at the White House and current candidate for the 79th Assembly District in the Bronx, N.Y.