At a recent event at the Harlem Hospital Dr. Herbert Cave Auditorium, more than 200 African-American high school students held a Q&A with four panelist on the theme, “Don’t Shoot, I Can’t Breathe: A 360-Degree Perspective.”
The program coordinators were delighted to have a mix of male and female attendees. However, the majority of participants were young African-American males of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Alpha Gamma Lambda Chapter’s “Go to High School, Go to College” program.
A recent graduate of Morehouse College in Atlanta and an alumnus of the Young Achievers Program, Chris Gooding was one of the event organizers and a panelist. He began the evening by inviting an open forum for discussion among the young people present. He boldly stated, “You cannot be part of the solution unless you are a part of the conversation.”
He also said, “Being a part of the town hall allowed me to gain a pulse on the feelings and thoughts of youth in the community. Furthermore, it is paramount to identify potential community leaders who have what it takes to continue the positive way forward.”
The panelists were County Prosecutor Daryl Parker, Jineea Butler, founder of Hip Hop Union, Curtis E. Small of the NYPD, the Hon. Kathy Davidson and Gooding. The panel began with Parker providing a legal overview of how a grand jury functions in New York City and what might have influenced the decision in the Eric Garner case. As the discussion continued, varied points of view on the incident were offered, most condemning the actions of NYPD officers Daniel Pantaleo and Justin D’Amico but some highlighting the importance of cooperating with police in arrest situations.
The evening was filled with voices of unheard youth desiring answers to many questions. Arron Caesar said, “Trayvon Martin happened, and they wanted witnesses. Mike Brown happened, and they wanted footage. Eric Garner happened with video footage. Both police officers and the security guard were found not guilty or led to no indictment. How is that justice?”
Another young man bemoaned the lack of cooperation between communities of color, urging the Black and Latino community to find better ways to collaborate. One student noted “the opinion of some that America is a post-racial society.” A young woman offered an anecdote of her intervention on behalf of a young Black male to prevent his arrest, while avoiding a potentially violent situation with law enforcement, during a subway ride home.
The evenings organizers were the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Alpha Gamma Lambda Chapter; Metro Manhattan Links; and Harlem Hospital Corp. They all envisioned a forum that would serve to enlighten the youth and the broader community from a myriad of noteworthy viewpoints.
Event co-host Amir Figueroa said it is vital that the voices of our youth are no longer hushed. “Spaces need to be created for youth to freely express their thoughts, feelings and emotions,” he stated. “That space was created this evening, and we continue to advocate not only for the youth, but for the community we serve.”