Remembering Civil Rights Icon Julian Bond, The Voice Of ‘Eyes On The Prize’

August 17, 2015 at 10:51 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Former NAACP chairman Julian Bond takes part in the "Heroes of the Civil Rights Movement" panel during the Civil Rights Summit on Wednesday, April 9, 2014, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Jack Plunkett)

Former NAACP chairman Julian Bond takes part in the “Heroes of the Civil Rights Movement” panel during the Civil Rights Summit on Wednesday, April 9, 2014, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Jack Plunkett)

Commentary by Callie Crossley
Callie Crossley was a producer for the iconic documentary series “Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years,” which earned her an Oscar nomination, a National Emmy, and the Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia Award.

We were gathered around a weather beaten table on one of the top floors of a nondescript red brick building in the pre-gentrified South End. This was the headquarters of what would turn out to be the most respected and honored documentary series about the civil rights movement, and the seminal experience of my career.

Our boss Henry Hampton opened that first production meeting making two things clear—the name of the series would be “Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years 1954-1965.” (All worries about how that long title would fit into the tiny squares of the printed newspaper TV guides were summarily dismissed.) Second, Henry declared the narrator of the series would be Julian Bond. Julian Bond? We were confused. Bond was not a professional narrator; in fact he’d never narrated so much as a public service announcement.

Of course we knew Julian Bond’s civil rights credentials—as a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee or SNCC — he’d been a leader during some of the most dangerous protests during the ten years of history we were chronicling. He’d gone on to a distinguished career in politics marked by his two-year battle to be seated in the Georgia House of Representatives. A fight that went all the way to the Supreme Court when the court finally ruled that his opposition to the Vietnam War did not make him ineligible to be a State Representative. Julian was the first President of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization he co founded with Morris Dees. He was already in the history books when I met him, already embraced by an international community of activists. That’s why we saw him as an important witness whose story should be a part of the series. But Henry said no, one of the few times he made no room for consensus decision making. Julian Bond would be our narrator.

He was never so right. Henry saw then what we didn’t appreciate until much later — that Julian’s first-hand experience would bring a depth and gravitas to the storytelling that would trump even the most skilled professional narrator. And his voice was a wonder — Julian’s even, unhurried read was just the right note to accompany a story that was at turns horrifying, heartbreaking, and hopeful. He gave no hint of partisanship; instead he was deliberately unobtrusive as he wove the narrative of the young Freedom Riders signing their wills before they went off to ride the segregated buses; the funeral of the 4 little girls killed by a bomb blast while in Sunday School; and the triumph of voting rights demonstrators at Selma joining the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in the 50 mile walk to the capital of Montgomery.

In the years following Eyes I would cross paths with Julian at discussions about the meaning of the civil rights movement. I hadn’t seen him for a while when I bumped into him a couple of summers ago on Martha’s Vineyard. We were both at a discussion about race relations attended by more than a few notables. I reminded him who I was and was immediately treated to the humor he was famous for. “Oh no,” he said laughing, “If you weren’t here, I was going to tell everyone I did all the work on Eyes.”

Eyes brought Julian another kind of recognition. He went on to enjoy a second career as a narrator. But his first mission, his life-long work, was always social justice. He distinguished himself as an academic and as a global organizer traveling the world sharing protest strategies. And always, always mentoring the next generation of activists. He saw his charimanship of the NAACP as part of that work. And he lobbied hard for a young Benjamin Jealous to succeed him. Nobody knew better than he the power of youthful energy and passion.

I suppose it is inevitable that this is the season of loss for the now aged, once young people whose determination and sacrifice more than 50 years ago fundamentally changed this country. But it still hurts when a giant like Julian Bond slips away. I’m ever so grateful that I got to know him and that because of Eyes on the Prize his voice will never be stilled.

Ferguson… the birth of a civil rights movement, one year later.

August 4, 2015 at 2:46 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Ferguson_large

Guest commentary by Callie Crossley

It happened on an ordinary street on an ordinary Saturday afternoon in the waning days of summer. In just a few days the nation will mark the one-year anniversary of the killing of Michael Brown– an ordinary teenager whose death sparked an extraordinary protest. And a new chapter in American social justice.

We recall the key details—the small town of Ferguson Missouri– the scene where the unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown was gunned down after a disputed interaction with police officer Darren Wilson. Brown’s body was left for hours uncovered in the street. The shooting inspired peaceful marches calling for the officer’s arrest. Daily peaceful demonstrations provoked into episodic violence by some angry protestors. The grass roots Hands Up United was born in the streets of Ferguson, and it was here Black Lives Matter, founded during the 2012 Trayvon Martin protest, gained a national and international profile.

Ferguson has become shorthand, a way to reference the seeming epidemic of unarmed young black men, and some black women, killed in police encounters. Ferguson is also now a symbol of the civil rights movement of the 21st century.

What happened a year ago in Ferguson cemented the grass root efforts from moment to movement. In Cleveland, Ohio recently, evidence that the movement’s organizers are focused on long-term strategies. The National Convening of the Movement for Black Lives drew more than 1200 activists from communities across the country. Gathered– groups including Not One More, Say Her Name, Cleveland Action, and Million Hoodies Movement for Justice. Members of these mostly online campaigns met face to face for the first time. First order of business– a communal exhaling, as Get Equal’s Angela Peoples described– “ to do some of the grieving and the healing we’ve been unable to do.” Acknowledging the emotional toll of responding to one racially charged incident after another. Conference organizers had no way of knowing that their long planned meeting would coincide with the burial of Sandra Bland, the latest victim of a fraught black/ white police interaction.

Two things remain with me as I think about the legacy of Ferguson. One– Michael Brown seemed days away from beating the odds. He was enrolled in college with plans to become a heating and cooling engineer.
And second— months after Brown was killed the Justice Department confirmed the Ferguson Police Department committed horrific incidents of police brutality against African- American residents.

I’m also pondering a sad irony as the Ferguson one-year anniversary approaches. Black Lives Matter conference attendees were confronted by an all too common occurrence as they finished their meeting. Just outside the conference site, a Cleveland transit officer was arresting an apparently intoxicated 14-year-old black kid. In an attempt to disperse the gathering crowd, the officer randomly pepper-sprayed nearby witnesses. A passerby videotaped and posted the scene. An investigation is underway. And so it goes.

AUDIO:

Callie Crossley is the host of Under the Radar with Callie Crossley, which airs on Sunday evenings from 6:00 to 7 p.m. on WGBH, 89.7 FM. Her weekly commentaries air Mondays during Morning Edition.

Callie CrossleyCrossley is also a public speaker and television and radio commentator for national and local programs, including CNN’s Reliable Sources, the PBS NewsHour and PRI’s The Takeaway. She also appears weekly on WGBH-TV’s Beat the Press, examining local and national media coverage, Basic Black, focusing on current events concerning communities of color, and Fox 25 Boston’s Morning Show. She has two Harvard Fellowships–from the Nieman Foundation for Journalism and the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. Crossley was a producer for Blackside Inc.’s “Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years,”which earned her an Oscar® nomination, a National Emmy, and the Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia Award (Gold Baton). For Boston Public Radio, Crossley has earned the AP, Edward R. Murrow and Clarion awards.

Where Is My Black Body Safe in America?

July 31, 2015 at 12:40 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Sandra Bland

Guest editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

Like so many African American women, myself included, Sandra Bland’s death, resulting from police brutality is not new news. The national attention it’s receiving is, however.

The reality of unarmed African American women being beaten, profiled, sexually violated and murdered by law enforcement officials with alarming regularity is too often ignored – especially with the focus of police brutality on African American males.

And when gender identity and sexual orientation come into play, the treatment by police can be harsher. For example, my spouse, who would drive her new BMW (a vehicle cops believe is stolen if a black male is behind the wheel) to and from work, was stopped suspiciously too often for the classic case of “driving while black.” And when the Cambridge cops realized she’s a woman, and a lesbian one at that, their unbridled homophobia surfaced. My spouse now takes the bus or walks to work as much as she can due to the trauma from the constant shakedowns.

A new report and campaign called “Say Her Name” addresses the lack of reporting, documenting, and accounting for the violations and death of African American women and girls at the hand of law enforcement officials.

Just last July, Marlene Pinnock’s, 51, beating by California Highway Patrol officer Daniel Andrew was captured by a passing driver and spread widely on both internet and television. With Andrew straddling Pinnock on the ground and pummeling her with his fist, Pinnock told CBS News “He was trying to beat me to death….take my life away. For no reason. I did nothing to him.”

While it is not shocking news that African American women are arrested more often than white women in any given city across the country, what is shocking is the rate at which we are.

For example, a new report from the Center on Criminal and Juvenile Justice reveals that while African American women in San Francisco comprise of approximately 5.8 percent of the city’s female population, they make up 47 percent of female arrests. And these arrests too often result in death.

African American sisters like Rekia Boyd (March 2012, Chicago), Kimberlee ­Randle-King (September 2014, St. Louis), and Natasha McKenna (April 2015, Fairfax County, Virginia), to name just a few, are lives cut too short at the hands of law enforcement officials. While the country was reeling from the news of Bland’s death of July 13th, 18-year-old Kindra Chapman of Alabama was found dead in her jail cell following day.

Oddly, Randle-King’s, Bland’s and now Chapman’s death are all explained away as “self-inflicted asphyxiation,” a form of suicide extremely uncommon among African Americans given our not-to-distant relationship with this country’s history of lynching. And while African American women comprise the largest demographic group of females incarcerated, statistics reveal that black women committing suicide is the lowest of all groups, and hanging is not our method of choice.

The perceptions and stereotypes of African American women—combative, mouthy, not deferential enough and “angry black woman”—can sadly turn into deadly action as we see with Bland. Bland’s crime is what’s described as “contempt of cop.” She wasn’t obsequious or subservient enough when the officer asked her to extinguish her cigarette. And for something as minor as a traffic signal violation, the incident escalated out of control. But when the dominant culture doesn’t see and hear African-American voices about our pains, fears, vulnerabilities our humanity is distorted and made invisible through a prism of racist and sexist stereotypes. So, too, is our suffering.

When Bland was found hanging from a noose made of plastic bags in her Waller County jail cell, the coroner’s report corroborated the claim stating there were no obvious signs of such a violent struggle. But like Bland’s family and friends, I, too, cry out foul play. And it’s because of Waller County’s long and boastful history for keeping blacks in their place, and lynching was the preferred method.

I posit that if Bland did not commit suicide then clearly it was a lynching—a reality in 2015 too harsh and hard to fathom, even in a remote and still racially segregated corner of Texas.

But Waller County, which is less than an hour north of Houston, was a county notorious for lynching, and old habits die hard, if they die at all. The Equal Justice Initiative states that African Americans were lynched disproportionately higher in Waller County than in any other county in the state between 1877 and 1950. The memories of family and friends lynched still lives on in the collective oral history of Waller County’s African American community. “In this county, they’ve been hanging and killing Negroes since the Civil War.” an old buddy of Bland’s, Holice Cook, told the Washington Post.

When Bland tweeted on April 8th “AT FIRST THEY USED A NOOSE, NOW ALL THEY DO IS SHOOT #BlackLivesMatter #SandySpeaks,” she, too, could not fathom such act.

But with the recent deaths of Randle-King’s, Chapman’s and Bland’s there’s a pattern evolving, one in which sadly we cannot conclusively hang up the thought of lynching for good.

Rev. Irene MonroeRev. Irene Monroe of Cambridge is a syndicated religion columnist and Huffington Post blogger. Rev. Monroe is also weekly contributor to WGBH’s Boston Public Radio “All Revved Up” segment.

Black History, Police Body Cameras and the Urgency of Now

February 23, 2015 at 10:04 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Photo: Associated Press, Mark Lennihan)

(Photo: Associated Press, Mark Lennihan)

Guest editorial by Kevin C. Peterson

Though it may sound counter-intuitive, this Black History Month is an occasion to reflect on the necessity of arming the police with body cameras.

As recent history has painfully taught us, there is an urgent need to dispel all ambiguity surrounding the murder of black males by local law enforcement. Police body cameras are not a panacea for this problem, but they may help.

The ostensible lessons gleaned last year from the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice are that their deaths were more than separate, unrelated incidents.

Their deaths are apart of a historical pattern, which citizens within black communities have for decades called systemic “police brutality.” Their murders illustrate the truism that a protracted season of disregard for black life continues and that “death-by-cop” is too often a testament of the longstanding tension and racial resentment between white police officers and black males–especially young African-American males in the inner cities.

Racial animosity will take a longtime to dissipate in America, but for now practical responses and new policies are needed on how the police engage black men.

This is why Segun Iduwo wants his day in Boston court–and, if necessary, he’ll gladly take jail time.

The Mattapan minister was arrested last November during a rally outside the Suffolk County jail in Roxbury. He and hundreds were protesting the historical plight of black men as part the national reaction sparked by the Ferguson, MO grand jury decision to not indict a police officer in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Iduwo says he was standing silently at the “Black Lives Matter” protest when he was “singled out” by state police and arrested.

“They just came directly to me and handcuffed me. As far as I know they didn’t arrest anybody else.”

Still in his early 20s, Idowu, who is black, possesses a strong sense of history and a clear understanding of how civil disobedience, civic engagement and direct protest action can accelerate change. A product of the Boston Latin Academy, he attended Morehouse College in Atlanta. He has also attended, until recently, Boston University’s School of Theology.

Iduwo acknowledges he was arrested on charges of “disorderly conduct,” for protesting “the wrongs done to black men” and says he is willing to answer to the charges.

In the meantime, he has been pressing Mayor Marty Walsh and Police Commissioner Williams Evans to equip each Boston police officer with a body camera, believing they will deter police misconduct. Along with Shekia Scott, Iduwo co-founded the Boston Police Camera Action Team last August.

A 2014 ACLU study reported the Boston police department’s practice of “stop-and frisk” disproportionately impacts young black males. Some have argued that “stop-and-frisk” is a harassment tool. So, keeping a police video record of those encounters makes sense and may save lives.

Legislation was recently filed by Boston City Councillor Charles Yancey to equip police officers with body cameras. Yancey said the cameras will “protect” patrol officers as much they will document how citizens interact with the police.

Late last year President Barack Obama wisely dedicated 75 million in grants for local police departments to purchase body camera equipment. Boston has yet to apply for funding.

“Not only do we want body cameras on officers but we also understand that policy must go with it … We call ourselves the cradle of democracy and we are the most progressive city in the nation. So if we are going to be progressive, then we ought to be one of the first major city all of its police officers uniformed with body cameras.”

Sometimes history is the result of winning small, mundane battles that most never notice. Often black historical advances were won on the local level–in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida’s smallest hamlets–where change was seemingly unconnected to larger, unfolding events.

Iduwo is a fresh voice who deserves attention for his principled stance and wiliness to go to jail.

He is also one of Boston’s youthful examples of how black history can be engaged by anyone at anytime if the moral intentions are right and if the price for advancement is willing to be paid.

Kevin PetersonKevin C. Peterson is founder of the New Democracy Coalition and a senior fellow at the Center for Collaborative Leadership at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

The views expressed are those of the author.

I’m Mad as Hell… and Thankful

December 12, 2014 at 2:27 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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(Photo - Associated Press)

(Photo – Associated Press)

Guest editorial by Emmett G. Price, III

I’m mad as hell!

Regardless which side of the street you stand on there are no winners in Ferguson.
Just a glimpse at ongoing news coverage, or a peek at the comment sections of online sources reveal rage- both black and white – concerning Michael Brown Jr.’s death.

This rage is often articulated through the lens of “ LEO” – law enforcement officer – supporters or critics. Unfortunately, most of these polarized jousts neglect to consider that not all LEOs are white. And, these stinging jabs, often from anonymous commenters, do not capture the emotions of the huge number of quiet sympathizers – those whose hearts continue to be heavy with the realities faced by so many families of the courageous women and men who don uniforms and take the oath to “never betray my badge, my integrity, my character, or the public trust.”

Yet, with Brown lying four and a half hours in the hot August sun…I’m mad as hell.

Ferguson is no longer a dot on the Greater St. Louis area map; it is now a national landmark of injustice akin to Tulsa Riots, 1921, Watts Riots, 1965, and Bloody Sunday, 1965). Though rarely given adequate coverage in schools, these volatile moments in United States history transformed the national landscape. Ferguson, like Tulsa, Watts, Selma, has sparked a national conversation that is felt deeply in the hearts and minds of us all- sympathizes, separatists, loyalists, compassionists, activists, self-selective non-participants and everyone in between. Ferguson challenges our national commitment to growing a democracy that works for everyone.

But, where do we begin?

In the spirit of gratitude and social justice – I believe we need to be whole-heartedly invested in listening to the voices of young people.

And I am thankful that the surrogate children of Dr. King’s children – in all hues, ethnicities, nationalities, gender expressions – are joining hands as they sacrifice themselves in order to call for justice to extend its embrace around everyone – not just the entitled and privileged.

I am thankful that this young generation chose to use this clarion call to bridge social divides, class partitions and political platforms in order to be contemporary champions of freedom. These young people don’t see Michael Brown, Jr. or Trayvon Martin, or Tamir Rice or Dillon McGee or Cameron Tillman or Laquan McDonald, to name just a few of the young black unarmed men killed as their sons or nephews – they are their brothers!

I am inspired by this generation of freedom fighters who refuse to let the legacies of Ella Baker, Bayard Rustin, Fannie Lou Hamer and Medgar Evers die. And as Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon and Sweet Honey in the Rock said it best “we who believe in freedom will not rest until it comes.”

I’m thankful for all the young people who have retained the spirit of ethical discontent and righteous indignation through the use of civil disobedience. From the metropolitan streets to suburban driveways and on to remote rural places, our nations’ young people are sick and tired of being sick and tired. From sit-ins to mass marches to taking over interstate highways to writing the digital translations of these stories that are now flowing through various channels of social media, these millennials, who have previously been labeled a selfish generation, are using their voices to call for a change.

I am not a fan of violence. I am not a supporter of looting, destruction of private or public property and I do not condone or support any of this deviant behavior. Despite media presentations, the majority of the protests across the country have been peaceful, respectful and meaningful.

No matter how mad I am, I am also Thankful!

Young People, thank you for your courage to prove that hope lives! Thank you for reminding us all that #BlackLivesMatter!

Emmett PriceEmmett G. Price III, Ph.D. is a pastor, professor and weekly contributor to WGBH’s Boston Public Radio “All Revved Up” segment. He is the author of Hip Hop Culture and editor of several works including The Black Church and Hip Hop Culture: Toward Bridging the Generational Divide. Follow him on Twitter.

(The views expressed are solely those of the author.)

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