When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.”
After the unity rallies, the protests, the points made, what can communities do
so we're not pounding our heads against same wall in 5, 10, 50 or 100 years?
Without knowing 100 percent for sure, I'm guessing they were involved in some aspect of the slave trading world. Even if they weren't, I come from a long line of white folk. I'm not ashamed of being white; it is what I am and I sure don't hold my parents to blame for bringing me into the world. I'm thankful actually and maybe I can make a difference?
I was born in the 1960s and remember black and white television images of race protests in the 1970s. I remember photographs appearing in the pages of the Providence Journal of riots and violence all occurring because of racial injustice.
The 70s were 50 years ago.
I repeat.... The 70s were 50 years ago.
I repeat again..... The 70s were 50 years ago.
And this was more than 100 years after Abraham Lincoln and the United States government righted the wrong of its forefathers for not abolishing slavery at the creation of this country. And it was decades after Blacks were given equality in the armed forces and years after the passage of the Civil Rights legislation under Lyndon Johnson.
50 years ago. 60 years ago, 75 years ago, 150 plus years ago.... has anyone asked the question "What's Next?" How do we stop trying to end racism and just f@%king do it once and for all?
I'm tired of nothing being done. Why are we still dealing with race issues today? Surely we, as a nation, are smart enough to know this should be a horrible thing in our past......right? That we are humans and we shouldn't be struggling with a simple thing such as skin color today?
Yet here we are, still struggling with this very issue.
Progress does take a lot of time, but c'mon.
In 1862, the President of the United States issued the Emancipation Proclamation. It took three more years and the final defeat of the South for it to become official. Slaves were free, but by no means given equality. In 1948, Harry Truman ended segregation in the military. In 1954, Brown vs. The Board of education ended legal segregation in schools, and yet sill in 1963, six-year old Ruby Bridges had to be escorted to and from school every day for her protection and force the compliance of the school district.
Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man in 1955. This got her arrested.
Many more notable events occurred since, including Bloody Sunday in which a young John Lewis was bloodied and beaten in 1965. It took three more years for Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1968.
John Lewis, who was in the thick of the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s and marched along side Martin Luther King, died this past month and the President of the United States recently eulogized him saying "Well he didn't come to my inauguration."
So what's next?
John Lewis died amid some of the most sustained Civil Rights protests in American history. His work was sadly still far from complete even though it was started more than 50 years ago.
CHANGE IS EXCRUCIATINGLY SLOW.
On May 25, 2020, protests broke out across this country after the death of George Floyd under the forceful knee of what appears to be an over-zealous police officer. Now nearly three months later protests and awareness rallies continue. Reports of federal agents being sent in to put down the protests are the latest news.
At smaller rallies in more rural areas like Franklin Pennsylvania, armed citizens stand sentry around memorials and courthouses during Black Lives Matter rallies as if to say the rallies will lead to destruction. Assumptions are being made that the protesters only want to break down this country and not work to building it up. Despite the peaceful plans, many did not trust the intent or the outcome.
In Venango County, the idea of racism doesn't appear on the surface to be a huge concern among many. There have not been riots or even radical displays of protest. Yet several individuals are taking it upon themselves to make sure that it is known that racism does in fact exist here. From blatant discrimination to "harmless" jokes, there is still a problem. Even people who state "I don't see color when I look at a person" don't quite understand race. Stating that is offensive to our personal cultural history and of course we're a different color... but we're not unequal!
That is the key. We are equal. We are human.
I attended a discussion several weeks ago at a church in Franklin. The pastor Randy Powell felt a need to have a discussion after a rally in Bandstand Park to pay tribute to Floyd and others who have been been killed by law enforcement was met with heavily armed guards encircling the park's monuments while staring down the protesters. Why were they? Why did they fell a need to protect the monuments even after the young organizers called for a peaceful demonstration?
Assumptions? Why? Other places in other towns. Did anyone sit down to have a conversation before brandishing high powered rifles and intimidation tactics?
The discussion at the Franklin church was led by pastor Dr. Lora Adams-King who instructed the dozens of participants to please ask "uncomfortable questions." Adams-King emphasized 'knowledge is power' and if anyone had questions, the only way to find an answer is to ask them. She provided a safe environment of people to question and learn.
I wonder how many of these conversations are being had right now? We continue to watch protests all over the country, but how many communities are sitting down at tables discussing important things?
Last week I met with two of the organizers of the Bandstand Park rally. They are looking into the question of "What's next?" Michelle Jones and Angela Wofford have taken the next step in the organization of an action committee.
VIABLE (Venango In Alliance with Black Lives Empowered) seeks to work in several areas of local society to bring about awareness and change in how we treat each other. The group will facilitate discussions through subcommittees dealing with the issues of race in education, justice, community and through faith based initiatives. Jones an Wofford hope the name and organization becomes a resource for positive change.
Jones admits growing up and not really experiencing personally the blatant racist attitudes she has come to learn about as an adult. Her grandfather and parents were well-known and respected community leaders. She says in retrospect the racism was present, but not a direct issue for her due to not realizing the difference between racism and the socio-privilege afforded her. But Wofford, a white woman with bi-racial children, has experienced the racism full force in the schools and it has really affected her and her children.
Venango County is overwhelmingly white. The schools employ few if any people of color. According to Jeff Polley, another local activist and educator, there are very few people for students of color to turn to who look like them. Jones, Wofford and Polley see this as a problem and perhaps one of the reasons "subtle" racism exists in the halls still. Racial slurs and jokes are bantered around in locker rooms and hallways as if it is OK. Black students generally accept the banter because it's supposedly meant in jest, according to Polley. But it is a systemic problem that has never gone away.
"Some people are just so clueless of their white privilege that they think what they are saying is alright," Jones said. She said getting people to understand white privilege is a hard sell. "People think they always need to go on the defensive," she said. Saying things like "I'm not racist, but..." usually leads to saying something racist, Wofford pointed out.
The group is hoping to build relationships with schools, civic organizations and law enforcement to bring about systemic change. The fact that some people are listening is hopeful, Wofford said. She has already met with the new Franklin School superintendent, who comes from another more diverse school district. The hope is to get diversity training in the schools in order to affect permanent change.
Wofford has presented a plan that focuses on ending racism in the hallways through continuous training and support, focusing less on "Holiday and Heroes" teaching such as delegating teaching of Blacks in history to Black History month. Making Black history part of the ongoing curriculum, recruiting and retention of people of color within the schools and stricter policies on the uses of racial slurs in classrooms and hallways are goals to overcome racism, according to Wofford.
She said she hopes to connect the schools more closely with the parents and students when planning the school year and to start right at the elementary school level for long-term change.
"Nothing grows in the comfort zone," she said.
This past week another rally was planned but cancelled after communications broke down between the City of Oil City and the organizers. Proper permits weren't obtained and discussions led organizers to abandon the rally which was slated to be similar to earlier rallies focusing on a march and speakers. Organizer Josh Puleo said that the breakdown shows the need to have more informative rallies, but he wasn't willing to push the issue at the time.
Jones and Wofford said they are going to focus on action. "Rallies are like a wedding, but, we want to now focus on the marriage," Jones said.