By Bernal E. Smith II, firstname.lastname@example.org
Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Walter Scott, Freddy Gray, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, and, in Memphis, Darrius Stewart: black lives lost in deadly encounters with law enforcement.
Martoiya Lang, Sean Bolton and – most recently – Verdell Smith. Memphis women and men in blue killed in deadly encounters with Memphians who were black.
With those painful truths festering like not-yet closed wounds, last week delivered a series of events that stung much of the nation to its core. Alton Sterling, a black man, was fatally shot by Baton Rouge, La. police as cameras rolled. Philando Castile, a black man restrained by his seatbelt, was shot dead by a Minnesota policeman, with the immediate aftermath broadcast live on Facebook by his girlfriend. Then five Dallas police officers are gunned down by a black man, with reports that he particularly targeted white officers frustrated with the proceeding list of lost black lives and particularly those of Sterling and Castile.
It all adds up to a decay of emotion and trust; and that kind of decay, eventually, must give way to a turning point. Many are hoping that is where we are now. A turning point signaled by a wave of intense protest, demonstration, discussion and debate in myriad parts of the country. In Memphis on Sunday evening, it swept up thousands representing various backgrounds, issues and interests into a youth-led march that shut down the flow of traffic over the Hernando Desoto Bridge and blocked Interstate 40.
Now, days later, the burning question that I’ve gotten from many in the Greater Memphis community is this: What tangible, positive, proactive thing or things can I do? And, by extension, how can I make a difference in my own way, small or large?
While the question has surfaced in various quarters of the city, I hear it and feel it most acutely in the African-American community, which reels from ongoing and systemic oppression and the weight of struggle on the slow road to progress. That’s the backdrop for asking each individual member of the African-American community to consider doing the seven things I suggest. I am convinced these individual acts will aggregate to the benefit of the community as a whole.
SHOW UP! African Americans make up nearly 70 percent of the population in Memphis, a super majority by all definitions. Yet, economically, politically and socially we find ourselves marginalized and severely challenged. Our one strength is sheer numbers. Going forward, if there is an issue at city council, the county commission or the school board, we have to show up in large numbers. When there is a town hall meeting or issue in the neighborhood we have to show up in mass. When there are opportunities for new business, jobs and growth we have to be present and accounted for at the table by choice or by force. We must register to vote at the appropriate times and then turn out in droves during early voting or on Election Day. We may not have the financial resources to lobby or fund campaigns, but there is power in being present and more power in numbers.
READ! Information is powerful and helps to transform lives. To make good decisions people have to have good information. Social media is a powerful tool, however, there is significant misinformation proliferating across those platforms and generated primarily because people generally don’t have any accountability or requirement to be truthful. You have to seek out trustworthy sources of news, information and even entertainment. Subscribe to positive news outlets that provide the kind of information needed to get and stay on top of things in the community and the world around you. There are many such publications/media outlets available; evaluate and choose wisely. Among your choices, The New Tri-State Defender (www.tsdmemphis.com print and digital) stands out. Our refined mission in our 65th year is to inform, inspire and elevate the quality of life of our audiences across all platforms.
VALUE YOUR DOLLAR! Become a conscious and intentional consumer. According to a recent Nielsen report African-American consumers represent about $1.1 trillion dollars in spending power nationally. Target Market News reports that African Americans in Memphis have nearly an $11 billion dollar (and growing) annual total spending power. That means a lot of marketers and retailers value you tremendously. Understand your value!
Learn about the businesses and places where you spend your money. Do they support the things important to you, including the community where you live? Do their values align with yours? Are their products and services adequate for what you pay? Are there less expensive alternatives and better ways to obtain the same goods and services? Do they respect and appreciate your patronage and demonstrate that with direct and indirect actions? Your dollar should not be given up or spent recklessly.
SPEND AND SAVE BLACK FIRST! Be intentional about spending money with black-owned businesses and balance your spending with saving. The TSD has a directory of businesses on its mobile application along side numerous other platforms (such as www.bestinblackawards.com) for identifying black-owned and operated businesses in Memphis and around the country. Be committed to identifying and at least trying goods and services from these businesses. If you have a bad experience, communicate that to the owners/managers and then give them another try, just like you do with non-black owned companies. Relative to savings, there are two black-owned banks with a presence in Memphis, Tri-State Bank (www.tristatebank.com) and Citizens Bank (www.bankcbn.com). At a minimum, open a savings account at one of these banks and contribute to it regularly.
VOTE! Every election demands your presence. Take advantage of the early-voting period. While you must be registered at least 30 days prior to an election to vote in it, get registered anyway. There are more opportunities ahead. Early voting begins July 15 for the upcoming federal and state primary. It ends on July 30, with Election Day August 4. The next opportunity to vote after that is November 8, which is the day for the federal and state general elections. In addition to electing the next President of the United States, many other important seats that determine, interpret and uphold laws and impact our lives will be decided upon by voters. Sitting out elections means you are OK with having other people make decisions about your life without you having a say, including the spending of your tax dollars. If you need your voting rights restored, contact the Shelby County Public Defender’s office. (http://defendshelbyco.org)
SUPPORT THE CHILDREN! Volunteer, mentor, encourage, read to, spend quality time with and genuinely love our children through quality time and positive action. School will be starting soon and our children need you! Whether it’s your children or others in your neighborhood or the community at large, volunteer at the school, join the PTA. Do something to contribute positively to the education of our children and to their overall well being. Be a positive presence. Of course, all charity begins at home. If you have children, be the best parent you can to them. If you need help becoming a better parent, seek assistance through organizations such as the Exchange Club (www.exchangeclub.net).
SPEAK POSITIVITY & BE YOUR BROTHERS KEEPER! Remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s eloquence: “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
Ultimately, we must live with one another without resulting to violence. We must allow the humanity that we demand in declaring “I Am a Man!” and “Black Lives Matter” to shine through in our relationships and care with one another. Simply resolve to turn the corner and drive out darkness and hate with love.