The Rev. Dr. Earle J. Fisher moderates the Black AF (And Fearless) panel that featured LeMoyne-Owen College alums Mickell Lowery, Dr. Andre Johnson and Eureka McAfee. (Courtesy photo)

Issues such as “Black self-hate,” “anti-blackness among Black leaders,” and “teaching young Black children to love themselves” sparked conversation and debate at a town hall event that featured a panel discussion called “Black AF (And Fearless).

With the death of Tyre Nichols, who was fatally bludgeoned by Black Memphis police officers and Black History Month as centering points, the town hall was held March 23 at LeMoyne-Owen College. The event was lived-streamed.

Memphis pastor the Rev. Dr. Earle Fisher, founder of UptheVote901, moderated the Black AF panel, which showcased prominent LOC alumni.

Joining Fisher, a LOC alum, was Shelby County Commission Chairman Mickell Lowery and Eureka McAfee, principal of Alcy Ball Performing Arts Elementary School in South Memphis, both LOC alums.

Dr. Andre Johnson, associate professor of Rhetoric and Media Studies at the University of Memphis, was the third panelist. 

“The Black AF (And Fearless) panel discussion from the very start was going to be an unusual event,” said LOC Alumni Ena Esco-Cole. “(Three) of the panelists attended LeMoyne-Owen at the same time I did. I know these … great leaders. And Dr. Fisher? You already know what it is. 

“When Dr. Fisher introduced himself as ‘pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church, the blackest church in Memphis’ and said, ‘we are at the blackest school in the city,’ I could understand why the panel was named ‘Black AF.’”

Fisher said the two-hour panel was the beginning of important conversations and urged those conversations to continue.

“Take advantage of opportunities to have discussions of Black issues, especially at Black schools,” said Fisher. “Use Black spaces to talk about what the needs are in our communities.”

While the in-person attendance was sparse, the live-stream audience extended the event’s scope, with viewers challenging and reacting to individual panelists as the discussion unfolded.

“With the death of Tyre Nichols by officers that look like him,” said Fisher, “we understood we were dealing with issues surrounding anti-blackness, even among us.”

Johnson said one thing parents, teachers and caring adults must do is talk to young children about loving themselves and their “blackness.”

Fisher concurred, saying “black spaces” must be used to “educate Black kids” and prepare them with conversations they need to have. 

McAfee was asked how the school prepared for conversations surrounding the Tyre Nichols case.

“We were briefed by the district on how to discuss what happened with our children,” said McAfee. “Our students are between the ages of 4 and 11. We wanted to have conversations that would help them and not hurt them. 

‘We were very cognizant of their feelings. We did not bring up the subject of Tyre Nichols, but we were prepared if they asked questions. We were ready to listen if they wanted to talk about how the video made them feel.”

McAfee said with a school of 650 students ⸺ most African American and a number of Hispanic students ⸺ it is important that children are prompted at an early age to respond respectfully and properly to police officers.

Johnson said professors and teachers must be able to relevantly educate “Black students,” especially at a PWI (predominantly white institution).

“We must be able to veer away from the syllabus when real life happens,” said Johnson. “After … the Tyre Nichols video was released, there was a snow storm. Students expressed feeling frustrated because they wanted to talk; they needed to talk. They gathered at the UC (University Center at the U of M). They wanted to speak about how they felt in that moment.”

Johnson expressed his own frustration because professors wanted to respond to students and have much-needed conversations with them, but they didn’t know how to do that.

“I was like, ‘What? Are you kidding me?’ Students wanted to know how they could get involved in the social movement,” said Johnson. “So, I had to reconstitute the syllabus. Students felt like they were doing something when they were writing papers and doing research.”

Johnson continued, “But I told them, ‘Embodied protests are important as well. You ought to at least once stand on a corner with a sign reading, Justice For Tyre.’ Everyone should be involved in embodied protest. Get out there bodily. Black bodies matter.”

Lowery said as “Black leaders,” fighting for “the Black community” means putting policies in place for policing.

“Policy won’t stop everything, but policy will let police know that there is no gray area when you break the rules,” said Lowery. “When white people saw the video, they said, ‘Oh, that’s terrible.’ But they didn’t feel obligated to do anything about it.”

Fisher lamented that some “Black leaders” want to be in leadership, but they don’t love “their people.”

“Black leaders must be ready to deal with our people who have experienced black trauma, black pain, and black death,” said Fisher. “There are anti-black feelings in some Black leaders.”

Lowery said there is a historic demographic on the Shelby County Commission. 

“Eight commissioners are Black, and five are (African-American) female,” said Lowery. “That has never happened before. You have started to hear words you never heard before, such as reparations.

“We’re talking about policies that can help our community. They get pushed back on us, but we will still keep trying. We’ll just keep coming back.”

McAfee said Alcy Ball “educates the whole child.”

“We not only teach our children to love themselves and their community, we teach respect for all people,” said McAfee. “We have Hispanic students as well. Every morning, we sing the Negro National Anthem. Our children are engaged, and they come to the office because they want to participate during that time. Education must deal with the whole child.”