ABOVE PHOTO: Photo courtesy: Pittsburgh Urban Media
By Jack L. Daniel
Co-founder, Freed Panther Society
“…In many families, there is that one person who is the glue that keeps the family together and provides some semblance of unity between fragments and factions in the family. …While that model of family “unity” may have some benefits during the time that the “glue” is alive, there is a better model for realizing family unity and that is for all family members to put in the work… If all don’t do their parts, then all of the responsibility lies with Mother, Mommy, Big Mama, Nana, Grandma, Grandpa, Papa… Bottom-line, like anything else, it takes work and investment from everyone…”
–Gil Duncan, IV
If not you, then who will help fulfill the dream articulated by Martin Luther King Jr.? We have so much to overcome these days that the last thing needed is for anyone, as in the story of the Little Red Hen, to say “not me.” Recall that the little Red Hen found grains of wheat and, in turn, asked a Pig, Cat, Rat, Duck, Goose and others if they would assist in making bread. All of them replied, “Not me” and had a plethora of excuses regarding why they could/would not participate. However, once the bread was made, all of the barnyard characters wanted to eat it. However, the little Red Hen shared the bread only with her chicks since none of the others had helped.
Herein, the intent is not to endorse a moral principle such as, “those who make no contribution to producing an outcome(s) do not deserve to enjoy the outcome(s).” Rather, the intent is to underscore the fact that, when it comes to the pursuit of civil rights, today as much as ever, the last thing needed is for large numbers of people to say “not me” and hope to be rescued by a savior.
Imagine what might not have happened if Martin Luther King Jr. had said, “Not me, because by the time I conduct my church business, work with my wife to address the needs of our four young children, and engage in continuing education as a minister, I don’t have time to participate much less lead a civil rights movement.” Think about what might not have transpired if King’s dream had been limited to how big a church he could build in terms of a physical plant and membership; how much money his church could raise; and, in turn, the luxury cars, homes, and vacations he might have accrued for himself. We honor him because, instead of saying “not me,” he valiantly led even though he experienced things such as his home being bombed; being jailed periodically; and repeatedly having his life threatened.
If you experience an iota of reticence regarding participation in the struggle for freedom, justice and equality, then think about what might not have transpired if Rosa Parks had not sat down in a front seat of the segregated bus and, subsequently, her Montgomery neighbors had not boycotted? The Montgomery bus boycott began on December 5, 1955 and ended on December 20, 1956. Success would not have come if more than 90 percent of the Black residents had not refused to get on the public buses, if more than 300 of them had not put their cars into a car pool, and if large numbers of them had not walked to work instead of riding the segregated buses. Analogous success was realized when Black students acted collectively during the 1960s and 1970s.
Black college students were critical contributors to the Civil Rights Movement as they also rigorously pursued their academic studies. They put their lives on the line as they protested against segregated facilities, made demands for campus administrators to enroll more Black students as well as hire Black faculty members, held sit-ins and demanded new Black Studies programs, and did other critically important things to affect major changes on their respective campuses as well as in their communities. Black students at the University of Pittsburgh, for example, seized the University’s Computer Center, issued a set of demands, negotiated those demands, and subsequently most major Black-related initiatives on Pitt’s campus can be traced to that student-led initiative.
Regrettably, there are some contemporary “barnyard animals” who are quick to proffer what they believe to be good reasons for not doing the work of “baking” today’s “civil rights bread.” This is especially alarming in the academic arena where, for example, one might find a Black professor who is quick to say something such as “Chemistry is not Black or White. I just teach chemistry. I am not a role model/mentor for Black students. I am a role model/mentor for all students. Don’t ask me to serve as a faculty advisor to a Black students interested in math, science and technology group.”
The “not me” Black professors refuse to serve on campus committees that address race-related issues on campus. They appear to have a dissociative disorder that causes them to believe they are functioning in a post-racial society, that they are who they are because “I got mine by the sweat of my brow and, therefore, you should do the same.”
“Not me” faculty members want nothing to do with pushing their institutions to hire more Black faculty, even though they were undeniably hired significantly in part because other Blacks pushed their institutions to make the appointments they hold. They wish to burn the diversity bridges after they have crossed safely over them.
Fortunately, there are many Black faculty, staff, administrators, students, and alumni who steadfastly “speak truth to power” on their respective campuses. They have assumed the disposition found in Isaiah 6:8, i.e., when God asked, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” their response was, “Here I am! Send me.” By doing so, they are hastening the day when “…all God’s children, Black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last, Free at last, Thank God almighty, we are free at last.”