Live today, to Serve tomorrow

“If We Must Die”

If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! We must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!
Claude
McKay

“When it comes down to it we don’t get the same treatment. Let’s be real. Let’s keep our mouth shut, memorize badge numbers and write complaints…” — Chryssey A Schloss-Allen

Excellent and wise advice Chryssey A Schloss-Allen. I think it is safe to say that any Black person my age 60+ who is either not dead or in prison, has at some point(s) walked away from an insult from a public official who is sworn to protect and serve us. My personal motto has (and still is) always been: I need to live so that I can serve out my calling; and if I die in that effort so be it; but if possible I will try to avoid dying; knowing how low and unimportant Black life is viewed by many in this nation, and how much I am needed by those same Black lives. Over the years, I have given that same advice (“Live to Serve”) to thousands of young people; particularly young men. My motivation was not out of a philosophy of pacifism, about fear or cowardice, rather it was a matter of discipline. I always had the community’s children in mind, who were waiting and depending on my work and support. I had no interest in making a death-martyr-statement on a NYC street like Atlantic or Bedford Avenues. I read once that: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” This is not a call for indifference, passivity, or the acceptance of injustice; rather I see it as a strategic battle plan/approach to get your work done in a very complex and dangerous environment. Ultimately, my personal pride, convenience, need to make a point, falls far short of the contribution I need to make with the needs of young people; young people, who like you are waiting to make their contribution to a world seriously in need of that contribution. We should also note that the news media (the liberal, right and middle wing Foxes) is structured and inclined to demonize the Back victim, and are in a rapid and rabid race to humanize, professionalize and (ex)honor(ate) the offending police officers. Public defenders (The brave Ms. Marilyn Mosby of Baltimore excluded) don’t see me as part of the public for which they are sworn to defend. Every casual and very normal word or statement made in public or on social media will come under scrutiny so as to point to an anti-police attitude (as opposed to a pro-justice attitude). And I know, like many of my colleagues, I have made many comments concerning my frustration with Back life in America; particularly as it pertains to young people and education; but that does not mean I am thinking or even wishing that my life would end; again I want to live to serve! Your life is important, because your calling and contribution are important. I am thinking of someone like Tiffany Harrison Bryant; and all of the positive change power she has given to young people; starting when she herself was a teenager! Black life indeed matters; and a Black life that is in a state of service matters most when it is alive to serve. You should know that the “wolves” make no distinctions between Black lives, and are ready armed and able to deny and destroy every Black life. And so guard yours carefully!

Finally, and why your advice is correct; the last time I was stopped (the frequency tails off for Black men as you get older) and made a formal complaint. I was stopped on my own block, and according to the officer, because I was driving an “expensive car in this neighborhood”. The police officer actually protested at his complaint hearing: “But I am shocked (and he really was) that Mr. Johnson is making a formal complaint about his stop; as he was so polite and calm during the entire situation!” (And I was) I simply memorized his badge number, and his “log book” reflected the stop. I turned on my interior car lights, keep both hands on the steering wheel, had my license, insurance and car registration card in my hand when he walked up to the window; answered his questions politely and quietly, and didn’t utter a word of complaint and/or protest; until I filed a formal complaint. (He had a growing stupid look on his face when he saw that I indeed lived on that block, had a back seat full of books and folders, and a NYC Principal’s parking permit in my front window.) No apology, no ticket, nothing. But there was just no way that I was going to make my case for police misjudgment, unprofessionalism, racial profiling, and overreach, at night, alone, on an empty Decatur St. block. I don’t see my primary role in life as to serve as a “change agent” for eliminating the racism that exist in the hearts of many Americans (Black and White); I do however, want to neutralize its deleterious effects on the education of Black children! Somethings, to be quite honest must be addressed by time; as people and attitudes began to leave the land of the living. And somethings must be forced (and dragged like the confederate flag wavers, kicking and screaming) to the table of justice by way of political organization, economic boycotts, active protest, and electoral politics. But I do see my primary task as empowering and intellectually equipping a younger generation to dismantle the barriers and structures of race, sexism, classism and economic exploitation; though their very strategically, skilled and smart placed positions in the world. In short, I decided that if I wanted to strike a serious blow against racism, I could do better than lose my one life on a Brooklyn street; and that I would work hard and effectively to educate and empower the lives of many young people of any color.