Each morning, as I head to work, I have a Groundhog Day experience. No, I don’t repeat the same thing every day at work. Anyone that has ever worked in public relations can attest that no two days are ever the same. The feeling of Groundhog Day stems from a conversation I wake up to each morning. As I get ready for work and open the garage door, I hear my uncle yell downstairs, “Be safe out there, BJ.” Now my uncle is pushing 70 years of age, and I know his eyes have seen more than many of us can imagine, from growing up in the South and surviving the Vietnam War to working for over thirty years to take care of his wife and six kids. I’ve been taught when someone with that life resume tells you anything its best to listen and follow their directions.
Now, my uncle knows I am not going anywhere that should put me in harm’s way. I am heading to the bus, BART and then the office, but he still finds it necessary to tell me this each and every morning. Amidst all of the tragedies that we have witnessed, Oscar Grant, Mike Brown, Tamar Rice, Freddie Gray, Laquan McDonald, this list goes on and on, of black men murdered doing everyday things, I start to realize that those words come from a real place of concern for my well- being in the world we inhabit.
The reality is that we are living in a time when black males do not feel safe in the world. In the back of my consciousness I wonder if today is the day I leave the house and never return to hear my uncle say, “Be safe out there BJ.” When I learned that out of the 30 people killed daily by gun violence, 15 were black males, I wonder if today will be the day that I become a part of that alarming statistic. When facing these thoughts every day I often feel as if I do not have a safe space to voice these concerns among a group of people that understand and have experiences similar to those I am currently facing.
Getting an invitation to come to Policy Link’s Equity Summit as part of EPIP PNC delegation turned out to be that safe place to voice my concerns as well as hear from others who are facing similar circumstances. The summit gave me an opportunity to learn from my elders, connect with like- minded peers and hear from current thought leaders, but more importantly, it gave me a safe environment to just be myself.
One of the many things that resonated with me at this conference was the cross generational collaboration. I was deeply moved to see our community work together as a unit instead of working in fragments. Our elders can offer the current movement insights from their successes as well as their mistakes. My generation is bringing a newfound energy to the movement leveraging the power of technology to unite our communities around the injustices that we are facing every day. This cross-generational collaboration reminds me of the word Sankofa, which means, “remembering the past, to protect our future”. As we move forward, I am hopeful that this movement continues to bridge the gap, and we are able to continue to learn from our past and build a promising future together.
Another powerful statement that I heard while at the conference was the reminder that, “The first revolution is an internal revolution.” I interpreted this as a call for self-examination. There comes a point where we all have to ask ourselves what we are fighting for, and who are we fighting for. Are we willing to deal with the consequences that come when we take a stand against injustices? Are we willing to take a pay cut to give back to our communities? What does it really mean for me to have an opportunity if none of the other black males that grew up under similar circumstances as myself don’t have these same opportunities? After each day of the equity summit I sat, thought, reflected and wrestled with these types of questions. This highlighted the importance of the internal revolution and how we all need to constantly put ourselves in spaces where we are encouraged to grapple with these types of questions.
“This is Equity: just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. Unlocking the promise in the nation by unleashing the promise in us all.” This conference was a reminder to me that I deserve to be in a safe space to express my fears and joys, my insecurities and accomplishments, my whole self, because this is the key to unlocking the promise that I have to offer to the world.