Baltimore, Black Advocacy, and Our Future

Like many others, I took some time to be thoughtful before I wrote a piece about the events in Baltimore surrounding Freddie Gray. Every aspect of this situation seems to be incredibly divisive within the dialogues of our communities. Last week I saw friendships broken and relationships lost over whether what is happening in Baltimore should be called a "revolution" or a "riot," whether the violence that took place was justified or not, and even whether or not a Baltimore mother did our race a disservice by reprimanding her child for participating in the unrest. There is no one right answer to any of these questions or debates. The truth is, the devaluation of black life by police departments across this country and its ramifications, are the first major civil rights battles of my generation, and we're all simply trying to figure it out as it evolves.

It's unfortunate though, that at a time where people of color ought to be fiercely united, we find any and every reason to divorce one another; to berate one another via social media with opinions on topics that often are only nuances of a larger, much more important debate. Yes, there is a difference between the words unrest and rebellion. Yes, there are different iterations and levels of civil disobedience, and maybe that Baltimore mother was wrong; but maybe she was right. These questions are important, but they pale in comparison to the larger thematic questions we face as a people.

When the cameras are gone, when hashtags are expired, and when its no longer generates buzz to discuss the details of Freddie Gray on your Twitter page, Baltimore will still need our help, your help. Baltimore remains a city that is disproportionately poor, disproportionately under educated, and disproportionately violent. I say this not to place blame on the people in these communities, but to say that we are often far to lost and distracted in debates about marginal particulars when there are serious structural issues in Baltimore (and places like it) that need to be addressed and advocated for. The solvency of these larger structural issues will require us to turn away from losing ourselves in the caveats of the riots, revolution, rebellion and unrest in Charm City and to focus on creating a long term strategic plan to address systemic issues. Issues that have plagued Baltimore and other cities and have created an insulated societal culture that allows tragedies like Freddie Gray to happen.

Whether you condemned the violence in Baltimore as self-destructive, or criticized the peaceful demonstrations that took place as too passive; a week's worth, or even a month's worth of either of those tactics will not be sufficient to solve these larger issues. They might indeed result in an indictment, but is that really Justice? Even for the late Freddie Gray, is that full justice? I don't think so. Justice is figuring out how to build cities and a nation where victims like Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin, and countless others no longer exist. That seemingly elusive goal requires us to move away from the glamorization of advocacy that we have become used to recently, and embrace the rough, sometimes ugly, and organic nature of advocacy work. Solvency will require us to constantly see the larger picture, even if we don't always agree with all of the details. Making sure the deaths of the countless victims on police brutality and systemic injustice are not in vain means that we must stop being reactive and be incredibly proactive, calculated, and committed. That means galvanizing our voting power to change the political order in many of these cities and state legislatures, it means educating our own people to create their own business, consequentially creating economic independence and prosperity in our communities, and it means understanding that these systemic injustice weren't built overnight, and similarly eliminating them will not happen overnight either.

I love Baltimore, I love Freddie Gray, and I love the millions of people who are standing in solidarity, but if we are to prevent repeating these scenes of carnage every six months, then we have to move away from the semantics in debates that separate us far to easily and instead unite to create a holistic plan for solving these deep structural ills. This type of work will undoubtedly require dedication, love, and a tremendous amount of resolve.