"Black people continuing to LIVE and BUILD COMMUNITY with one another during chattel slavery allowed them to BEAT SLAVERY. Those of us who CONTINUE TO LIVE through our circumstance are VICTORIOUS."
2009 NATIONAL DAY OF PROTEST SPEECH
Written on behalf of the Afrikan Black Coalition, this speech was delivered during the National Day of Protest on October 22, 2009 in Los Angeles, CA.
Fred Hampton was 20 years old when he was murdered by the FBI forty-one years ago in 1969. As deputy chairmen of the Chicago Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party, Fred Hampton was considered a threat by the federal government because he fought for the freedom of black and oppressed people. Fred Hampton facilitated food kitchens for children that were not his own; Fred Hampton ensured that these children received an education in a society where racism was socially acceptable. Fred Hampton provided free health care for black and oppressed people in a society that openly discriminated against them. Fred Hampton worked to provide basic rights to life for his people: food, clothing, and shelter. By providing his people with these basic rights to life Fred Hampton became the biggest threat to the American society; Fred Hampton challenged the very essence of this capitalist system.
Fred Hampton was murdered in his home by police officers while he slept beside his pregnant wife. His wife was removed by federal officers and held in another room while her husband was shot to death.
Fred Hampton was murdered because he was a revolutionary. He saw that anti-black racism was, and still is, allowed and condoned in this society. However today, as we gather here in the memory of Oscar Grant and the countless other victims, we see that we do not have to be a leader of a movement to be murdered by police or subjected to their brutality. In this society—a society that pats itself on the back for electing a black man to the presidency, a society that prides itself on freedom, equality, and justice—it is simply enough to just be black to be murdered by the police. In this society, to be black means to be a criminal.
Oscar Grant, Amadou Diallo, and Sean Bell are just some of the examples of police brutality that we can site within recent years. The day before Barack Obama was elected to be the 44th president of the United States a funeral was held. As we celebrated progress and equality 1400 people were silenced as they mourned the death of Julian Alexander. Julian Alexander was 20 years old when he was murdered on October 28, 2008. He had been married for just a week and he and his 19-year old wife were expecting their first child. He was shot to death in his own backyard in Anaheim CA, by police officers who claimed they had mistaken him for a burglar on his own property. Once the fatal shots were fired he was hand cuffed as he lay dying on his front lawn. And much like the story of Fred Hampton, Alexander’s wife was held in the house by the police and was not permitted to go outside and see what had happened.
His funeral was held Monday November 3, 2008; no one mentioned it.
We were busy preparing for the “historical” election. But what does a black man in presidency mean when oppressed peoples can still be brutalized and killed? What do the principles of this society mean if black people are subject to gratuitous violence? What does “justice” mean in a society that is fundamentally and structurally unjust?
In lieu of all these unanswered questions, we’ve gathered here today to demand “justice.” Let’s make one thing clear: The Afrikan Black Coalition believes that true justice CAN NEVER be delivered as long as the current societal structure exists. This has become increasingly clear by Officer Mehserle’s act of murder being deemed “Involuntary Manslaughter” by a self proclaimed “court of law.”
The Afrikan Black Coalition is outraged by this verdict and continues to recognize Mehserle’s actions as murder. Furthermore, we believe that the verdict of Involuntary Manslaughter is unjust and born out of a racist society that has criminalized blackness. This case is one of many that illustrate a larger practice by the police force to brutalize and murder black and brown people. We will not forget Sean Bell who was shot 50 times the day before his wedding by the police, we refuse to forget immigrant student Amadou Diallo who was shot 41 times by the police because he “fit the description” of a rapist, nor can we forget Julian Alexander who was fatally shot in Anaheim at age 20 in front of his pregnant wife because police officers thought he was a burglar on his own property.
Regardless of the lengthy list of cases that we can site where black people have been blatantly murdered by police officers, the justice system continues to dismiss the gratuitous violence and murder to which black people are subject. The list of police brutality and murder is lengthy however each time they are dismissed as a case of “mistaken identity,” a “freak accident,” or (as in the case of Oscar Grant) “a tragic mistake.” Each of these excuses serves to justify and condone murder by the police.
It is clear that the officer removed his gun from his holster and murdered Oscar Grant. The idea that Mehserle “mistook his gun for his taser” is merely a convenient excuse from the police force to justify murder while preserving the fallacy that they are here to “protect and serve.” Looking at the conduct of the police in the case of Oscar Grant and others, we can see that the police serve another purpose.
The Afrikan Black Coalition is outraged that Mehserle was convicted with the charge of involuntary manslaughter after he was caught on tape shooting Oscar Grant in the back while unarmed. We demand that Johannes Mehserle receive no less than the maximum sentence of fourteen years. Thus, four years for the involuntary manslaughter and ten years for the gun enhancement.
We consider taking the life of an innocent person a serious crime. And although we recognize this system is fundamentally and structurally flawed, in this moment there is only one thing that matters: Oscar Grant’s family and friends. They deserve some form of closure and solace from this unjust system. They deserve to know that we will not take this lying down. Oscar Grant and the countless victims of police brutality deserve justice.
In this moment we recognize our responsibility to advocate for our people by fighting for the family and legacy of Oscar Grant, and the countless victims of police brutality. Black and oppressed people stand today in solidarity with the LA Coalition for Justice for Oscar Grant and demand that Judge Robert Perry give Officer Johannes Mehserle NO LESS than the maximum sentence of 14 years. The black students in the University of California stand in solidarity under the banner of the Afrikan Black Coalition and send the unified message that we will no longer sit back and watch the genocide of our people! We are building on the legacy of Fred Hampton whose life was violently taken from him. We must fight in memory of Fred Hampton! We must fight in memory of Oscar Grant! Fred Hampton still speaks to us today through his words; and he says, “You can kill a revolutionary but you cannot kill the revolution.”
Author’s Note, 2014
Thank you to the Afrikan Black Coalition (ABC) for allowing me to write this speech on behalf of the organization. ABC is a coalition of all of the Black Student Unions in the University of California system.
This National Day of Protest was created by the community organization The October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation (http://www.october22.org/). This organization has been working in the community since 1996 protesting police brutality. The 2009 National Day of Protest was the first since the highly publicized murder of Oscar Grant.
This speech marked the beginning of a new era for ABC where they stood in solidarity with community activism. This experience allowed college students to venture out of their comfort zone, beyond books, and into the streets where their studies were cultivated.
This speech grapples with the possibility (or impossibility) of demanding “justice” from an unjust system. While community efforts can be critiqued, the beauty of a mobilized people cannot be denied.
People get uncomfortable when you’re not looking for their approval.
This past weekend I was blessed to hear Janet Mock read from her powerful memoir Redefining Realness.
Thank you for telling your story and giving me the courage to tell my own story.
"A writer will love you. A writer will love you so much so that your name will be permanently forged across their ribcage. They will not forget you, as they write your every kiss as if it changed their world and mended their soul. They will write how your hair looks a hundred times over when you hadn’t even done anything particularly special with it. Just don’t mistake their ironically awkward way with words to mean they are not romantic, or that their silence is anything but tranquility from their busy minds. Writers are romantic. They’re just not good at capturing the words that come so easily when they are writing. A writer will so easily eternalise the sound of your breath but struggle to tell you over dinner how nice you look."
"A sapiosexual is someone who’s attracted to intelligence or the human mind."
My bestie Mai sent me this early bday gift from Ideal Bookshelf, giving me art of the spines from the books that most influenced me. She even placed my own book among these literary giants.
Yes, I am in all my feels.
The most empowering thing I have done for myself has been telling and owning my story. It is why I am a writer, why I consider writer not just something I do, but a part of who I am in this world.
I claim writer because writing has enabled me to hold myself accountable to my truth, and that truth is equally heartbreaking, hilarious and healing. Sitting down with my thoughts in my private spaces of writing creates the refuge where I can face my truth, seek clarity and journey towards myself.
Because I value storytelling, I yearned to create a space where others — especially those who shared space and interacted with my book — could tell their stories, speak truth to power and declare themselves.
I hope I AM #RedefiningRealness becomes one such space, a platform for storysharing, where folks can reflect on their experiences with the themes of my book (authenticity, self-actualization and claiming our stories), and proclaim how they are #RedefiningRealness.
I AM #RedefiningRealness is about owning your truth, your experiences and your identities, and with that in mind, I invite you to share and declare your truth by visiting our submissions page.
I can’t wait to read your stories!
~ Maya Angelou
THERE IS ALSO NOTHING MORE FREEING THAN BEARING THE UNTOLD STORY INSIDE OF YOU.
Take off your hat… Or you can’t have God today.
PLEASE NOTE: This is written from my perspective. This is based off of my lived-experience. It is all simply my opinion :-)
I have always been strongly convicted in my beliefs. As a self-identified Pro-Black Gay Man who aligns himself with marginalized and oppressed groups, I have always been critical of the institutions that cooperate in oppression and the doctrines which they use to justify their oppression.
As a newly “born again” christian I have found myself having to explain to my close friends how and why I am a Christian… and how my beliefs do not conflict with my identity.
As a child, I was “spoon-fed God” from the Baptist church of which my family and I were members. Always very self-aware, I knew that I was gay. I found myself attending church in hopes of being healed of my sinful homosexual thoughts. When listening to sermons I found myself being condemned weekly by my pastor who always managed to fit a demeaning, anti-gay joke in his sermon. I would pray in fear, sadness, and frustration as I begged God to heal me of this sin…. My “relationship” with God centered solely around shame and a struggle to not be gay.
Graduating high school, turning 18, going away to college and living as an “openly gay” black man was a pivotal moment in my life; I distanced myself from God. While I always held the belief that there was a God, I never subscribed to any particular faith nor did I communicate with God.
My journey through college and growing into an adult was met with many challenges. Alone, I struggled with multiple demons that I was too ashamed to family or friends. I felt hopeless and became a pessimist as I always expected the worst.
At the age of 24 I attended church for the first time since the age of 17. The first church service I attended was solely to see a friend of mine dance with her praise team. The service itself was not bad, however I did not feel any connection.
In the beginning of 2013 my friends and I decided to visit Faithful Central Bible Church in LA. It was during that service that I felt something that I had never felt before in church.
The sermon was uplifting and at the same time realistic, it cited the bible and made it relevant to today’s world, and did not scapegoat any one sin. Most importantly, the people were nice. The congregation on Sunday consisted of many people from all different walks of life. Some people were dressed-up, many were dressed down. I could feel that people were there to fellowship with one another and receive an uplifting experience to make it through the week and encourage them to keep building a personal relationship with God. No one was turned away or alienated as the churches goal was to build the kingdom of God.
I began to read and study the Bible for myself. I began to understand that the Christianity, like all religions, had been co-opted and used as a tool for domination. Understanding and learning it for myself I began to understand that the themes of the Bible are:
a. Unconditional Love
I found that the purpose of life was not perfection but instead to communicate with God. I found that role of the church was not to condemn, but to bring people to God (thereby building the kingdom of God). I found that being saved was not being lawful and free of sin, but instead was a confession of belief in God and a continued relationship.
My experience at the church was very positive as I begun my own spiritual journey. Having a relationship with God helped my to beat a sex addiction, stop smoking weed, and quit drinking (these are things that the spirit led ME to do. Everyone’s journey is different). Many of these demons I had tried to beat many times in the past with help of professionals and other accountability groups but had never been successful.
Most importantly, I received peace. Whether the worst happened or the best, my peace endured. I am ready for anything because I know that I am more than this body and this life on earth.
I recently relocated to Atlanta, GA to be closer to my sister. Coming to Atlanta I had the task of continuing on the sober, Christian path that I had begun. My first order of business was to find a church.
Upon my move in January I began “church-hopping.” I visited a different church every Sunday in January hoping to find the one that fit me.
Visiting churches I began to remember why I had such a negative experience in church as a child. No matter what the message of the sermon was, it ended in a reminder: Don’t be gay! It is a sin!
I have come to understand that nearly everything is a sin. All sins are equal. Everyone sins. Everyone is a sinner. It’s about cultivating a personal relationship with God, letting the spirit lead me, and not being led by others interpretation of the Bible. I must understand it for myself.
Which brings me to the title: “Take off your hat… Or you can’t have God today.”
I visited Elizabeth Baptist Church three times since I moved to ATL in January 2014 (it is now 2/23/14). The first time I visited, I knew that this would not be the church for me. The second time I visited, it was with one of my best friends who attends the church.
After the second visit, I knew that I needed to resume actively hunting. Before I knew it, Sunday had come back around and I had not prepared to visit a new church. I really was tempted to stay home and not go, but I’d been feeling myself drifting from God and some old habits were starting to creep back in.
So I decided to go back to EBC because it was convenient and I figured it was better to go to church than to not go at all. I got out of bed, threw on some clothes, covered my fro with a knit hat, and grabbed my bible & notebook. My sister and our friend wanted to come so we all made our way to the afternoon service.
Once we got to the church I was relieved to find that they still had seats on the ground level. When we got to the door of the sanctuary, an usher said “take off your hat.”
Surprised, I responded “I have to take off my hat to go inside?” The usher told me that hats were not allowed. I told him I was not taking off my hat. With that, my sister, our friend, and I walked out of the church.
While I walked out of the church, I felt as if I had just been turned away from a nightclub. The usher, with his cold demeanor, was the bouncer. The bystanders, who said nothing, were the eager club goers who were fortunate to be in dress code and preserve the atmosphere of the club. I did not feel the presence of God in that space at all. It felt as empty and cold as a secular night club on a Saturday night.
This incident reminded me why I distanced myself from Christianity. Often, people pick and choose scriptures from the bible and create there own narrative.
The bible does say that man dishonors his head if he prays with it covered (Corinthians 11:4). It also says that woman dishonors her head if she prays with hers uncovered (Corinthians 11:5); it also tells women to dress modestly and remain quiet and submissive (1 Timothy 2:9-15).
I have no problem respecting the rules of a space, which is why I left. However, the rules should be consistent. If I was turned away for choosing not to take off my hat, all of the women not wearing hats should have also been turned away. The very few women wearing hats (who were let in with no problem) should be allowed to stay.
The bible also teaches that we may “come as we are” when seeking God. The words “come as you are” are not explicitly stated in scripture, but instead it is a collection of scriptures throughout the Bible that teach this. (John 6:37, Luke 5:32, and more)
Being that the mission of the church is to build the kingdom of God, turning people away for how they dress (or ostracizing/alienating them for who they are) seems to be the anti-thesis of a church of God. If a person comes to the church naked without clothes, the churches charge is to lend them a choir robe to wear and welcome them in. Make it possible for people to build a relationship with God and allowing the spirit to lead them. God does not turn away anyone who seeks a relationship.
I am not upset with the ushers or the church’s policy; that is that church and they have a right to their policy. I have a choice to go… or not to go.
However, I realize that when I tell someone I am Christian I am grouped in with this culture of alienation. By saying I am Christian, I am equated with the ushers and bystanders that were okay with watching three people walk out of church.
One can only wonder: How many people have they turned away from the house of God? How many people has the church been okay with watching walk out of their doors?
Everything happens for a reason and God’s will is perfect; with that being said, it is clear to me that God is letting me know that I must be actively look for a church home and not simply go with convenience. I knew on the first visit that the aforementioned church was not for me, but I continued to go because it was at a convenient time and place. A lesson in obedience.
In terms of following up with EBC. I think it is important to let the pastor know what happened, I would like to believe that the leader of this church would not like the idea of turning people away. I will write him a simple letter stating that myself, along with two guests, were turned away because I was wearing a hat.
If that is their policy then that’s fine. I have no plans to go back anyways… I am going to be searching for a church that does everything in their power to bring people to God… and not turn them away.
Cool & Corny Cousins in San Francisco (Part 1)