by Dr. Boyce Watkins
This week, Father Michael Pfleger of the St. Sabina Church in Chicago, issued the statement heard around the world on his Facebook page. Right after a speaking appearance by Professor Cornel West, Pfleger made this announcement:
“Wow, what a great day…Wonderful Worship Service, Dr. Cornel West was challenging and prophetic as always. The Father (Nathaniel Pendelton and God Father Mr. Stewart of Hadiya joined us for service. While we were breaking bread afterwards we get a call that they are arresting the men involved with her Murder and then get a call that the President WILL COME TO CHICAGO FRIDAY TO ADDRESS THE VIOLENCE…God you are so AWESOME….I REALLY BELIEVE THAT THE HAND OF THE MIDNIGHT HOUR WE ARE IN IS GETTING READY TO MOVE TO MORNING!!!!!!”
I nearly fell out of my chair upon reading the father’s words, but like millions of other people, I felt that the appearance was long overdue. The black community has spoken and someone has heard our words. The senseless deaths of so many children in Chicago and in other urban communities around the country call for the president’s attention, and pre-existing racial disparities in the federal response to violence are entirely unacceptable.
The information released by the father, who I spoke with this morning, leads me to the following thoughts:
1) The president and first lady Michelle Obama deserve credit for the move, should it come to fruition. The first lady attended the funeral of Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year old honor student who died less than a mile away from the president’s house. Hadiya’s murder has become a symbol of the horrible violence that psychologically cripples millions of kids before they reach adulthood. Those who are quick to criticize Obama when he does something wrong should give him credit when he does something right. Should he follow through on his commitment, this is a good move by the president and should do volumes for drawing attention and resources toward solving this very serious problem.
2) In politics, the squeaky wheel gets the oil. Too many black people are afraid to squeak. Being quiet does not help Barack Obama have a strong presidency, it creates one that is both weak and unresponsive. Sometimes the bi-racial man raised by white people in Hawaii, quite frankly, needs to be made aware of what inner city black people are most concerned about. This doesn’t mean that Obama’s not “black enough,” but it does admit that the white women who raised Barack might not have schooled him on the African American struggle the way our mothers did when we were babies.
The black community spoke up for Hadiya and the Obama Administration answered. That’s how politics works, and I hope that we will soon realize that asking Obama to work with us is not treasonous, nor is it a waste of the president’s time. As many of his staunch supporters will say (I endorsed him myself), Barack is the president of all Americans, and we are Americans too.
3) The fact that Cornel West was present on the date of the announcement has a powerful irony to it. It means that we need both Barack Obama and individuals like Cornel West to speak truth to power, it is also possible to appreciate them both. Cornel should be applauded for enduring tremendous ostracism for remembering that we should always love our people more than we love any leader. Rather than converting the conversation on poverty, racism, mass incarceration and unemployment into a diatribe on why we think Cornel West is simply a jealous “hater,” it makes more sense to examine the issues that he brings to the table. Even if Cornel West is angry about inauguration tickets (which is a ridiculous and insulting rumor), that doesn’t mean historically high black unemployment and incarceration rates (due to disparate drug sentencing laws) are not serious problems and that our president shouldn’t address them. Focusing on the flaws of Cornel West gives those in power an excuse for not addressing the issues at hand. It’s a simple and effective tactic.
4) There are still some concerns about elitism. Hadiya Pendleton was a good student and a beautiful child who was killed in an area where kids don’t normally die. I believe that this is part of what led Michelle Obama to be able to identify with her, since she was also once a young, beautiful honor student on the south side of Chicago. If Hadiya had been a black male student with bad grades on the “wrong” side of town, the incident probably wouldn’t have evoked as strong of a response.
If Hadiya had instead been a young Boyce Watkins or Barack Obama, the incident would have barely made the back section of the local newspaper, since the media presumes that dead black men were probably doing something wrong. Whenever one of our children dies, all possibility for a bright future dies along with them. Their future contributions to society die, their grandchildren die, and yet another gush of violent and traumatic energy hits a segment of our community. Some of our kids live in war zones that will never be on the radar screen of the black or white elite, and we must give them an opportunity to be safe again.
Father Pfleger keeps a memorial for all of the slain children in his neighborhood right in front of his church. One look at these pictures tells you that we have a crisis on our hands. Every time we put this crisis to the side so as not to disturb our political heroes, we are doing our children a tremendous disservice.
5) Black people who remain convinced that the president is simply too busy to deal with black issues might need to get a boost in their self-esteem. Please note that other groups who didn’t give Obama nearly as much support as African Americans did are demanding his attention, and they aren’t taking “no” for an answer. We might want to get the memo and learn to fight for equal rights. No one is going to give us our equality if we are too weak to demand it.
The bottom line is that we must love ourselves and expect that our taxpayer dollars be utilized to help us as much as they help everyone else. Obama is not too busy to help us, just like he wasn’t too busy to come ask for our votes before the last election. In fact, the president would not have been elected were it not for black support. Also, those who believe that unemployment and violence only exist because African Americans have an inherent laziness and propensity toward killing might need to realize that this is also the rhetoric spewed by some of the worst racists in America. It was not Hadiya’s fault that some black people have chosen to harm those around them, and most black people aren’t violent.
Yes, some black people kill one another far too much, but white people kill each other too. Also, guns aren’t made in black communities, so those who want to place the blame for all of this on us need to elevate their thinking. Unfortunately, many of the enemies of African American progress are also black, whether it’s an evil man with a gun or an elitist who thinks that poor black people are worthless. All of these forces of oppression must be stopped in their tracks.
Our children DO NOT deserve to die.