Tag Archives: BlackLivesMatter

“Out Here Doin Good” by Renaissance

 

I am a Black Liberationist, a Prison Abolitionist, and an Intersectional Organizer working for justice for all People. By justice I mean that which provides for the flourishing of all human beings.

This means I am fighting to bring an end to Patriarchy, Sexual and Gender Violence. This means that I work to end Deportations of People especially, when those deportations of people violate Human Rights and Peoples Rights, and when the motivation for migrating in the first place is a direct result of U.S. Imperialism. This means that I am fighting to bring an end to Climate Change, and to bring about Climate Justice because those who are most impacted the anthropogenic climate change are also the victims of Colonialism and Imperialism; People of Color globally. Furthermore, 68% of African descendants in the United States live within the danger zone of a coal fire power plant. Women and children are the most vulnerable and the most impacted by the effects of climate change. This means that I work for equal and fair access to equitable education at all levels and also, to bring about an end to the School-to-Prison Pipeline. I work to bring an end to Police Brutality, who are for all intents and purpose for our Communities, nothing more than the strong-arm of a repressive regime founded upon oppression. I am fighting to bring an end to the System of Mass Incarceration which, is merely the extension of the System of Enslavement in a new form. And the list goes on because there is no shortage of injustice in our world.

Please make a pledge to support my work:
https://www.patreon.com/renaissancethepoet

For us as a People to achieve our Collective Liberation, we must first work through the indoctrination of subordination that has been force fed to us. Thus, I work to implement a Radical Pedagogy with Decolonization at its core. This is sometimes through discussions, sometimes through book studies, and other times through Hip Hop Workshops. In all cases, what I am working with our People to bring about is a critical analysis of ourselves, and the system of systems we struggle within.

Hip Hop Workshop banner

I am a formerly incarcerated individual who grew up in gangs and on drugs. I am now over 16 years sober. When I turned 18 years old I had a 0.0 GPA in high school and no prospects for any sort of life with four felonies. However, recently at 34 years old I graduated from the University of Washington double-majoring in History and Philosophy. My focuses were on the rise and fall of civilizations, social movements, justice, ethics, and jurisprudence (philosophy of law). I am also a veteran Hip-Hop and Spoken Word artist, and I use my skills as a means to instruct and foster dialogue.

Today, I am merely a servant of the people doing what I can, when I can, where I can. The most important part of the work I do is accountability to our community because without it, then I am merely recreating the very same systems of oppression I assert that I am working to overcome.

This work is, in my opinion, some of the most important work that needs to be done. In turn, it is also some of the least paid work. So, I rely on our community to provide the things that I need and to help me to maintain the programs and campaigns that I am working on for our People.

http://azjusticethatworks.org/
https://www.facebook.com/azjusticethatworks/
https://www.facebook.com/noforprofitjails/

https://renaissancethepoet.wordpress.com/2017/06/20/hip-hop-workshop/

 

Please, make a pledge. It does not need to break your bank, not if those who can share the load. Many hands makes light the load. $5 here, $1 there, goes a long way in between the $20 or $50 gifts.

https://www.patreon.com/renaissancethepoet

 

Agree with the Message, but not with the Methods

I keep hearing over and over that people agree with the issues we are protesting, but that they disagree with our methods of protest. To me, and to anybody else who knows the history of Civil Rights and Black Power in the United States will recognize this as something right out of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail (1963). While sitting in jail in Birmingham, Alabama after being arrested for yet another peaceful demonstration during Project C (for confrontation), King wrote a letter in response to many of the white clergy who chastised King for the methods the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) were employing. It is interesting that these clergy members chose to chastise King and SCLC, instead of Bull Conner and his police department for unleashing firehoses and attack dogs upon peaceful protestors; or for the segregation and discrimination that was rampant in the Birmingham at the time. The clergy were not writing to chastise the federal government and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for sitting idly by and watching Freedom Rider buses be bombed and the Freedom Riders beaten within inches of death. No, they chastised the oppressed for challenging their oppression in one of the only manners left for them to do so. These people that I am hearing agree with our message, but disagree with our methods sound and feel to me as being no different than the white clergy that King was responding to.

When I receive messages like this what it reveals to me is that people are telling me that the suffering our people are forced to undergo can be withstood longer, while we proceed through the acceptable and respectable channels. It’s like they are communicating; “I know you people are suffering and that many of you are being killed unjustly, forced into slavery via the New Jim Crow, that intimidation and coercion are common tactics used by the establishment to maintain the status quo and to keep you and your people subjugated and relegated into positions of inferiority, and humiliation. But, you have not right to do what you are doing to compel this unjust and unfair system to change.” These statements are made as if we have not been to the Board of Regents of the University of Washington, as if we had not been to the Seattle City Council, to the King County Metropolitan Council, to the legislature in Olympia, Washington to lobby and petition for amendments to our policies and practices. We have been to them all, and I have been to each one personally, and so have many of the people I work with. When you go to one of these places, you only get two minutes, if that, to speak and to present your case and most often, the people you speak till will never respond to a single word you have said. Now if the issue was about the height of a curb, or putting a bench in a park—things that you are very likely to hear during public comment—then that is the place and the forum for it. However, when we are talking about institutional discrimination, the political assassinations of our people being executed by the police, the school-to-prison pipeline, or any other institutional or systemic issue those two minute time slots are merely not enough.

Once, when we went to the King County Metropolitan Council to testify in behalf of King County not building the new juvenile detention center, a black man who had more to say than two minutes worth, was rushed by the police and taken into custody; he was arrested. A black man spoke just too much, shared just a bit too much truth, and they took him down. This is what happens when we follow the prescriptions of the acceptable and respectable channels. The King County Metropolitan Council voted unanimously to build the new juvenile and our youth are continuing to suffer through the school-to-prison pipeline. Nobody who makes the statements that we agree with your message, but disagree with your methods is or has written to King County to protest that behavior or the building of the new youth jail, but they will chastise us in a heartbeat for occupying an intersection, or taking over a meeting to make sure that our testimonies are heard.

While marching through Suzzallo Library at the University of Washington during the Decolonize UW Walkout, a woman came right up to me to chastise me about our interrupting their study time to tell me that she agrees with our message, but that she disagreed with our methods. Granted, studying for mid-terms is important, there is no doubt about that. However, the people who were in the library studying only had their studying interrupted for but a few minutes. While the prison industrial complex is responsible for destroying generations of families, and the police brutality that goes hand-in-hand with it destroys our neighborhoods, and both rob us of our brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers. When death is the result, often we never get to see them again, “justified” by the establishment or not. The systems and the structures we were protesting and that we will continue to protest until we have eliminated the problems are constant interruptions in our lives and the lives of our loved ones. So, breaking someone’s concentration, or interrupting someone’s commute to or from work long enough for people to pay attention to what is really going on, given what they propose an acceptable and respectable channel of active opposition is to the establishment, and the results of those actions, the interruption is completely justified. As a matter of fact, they should be happy that we have pulled them away from the broken education they are receiving, or interrupting their continuing complicity in the structure of oppression and subjugation.

What is worse is when these statements come across with the intent of suggesting that we have no right to protest, that we have no weight behind our complaints and grievances, and that we should be happy with the state of affairs as they now stand. What that is suggesting is that we should be thanking our oppressors for having their knives only half in our backs, paralyzing us, and not all the way in and killing us. Let the government steal their children and force them into slavery; let the government start denying their children access to higher education; let the police start executing their children in the streets and see how fast they take to the streets and shutting down the status quo. They chastise us from the moral standpoint of a double standard without fully divulging the entire story, and argue against our position and methods as if we were wrong and bad. These are half-truths and contradictions, and most of the people who spew them are hypocrites who merely enjoy the privileges their position in this society grants their status.

Until it becomes clear the premises and precepts that underlie these statements and these people’s frustrations we will continue to be at odds. They simply do not understand that the same methods that are open to them to address their grievances and harms, are not open to us. They simply do not understand, that the issues we are contending with require and obligate much more than the acceptable and respectable channels permit.

Returning to Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who is often misquoted and misrepresented to us today as a foil for what a “good negro” should be in today’s society, it was King who after the Watts Rebellion in 1965 said that “I will not let my oppressor dictate my methods.” These people can sit on their high horses, and armchair moralize about what they think is appropriate or not all day long, and they can get upset that their days have been interrupted, but that will not change that we are doing what we must because there are very few practical and reasonable options left to us to select from. Instead of chastising us for being compelled to resort to the methods we have, they should be chastising the systems, and the structures, the administrations, and the governmental officials for creating and sustaining the unjust, inequitable, and subjugating conditions that have forced us to employ these methods. Perhaps if they did, then our struggle would be over much, much sooner and they could get back to the comfort and ease they so seem to love and our people can have some of that too.

Prison Divestment

A public institution that only has about 3% Black folx as undergraduate students also has investments in prisons, while the school to prison pipeline is syphoning P.O.C. and Black children into incarceration by the thousands each year. There is a major inconsistency here. The University of Washington claims to have a Racial and Equity Initiative and, to be open and accessible to everyone and yet it is profiting and benefitting from the same system that permitted and promoted the executions of:

#MichaelBrown #TrevonMartin #EricGarner #RekiaBoyd #FreddyGrey #SandraBland #CheTaylor #JohnTWilliams #EmmittTill #MalcomX #MLK #FredHampton

What they tell us is that they do not know if it is financially responsible for them to divest from prisons and what we are telling them is that financial responsibility does not matter in this case; social responsibility does.

Stand with us! SIGN THIS PETITION! Get involved. Do something. And don’t just let the world and I justice continue unchecked either because you think you cannot make a difference or because you do not think it concerns you. It does concern you and you can make a diffetence. You are a fully rational human being with the agency to help shape the world around you.

I am counting on you. We all are.

#PrisonDivestment

#BlackLivesMatter

Petition:

https://www.change.org/p/university-of-washington-divest-uw-s-endowment-from-prisons-and-reinvest-in-survivors-of-incarceration?recruiter=52405116&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=share_facebook_responsive&utm_term=mob-xs-share_petition-custom_msg&fb_ref=Default

Song About the Prison Industrial Complex (History

Are they Rights or Protections that We must Fight for Continuously?

What is it that defines what a Right is? What are the factors that constitute a Right? A Right is usually thought of something that is inalienable, which means it is something that a human being cannot be parted. If a Right is something that a human being cannot be parted with, then that also means it is something that they are guaranteed merely by the fact that they are born; that is, they inherently possess this Right for the sake of being a human being.  That is what is generally thought to constitute a Right namely, that we are guaranteed it by birth, that we cannot be parted with it, and possess it inherently as a human being. This is so, regardless of whether it is a Human Right, a Civil Right, or a Property Right.

 

However, as history and experience will abundantly confirm the only thing that is guaranteed to any human being merely by the fact that they have been born is that at some point they will die; i.e., they will cease to live. It cannot be said that a person has a Right to live, if by Right, what is meant is that they cannot be parted from living, and yet we see clearly that our people are deprived of life all the time.  Not that they are to be forgotten or are not worth mentioning, but rather, to be practical because the list of those who have had their lives stolen is far too long, I will name a few to focus attention on a much broader and problematic pattern of disregard for life.

 

Sandra Bland. Tamir Rice. Rekia Boyd. Eric Garner. Sarah Lee Circle Bear. Michael Brown. Hamza Warsame. Reverend Clementa Pinkney. Cynthia Hurd. Reverend Sharonda Coleman-Singleton. Tywanza Sanders. Ethel Lance. Susie Jackson. Depayne Middleton Doctor. Reverend Daniel Simmons. Myra Thompson.  John T. Williams.

 

State sanctioned and vigilante violence claims the lives of far too many people each year in the United States for Life to actually constitute a Right; that is, something which a human being cannot be alienated. Liberty, or the freedom to choose and to act as one chooses is likewise also not something which a human being cannot be alienated. Any jail or prison will set that notion straight in a hot second. Most people do not know that jurisprudence grants Rights such as the right to privacy, which includes the entitlement to own your own body (owned body), on the basis of our bodies being equated to property. So then Property Rights are out, too.

 

As you read this I am sure that many of you are thinking I have lost my mind and even perhaps that I should be silenced because I have given voice to one of the most horrendous contradictions of our society, and one that questions much of what most of us believe to be true; that there are factors of our existences which should be protected and sanctified.  And in that I agree with you. There are factors in our lives which must and shall be protected.

 

Most of the things that are labeled Rights are in fact, factors that are encountered in enough people’s lives and that are so necessary and vital to achieving and maintaining a particular quality of life that people have joined together and decided to protect those factors. These protections will be different in different places and among different people because the needs and the particular quality of life that any specific group wishes to achieve and sustain, and the complications of achieving such will ultimately be different. That is not to suggest that we as a civilization of many cultures, religions, and groups do not agree on specific factors that should be protected, that are universal among all human beings. For example, it is agreed that regardless of whatever a person’s religion is that they cannot practice their religion if they are not alive to practice it. The same holds for conducting business (trade among people) or marrying (forming a union with) the person (or people) you love.  Thus, it is agreed universally—and by universally I do not mean by every individual, but rather for every human being on the planet—that life is a factor which must be protected in order to achieve a particular quality of life that is valued in most cultures. This is what is thought to be a Human Right, but in reality, they are factors of being human that are supposed to be protected by our collective efforts to achieve a particular quality of life.

 

These protections are not granted to us merely by our being born and that makes them not Rights, but rather protections that we have to fight to secure and maintain for our people. We claim protections through demands. It is agreed that protections are instituted by collective agreements among the people. That is the essence of democracy, the cornerstone of the U.S. Congress, and the basis of the United Nations. However, they have become tainted, diluted, and polluted with corruption and malice as the agents and officers charged with guarding those protections and the process of establishing them, have supplanted the objectives for personal gain. The supposed guardians of our agreed upon protections have become the very thing we need protection from.  Yet, although the institutions (human creations) have been corrupted that has not changed the fact that people are coming together to determine which factors of our lives must and shall be protected. And when the people are not permitted or heard in those corrupt institutions that is when protests, rebellions, and revolutions erupt.

 

People across the United States have been protesting and rebelling against the state sanctioned and vigilante violence declaring that our lives should be protected under the banner of “BlackLivesMatter.” The opposition to Black Lives Matter, usually under the banner of “All Lives Matter,” resolves into a denial that the lives of people of color should be protected from the arbitrary abuses of law enforcement and the impunity they are granted by the law to execute people of color.  By stating “All Lives Matter,” what is being asserted is that the protections “Black Lives Matter” is seeking to achieve are already guaranteed to all people equally, but the facts reveal that assertion to be false.

 

The second problem is that many people in the United States may actually agree with the messages and the objectives of the movement, but disagree with the methods of the people seeking protections from harm. For example, a method that many opponents disagree with is when activists interrupt the status quo of business operations within a capitalist economic system dependent upon the exploitation of vulnerable human beings. And the Christmas shopping season in the United States is the quintessential epitome of capitalist over-consumption. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dealt with this phenomenon from white clergy members during Project Confrontation in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 and Black Lives Matter activists are dealing with this right now in Bloomington, Minnesota at the Mall of America while protesting the execution of Jamar Clark. The people in America tend to value participation in the decision making process, which is the essence of democracy, and also tend to believe that what the United States practices is democracy. However, that cannot be the case when there are over twelve million people who are disenfranchised, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been diminished in twenty-two states, and when people attempt to exercise their First Amendment ‘Rights’ we are being beaten, arrested, shot, and murdered. Nothing more exemplifies the corruption of the supposed ‘guardians’ of our protections than how Civil Rights and Black Lives Matter activist have been treated.

 

The executions of people of color by police officers are directly linked to capitalism via the Prison Industrial Complex and the Military Industrial Complex, which have all been written about extensively. All three of these systems ubiquitously deny and revoke the protections that people worldwide have fought for and believe should still be in effect. However, because they are not Rights, guaranteed to use merely by the fact that we were born and that they are in fact protections that we must continue to fight for is what we are doing, and that which we are all responsible for doing as members of our global community.

A Prisoner on the Streets of America

I am a true renaissance man and I have experienced so many forms of life and held so many positions or roles that it is difficult to narrow my thinking down to one foundational experience that has shaped and influenced my life. I died in a car accident when I was seven years old and the outcomes of being brought back to life and my faculties resulted in every person who was close to me expressing that I had a great role to fulfill on Earth.

I grew up in rough, alcoholic, and often violent home when I was younger and this heavily shaped my perception of poverty, addiction, relationships and vulnerability. My parents split when my mother had to flee from my father after he threatened to kill all of us before killing himself. That morning was the last time I ever saw my father and that definitely had a major influence on my life. The only place my family could flee to were areas in Oregon where my brother and I were the only black students in the schools. This was at a time that Oregon still had a prohibition in its State Constitution stating that Oregon was to be a white utopia and that black people were not permitted to settle within the limits of the state. Those experiences definitely shaped my perception of the world and my life. When we finally escaped the racist treatment of the people in Oregon, we moved to the Central District in Seattle where my brother and I, being tri-racial and coming directly from an all-white area lacked much of the social capital needed to be accepted by the black community in Seattle and found ourselves ostracized as outsiders. Those experiences also shaped my perception and influenced my life.

Shortly thereafter, I found myself indoctrinated into gang-life, criminal activity, and drugs. As a result of my behaviors, I spent a lot of time incarcerated and even went to juvenile prison for an extended period of time. It was there that I began to write poetry, which later in my life would lead me to being a spoken word and hip hop artist and being named Renaissance the Poet. After I was released from their prison, I was not able to shake the gang or the drugs, but the poetry stuck with me. On my eighteenth birthday I was given a drug called ecstasy, and under its influence was when I had my first experience with god. That experience caused me to leave the gang and the drugs alone and before I knew it, I had walked across the country from Washington to Massachusetts where I joined and became a priest in a cult.

I stayed with them for the better part of a year before I was able to escape from the mental imprisonment and the only method I knew to shut out the demons swirling in my head was to use drugs and alcohol to silence them. However, when I found myself back in Seattle I was ensnared by the chains of addiction once again and when the excitement of my return wore off, all of my family and friend severed their ties with me. I was left homeless, without prospects, and alone. Worst of all, the drugs were no longer working to silence the demons swirling in my head and a deep depression set in. After giving up everything I thought I was supposed to give up for god I felt truly alone because to me at the time that not even god could save me from myself.

Without anything else holding me to the planet or the people on it, I decided to take my own life by jumping off the Aurora Bridge. However, while I was walking to the bridge from Lake City, a lesson I head while I was in prison came back to me. There was an O.G. Vice Lord from Chicago that came to visit us and he told us that strangely, he discovered that he felt more free when locked-up, and more of a prisoner when he was on the streets. At the time I heard him say that, I thought he was out of his mind, but as I became a victim of the streets and was on my way to end my life I finally understood what he meant so many years earlier. Aside from having my liberty taken from me, the single other largest factor to the peace I felt while I was in prison was that I was not using drugs. So, while I was on my way to the bridge I decided to call the emergency services and with the direction they gave me while they treated me overnight in a few short weeks I was able to find my way into a chemical abuse treatment facility, which changed my life forever. I have been sober ever since and I have never felt as hopeless as I did that night I walked to the bridge to end my suffering.

Getting sober did not solve all the problems I had in my life, but it did provide me with the tools to access a level of peace necessary to confront those problems. I had four felonies and several misdemeanors on my criminal record. Furthermore, I had failed high school and at the current standing when I left, I was a 0.0 GPA student. I had no place to call home, no friends, and my family wanted nothing to do with me. I was able to gain access to a half-way house for people in transition from institutions and shortly after I began living there I woke up to the news of 9/11. I did not know it when I moved in, but the house was run by a Mormon church, and while there is nothing wrong with helping the community, I had a hard time coping because of my experience with the cult I was in; there were too many similarities. Then given the factors of my history that were barring me from both employment and education, I decided to go to a Job Corps facility.

If there was any experience in my life that I believe really set the stage for the man I was to become, then it was my experience at Tongue Point Job Corps Center in Astoria Oregon because it was there that I learned that I as an individual could have a positive impact in the lives of the people around me. Job Corps used to provide a bi-weekly allowance for the students that lived on campus, but that stipend was very limited. However, students could get a job to subsidize the funds they were lacking and I was encouraged to become part of the student government. I did and within a few months I had worked my way up the being the student body president of the facility. Aside from providing for the extracurricular activities for my fellow students we also challenged microagressions and negative stereotypes, although, at the time I did not know that is what we were doing. We challenged the center’s policy on sagging pants and how it related to the administration’s and staff’s perceptions of black youth who sagged their pants. I sagged my pants at the time and I was the president. More important, it was the issue that the students wanted me to bring up and fight for them.

While at the job corps facility I earned my G.E.D., my high school diploma, and printing apprentice certificate, and even started college. My goal for attending college was to go into law school, become a lawyer, then enter into politics and eventually become the president. It was a mixture between my experience at Job Corps being the president and a class I had in when Mr. Mollette my high school history teacher that told me that any American citizen could become president, one of the days that I passed through his class. I dropped out of school a few quarters after beginning and returned to Seattle thinking that I would get into college, but that was much easier said than done. My criminal record from when I was a juvenile still haunted me and I was barred from employment in most establishments.

I gave up on the idea of ever being able to afford college and found myself working in a used retail store for about a year when I began my journey into construction work. A man I met started hiring me on weekends to do odds and ends for him and paid me well. Then he brought me on as his first full time employee and decided that I would become his apprentice and eventually buy him out and take over the company. Within a few years I had become a professional heavy equipment operator, pipe-layer, estimator, and project manage and then I became a partner in the developing construction company negotiating contracts with Mid Mountain Contractors, Turner Construction, King County, and the City of Seattle.

During this time with the construction company I also started, hosted and ran the Cornerstone Open Mic & Artist Showcase, a hip hop and spoken word open mic that happen monthly at the Fair Gallery and Café on Capital Hill in Seattle, with my best friend and adopted brother Marcus Hoy. Mark Hoy and Sean Stuart are the people who named me Renaissance the Poet, because of the rollercoaster life I had lived prior to meeting them and the skill I had with poetry. The Cornerstone, as it became known, was a hub for revolutionary minded poets and artists from around the Puget Sound area where we discussed and challenged some of the most disparaging issues confronting our generation, such as, patriarchy, sexism, racism, and state control of citizens. Some of us may have been revolutionaries and activists at the time, but for the most part we were simply artists learning how to exercise our minds and our voices while we were learning how to exist and survive in the world we were all born into. In the more than five years that we hosted the Cornerstone, there was not one fight, and this was nearly unheard of for any hip hop venue anywhere at the time. Many relationships were forged there and the underground cultural element of resistance and justice was kept alive and fostered.

In 2010, our company won the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business “Minority Business of the Year” award. However, I always felt that I had missed my true calling to fulfill a great role on earth and thought that becoming a lawyer was the method I was supposed to take to achieve that role. In 2008, the economy spun on its head and we went into a dire recession that put a lot of pressure on our company. In 2011, a couple years after I had destroyed my knee mentoring some youth with the organization called TSB, the Service Board, battling to keep our business afloat and continuing to damage my knee, I realized that construction was never a trade I wanted to be in and decided to do whatever it took to go to college. So, I left R.J. Richards CE LLC and enrolled in North Seattle Community College (NSCC).

Somehow and somewhere along the line I had gotten this plan for my life and what I was supposed to do with it embedded into my head. I am going to write a new socioeconomic system for the entire planet that is environmentally sound, socially just, and equitable for all; and I am going to see it implemented before the day I die. I began studying history, philosophy, economics, sociology, psychology, biology and mathematics and my understanding of the world exploded my perceptions of humanity and the insurmountable character of my goal. That is when I became involved with another student government and I was brought in as the Student Fee Board Coordinator, which was the treasurer for the college. To do that job I had to study the Washington State laws associated with public monies and student fees, and to study ethics because I had to select and train a board and we were going to have to make tough ethical decision. Before that I knew being part of the government enabled me to have a lot positive influence in the lives of marginalized people from my experience at Job Corps. However, I never fully grasped how much power the United States Congress has on the lives of every citizen in the United States until I was given a smaller, yet similar role. People can design all the best programs in the world, but if they do not have the funds to get them started and to maintain them, then they may often never be able to achieve the goals of their programs.

At this time OCCUPY was challenging the corporate structure and control of people’s lives worldwide after the economic collapse in 2008. Like Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote about the white clergy who questioned the movement while he was in the Birmingham jail during Project Confrontation, I agreed with their aims, but I disagreed with their methods. I disagreed with the mostly because I did not comprehend how they could be successful. It was a leaderless movement with demands that ran the spectrum. At the time it seemed to me that the movement lacked the necessary cohesion to achieve its aims. It was not that I disagreed with any of the demands. To the contrary, I believed that all of the things people were asking for should be achieved. My issue at the time was that I thought they could achieve more of their demands if they focused on them one or few at a time. I did not get involved with the movement because I did not understand it.

In 2013 I graduated from NSCC and had been accepted to the University of Washington (UW). When I first started at NSCC I thought that I would enter into the Law, Societies, and Justice program at UW, but by the time I entered the university I had settled on double-majoring in history and philosophy. I was still intent on progressing onto law school. I thought getting a good background in reading and research, with training in analysis, which the discipline of history would provide me with would be helpful in this regard. I thought having a strong understanding of morality and ethics, and the philosophical frameworks they are grounded in, plus developing my argumentative skills, which the discipline of philosophy would provide would further prepare me for law school and the work ahead of me. My ethical training began with a look at global justice, which confronted issues such as poverty, hunger, gendered vulnerability, social contracts, state legitimacy, climate change, immigration and feudal privilege, and many forms of oppression. It was these arguments about justice, which is to provide for that which promotes most the flourishing of all human beings, not the interpretation of it as punishment common in the United States that exposed me to the concepts of obligation and responsibility. History provided me with a lens into why these conditions exist and what factors led them to come into being. The courses at UW changed the way I envision my role in the world and I began to feel an immediate responsibility and obligation to use the knowledge and wisdom I had to benefit people.

During the summer of 2013, Sarra Tekola, my partner in life, brought me to my very first protest. We traveled down to the Columbia River on the border of Washington and Oregon States to participate in the Portland Rising Tide opposition to the coal and oil that were being shipped from the west coast to China. At the time, Sarra was an Environmental Science major at UW and part of the Divest University of Washington coalition and she schooled me on how important the issue of climate change was to our survival as a species. She also hipped me to the fact that people of color worldwide are the not only the first impacted by the effects of climate change, but are also the most impacted by it as well. She informed me that the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of the best and brightest scientists on the planet determined that if we as a civilization burn enough carbon to increase the temperature of the planet by two degrees Celsius cumulatively, we will enter into a negative feedback loop of destruction that we will not be able to recover from. Desertification will destroy once plush and arid farm lands, like what had happened to her father’s people in Ethiopia. Melting polar ice caps will submerge places like the Philippines displacing millions, many of whom will die in the process. So, it was important to protest the extraction and transportation of carbon producing materials for everyone on the planet, but especially for people of color because people of color have nest to no power in the decision making circles like the U.S. Congress and the United Nations. It was scary and every moment I thought I was going to be arrested. Canoes spread across the river to block any ships and people spanned the bridge above holding signs, while a group rappelled off the bridge to display a huge banner. We did not stop the extraction or transportation of fossil fuel materials that day, but it felt good making a stand with like-minded people for the sake of justice.

The summer of 2014 I went to Greece with the Jackson School of International Studies (JSIS) of UW to conduct research on immigration. I thought my time in Greece would help me to work on the issues surrounding immigration in the United States. Greece had been suffering from a major recession for several years and was also experiencing a major influx of people from the Middle East and the African continent. Most of the migrants were fleeing from deplorable situations and most did not intend for Greece to be their final destination, many wanted to continue onto other European Union (EU) nations. Greece was the entry point by both water and land into the EU for many migrants. However, the EU had tightened its policy on migrants and because of the Dublin II Regulation, the EU was returning any migrant discovered in any country to the country they entered into the EU at to process their applications of asylum. In addition to the recession, and the lack of financial assistance from the EU for both the residents of the country and the new influx of immigrants, there was also a nationalist and xenophobic organization oppressing the immigrants named Golden Dawn. Golden Dawn was a two-winged organization like the Dixiecrats of the South because they had nineteen percent of the parliamentary seats in Greece, in coordination with an organization like the Ku Klux Klan because they had a grassroots physically repressive regime harming immigrants. Immigration could be studied in any country in the world, but the particular set of conditions in Greece enabled us to observe the systematic denial of almost every singly right it is commonly agreed that people inherently possess simply for the sake of being human.

My second night in Greece at the American College of Greece dorm that UW has a satellite facility, I was taking a smoke break in the smoking section when for officers on two motor cycles turned the corner and immediately jumped off their bikes and pointed assault rifles at me simply because I am a black man. This may seem like a strange assertion until you have been to Athens, Greece and become acquainted with the reality that millions of people smoke and because of the smoldering heat that many people are out on the streets at night. There was nothing about me or what I was doing that was out of place except for the color of my skin. Luckily, I had my passport on me at that particular moment and I was saved from being hauled off into one of their immigration prisons. Their whole attitude toward me shifted as soon as they discovered I was an American, but until that moment I felt as though they regarded me as less than the mud on their boots would have shot me just to get a laugh. It was not until I hung out with an enterprising group of migrants from all over Africa in Monostraki Square—an electric flee market—and spending time with a parliamentary member that I learned Greece was a police state, and that the police had the authority to act independently of the government. I heard stories of how the police would select a street that migrants were known to frequent, then would block the exits, beat all the people of color and then imprison them. I spent most of my time in Greece terrified for my life from both the police and Golden Dawn because I did not have the social networks or rights that I had back in the United States. However, two nights before we left Greece I received word about the execution of Michal Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by officer Daren Wilson and I knew there was no escape from state sanctioned or permitted violence.

The O.G. Vice Lord’s words came back to me and kept playing over and over in my head about how we are prisoners on the streets. Being a black man in America I exist as W.E.B. Du Bois mentions, with a “double-consciousness,” constantly viewing myself from two lenses; I experience myself as a man, and I am also always conscious of my status as a “black” man as viewed by white Americans. People of color in the United States suffer from dire economic sanctions which impose poverty upon us with a capitalistic system and an ideological framework of individualism. The system of oppression is held in place through red lining, the regressive tax system, voter disenfranchisement, poor education, and limited access to capital. Until I began researching the School-to-Prison Pipeline (STPP), I did not understand why many of the people I grew up with ended up in prison or dead, or locked in the revolving trap of poverty. I did not understand or even know about the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) or how it was linked to the Military Industrial Complex (MIC).  I had learned, like most people are taught that Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution ended slavery. However, what they do not teach is that slavery was abolished “except” in the case that a person is convicted of a crime. From that debt peonage and convict leasing emerged and over time prison slavery became a huge industry in the United States to the point that now America which has five percent of the world’s population also warehouses twenty-five percent of the world’s prison population. The largest consumer of prison labor in the United States is the U.S. Department of Defense, a.k.a., the MIC.  But prisoners also fabricate furniture and produce paint and clothing for many companies. Prison labor subsidizes many industries that otherwise would be too expensive to conduct in the United States, industries that create products other countries would have a comparative advantage producing. Prisons are an oasis for profit that is garnered from the exploitation of millions and that also disproportionately disparages communities of color.

Applying the aforementioned information about the PIC to the statistics about the rates of suspension, expulsion, and incarceration of the youth of color in the U.S. the School-to-Prison Pipeline began to make a lot more sense. Black children and children of people of color are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled from school. From the ninth grade on, one suspension or expulsion makes them fifty percent more likely to be incarcerated. After these children are incarcerated they become seventy-five percent more likely to enter the adult penitentiary system with prison slave labor, and over eighty-five percent likely to remain trapped in recidivism for the rest of their lives, in addition to their being disenfranchised from their first incarceration in accordance with the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of all these factors is a phenomenon known as Institutional Racism/Discrimination that permeates America’s society and institutions. The police and prosecuting attorneys have been granted arbitrary discretionary power and legal protections to act with impunity in its dealing with citizens. So, in toto, the U.S. Department of Justice with all its subsidiary prisons and law enforcement agencies when stripped of its colorful and well-sounding appeals to justice and order dissolves to a system of oppression, suppression, and exploitation.  With this understanding of the ‘criminal justice’ system in the United States, the fact that most of the people I grew up with wound up in the negative feedback loop of poverty and exploitation, or how and why Michael Brown’s executioner was able to commit the atrocity with impunity were no longer mysterious to me. We, being people of color, whom at any time can have our very lives stripped from us because the laws of this country deny that we have a right to life, are prisoners on the streets of America.

Therefore, when I returned from Greece and Black Lives Matter, which was started by Alicia Garza after the assassination of Trevon Martin in 2012, decided to organize and protest the abuses of law enforcement and for justice in the Michael Brown execution, given my sense of responsibility and obligation to use the knowledge and wisdom I had to the benefit people of my community, I joined the movement for Black Liberation. My participation in the movement has taken many forms over the last year reaching from protests, to arrests, to testifying at Seattle City Hall and King County Metropolitan Council chambers, to giving a speech to Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee. All the while I was still a student at UW continuing to learn about the system we live in and the factors that helped to created it. My academic pursuits definitely suffered when I became involved in the movement because my time became divided, but that does not mean I have not continued to be successful. I highly doubt that I will be selected as the valedictorian as I was when I graduated from NSCC, but I nonetheless, have managed to maintain a very strong GPA given all of my community activity. However, that has no longer been my primary objective. I have used my education to learn what happened during previous social movements and struggles and I now understand the importance of a leaderless movement and demands that are specific to the regions they are made. I have learned precisely what I did not understand about the OCCUPY movement. There are some similar macro-problems, such as racism and institutional discrimination that people of color suffer everywhere, but those problems are expressed differently in different places. Furthermore, there is a history of the U.S. Department of Justice, through programs like COINTELPRO under the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that systematically destroyed activists and Civil Rights organizations in the 1960s and 70s.

I have lived one incredible, rollercoaster of a life that has made me a jack of all trades, and a true renaissance man. At no time have I ever known where one event would lead me. And looking back it is very difficult to pinpoint any one specific event that shaped me into the man that I am or the man I am becoming. Taken out of context, none of the major shifts or events in my life will tell anyone very much about me, who I am, or why I do the things I do. But the words of the O.G. Vice Lord from Chicago that I met while locked up have been with me since then. There is something very wrong with feeling like and being a prisoner on our own streets. A place where one might think epitomized the essence freedom. That contradiction of beliefs filled my soul with dissonance and it reverberated through all of my life-experiences until it shook loose the warrior in me. Renaissance means to revitalize, or to bring new life. The system we live in has become a runaway train that no one seems to know how to stop or get off of, and what we need is to breathe new life into our civilization. We need a new system of values and an expanded conception of “we” that signifies, represents, and displays through action that we and our planet are all connected and intersecting components of our world organism. Each and every one is vital. No one is expendable. We all have our roles to fulfill on Earth. We are all responsible.

In the Struggle for Justice

I think that we are at a pivotal movement in history when some very profound changes have the opportunity to be brought about and for this to occur we are going to need unilateral participation from people across the spectrum of our society. Many of us in the Black Lives Matter struggle have felt shunned, ostracized and denounced by many who can be counted among the clergy or the “old guard.” One of the reasons for this is because of a natural age gap and difference in perception that in every struggle I have studied always seems to play a major part. It brings up the thought of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” wherein he mentions the moderate whites of his time and how they agreed with the aim and the goals of the movement, but disagreed with the methods; suggesting that they wait for a more opportune time. For the most part, many of the demonstrations across the country have been peaceful demonstrations of people exercising their First Amendment Rights; the Right to peaceably assemble and to petition the government for grievances rendered. There have been a few outbreaks of violence which have cleverly in the media been labeled “riots,” but they seem to me much more like rebellions which are a natural response of a silenced people to an oppressive situation. For most people, open rebellion is one of the last resorts, which only even becomes plausible after which point many other avenues have failed to materialize any substantive changes in the conditions under which the people live. Again, an exercise of their First Amendment Rights, and in line with the Declaration of Independence:

 

“WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalianable Rights, that among them are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of HappinessThat to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

 

This statement should be amended to state; “all Humans are created equal,” and “Governments are instituted among Humans,” so as to limit its marginalizing and disenfranchising impacts.

 

 

What we need is for the leaders and individuals in our community, especially those who are at the heads of institutions, such as, but not limited to churches, universities, and corporations to make public statements denouncing the deplorable and dehumanizing treatment from the United States Government and its subsidiary institutions such as the Department of Justice; the Law Enforcement Agencies in every city and state; and the Prison Industrial Complex with its corporate structure and profit-driven slave labor model that undermines the expressed intent of penitentiaries: penitence and rehabilitation. Penitence is to feel sorrow for one’s actions and rehabilitation is to prepare someone for reentry into society as a functioning member of that society. However, the system is designed to be a revolving door so as to maintain a subsidized, if not free, labor force for industries and markets wherein the United States does not have a comparative advantage. In other words, the United States could not compete in those markets and industries because those products and services can be produced at a much lower cost and at a greater efficiency in other countries; countries that are experiencing the exploitative practices of American corporations and results thereof. The domestic outcome is that our taxes are being used to fund slave labor internment camps throughout the nation from which corporations are benefiting and earning profit. The global outcome is that Anti-Blackness, which Black Lives Matter is diametrically opposed to and in contention with, is harming, subjugating, and suppressing People of Color worldwide. Moreover, there are over twelve million people in the United States who have been disenfranchised and had their Right to Vote revoked because of felony disenfranchisement laws. All of this is justified according to Law because of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution wherein slavery and disenfranchisement is unconstitutional except in the case of being convicted of a “crime.” All of these factors add up to a false system of justifications, under law, to kill, murder, and enslave People of Color shredding the Bill of Rights and the people’s ability to challenge the tyranny of the United States government and its subsidiary institutions.

 

What we need is for the leaders and individuals in our community, especially those who are at the heads of institutions, such as, but not limited to churches, universities, and corporations to make public statements denouncing the dire economic and living conditions, which includes but is not limited to red lining, job opportunities, educational opportunities, gentrification, transportation equity, and climate change. We are not far removed from the nearly ubiquitous slavery in the United States when Black people were denied education and are even less removed from Jim Crow segregation, an era that denied People of Color in the United States equal educational and employment opportunities and specified the boundaries in which People of Color could live, work, and own property. Furthermore, the rise of the Prison Industrial Complex in the 1980s, the outsourcing of industrial jobs as part of globalization in the 1980s, and the deplorable educational institutions in areas populated by People of Color and poor people have resulted in the expansion of an exceedingly stratified hierarchical economic structure of classes and castes the likes of which has not been experienced since the fall of the Roman Empire. Our people will remain vulnerable to exploitation and suppression by an elite plutocracy and oligarchy until we can achieve economic justice.

What we need is for the leaders and individuals in our community to stand in solidarity with, to march with, and to shutdown business as usual and the status quo with the people who are collectively called “activists.” We are called activists and militants because we will not passively resign to second-class citizenship which seeks to deny our Humanity. We are called activists and militants because we challenge the status quo of injustice and, the arbitrary and unfair practices by a government and its subsidiary institutions who are supposed to protect our “Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness.” They call us activists and militants because our minds are active and we critically question and analyze the conditions under which we live.  We are Human Beings. We are autonomous. And we will not passively relegate ourselves to positions of inferiority. Our struggle is your struggle. And yet, by labeling us activists and militants, what the media and the government hope to accomplish is to discredit and disavow the very real issues and concerns that We, the People have concerning the unjust conditions with live under.

 

What we need is for the leaders and individuals in our community to help us fund the expensive litigations, political campaigns, community organizations and programs, bail funds and trial costs that are most certainly likely to incur as we struggle against a repressive regime to achieve justice for our people. We need the people who have benefitted from the struggles of our predecessors and are now in positions of more economic security to invest in our collective future.

Most importantly, what we need is to know that we are not alone. And the world needs to know it, too.

Speech Delivered to Governor Jay Inslee November 16, 2015

Speech to Governor Inslee Nov. 16, 2015

Before beginning I must first acknowledge that we are on stolen Duwamish and Salish land.

 

Second, I would thank you for making the time to visit us at the University of Washington Governor Inslee.  There are myriad pressing issues you could have selected to devote your time to, but you have chosen to invest your time with us and your concern and interest has not gone unnoticed.  Thank you.

 

Today I am going to speak on issues of equity and how they pertain to the qualities and characteristics of the kind of Board of Regents members we desire here at the University of Washington and why.  Equity is not blind it is very intentional and it differs drastically from equality. Equality as I have come to understand it is like placing everyone from different socio-economic, racial, gender, and citizenship status backgrounds on the same starting line. On the one hand this would seem just and fair because of the concept of equality, but what it lacks is an understanding of preexisting conditions for some that translate into unfair advantages for others. Many of the non-white students here at UW are also first generation college students, which may mean that our families do not possess as much disposable income to assist us in times of need, or that when it comes to academic concerns or administrative issues they are unable or incapable of helping us. Gender is a fluid and evolving concept of identity, but one thing that is certain is that when a student does not fit into a particular definition of gender they face discrimination and marginalization. And citizenship status can often pose an almost insurmountable barrier to affording tuition or other helpful resources, regardless of the reasons a particular individual’s status is in question. These preexisting conditions and many others can make admittance into and successful completion of university programs difficult, if not, nearly impossible for many. Merely placing everyone on the same starting line is simply not enough. On the other hand, equity seeks not to establish a similar starting point rather it seeks to garner similar outcomes regardless of preexisting conditions.

 

Last week students from universities across the country staged demonstrations in solidarity with the students of the University of Missouri who were protesting racial injustices and unfair responses from their administration. The demographics of University of Missouri are not unlike University of Washington, which is also a predominantly white institution; black students make up roughly eight percent and three percent of the undergraduate populations respectively. Earlier this year the students of the University of Washington staged what has been reported as the largest demonstration on campus since the 1960s when we declared a State of Emergency because of the racial and class disparities on campus, and walked out on February 25, 2015. During that demonstration we were subjected to racial epithets and as a result of further reprisals intent to silence our people through violence, which went unpunished, we determined it was necessary to challenge the unjust system of impunity with further demonstrations, much the same as the students at the University of Missouri.

 

These demonstrations are part of a much larger national struggle challenging the racial and class inequities and injustices within institutions such as law enforcement, the prison industrial complex, and education that reemerged onto the agenda of the general public with the Black Lives Matter movement. Police brutality and murder by police officers are major problems because they equate to state sanctioned violence against the people, which is extremely problematic because this violence is perpetuated in the name of and purported to be for the benefit of society. We are members of this society and this treatment is disreputable, and repugnant, humiliating and dehumanizing. Moreover, police brutality, which is nothing new to poor and minority communities is but one of the many factors that constitute the negative preexisting conditions that layer and stack upon each other to consolidate into a system of oppression and inequity.

The School-to-Prison Pipeline is also a major factor contributing to the racial, class, and ethnic disparities that confront many of our communities. People of color and those with mental disabilities are three times more likely to be disciplined while at school. From the ninth grade onward, one suspension or expulsion makes a student over fifty percent more likely to wind up in juvenile detention. Once in juvenile detention they become seventy-five percent more likely to end up in the adult penitentiary system and, once in that system they are more than eighty-five percent likely to return. Many people equate these statistics to inherently ‘bad’ youth, but Michelle Alexander, the author of The New Jim Crow, reveals that there is just as much if not more crime committed by white people. And one of our very own professors at the University of Washington, Katherine Beckett, the author of Making Crime Pay, has shown racial profiling is real and a serious problem even here in Seattle. So, it is not the case that students and people of color are ‘bad,’ but it is the case that we are being punished at disparaging and unfair rates.

 

The prison industrial complex is an institution grounded and founded upon extracting profit from slave labor. The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which supposedly outlawed slavery made one exception in the case of a person being convicted of committing a “crime.” That short clause provided justification for the creation, expansion, and explosion of the prison labor system. It began with convict leasing to plantations and mines that used to be worked by slaves, and now the prison industrial complex produces products that range from military equipment, to furniture, to home appliances and Correctional Industries’ website looks like any other online shopping website where people can purchase products. More troubling is the relative monopoly that Correctional Industries is granted by Washington State Law. RCW 39.26.251 states that all state agencies which include both universities and colleges must purchase the products made by Class II type prison labor. What this all equates to is an inequitable system of oppression entrenched in our largest and most prestigious institutions, which forms many of the preexisting conditions that stack and layer upon one another to create an inequitable system.

 

I was the president of my high school and the treasurer of North Seattle College and I used to be a business owner and helped the Department of Planning and Development of the City of Seattle revise it Job Order Contracting, so I am very familiar with bureaucratic governmental organizations. I was also part of the Divest UW coalition who for three years negotiated with and challenged the Board of Regents until we won a divestment from coal fire power earlier this year. I was also part of the team that helped draft and pass the City of Seattle City Council Resolution 31614: “Zero Use of Detention for Youth” in Seattle on September 21, 2015. What has been a consistent pattern is the nearly ubiquitous feeling that we as people are not being heard by the representatives that are supposed to be working on our behalf. Our UW President, Ana Mari Cauce, has done a lot to shift that phenomenon and also to address the racial and equity issues at the university, but we must do more. Although, I do not agree with all of the capitalistic and profit driven motives of the institution, I do understand that the university is operating within a capitalist system. Nonetheless, I and the many people I represent find it deplorable to be dehumanized and objectified, being reduced to dollar signs. When a human being is “thingified,” as Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called it, it dissolves one’s perception of their moral culpability to that individual and that is problematic. We need some Board of Regents members who are not the heads of major corporations, who are leaders in marginalized communities and can represent our concerns. We need Board of Regents members who have a firm understanding of how interlocking and intersecting forms of systemic and structural oppression function to foster inequitable conditions for many people. So that when we bring our grievances we feel heard, are heard, and our concerns are responded to appropriately and in a timely manner. And most importantly, we demand that we are respected as Human Beings.