May is Older Americans Month, which was first established in 1963 as Senior Citizens Month to celebrate the contributions seniors make to their communities.  The theme for 2016 is Blaze A Trail. 

“Certainly, I think since I am old, I should not hesitate to be bold and speak out whenever I see things that treat folks unfairly.  I would hope that my actions would show the young that the young should also not hold their tongue whenever the young might happen to see things that treat folks unfairly.”

On April 23 I attended the “The Black Male Experience in Evanston” panel discussion, part of The Quality of Mercy Project.  Panelists included Bennett Johnson, Circuit Court Judge Lionel Jean-Baptiste, Dereck Woods, Dino Robinson and Nathan Norman (listed with the oldest first).  Dr. Gilo Kwesi Logan moderated the discussion.  Most of the dialog and comments are included below.

All of the panelists disclosed positive and negative experiences that made them aware of their blackness, experiences that occurred during their youth and/or adulthood and in or outside Evanston.  Awareness of being a black male was (is) often brought about through acts of racism.  Mr. Johnson spoke about walking past a school close to his home as a child because black children were not allowed to go to that Evanston school.

Panelists talked at length about segregation, exclusionism, restrictive covenants, loss of black neighborhoods in Evanston, increased diversity in formerly black neighborhoods, two different types of Evanston neighborhoods and residents not sure that either type is being seriously addressed by the other, “drive-by diversity” in Evanston (diverse groups counted in a census but not treated equally), lack of equity in education in Evanston, lack of Fifth Ward school, unemployment of black males, institutionalized racism, mythology of race in which blacks are considered inferior to whites, and The Black Liberation Movement. 

Mr. Robinson talked about controlling the narrative about blacks; that blacks did not come to Evanston to be domestics and servants but came to Evanston for the same reason others came, that is, to pursue the American dream.  

Judge Jean-Baptiste said, “Racism is passed down like family heirlooms.”  Panelists discussed ways for blacks to address racism, pointing out that the traumas of racism are passed down for generations; that many blacks have a sense of being beaten up by the system and need to connect with something greater than themselves; that blacks need to be able to respect themselves and others. 

Mr. Norman spoke about his passion for working with young people and waking them up to know they can be anything.  Panelists and attendees echoed the need to fight for black kids to succeed in school and get a foundation to compete in jobs, etc.; that parents need to be involved with children and school; that students need to be able to articulate what they need to say and prepare for employment; that youth with sagging pants should be pulled aside to discuss their dress.  An attendee stated, “Self-esteem is higher when employed.”

It was pointed out that there were many black businesses when Evanston was segregated. Mr. Woods spoke to the need for black entrepreneurship to be developed. Another panelist stated that strategic planning in Evanston should give the most money/resources to the weak/youth, but instead is “given to trees.” 

Everyone needs to continue the struggle for black rights and make things more equitable; black people pay taxes, too.  “To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.” – James Baldwin. “Our impatience and rage is what has produced progress. That we are still impatient and angry reflects not black people’s failing but how far America still has to go.” – Mychal Denzel Smith. “As long as I hold you to be inferior, I render myself to be inferior.” – Ethiopian proverb.  “People working together can do great things.” – Tanzanian proverb.  Equity please.

Panelists recommended the following books: “New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander; Black Rage by Drs. William H. Grier and Price M. Cobbs; “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison; and “The Miseducation of the Negro” by W.E.B. DuBois.