By Jerry Ford II
Special to the NNPA from the Houston Forward Times
On the day the family of Sandra Bland filed a lawsuit against the Waller County Police department, many community leaders assembled at the Barbara Jordan–Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University, as a community forum called “WHATHAPPENEDTOSANDRABLAND” was held.
The reason for the town hall style meeting was to devise different strategies for proactive measures that would ensure that in the future such incidents are less common. The forum had the goal of fostering collaborations to formulate specific policy recommendations with definite time frames for achieving objectives. Then they wanted to devise mechanisms with the ability to highlight incidents everywhere to bring a voice to each person injured–no matter whom or where.
Speakers included Marlon Smith, Black Greeks Speak; Tarsha Jackson, Texas Organizing Project; Professor Howard Henderson, TSU School of Public Affairs; Sarah Guidry, Earl Carl Institute executive director; and DeWayne Charleston, former Waller County Justice of the Peace.
Charleston was the first African American elected in Waller County and served two terms as Justice of the Peace. Charleston was involved in the federal lawsuit that resulted in Prairie View A&M University students finally being allowed to vote, based on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1979 in The United States v. Waller County.
The honorable Congressman Al Green made an appearance and received the loudest reception as his roaring speech brought community members to their feet. Other notables in attendance included former TSU president and current Houston NAACP chapter president Dr. James Douglas, who pleaded for the decriminalization of noncriminal drug offenses.
The event was well organized and the aforementioned esteemed panel began a discussion full of substance, but didn’t seem to hit a positive cord with millennials. This event started to expose an ever growing frustration of young people who feel as if their voices are being muted.
To many millennials, the panel came across as just a lot of people in power talking to each other about the same old playbook.
The organizers did an excellent job attempting to engage the millennial generation by welcoming a live Twitter discussion via the hash tag #WhatHappenedtoSandraBlandTSU.
Now this is where things got interesting as the community discussion on Twitter had a completely different tone than the forum taking place inside the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland auditorium.
As the speakers started singing the same ole tunes sang during the old marching days “We Shall Overcome’’ and pleading with everyone to remain peaceful, frustration started to boil over.
One Twitter user stated “#WhatHappenedToSandraBlandtsu why are we always told to be peaceful? Clearly we are here because there’s an epidemic of POLICE violence,” said @kalebjtaylor.
“I don’t want to talk about more talking. We are done talking #WhatHappenedtoSandraBlandTSU,” said @DivineLadiL.
The frustration on Twitter began to spill over into the auditorium, when a question asked on Twitter was asked at the forum and answered out loud.
“How can student activists and millennials best effect change in our community? #WhatHappenedToSandraBlandtsu,” was the question that was posed and the panel seemed struck by the question, as no one jumped to immediately answer it.
A panel member then responded by telling young people to get on Facebook. The moderator then quickly moved on to the next question, which then set off a negative chain of events in the crowd.
A few students got up and walked out in disgust as a few community members started screaming and interrupting the panelists, pleading to the group to address the younger generation’s questions. A war of words began between upset community members who were displeased with the dismissal of a millennial generation who have been at the forefront of the movement, marching, and organizing in the streets.
“Telling millennials to go on Facebook shows how the older generation is disconnected from the younger generation because we don’t use Facebook that often anymore,’’ said Kaleb Taylor, junior at Texas Southern University.
Beloved congressman Al Green decided to get back up to calm the frustrated group down.
Twitter responded with “These panelists are way out of touch. We need to hear from the young people who are actually doing the work. #WhatHappenedToSandraBlandtsu,” said @glenaustintx.
“#WhatHappenedtoSandraBlandTSU We have a right to speak and be heard.” said @Th3RealMrBrown.
”Apparently millennials don’t know who our elected officials are or how to get involved. Oh. #WhatHappenedtoSandraBlandTSU,” said @glenaustintx.
“#WhatHappenedtoSandraBlandTSU young ppl can’t be involved when the panels are filled w/ an older generation. There needs to be a balance,” said @hi_7hills.
Afterwards, many millennials echoed the notion that the forum confirmed that the people with power do not have a real strategy for change.
The sentiments from most younger attendees at the forum and on Twitter was that all they heard was the same old tunes and that millennials are always sent to the” kiddie” table on social media to discuss important issues.
“This conversation and this panel just showed us that we need more unity in the Black community, and that we have to take an aggressive and proactive stance to make sure these things don’t continue to happen,” said Taylor.
The Houston Justice Coalition was a major force this year in pushing legislation to ensure police officers in Houston began wearing body cameras, and has become one of the most influential grassroots organizations in our community – an organization which happens to be run by millennials.
“I think it’s a challenge for millennials to participate in this process given some of the barriers put in front of us,” said Shekira Dennis, Houston Justice Coalition co-founder. “We are very conscious thinkers and extremely proactive but it becomes difficult when people just limit us to social media.”
“Social media is a powerful tool because it has moved mountains and movements across this country but for someone to make it seem like that’s the only form of activism that we have is a very limited perspective and I believe is unfortunate,” said Dennis.
The reoccurrence of dramatic events can bring a tremendous amount of stress, frustration and trauma on this younger generation, which then results in an opportunity to mobilize masses of community members to make sure events such as those doesn’t happen again.
The 1960s was such a transformational time period because of the plethora of transformative events that shaped a generation of African Americans, ultimately resulting in galvanizing people and moving American society in a new direction.
The new trend today has been to compare modern day activities to the decade of the 1960s, with people using the dramatic moments of that time period to downplay our current reality. This decade has the potential to be just as transformative as the decades of the Civil Rights movement.
This generation – the millennial generation – has had more than its fair share of trauma and dramatic moments. These moments have started to pile on top of one another, and have resulted in an ever-increasing frustration amongst the millennials. As we begin to see the horrible things we read about in our history books come back to life, with stories similar to Emmett Till being played out before us in, there is reason for concern.
We have seen Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Eric Gardner treated in the most inhumane ways. We have watched the shooting massacre of a historically Black church during bible study, teenage Black girls being treated like animals at a pool party, and an officer threatening to “light up” a young, Black female for failing to signal and for failing to put out a cigarette.
The initial reactions of most Black people have usually been confusion and shock, because most Black people have bought into this notion of a post-racial society.
Black Americans were taught this false notion in our childhood, that racial discussions are to be avoided and that all our problems would just go away if we just decided not to talk about it.
This has created an illusion to millennials that they are somehow the lucky generation and that they were the generation who would never have to fight anymore, because the fight was over – especially after the election of President Obama provided confirmation of this.
So imagine the shock as Black millenials have watched the total disrespect of President Obama and the “not guilty” verdict of George Zimmerman have exposed the realities of what it means to be Black in America.
A sense of betrayal has seemingly poured over on this generation of millenials. A generation, who has felt lied to in a way, and who don’t know how to react to something they had been told they had actually overcome – after celebrating and claiming to be the lucky post racial generation.
The thing about this new generation is that they refuse to go down this same road, playing the same tune, singing “We Shall Overcome”, and just hoping things will change.
This generation is more educated and connected than the generation during the Jim Crow era. This generation is technologically savvier, entrenched in a social media society that has the power to begin a worldwide revolution with just a simple tweet.
Millennials shouldn’t be fighting for a seat at the table but should have a say in who sits and who shouldn’t have a seat at the table. Before Black Americans move forward in this fight for justice, everyone should come together and combine the ideas of those who represent Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y and millennials.
Unless this is done, Black America can’t move forward. The voices of the younger generation can’t be muted and the fact is millenials are ready to lead, so it is time to let them because the things that are being done now have clearly not been working.