Matthew McKoy ‘22
They say that it is in moments of uncertainty that we question ourselves, as we feel the presence of an empty void, simply demotivating ourselves to keep moving forward. Imagine if we as humans constantly lived in this state of uncertainty. The uncertainty of not living to see the sunrise tomorrow, or the uncertainty of not being able to return home. The uncertainty of whether or not we shall be wronged by another, without being able to establish a future. Lastly the uncertainty of being murdered unjustly, where you just become another name that is added to a list. Within that moment of uncertainty, as an African American, it is not hard to question the ideals and the true meaning behind the morals in which I was raised, or simply the basic right to live. As we walk through these ideals, it seems that society exists in a state of moral relativism in which there is no truth. This quest for truth, this constant feeling of uncertainty which has evolved into a growing issue that seems to divide our society, gives rise to the distilled silence, which inevitably silences our cries for help as we advocate for change. Currently, you may think that this world of uncertainty, this living nightmare is far beyond the reach of existence. However, what if I told you that systemic oppression based on race does exist.
Welcome to my world. What hurts the most while living in this life of misery is the fact that I have to witness my own brothers and sisters being oppressed through the media, a cultural continuity that only pierces my open wounds, before my previous scars inherited from many generations of battle are able to heal. Many people believe that racism continues to evolve, and as it worsens today, this issue continues to increase. However, I come to tell you that the ideals of racism have always existed for centuries. As an African American, I have witnessed the marginalization of my fellow brothers and sisters in the modern era, as well as throughout history.
With that being said, I was enlightened by a shared experience given from Mr. Chisolm, the current principal of Salesian High School. Mr. Chisolm reminisced on an experience that took place during his time in college. He had been walking down a street, when a cup of grape soda was hurled at him, while a group of boys shouted racial appellations at him while passing by in a car. Although this was not his first experience with racism, this served to be the earliest encounter in which Mr. Chisolm would remember. This experience serves as a reminder of the heavy presence of racism within our society. The greatest fear as an African American does not come with dying for what you believe and advocating for what is truly right, but the fact that we remain helpless as we witness first-hand persecution of our own culture. Furthermore, we feel that society loves to hate us, and most importantly, hates to love us.
As the marginalization of the African American community extends from the lack of representation, racial profiling, stereotyping among other aspects, many people believe that our cries are abrupt or unwarranted. Some argue that the revival of the movement is a disruption of the order within our society. Now that the silence is being broken, society has become uncomfortable. This brings awareness to ever present white supremacist culture, that is often denied, as many people consider this to be a cultural “taboo” that never existed to begin with. It is safe to say that our eyes have become accustomed to the marginalization of African Americans, to the point where the cries of the unheard are seen as a foreign language that has yet to be spoken or understood by the public. Simply, “why should we be fighting for the number one human right, the right to live? Especially due to someone’s color of skin.”
In the absence of certain things, we as humans are programmed to adapt to these absences, as we are able to become accustomed to change. However, as an African American, it progressively gets harder to live in a society, where racism creates a reality where justice is not present. The phrase “I can’t breathe” is a common phrase that we all use. This phrase is attributed to the lack of air and is often undermined, as it gives rise to a completely different reality as an African American. The statement I can’t breathe is the unfortunate perception of my reality. As a young African American: “I can’t breathe!”
I can’t breathe because I am suffocating from the mere silence and ignorant attitude towards the existence of the racist culture. I apologize for not being able to bear this burden anymore. I apologize for the “excessive noise” that I must make in order to break the silence. I apologize for not being able to hold onto the pains of oppression with ease. I apologize for my hopes of a better tomorrow, but in order for society to keep moving forward, it requires me to take these steps towards a brighter future. A future where the pigmentation of my skin does not play a significant role in my destiny. A future where we are simply not afraid to embody the truth and advocate for what is right.
“I believe that until the voices are at the table, not to be heard but listened to, no change is possible.”
The Civil Rights Movement is something that is ubiquitous today. Although I encourage this movement for change, there still seems to be a missing piece to the puzzle. As time progresses, let us not forget the reasons as to why we have chosen to lay down our lives for the sake of the greater good. My brothers and sisters, do not forget the impact that our peaceful protests have had on society. Through our advocacy for change the movement has gained more strength. Although some may tell us that we are “disrupting the peace,” our cries are being heard. As we have approached this situation with hearts of compassion and understanding, many people have sacrificed their time and health to join the fight against racism. State and local government are now recognizing our voices, as changes are being made to police departments across the country to address police brutality–our home state of New York has officially banned the use of chokeholds. We have been successful in our advocacy for change and in our fight towards a better tomorrow.
Let this serve as motivation to keep working towards change, as justice is now being served. Statues that have once stood as a symbol of our oppression have fallen because of our cries. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) once said: “A riot is the language of the unheard.” The language of the “unheard” is now being spoken as we lift our voices for change peacefully.
“The reason MLK and Gandhi had such an effect on society is because they did so peacefully as others beat them down. Their silence resonated louder than screaming ever could.”
As a community, in the midst of these dark times, we truly have to sit back and ask ourselves what it is that we are fighting for? Are we fighting for a temporary change that will only please us tomorrow? Or are we fighting for a revolutionary change that will carry over into the lives of the future generation, one that we may not be able to see now, but a change that we are guaranteed to see?
Through violence, we only inflict harm upon ourselves, as we destroy the same communities, that have helped us to prevail throughout the ages. We cannot afford to contribute to the shed of our own blood while fighting for change. In the end, we want to ensure that “We the People,” as quoted in the Constitution truly means something to us.
We have to open up our eyes and realize that our immoral actions do not reflect the change in which we truly desire, rather they contribute to the continuity of the spirit of division. By using violence, we deteriorate ourselves, as well as the movement, and in the end, we blind ourselves from seeking the truth. The movement lies in each and every one of us. However, it is a matter of time before we contribute to our own bloodshed, if some of us continue on this path of violence. Until justice is attained, this pain will never subside. Jesus says in the New Testament: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend” (John 15:13). These protests need to embody this same love.
“What I have witnessed has been nothing short of an endless amount of love being outpoured by communities of all different backgrounds coming together to reach a goal that should’ve been reached a very long time ago.”
Adults think about the younger generation that stands behind you. Would you like them to partake in this never-ending cycle of death and rebirth? Is that love? Would you like to witness the sight of your brothers and sisters getting slain at the hand of our oppressors? Is that love? Love requires us to come together, and encourage a better solution, as we encounter more variables within this problem. With the spirit of love, we are able to perceive one another with equal dignity, as there lie no boundaries in the ways in which we are able to perceive one another. It is the spirit of love that allows us to reach a level of understanding, in which we are able to open up our eyes to the realities of others.
“I believe that love is truly the greatest weapon. I believe that it will always triumph over hatred, but I also believe that it is a fight that we will have to keep fighting for until monumental changes are made. As I previously stated, love allows us to come together regardless of a background in solving a problem, not patching it up for a short term solution.”
Essentially, it is hard to manifest the reality of an African American. Part of the solution lies in approaching one another with a heart of understanding. Ultimately, we are a solid foundation. We stand as one, we fight as one, and we overcome as one. The movement lies in each and every one of us. With one unified voice, we shall all attain the freedoms and justices that await us.
“You have a lot more power in your hands than you actually realize. I think we are now seeing that with a lot of youth, they are getting involved in many of these protests in a positive way. They want their voices to be heard because they are concerned about themselves, but on the other hand, they have a deep concern for the state of the future generation as well.”
It’s time that we start renewing our minds. Change does not come from the mere movement of the clock, our actions, or our deeds. Rather change starts with a revival and a fresh renewal within our minds. Let’s put down the video games, let’s not focus on the negatives of social media, and most importantly let’s let go of our selfish desires. The reality in this current time is that we are only given one chance and one opportunity at the right to live. Time is inevitable. As human beings, we do not possess the capability of controlling the movement of the clock, or going back in time and changing the fact that African Americans were always considered as minorities. We cannot change the color of our skin, something that was not given to us by choice. However, the only thing that we can control, and that we can change, is how we utilize our time to advocate for change.
“The best way to diminish systemic racism is to empower every individual with the opportunity to succeed in life. Being self-sufficient and not relying on others or the government helps eliminate the greatest form of systemic racism.”
We should strive to change our perception of minorities. Let us not embody the barbarians and savages in which we are often portrayed to be. Let’s embody one single unit advocating for change. We must embody the movement of the clock. Let’s use this time to actively seek change within our communities and start being lights that are able to shine and prevail through these times of darkness. With the spirit of persistence, as well as the spirit of peace, one day “We Shall Overcome.”
What I envision, simply, my picture of a better tomorrow, entails harmony. Harmony is the sweet sound of freedom liberating our souls rather than holding us under the conviction of oppression. The everlasting joy and peace we shall attain from joining in unison as a people. Just like Martin Luther King, I too have a dream.
A dream that entails a society where we are able to tear down the barriers continue to serve as a primary factor of our division. One in which we are all able to lean on one another and join in unison as we lift our voices and acclaim: “We Shall Overcome.” I envision a society that is purged of injustice, and one baptized in the truth. It is at this moment, that I strongly hope and pray for the restoration of a humane society. It is in the moment that we shall receive the ambitious start not only to advocate for gradual change, but to gain a better understanding of movement, tomorrow, and our ambitious push forward.