What’s This Generation’s Emmett Till’s Moment?

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What is going to be the occurrence that is so heinous that we as the emerging generations of Black Americans will never turn away from injustice and dysfunction again in our lifetimes? And must this injustice come in the form of white-on-black racism befo

What is going to be the occurrence that is so heinous that we as the emerging generations of Black Americans will never turn away from injustice and dysfunction again in our lifetimes? And must this injustice come in the form of white-on-black racism before we act?

One of the greatest things that an American did for us over the past 100 years is pull the wool from over our eyes, giving us a chance to see the depths of dysfunction and despair in the midst of her personal tragedy and grief.

Mamie Till kept the casket open in 1955 so that we did not have another opportunity to look away from the horrors that went on around us, using our own personal struggles and daily activities as convenient excuses to consider the social cancer epitomized by America’s violent and racist tendencies as someone else’s illness. As a result, many parts of America took notice, much of the world took umbrage to American hypocrisy resulting freedom and Jim Crow, and Black Americans took to the streets to reverse the injustices permeating throughout the nation.

What is that incident that will make us stare at the reality before us in an unfiltered fashion, something that will make us directly deal with the truth and act accordingly?

For those of us in Chicago, we thought it could have been the Derrion Albert incident, the mob murder heard around the world of an honors student.

For those living in New York City in the 1990s, it was probably thought to have been Abner Louima assault at the hands of police officers, a crime so brutal that it left Mr. Louima hospitalized for 2 months after being violated with a plunger as his assailant attempted to “…break a man down…”

For those living in Texas in 1998, it was believed to be the murder of James Byrd, Jr., a modern-day lynching where Mr. Byrd was decapitated after being dragged behind a moving vehicle for three miles.

For those living in my native Pittsburgh in the 1990s, it was thought to have been the Johnny Gammage tragedy, where the cousin of a Super Bowl Pittsburgh Steeler died at the hands of police officers in a “routine” traffic stop some 9 days after the infamous OJ Simpson verdict that ripped apart the nation racially.

And all of this happened over the course of the 20 years since the infamous Rodney King beating by LAPD officers, coupled with the Simi Valley verdict that set off riots around the United States.

For those of us outraged by the gang rape of a Cleveland, Texas 11-year-old, maybe we have finally arrived at that point in time.

Then again, maybe not. And that, my beloved, is downright scary.

Unlike 1955, we now live in a time of flash-forward news cycles and ultra-violent visual media, a time when desensitization of the American people to sex, crime, violence, and murder can all be epitomized in one video game; (has anyone seen “Grand Theft Auto”?)  With all of the modern technology at our fingers, it is horrific to think that Emmett Till’s battered and abused body – if shown to us initially in 2011 – would be nothing more than a curious object of a digital picture to tweet or email, leaving us disconnected to the actual meaning behind the unspoken message before our eyes.

Black people, wake up. Wake up now before it is too late. In fact, too late is already proverbially knocking on the door and playing with the keys, trying to take permanent residence in our lives.

If this incident in Cleveland, Texas – coupled with the scores of tragic and horrific incidents that we incur as a community on a regular basis over the course of these past 20 years – has not brought us (particularly the desensitized young (Black) generations of Generation X and Generation Y/Millennial Generation) to our present-day open casket to look down at the aftermath of apathy, backsliding, and civic (and social) decay, what will? The generations that rose up after the Emmett Till murder did not ask for current Black leadership to acquiesce to a collective response – they created it, one with a diverse set of approaches and remedies that sought a common goal: the acquisition of peace and equality.

It is going to take a lot of sacrifice – a lot of sacrifice. Sadly, the years removed from the work entailed in the Civil Rights Movement has allowed us to collectively forget the high levels of personal and professional danger, sacrifice, and isolation that people went through continuously in order to advance the nation significantly. No, we are not there completely despite the accomplishments of today’s elder generation during their heyday several years ago. Therefore, it will take another level of selfless, perpetual activity to move forward with the next steps before us.

Our communities’ issues with Black male dysfunction will not change until the men of our communities are willing to partake in a years-long endeavor to deal with the males within our communities until we can bring them along into manhood – including the older males that have been fighting that transition for decades now. Our communities’ failure in the realms of unemployment and education will not be reversed until those with both proper education and employment bestow their insight on the lost. Those efforts – along with others that are much needed in Black America and, dare I say, throughout much of young America regardless of race – are efforts that must supersede our desire to wait until we “made it” economically before we act or our caution against “sacrificing too much” in the process of being a vocal, visible, and vociferous champion for a new social order within our communities. Believing that the collection of refreshed leadership must come from a legacy background (via family connection, college alumni base, or neighborhood upbringing) or from a particular status in life (via wealth, or professional status) will simply serve to keep us in the current African-American social cycle of “paralysis by analysis” or, more appropriately, “death despite dissertations.” Folks, we are going to have to sacrifice items that make us more uncomfortable, vulnerable, fatigued, and secularly poorer than we are right now. People of affluence will have to sacrifice their earning potential at some point in order to invest the time and personal presence it will take to revamp our communities. People of modest means will have to step outside of the comfort zone to take on the prevailing injustices strangling our children in their social sleep. People in poverty will have to, once again, act like kings and queens. It will take all types of investment – building off of what is already in place yet taken to a higher level. Change of this magnitude in the Black communities of Chicago (and the nation) is not going to come without an actual, tangible taxing on our money, our minds, and our souls. Eliminating Jim Crow took a lot of focus but at least we had a legal common goal. Eradicating the self-hate and self-destruction within our communities will take a lot more self-discipline to do this self-healing.

The Rev. Al Sharpton once told me during one of my expressions of disgust with the current lack of young Black leadership that a social change does not need to come with the movement of the masses initially, but instead can be successful with the persistent actions of the dedicated few. I believe him, but I just wonder what it is going to take for those persistent, dedicated few to truly open our collective eyes, make us stare into the reality of today’s Emmett Till Moment (and coffins), and deal with the reflection of what we see until we change the images we are looking at and shaping in our communities.

Lenny McAllister is a syndicated political commentator and the host of “Launching Chicago with Lenny McAllister” on The Talk of Chicago 1690 AM WVON (www.wvon.com). He is currently featured on the My50Chicago website as a guest on "Perspectives" with host Monique Caradine Kitchens.  He is the author of the upcoming edition of the book, “The Obama Era, Part I (2008-2010): Diary of a Mad Black PYC (Proud Young Conservative).” Follow him at www.twitter.com/lennyhhr  and on Facebook at www.tinyurl.com/lennyfacebook

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