Social Influencers - You're A Force to Be Reckoned With!
You've heard it before, that old saying, "the good die young." It's true not only of cultural icons like Malcolm X, Prince, and Tupac but everyday citizens like Darren Seals, Edward Crawford and Reverend Carlton Lee, all well-known activists in Ferguson, MO. Let us not forget Philando Castile (age 32), positively impacting his family and forging relationships in the community. The good who die young is not a minor concern to me, a topic briefly considered before moving on to weightier matters. It hits too close to my heart for that, having lost two of my light-bearers at an early age.
The common thread I find with all of these folks is the messages they embraced in life, and for some, the shocking truths conveyed in their deaths. In some way, they all shook us out of our dream state, awakening us to the importance of knowledge, community, love, and respect for self and others - regardless of differences. In a brief amount of time, these beautiful souls and social influencers shared some very powerful messages.
In the public eye
Those in the public eye whether politicians, social activists or entertainers often have the potential to do the greatest good in terms of reaching the largest audience. People are eager to hear what they have to say. However, there are few in these positions, especially entertainers and sports figures, that are willing to consistently use their platform to speak out against the ills of our society. Many have concerns about public opinion, the backlash from those that disagree with their views (if expressed), sponsors dropping them, and being labeled in the media.
Two remarkable examples of this treatment are Muhammad Ali in 1967 and Colin Kaepernick in 2016. Both men addressed human rights and the horrors of police brutality. In the case of Ali, he spoke out against it in the context of the Vietnam War and his refusal to participate. If you are unfamiliar with Ali’s story, I encourage you to watch his interviews on YouTube, read up on his struggles after speaking about the war, his religious beliefs and the treatment of black folks in America. The irony in the Muhammad Ali story is that he died (in old age, but sadly without his distinctive voice) a beloved figure who later in life others heralded for his courage to speak out, in spite of the personal cost. And, the cost was immense.
His story was electrifying and inspired untold numbers of black Americans and others. The New York Times columnist William Rhoden wrote, "Ali's actions changed my standard of what constituted an athlete's greatness. Possessing a killer jump shot or the ability to stop on a dime was no longer enough. What were you doing for the liberation of your people? What were you doing to help your country live up to the covenant of its founding principles?"
Fast-forward several decades. In some ways, Colin Kaepernick's story reminds me of Ali’s vilification and subsequent loss of financial opportunities. Kaepernick is in his prime and talented enough to make the roster of any NFL team. Yet no offers. In exercising his right to kneel as a means of speaking out against the injustices that continue to occur in this country, Kaepernick is taking a career/financial hit. It seems like we’ve been down this road before. However, this time around we can do it differently. Let's learn from the mistakes of the past, instead of repeating them because the problems we face as a nation aren't going to go away. They're cyclical. What we don't fix now will come back around again. Let us recognize people with different opinions (I might add colors, belief systems, genders, and orientations) can respectfully disagree, and still co-exist. In the case of Kaepernick, there’s no need to burn jerseys or threaten him or those that share his views with harm.
By the way family, some of the ways we can support Colin Kaepernick would be to log a complaint with your favorite NFL team as well as the league office. Also, refrain from watching the games, purchasing merchandise or tickets as these are revenue streams for the league. Kaepernick continues to speak out on the issues facing our community. And, it has cost him immensely. Can't we make some sacrifices too?
It's time to be the influencers
The days of one person or a small group representing the community are over. The best analogy that comes to my mind is about gardening. If you introduce only one or two plants of a species in the environment, and they begin to spread out too far, it's easy to cut it back or dig it out and dispose of it. That's very hard to do -darn near impossible- when many of these plants have been placed throughout the garden. They propagate quickly, network below ground, and visibly change the landscape over time. In other words, they establish themselves. No longer can they be easily uprooted. We have to come to the place where each of us must get in the dirt, start planting in our part of the garden and diligently tend to the environment.
You and I have a responsibility to act upon what we’ve learned from all the souls that have come before us. Learn all that we can about our history, the issues that are relevant to our world today, change how we engage the system, and begin to carry the messages forward to others. Discover or rediscover Marcus Garvey, MLK, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Dr. John Henrik Clarke, Dr. Frances Cress-Welsing and many others. The messages are in the music as well. Reacquaint yourself with old school hip-hop. Nuggets of wisdom can be found all over the Internet; listen to the music and watch the interviews to understand some of the foundational work that has been laid down on our behalf. The entire body of work from these folks is important; so invest in their books too. However, as a starting point watch the interviews and lectures (for free) that were conducted shortly before many of these icons passed away. It gives an idea of what they were focusing on and deemed to be significant at the time. There is plenty of wisdom and practical action you can take away from their teachings to enrich yourself and our community, so no excuses family, let's get busy doing our part.
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Always the best,