Episode 7: Selective Hearing
Introduction (Narrated by Both)
So Joe and I really decided to do this project about a year ago. We knew we wanted to make a longform narrative podcast on race and social justice - but that’s obviously a pretty broad topic, and for a while, we weren’t able to narrow down a more specific subject to focus on. We ended up settling on this project in a kind of millennial way. Pretty much, Joe saw a string tweets one day that questioned young people’s knowledge of the crack scare. The crack scare is often invoked as the precursor to federal drug mass incarceration - but this set of tweets argued that those who curse the government for responding harshly to crack never understood the severity of the epidemic.
Now Joe read these tweets while the 2016 Democratic primary was in full swing, and one of the issues that often came up in regards to both Clinton and Sanders was their support for the 1994 Crime Bill - it’s a policy we talked about briefly - but to summarize, it led to a huge increase in incarceration throughout the United States. Now, the candidates often justified their support for this bill by saying they were simply responding to what Black communities across the nation had asked for; More specifically, that these communities, in the face of rising crime rates, wanted heavier police presence, they wanted criminals to be thrown in prison.
So, based on these ideas coming out of the primary and that string of tweets Joe came across, our initial research question was this: Did Black Americans in the late 1980s support the War on Drugs and mass incarceration? And if so, why?
But here’s the thing: as we learned more about the racism and hysteria that set the backdrop the crack scare, that became sort of unimportant. We realized that no one even listened to what Black communities wanted in the first place, so it didn’t matter whether or not they supported tough on crime policies. Our focus shifted to retelling the crack scare from the perspective of Black Americans - and to highlight the racism that pervaded the era.
Now with all that being said, for the start of this episode, we want to go back and talk about our original research question. You might be wondering why we’re talking about this and not doing some grand conclusive summary for our last episode - and to that, I’ll just say don’t worry, we’re getting there. So, did Black Americans support the tough-on-crime policies that came out of the late 80s and early 90s?
Alright, to understand any of this, we first have to talk about the ‘94 Crime Bill. I first want to acknowledge that it did have some good in it. It allocated about $6 billion for substance treatment and prevention programs, and provided funding to support services for victims of sexual and domestic abuse.
But aside from these few bright points, the law was incredibly harmful. It expanded the death penalty, imposed life sentences for people convicted of three drug trafficking crimes, put 100,000 new police officers on the street, and provided nearly $10 billion to fund new prisons. Rickey McGee, a Boston native who you’ve met a couple of times before, shared his thoughts on the bill with us:
Rickey McGee: When the opportunity came in 92-93 to combat what a lot of community leaders seen as an epidemic, which is black on black violence, which was really a new phenomenon in the inner city communities. The crime bill was one of the solutions behind it, and all it has done is actually incarcerate, which the statistics validate. So the truth - there was an opportunity for clinton to do something that could be transcendent in our communities, but he actually went with a different schematic plan to incarcerate, similar to what reagan was doing in the mid to late 80s. So now looking at it in in hindsight, everyone knows, even clinton apologized for it, but the effects and the impacts of what it has now done to our communities and our inner cities.
On top of all that, Bill Clinton signed welfare reform in 1996, which required individuals to find employment in order to receive welfare - something that’s hard to do for many formerly incarcerated individuals (Alexander 157). The act also incentivized states permanently bar people with felony drug offenses from receiving federally funded public assistance - and as of July 2015, thirty states still have full or partial bans that keep people with felony drug convictions from receiving food stamps. 34 states, including Massachusetts, have such restrictions on general welfare. The irony of all of this was this policy was supposedly intended to get people to work - even though it made it harder for ex-offenders to do just that. But I digress.
Actually, we need to make one more digression about the harm of the Crime Bill - it passed despite politicians knowing a lot more about the criminal justice system than ever before . Dr. Elizabeth Hinton, a Professor of History and African American Studies at Harvard, who we haven’t heard from since all the way back in episode one explained why this is important.
Elizabeth Hinton: For me one of the central tragedies of the ‘94 crime bill is that despite the fact that the federal government knew that the criminal justice system was incredibly racist, that it was disproportionately ensnaring Black and Latino Americans, they went onto invest and expand it without addressing the racism within it. So you can interpret that however you choose.
But when politicians are challenged about their support of the Crime Bill, we’ve seen some defend themselves by saying, ‘Well, they wanted it too. Black people supported the law too.’ When a Black Lives Matter protester confronted Bill Clinton himself about the ‘94 law this past spring, Clinton used that same justification, saying, “I talked to a lot of African American groups. They thought black lives mattered. They said, ‘Take this bill because our kids are being shot in the streets by gangs.’ We had 13-year-old kids planning their own funerals.”
There’s that question of Black support again, and we should be clear that the question is really about Black support in the most afflicted neighborhoods, not so much about middle- and upper-class Black folks. Dr. Hinton actually co-wrote an article called “Did Blacks Really Endorse the 1994 Crime Bill?” Very topical. The article introduced a concept called selective hearing.
Elizabeth Hinton: This is something that is enduring and takes different forms from the moment that Johnson - well even before then from the Progressive Era. Our point is that every time African Americans call for more resources, drug prevention, crime prevention programs. Instead of getting those crime prevention programs, policymakers end up only giving them punitive programs, punitive measures. When African Americans ask for better policing, politicians tend to hear more policing instead. When African Americans say we want major drug prevention programs and rehabilitation programs in our communities, policymakers respond with new sets of mandatory minimum sentences for drug abusers. And then in the case of this article, we see these arguments, some from Hillary Clinton herself, arguing that the 94 crime bill was the process of democracy at work, this is what the Black community wanted. And we actually look at the debates of the bill, both within the CBC and their support, and the preventive components of the bill that they were calling for, what Black communities at the time were actually calling for, it’s much different.
So remember when we discussed how policies need to address systemic issues, rather than place band-aids on symptoms of problems? Well it goes without saying we aren’t the first to talk about this: Here is Adoja Aiyetero, formerly of the ACLU’s National Prison Project discussing that idea:
Adjoa Aiyetoro: The problem of drugs is not a problem of incarceration. The problem of drugs is a problem, in our society, it’s a problem of the failure to provide for system in our community whereby our youth and our adults can feel that they have some way of meaningfully participate in our society. To build more prisons is not going to resolve that problem.
When I look into the records of people I work with, the prisoners that I am attempting to help, not on their criminal conviction, but on the way in which they are being treated in prisons, I see time and time again that prisoners are there because of drug-related crimes. But when you look into their background, what do you see? You see broken homes, you see prisoners thats families did not have the basic supports that were necessary: adequate housing, adequate food, adequate educational supports. You see adults who were shuttled day in and day out from one foster home to another. So the problem of drug use is not a problem of somehow a person being venal and the way to deal with it is to incarcerate them. The problem of drug use has to be dealt with at its core, and prison doesn’t do that.
Now, here’s the thing - most of the clips we’ve played for you throughout this series are from interviews we conducted ourselves. But we didn’t interview Ms. Aiyetoro. That was her statement on a panel organized by the Congressional Black Caucus, aka the CBC... All the way back in 1988, at the height of crack hysteria. As an aside, Prasanna and I got a chance to hear Ms. Aiyetoro speak in person at the Drug Policy Alliance’s White Faces Black Lives conference. She’s just as cool now as she was 30 years ago. Anyway, here’s Diane Rust-Tierney, who was Legislative Counsel for the ACLU at the time, speaking at that same CBC panel:
Diane Rust-Tierney: We have to be careful that our community’s very real concern over what’s happening not be used as a vehicle for pressing very regressive measures in the criminal justice system, generally, which have always had a disparately had a negative impact on our community. So I agree with the people who said before that the focus needs to be on education, the focus needs to be on real opportunities and real jobs, and real ways of figuring out why people are engaged in this and why other choices aren’t made.
And Kemry Hughes, from the Youth Leadership Institute in D.C., once again speaking in front of the CBC in 1988:
Kemry Hughes: I question why, in an election year, do we play speedball with an issue that is of dire concern to our people? I listen to the presidential candidates and I can’t really see that they speak to the true issues that the community wants to hear. We want to hear about how to get rid of the drug problem. We want to hear about how to get rid of the unemployment problems that we have and the lack of housing. And I think all of these elements are what lead to the drug problem. The drug war. What does it really mean? Who fights it?
They were discussing the Omnibus Anti-Substance Abuse Act of 1988, which didn’t end up passing Congress, but their concerns speak more broadly to the problems with the War on Drugs. Of course, not every Black American shared the same views of the War on Drugs. There were even some Black people on the same panel, including one “special agent” from the DEA, who believed law enforcement was doing a terrific job. But even they thought the government wasn’t doing nearly enough in terms of improving education and generating opportunity in poor Black communities.
If we zoom into the most impoverished neighborhoods of color - those that likely felt the greatest impact from crack and the problems it exacerbated, I can imagine why someone would support harsher policing, hoping for anything that could mitigate drug-related violence and maybe other issues they saw daily in their neighborhoods. We asked Andrea James, from Families for Justice as Healing, about how people in her community who were not involved in the crack market felt about the drug. You probably recognize her name by now, but to be clear, this clip is from 2016, not 1988.
Andrea James: Anybody not involved in that doesn’t want it to happen. They want it to stop. They want it to go away. They want their children and their families to be safe. But eventually, they began to realize the very dangerous platform that we a gave to this hard on crime stance because it started to permeate this community and every family within the community was affected in some way. And we realize that this had nothing to do with the war on drugs, there was no intention - we intended them to move in and do what they had to do to stop the immediate violence, but when they never shifted to help people who had fallen off that cliff into addiction and really to create opportunities for people who didn’t have them and needed them to give them an alternative to selling drugs and doing the things that they were participating in, when we realized that other piece was never coming, that this was just all about locking people up, then we started to wake up and realize that, you know what? This was not a good idea. And it wasn’t.
I don’t know how widespread those feelings were, but even if we imagined that most non-drug-involved people in those afflicted neighborhoods held those beliefs, it makes me uncomfortable that politicians would take advantage of that vulnerability to justify their stances on the War on Drugs. Because policy makers weren’t living through it, and it was their job to step back, look carefully at problems, and implement thoughtful solutions to minimize harm - to ensure that laws weren’t driven by fear.
On top of that, Black Americans had been calling for equity long before the crack scare took off. Demands for desegregation, equal treatment from law enforcement, better education systems, non-discriminatory employment and housing practices, and much more had existed for generations. So for politicians to disregard those calls, and then defend their complicity in the War on Drugs by claiming to have represented what Black Americans wanted is dishonest and disrespectful.
In many ways, the 1988 CBC panel is a sadly poetic representation of the concept of selective hearing. The panel was video recorded, so if you watch it, you see that as Black folks are sharing their thoughts on why the War on Drugs is so harmful to their communities, the camera pans to the audience - the room is half-full, if that, and there are hardly any white faces in the crowd. Maybe if politicians and the American public had really listened to people like Adjoa Aiyetoro, Diane Rust-Tierney, Kemry Hughes, and those that came before them, the mindset that fueled the War on Drugs would never have flourished in the way it did. With that in mind, Prasanna and I are going to be selective about our hearing in a different way - we’re gonna step back and let some of the Black people of Boston (and one white person) tell us about the challenges their communities face today, what they’re doing to address them, and what more needs to be done.
Rahsaan Hall: The fact that there are more black folks under correctional control than there were at the height of slavery or enslaved at the height of slavery says something very significant about where we are as a country as it relates to criminal justice or criminal injustice. There’s not a restorative process to hold people to account within the community and to make them better we just lock them up and expose them to these horrific conditions with the expectation that when they come out they will be able to contribute to society.
Jeremy Thompson: I would say the one organization is Roca - that’s an organization that is doing really great work. They’re working with youth. You know, before they get to the point where i’ve gotten. That’s reactive work. Us as a community want to get more into the proactive work.
Monica Cannon: Roca approaches them before they’re even released and let’s them know that we have these resources. A lot of people say when you get out of jail, get a job! But if you never worked and you don’t know what that's like, then how do you just walk into somewhere and get a job?
You have to do things as simple as paying for their birth certificate, their social security card. Making sure that they have identification.
When they come out of the jail, a lot of them don’t have those basic things. Those are things that you need to be able to apply for a job.
Employ you while you’re training. That’s something that we were able to do at Roca. So you can work while you’re taking these classes. You’re able to bring in an income, you’re able to have money in your pocket while you’re learning how to know what it is to keep a job. You know what i mean? We give you the opportunity to blow out, so you go through terminations, but we never completely fire you. We terminate you, walk you through the process of what you did wrong, and we rehire you. And i think there needs to be more programs like that. Usually what happens is you mess up, they get rid of you, and you’re done. There’s nothing to teach you what you did wrong.
Haywood Fennell: CORI reform is the Criminal Offenders Records Identification Act, law, that requires people to disclose their criminal histories, and that has become a weapon of discrimination against those people that are trying to come out into the community and do the best they can with what they’ve got.
Monica Cannon: The issue with CORI is that if you have a criminal record, and an employer asks that question on an application and you answer yes, usually you don’t make it to the next segment of the interview. Now they’re not allowed to ask, but if they do find out you have a CORI, they’ll still deny you the position and give you a generic reason as to why. So then it’s almost like an oxymoron to say hey, change your life and do better, but you’re not giving me the opportunity to do so, based off my past.
Adam Foss: The only thing that a criminal record does is make it harder for someone to get a job. And when it’s more difficult for people to get a job, what do they do? They commit crime. Once you've paid your debt, you still carry this thing around that impedes you more than your time incarcerated or your time on probation.
Monica Cannon: And so, what i think needs to be done, aside from the whole, quote, unquote, CORI reform law, is that there needs to be something in place to ensure that there are actual employers that will hire these people, given the fact that they have CORI. Because the fact is that even if they’re not discriminating against you on your CORI, they’re discriminating against you based off how you look.
Jeremy Thompson: I haven’t found a lot of places that are doing a great job with integrating people who have lived these former lifestyles to pitting them with people who are living this life as a professional to help people so we can have common ground and understanding on how we’re gonna help people.
So the fight is to continue to push legislators to recognize the plights of these men and women and bringing the understanding to them.
Jeremy Thompson: Haley house is a nonprofit organization that has been established for fifty years right here in Roxbury, south end community.
Our transitional employment program has been established for about twenty years, without dubbing in the transitional employment program because in the soup kitchen, we had men and women teaching each other skillsets. So we found that, hey this person's homeless, but he was a baker. This person's homeless but he was a chef. This person's homeless but he was a bread maker. Everybody’s teaching everybody and this helps their skills, and they went right onto a resume, which in turn got them employed, which in turn helped them garner funds to retain housing, so this is how we tackle the problems of poverty and the income disparity and things like that.
Criminal Justice Reform
Carl Williams: We need to end, not the failed war on drugs. We need to end the incredibly successful war on drugs. Cause the war on drugs does exactly what it’s supposed to do.
So I think what we really need to do is get rid of mandatory minimums. We need to decriminalize drugs. And then we need to legalize them. Because the problem is the war on drugs. Not the fact that we have, it is the fact that we have people addicted to drugs that are doing harm, but that’s a public health problem, not a criminal justice problem.
Mary Curry: You know, those folks who need someone to talk to. Whether it be on the phone or in person. I’ve worked as a substance abuse counselor, case manager, i know there’s been a lot of people who have told me thank you. Because when people are using, when you don’t have some kind of support, even if it’s, you know, i’m into church. With prayer. With outreach. Passing someone a sandwich or giving someone something to drink. People need to know that there’s somebody that’s not afraid to touch them. Because when you’re a basehead or a crackhead, people make jokes. I had people say or do things to me. And you never know when somebody in your family’ll end up like that.
Andrea James: I met with black and brown people from brazil and other countries that say, ‘yeah, decriminalization we thought would be the answer, but the problem is, it doesn’t go too far to keep black people out of prison,’ because what it does is it still criminalizes trafficking. And now what they do is they shift from possession to trafficking.
Carl Williams: In this state, in this country, people get arrested for driving without a license. People get arrested for driving on an expired registration. Those are crimes. Those are criminal offenses that you can go to jail for. And it’s mind-boggling. And people get killed in jail.
Jason Lydon: Trans women, gender nonconforming folks - so trans women in men's prisons and gender nonconforming folks in men’s prisons and cisgender gay men in men’s prisons are more likely than not going to be sexually assaulted during their incarceration. So any time a judge sentences somebody who is a gay man or a trans woman to a prison, they are sentencing to more likely than not be sexually assaulted during their time. That is outrageous.
Carl Williams: It costs use $54,000 a year to keep a person in jail. It costs us thousands and thousands of dollars to prosecute people.
Monica Cannon: Very expensive. And there are people who are directly profiting off that cost. I don’t think that people realize that there’s someone else benefiting off of you sitting in that cell. Because when you give them that knowledge and knowledge of themselves, and they realize there’s somebody getting paid at the fact that i’m sitting here, it tends to awaken them.
Carl Williams: I think the powers have expanded to such a level that courts are like, ‘hey, we could just make money off of people.’ And you see many of those courts doing that through fines and fees like that from things like Ferguson or in places like Roxbury court that charge so much money in probation fees. They don’t incarcerate a lot of people, but they're like, ‘hey, we’ll put you on probation. You gotta pay $65 a month, by the way, there are these other fees. $150 because you gotta get a public defender, this other charge, this other charge, this other charge.’
Jason Lydon: So if you get convicted of a drug offense in Massachusetts, not always, but you likely get a fine of up to $500 assessed to your license. And so, in order to renew your license when you get out, you have to pay $500. That’s a significant collateral consequence that people are dealing with. There was recent legislation to get rid of that, and it moved and moved and moved, and then it got to a compromise point where it was like, “okay we’ll do that, but only for possession charges, not for distribution charges.” So if you look at who’s being affected, it’s now, in terms of these collateral consequences, disproportionately affecting white people who were convicted, as opposed to Black folks who are more likely to be convicted of distribution charges, despite all of the evidence that shows white and Black folks in particular are equally likely, not only to use drugs, but actually sell drugs in Massachusetts.
So you have people who are poor folks and they’re spending literally thousands of dollars and they’ve never been incarcerated, they’re someone who’s on probation for, you know, something that’s probably a misdemeanor. That seems crazy in itself.
Adam Foss: So this is what probation is, right? You see a kid commit a crime, he goes on probation, and at a probation hearing he’s told, ‘you have to do a list of these five things that we think as prosecutors and probation officers and judges are good for you.’ And you sucked at doing them before, which is basically what led you to commit a crime, but we’re gonna tell you that you have to do them now. We’re gonna give you a criminal record to make it harder for you to do those things, and we’re not gonna really give you any assistance in doing them. And you have to pay for us to supervise you.
It’s like this system that’s so entrenched that it’s like, unless you sort of look at it with a critical eye, you’re like, ehh that doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Why are we expecting success if we’re telling kids to do things they’re failing at, making it harder for them?
So the idea behind Roxbury CHOICE was, let’s meet with the probationers. Step one. Ask them what’s going on in their life, find everything out about them. Say, what do you want to do on probation? Hence, choice. It’s not some sexy like acronym, it’s just literally choose what you do on probation. You want to do school, community service, professional development, or treatment? You pick what you want to do. You do sixteen hours of that a week, you document it, and you get a week off the back end of your probation. And not only that, but we’re gonna meet with you once a week, twice a week, monthly, as you’re in the program, and if you’re having difficulty in any one of those arenas, we’ll help you succeed. Like we want to help you.
Adam Foss: Prosecutors have this bad rap of being these sinister people who are just out to screw people up. It’s actually just a lack of options that we’re taught at the beginning. We go into this very traditional system of here’s the law, here’s what this person did, apply the facts to the law, and you’ll get an outcome without really taking any consideration who the individual is that’s creating the crime, and really any consideration about what we want our outcome to be.
So I just want to think about how prosecutors, when they are first starting out, have a broader knowledge base of the options that are out there, rather than just this traditional method of prosecute as much as possible.
Right now I’m, myself and Ty Stiklorius and John Legend are in the process of just developing the curriculum, working with Boston consulting group to really focus on what our model is going to be. Super high level. It’s a training program for new prosecutors to sort of invest in them this level of information about adolescent brain development, about trauma, about restorative justice, about the race history of the united states of america.
Rahsaan Hall: Another organization is black and pink that’s looking at LGBT issues for people of color that are inside.
Jason Lydon: So Black & Pink is a nationally networked grassroots organization working to abolish the prison-industrial complex while simultaneously meeting the immediate needs of LGBTQ and HIV-positive prisoners across the country. Solitary confinement, we did a survey of our membership, the largest ever survey done of LGBTQ prisoners, and of our respondents, 85% had spent some amount of time in solitary confinement. And of those, about half had spent two years or more. I did only 45 days in solitary confinement and I would say it kind of fucked me up for a long time and has significant impacts long-term. So imagine doing years in places like Massachusetts, where we have essentially no regulations on solitary confinement. Where you can be placed in the DDU for ten years and they’re not paying attention to going on. So efforts to abolish solitary confinement or restrict it seriously are places where we’re focusing a lot of our time.
Rahsaan Hall: There are kind of grassroots organizations like Families for Justice as Healing with Andrea James she has done a phenomenal job of raising awareness about the experience of not only women in the criminal justice system but women who are mothers in the criminal justice system and really being a strong voice of advocacy for formerly incarcerated people
Andrea James: So a system of human justice starts with individuals. First of all, it stops the flow. It’s what justice reinvestment originally was created for. Originally justice reinvestment meant to, one, look at our prison population and see who doesn’t need to be there. We’ve got thousands and thousands and thousands of elderly, sick people who don’t need to be incarcerated. One. that’s the easy part. Let’s just bring them out. Bring them home. Provide housing for them. Provide the medical care that they need. That’s justice reinvestment. That’s an easy example of it. Of looking at the prison population and determining who doesn’t need to be there.
The second thing is who doesn’t need to go in? What’s the problem? What is going on with this person that they’re shooting a needle of heroin in their arm? What caused them to steal from stop and shop? What are the reasons that they were caught with bags of dope? What’s really happening, and who else is part of their lives? Who else is directly affected by their behavior and by their actions? And how do we begin to change that behavior, to help them to heal their lives from within their communities? Countless studies, countless studies demonstrate now that the most effective drug treatment happens, and people are most effective in learning how to manage their addiction when they do it from their own home and within their own communities, not even residential drug programs.
If we just did those two things, we automatically save money. And what do we do with that money that the state is now saving? What we do is we invest it in the things needed by the communities that have been most affected by incarceration.
Stop sending people to prison. Prison is the worst answer we could’ve ever come up with. I’ve lived in a prison, it is the most dehumanizing place on the planet, and it does nothing to help people who are in need of help to heal and advance their lives. And if they go into prison and they’re abused and treated badly while they’re there, which is inevitable because that’s a prison environment, and then they come out and now they have this stigma of having been incarcerated and a convicted felon, they use that label. We really have people who are never going to climb out of further committing acts that harm other people.
Adam Foss: I don’t know why people aren’t more pissed off about that irony, that we keep doing the same thing and making killers, making rapists, making robbers, I don’t understand why people aren’t look at prisons sideways, and at prosecutors sideways, and at probation officers sideways, judges sideways being like, ‘why do you keep doing the same exact thing?’ The same exact thing.
Rahsaan Hall: I also think the level and the way that the city is policed-- there are disparities in who gets stopped, how frequently they get stopped, and what communities those stops happen in and the disproportionate police contact that happens in communities of color.
Armani White: There’s ways to do court support, like organize people on your campus to come out and support cases where people have been stopped and frisked and illegally found guilty of crimes they should’ve never been stopped for.
Hajah McGee: A lot of youth, especially african american and latino youth feel like once they see a police officer, they see the end of the road. They feel like a lot of times dealing with the juvenile justice system that it’s not a equal spectrum, or it’s not a equal balance. We understand the disproportion, we understand the disparity that happens among african american youth, latino youth, and caucasian youth with going into the criminal justice system.
Carl Williams: Police came to my door and they said, ‘you know, there was a shooting on your street.’ I say, ‘Yeah, i heard half of the shooting. I saw people, cars speed away, i saw people run out on the street because there was a crossfire shooting.’ And they said, ‘well, we want to talk to you about it.’ I said, ‘well, give me your card,’ I was talking through the door, and I said, ‘put your card through the mailslot.’ And they said, ‘well, can’t we talk about it now?’ I said, ‘well actually I have three internal affairs complaints and I’d like to have a conversation about those.’ And they didn’t think that was funny. I was like, ‘look, i’m fully serious. I have three internal affairs complaints. I was pulled down my front stairs by an officer a little while ago, what’s up with that? Where’s your investigation for that?’
Like I don’t feel like this second conversation, it’s like I come over your house and I ask to borrow some sugar and you say, ‘aw fuck no, i’m not giving you anything,’ and then you come over my house and be like, ‘oh can i borrow some flour from you?’ I got a request in! That’s not the way this works. We’re supposed to be friends in this, like we’re supposed to be a community, you’re supposed to be serving us. And I think that’s a dramatic problem. Police love to say, oh it’s stop snitching culture, that’s why black and brown people - there are billboards up in my neighborhood that say like, ‘you need to tell, you need to do this thing, if you’re a witness, you need to be responsible for your community.’ The police are telling us, the police said a few weeks ago that the shooting at the Burke, they’re like, ‘the community needs to step up.’ It’s our fault? That people aren’t protecting us in our own communities?
And what I would say is if you stop, if for one year - not even one year, I’ll give it one month. If the police in the city of boston stopped unjustly stopping and frisking people, if they were properly using the fourth amendment, saying, ‘we’re gonna stop people based on reasonable suspicion of crime,’ there would be so much goodwill created in a very short period of time. People would be like, ‘wow! The police changed overnight, we don’t know what happened.’ And I think that’s the greatest impediment to police and community relations. It’s not that there hasn’t been enough coffee with the cops. And there hasn’t not been enough of the boston police hoodsie ice cream truck coming to the neighborhood. Or this teen youth group doing a hip-hop show with the three cops who can spit lyrics. That’s not, that’s fine, if the other stuff is fine, but you can’t use that stuff as veneer over the - and people know that. That’s like the abusive spouse that comes home and buys flowers and says I love you baby. You’re like, ‘yeah, but there’s the other thing.’ There’s the other thing and all your ice cream and all your flowers ain’t gonna make up for the other thing. You need to talk about the core institutionalized patterns of what looked like racialized policing before you talk about the coffee and the ice creams.
Armani White: When it comes to policing, like police, it’s disarm, demilitarize, and divest. Strong communities make police obsolete.
Rahsaan Hall: There’s something also to be said about the level of mental health issues and substance abuse issues that exist in communities of color and in poor communities and in communities that have high levels of violence--communities that are over-policed, that people are self medicating and then that people are finding additional employment opportunities that are outside of the legal market.
Rickey McGee: Whether it was a family and your father was incarcerated or it was known your father had drug issues and nobody spoke to the impact it had on your life you know there was no one that actually sat us down and actually spoke to the trauma that we witnessed and seen and you know running in crack houses and different things and for years on end we’ve never really processed the trauma and we actually how negatively or criminologically and i think as we age we begin to look at our past and realized it was some messed up things transpiring but at that time it was really never any adults intervening and showing that we’re not really affected psychiatrically by what was going on.
Monica Cannon: The majority of people that are incarcerated need mental health assistance. And we tend to ignore mental health in our community.
Carl Williams: I think a lot of the genderedness of our society disavows these things. Like toughen up, I’m also making quoting marks, like man up, that’s nothing, what’s the problem?
Hajah McGee: I don't see enough groups where it talks about what is self esteem to a young boy. They don’t talk about how do young boys deal with their emotional, excuse my french, but we call it shit. Their securely held internalized traumas. And i think young men - we would say it’s anger, would usually be the first emotion. But what is the root of that anger?
I’ll just say this: a lot of people have either sort of diagnosable mental health problems or have - they’re dealing with psychological stresses. I thought about this for a while, and I don’t think it’s any different than maybe the people i work with here, the people i’ve ever worked with, all the people i know; friends, family folks. Because a lot of people deal with a lot of stuff because life is stressful. But I think that is very often the case. I think people are - you know, imagine someone gets beat up by the police and sees four of their friends get roughed up by the police or unfairly arrested. That’s an incredibly traumatic - i think when we talk about stop and frisk, we’re like, ‘oh, stop and frisk!’ I’m like, yes… Imagine someone grabbing you, pushing you down on the hood of a car, saying very gruff things, if not racial - i’ll say racial insensitive to make it a little low bar, and the handcuffing you and putting their hand on your head and pushing you into a police car. And you’re locked in there and you can’t go anywhere.
I think if we look at the numbers over a three or four year period, the boston police stop and frisk a couple hundred thousand people. Either stopped, frisked, detained, interrogated, observed. Hundreds of thousands of people. That’s stressful. That’s intense.
Andrea James: When we talk about gun violence and try to treat it like a societal issue and these are just a bunch of bad little black boys running around with guns and we need to lock them up to fix the problem, we’re totally ignoring how these young children got to a place - they’re not killing white kids. They’re killing black boys in their communities that look just like them. That they played with on the playground when they were children. How did we get to a place where our own black sons are killing each other? That directly comes from the effects of mass incarceration and the just stripping of the fabric of our communities, from cycling people in and out of prison, and all of the oppression that comes from people having to go through a carceral state.
Hajah McGee: So it’s like you now took the innocence out of the communities, and you put this kind of survivor mentality. And now it’s like i have to survive. It’s all about survive, it’s like i need to be able to walk to the store and come back home and not get hit by a stray bullet. Or i need to be able to go to the store and come back home and not be attacked by a - something of that nature is what a lot of these youth are dealing with on a consistent basis.
Barbara Fields: So many of our young people have been traumatized by the killing of their friends, family members, all that goes on this war about getting guns off the streets.
Monica Cannon: We’re dealing with a community that is severely traumatized, that has been promised things and there was no follow through.
We don’t receive the same services as other communities. So when it happens in other communities, they rally around, they send trauma teams to schools, they send trauma teams to the house. You get a detailed officer who stops people from contacting the family, allowing them to breathe. That doesn’t happen in our neighborhoods. Someone gets shot, the body lays out there for six or seven hours because they have to do their work around the crime scene and stuff like that, but that’s traumatic itself. And then everybody disperses and goes away, and nobody asks about the children who witnessed that. Nobody ask about the family. No one asks any questions. They clean the ground and they keep going.
Cindy Diggs: A lot of the work that i do with Peace Boston is hip-hop-based. We produced a peace in the streets album where over 100 artists donated the money to youth programming, and the other half of the money we unfortunately raised to families that couldn’t afford a burial for their child. That was pretty intense. I’ve done a lot of different shows to raise money and awareness, spoke to the violence in the community, and just that sort of thing. But just, when you look into the casket of a young child, it just makes you want to get involved. And know that these kids would have grown to be somebody. And now they’re gone.
Barbara Fields: I think, of course i’m biased, i’m an educator. Of course for me the main challenge is educating our children so they are equipped to make intelligent decisions, raise families, further our race so that we are able to fulfill the dream of our ancestors. As dismal as things seem sometimes, when we look over our history, we’ve come a long way, but as we look forward to our potential, we still have a long way to go. I think education is a real key to that.
Cindy Diggs: The education system sucks. The MCAS, you know, ever since that’s come about, you have more dropout kids that know they’re not gonna pass the MCAS just drop out, and just not being in a structured environment causes them to do their own thing. You know an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.
Rahsaan Hall: I think our educational system is creating tremendous roadblocks for our young people. For them to be fully equipped to engage in a very technological workforce they’re missing out on those opportunities to be prepared and as long as the achievement gap continues to exist then as long as students aren’t having access to the top institutions in the city it makes it very challenging and with the rates of discipline and disparities in discipline then those are huge burdens.
Andrea James: Every single child in this country - we are the wealthiest nation in the world - should be receiving the same education those kids are getting at milton academy up the street from us, that needs to be afforded to every single child of every single color, every single race, every single child in this country.
Monica Cannon: I think we have to do better in our schools with telling our young people about taxes. And loan percentages. And maintaining a bank account. Because those are the things that we don’t teach them that they're gonna have to deal with when they get into the real world. We consistently say go to college, go to college, go to college, but we don’t tell you that if you take this loan, you’re gonna be paying it until you’re 80. Educate our community, give them the tools they need, and empower them to do it on their own instead of dictating what needs to be done.
Barbara Fields: It seems education is under attack when we look at the privatization of education by way of charter schools. Charter schools were developed to be labs of innovation to show how we can do things better. Instead it’s turned into a moneymaker, it’s privatized for money. Instead of educating young people, it’s become a process to make our people complacent. So it makes you wonder why is it necessary to turn our schools into military spaces where you do as you're told, when you're told, as you’re told, and not do much critical thinking. If you did you would not condone these kind of institutions.
Culturally competent curriculum. With experienced culturally proficient teachers who can understand our young people from a culture perspective. Who can make instruction meaningful. Who can relate to our young people. Our teachers need good strong prof development. And adequate funding so the resources are there.
Andrea James: You know, housing. Housing. We have women who have come home three years ago and they still go and get in line at woods-mullen shelter every day because they don’t have a place to live, and they’re still not reunited with their children, living with them, because you can’t take a child into a shelter and live with them.
Housing, fair, clean, decent housing. That’s a right. We’re human beings - human beings, we have a tendency to not reflect upon this, but to human beings, housing is not a luxury for people. It’s not fair that we’re too poor to get an apartment so that means, fuck you, we don’t care about you. And that’s exactly what happens to poor people, particularly poor women who come out of prison.
Rahsaan Hall: I think housing prices are a tremendous burden the, lack of affordable housing because again a lot of the people in communities like roxbury dorchester mattapan are in communities where they are connected to families friends agencies and resources that provide support but can’t afford to continue to stay in there because of the level of gentrification. The reality that wealth is passed down generationally largely through home ownership and the fact that people can’t even get into that housing market here continues to cut off people from developing wealth and it’s been like that historically and it’s only getting worse.
Monica Cannon: Most of the people in this district - 78% are renters, so they don’t own anything. And if you don't own your home, when things are put on the table as far as redevelopment and different conversations take place about what should and shouldn’t happen in this community, very rarely do they listen to the people who don’t have stake. So i think it’s important to educate the people in this district about home ownership and small businesses and how important those things are, but also making sure they get direct access and not having to jump through three hoops to get those things, because that’s discouraging in itself.
Lisa Owens: Yeah, so city life has been around for about 43 years, and we actually got our start defending tenants from slum landlords - from being displaced from their homes. So 43 years later, we’re still doing the same thing. And again, the heart is community control of land and housing. So you can think of our work as both defensive and offensive.
So on the defensive side, we’re fighting literally for our homes. We’re fighting to help people who are experiencing dramatic rent hikes. Who are experiencing building clear-outs through a process called no-fault eviction. And also people who are experiencing foreclosure due to predatory lending. So through our community organizing and our legal strategy, which we call the sword and the shield model, we help people stay in their homes using a collective community organizing process. It’s very similar to how unions do collective bargaining.
So that’s our defensive work. And our community displacement organizing - it’s very local, so it’s neighborhood-based, but it’s city-wide because of these tenant organizations that are formed. And its regional and it’s actually national. So during the height of the foreclosure crisis, we actually got supported to support some organizing across the greater boston region. So as far up as the merrimack valley and as far down as the brockton/randolph area. Actually as far down as providence. And then we were also supported to teach other organizations across the country to do this sword and shield organizing. And through the right to the city network, we continue our relationship with organizations across the country.
And that’s really important because, again, if we’re talking about community control of land of housing and we’re talking about changing economic structure and systems, then this really needs to be a national strategy.
Andrea James: We have a house around the corner from me in roxbury that’s selling for 2 million dollars. Gentrification and the roots have settled deep in our community and people have been displaced.
T. Michael Thomas: The gentrification is a serious thing, whereas years ago, i remember too, roxbury, parts of dorchester, mattapan, a certain demographic didn’t walk through there, didn’t want to drive through there. Now they’re walking through, cutting through, walking their dogs through.
Cindy Diggs: Oh yeah. Can’t stand it. I’ve lived in the same house for forty years, and you just don’t have neighbors anymore. It’s more transient people that stay for a year or so. Constant parties.
There’s hardly families here anymore. I was just talking about this recently that my mother’s tenant, years ago, when she lived here was raising a teenager - would yell out to people in the house behind us and tell them to be quiet. Because it’s bedtime on a tuesday. And they told her if she didn’t like it, she could move. And she grew up in mission hill.
So yeah, it’s a challenge because when you grow up in a neighborhood and everybody grows up here, like the kids that i grew up with around here, their parents went to school with my mother. So now you’ve lost that neighborhood. It’s now just northeastern’s additional dorm on the hill.
Armani White: There’s ways to get your university to actually not participate in gentrifying neighborhoods, like northeastern’s a huge gentrifier, they buy up - are trying to buy up half of roxbury and lower roxbury, and the south end, and turn it into a giant campus. They don’t pay taxes, so they don’t actually benefit the community. And the benefits that they put into their buildings that they build - because every building that builds something has to have a community benefit portion of it - aren’t made public.
Andrea James: Access to food, to good food, to healthy food. We got crap in our communities. We don’t really, even now that we have more supermarkets, i mean most of my 51 years living in roxbury, we didn’t have a supermarket. So people ate potato chips and drank soda, and kids weren’t raised walking down the street and having fruit stands and access to fresh vegetables, and that’s a crime in itself.
Jeremy Thompson: So haley house came and worked with the community, and they said they wanted these things, and we opened our doors in 2005 and provided locally sourced food. You know, we having cooking classes, take back the kitchen. For kids, adults, and teenagers alike, where you can come in and take some of your favorite foods like fried chicken, and they teach you how to make them in a healthier way.
We have community tables, which offers a pay what you can eating experience, plated service, three course meal. Every saturday from 5 to 7 pm. We developed this program because going out to eat in america is just as american as a slice of apple pie, things like that. And people deserve that american experience, right? That’s part of being american, going out to eat. But understanding the income disparities between the neighborhoods and how things are working, you know people in roxbury are making 25,000, 22-, 25,000 a year on average, when you cross mass ave, people are making 125 to 150,000 on average. And with those disparities come these restaurants that offer these high end goods. We can't afford that. We can barely afford to put food on our tables, so nevermind that kind of restaurant experience. So we wanted to make sure people had that experience here, so we offer a three course, pay what you can meal every saturday to make sure families could take their kids out, people can have a great date night, or community people can just engage with each other.
If you hear some of the things that we do, nothing is done by ourselves. It’s all done by partnerships. Community tables is with ever’s country (?) garden, the table project donating food from their gardens to ensure people have quality food, whole foods, a market. So all of these are taking a part in healing and making a better community for all.
But the highlight of our day is when people come in for lunch and we interact, and it’s a bustling environment, and you get to see this melting pot of people come in, and you feel the energy in a space where everybody’s just recognizing people for who they are and where they are. And that’s the greatness of this place.
T. Michael Thomas: Most people that i could think about turn to the street to support their families and themselves. But if you supply them with an opportunity to learn and to be employed, they wouldn’t turn to the streets. There’s no reason.
Michael Curry: So for me, one of the biggest issues is primary business development in our communities. Can we get, quite frankly, Black owned, Latino owned, Cape Verdean owned, Haitian owned, go down the list, businesses in our community that are primary businesses. They’re large-scale, they employ large numbers of people, they generate secondary businesses. So you get a cleaners and you get a restaurant that is put up down the street in order to serve those communities.
Can we develop workforce development training programs? Can we put money into apprenticeship programs and unions? Can we give people the testing that they need to pass these police civil service exams and fire department exams. So that challenge still continues, to find the investments in communities of color that we've been looking for.
T. Michael Thomas: The construction built in and out, they’re hiring people from new hampshire, rhode island, connecticut. Where there are people with straight up talent that are black, that are right here in the community, and refuse to hire them. So these are some of the impacts that i’m seeing that needs to be addressed.
The People’s Academy is a training, learning, manufacturing component. In and around the building trades. I’m a coppersmith, which it comes under sheet metal. And what we do here is, we would take a person, it doesn’t matter your background, we don’t care what you have done in the past, as long as you have the willingness to come in and listen and learn, we would work with you, we would teach you this trade, this historic trade, that you could come out and get gainful employment.
Whether you want to go towards the union, whether you want to go towards a non-union company, whether you want to work for yourself. Most of the times, i encourage entrepreneurship, that we work with you and teach you to go out, start your own business that you have control of - more so of your income level. And you can also hire more people. So if you teach a person a trade, they can survive a lifetime. And as long as humanity is alive, you would always need a tradesperson because you need someone to fix the houses, the buildings, repair them, whatever it is.
Lisa Owens: So the boston ujima project - we talk about it as an alternative economic ecosystem. So city life is one of a handful of organizations and individuals that came together to answer the question about what would community wealth building look like for social movement activists. And so, after a period of a lot of steady - and educating ourselves about models for cooperative economics in this country, we created this really far out idea that links social movement activists and people of color in traditional neighborhoods of color - roxbury, dorchester, mattapan, east boston - to student organizing around the divestment work. Around divesting from extractive fossil fuels. Divesting from instruments of terror in our communities - prisons for profit and that kind of thing.
So linking that movement for anchor institutions to take money out of the extractive companies and putting the money back into the neighborhood. So the idea of the ujima project is that we combine that money with the money of folks in our community and also impact investors, and create a local community-controlled fund that we as a community allocate in a participatory way.
And we allocate them to businesses in our neighborhood that are run both by people in our neighborhood - including small businesses and including workers cooperatives - that agree to a set of community-defined standards. And so, there are lots of pieces to the project, but the baseline is community control of wealth, community control of land, and community control of housing. So through our community fund and our community standards process, the idea is that we reallocate money from the extractive economy and invest it in our communities. And then reinvest the profits back into the communities.
It might sound strange to say, but at its heart, the ujima project is an anti-capitalist project. So the idea - and that’s actually very in line with city life as an organization. So we’re fighting for economic and political transformation. And one of the key changes we think needs to happen is that we need an economy that works for all people, and that’s controlled by all people, where all people are able to make decisions about allocating resources in a way that are in our best interest. So ujima is structured around those values and principles.
Access to resources
Jeremy Thompson: This is a very enriched state, in regards to non-profits, programming, things of that nature. There’s a lot of opportunity out there, but one, there’s not direct access to those opportunities for the people that need it, and part of that problem is there’s not enough involvement from our city officials, our government.
Monica Cannon: I think there’s so many resources out here, but i think on purpose that the people in my community in particular are not notified of those resources. And how can you use something if you don’t know it’s there? So i think that needs to happen more often, but it start with the elected officials, because a lot of the information, they know, but they’re just not dispersing it properly to the community that they were voted to serve. And so making sure that you know that there’s resources to help if you fall behind on your rent because that’s a possibility living in this city. Knowing that there are resources to help you with your light bill if you can’t pay it or where to go to get food if you and your family are hungry and you make too much money to get food stamps. And that’s the reality of this community in particular, it’s like there are a lot of people who are working, they’re getting up going to work every day, but according to the state standards, they make too much money to get state assistance, but they’re still hungry and struggling going from meal to meal and paycheck to paycheck.
And so making sure that they get the information. Making sure that you know there’s a resource that will sit down and help you plan your finances for free. Making sure that you know there’s a resource that will sit down and walk you through the process of owning your own home, especially if you’re someone who’s working and paying market rent living in roxbury.
Rickey McGee: But honestly, I don’t - see, what i get tired of being witness to is: the people that are most affected by what is going on in the inner city are those who are most disconnected from the legislative process. Now, in a democratic society, it’s assumed that there’s representation from that city, or from that town, or from that country, so the people are actually speaking through that liaison. But if that elected official doesn’t have meaningful ties to the community, then the community isn’t heard. Or if the community is disengaged from the process, their solutions aren’t even coming to there.
Hajah McGee: You have your constituents who would vote for you, but once you’re in that position, it’s like you forget the promises that you made. And then we as the constituents end up dealing with the backlash at that. Because you can’t tell me that you’re putting all these programmings out there and then it’s ineffective. Because if you’re really looking at restorative justice, and you're really looking at rehabilitation, let me ask, who has actually followed up about those things to see if they worked or if they didn’t work. No one could answer me that. So again, if we’re gonna talk about solutions, don’t give me all these academic words around the solution. Either have something concrete and tangible that can be long-term, or let’s come down to the table with some individuals who have the opportunity to provide that.
Monica Cannon: I got frustrated with talking to people who i felt like didn’t represent me properly. I felt like that they were more focused on their own interest. And After consistently fighting and getting thing done, and i’m able to get more done on a community level than you are able to get done as a politician, i thought i can take those same things and those same resources, and run for this seat and have a seat at the table instead of being on the table. And be able to advocate for my community directly, and make sure they get what they need. And that’s not to say that i would be able to do everything, but i would get a whole hell of a lot more done than hasn’t been done in the last 20+ years.
When you decide to run for specific seat or represent a group of people, you need to educate yourself on those people, their needs, and their concerns. And if you don’t know what they need, then you go to the people that do know and start asking questions and gathering information so that you can service those people, because it’s your responsibility to do so.
Richard O’Bryant: I’m a big believer that institutions like a university or a college have a responsibility to the community that’s around them. Northeastern technically sits in roxbury, even though its address is identified as boston. But if you look at the history of this area, roxbury extended all the way over to huntington avenue, where the museum of fine arts is.
But its presence has changed this community, obviously, forever. And i believe that institutions like a university, because of the kind of intellectual resources they have, that they could really help with regards to some of the community challenges. Whether it’s helping to educate the kids in their community, or helping educate community members, or whether it’s helping to make connections with job opportunities. Whether it’s here at the university or other places. But just being able to be good neighbors, i think is important. And if you look at the universities all around the greater boston area, i think all of them - everybody struggles with those same issues, and northeastern is no different. But because northeastern is in such close proximity to roxbury, some of those issues get highlighted, and some of those issues get exacerbated.
Lisa Owens: If they are students and they’re here for four years, they can come to any of our organizations and volunteer; for a semester, or for all four years. That’s - there’s lots to do. The just cause eviction coalition and city life always needs lots of help doing canvassing. So door knocking buildings, letting people know, you know, we expect that your landlord might be threatening to raise your rent soon because this is a practice that they have. Or did you know that these are your rights under massachusetts state law if you get an eviction notice, or something like that. So there’s always canvassing. Any of our organizations would love to have you, so look us up.
Monica Cannon: I also think that if you’re a student at northeastern, educate yourself on your politicians - who’s running, get involved with the campaigns, get involved with the community groups. Me myself, i do a block party. I’m always looking for volunteers. Come out and volunteer for something, so you can get a direct, first-hand knowledge of what people are going through. People will talk to you, they’re just waiting for you to say something. If you ask someone what they need, 9 times outta 10, they’ll tell you. And so as for as just working with the community, just show up.
Richard O’Bryant: That’s a challenge because even though people may not convey this message of ‘don’t go to that side of town,’ people figure it out fairly quickly. And what i think students end up doing is staying on this side and avoiding that side for whatever reasons. Whether it’s the reputation that it has, or they themselves may have come from somewhere they never had an experience in an urban area, so they don’t feel comfortable in those neighborhoods.
There was an old rap song that used to say it ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re at. So when people come to northeastern, they really should take the opportunity to really get to know the neighborhood and the community and be able to have an impact in a positive way.
Armani White: I think we really need young people, people of color, young radical white people too, that have time and are really energized and passionate to volunteer time to do things like outreach to - like knocking on door and talking about issues. People love to see college students that, especially college students that look like them.
Cindy Diggs: You have to be invested in the community that you’re living in. You can’t just be taking up space. You have to learn about what our issues are, even if it’s something you don’t totally agree with. When it comes to the impact you have, like maybe you participate in absentee voting and you don’t know how any of the candidates are, so you just pick whoever. But it’s not gonna have an impact on you because you’re leaving. So at least take the time out to know who the candidates are because it’s gonna have an impact of us, because they’re gonna make decisions that really affect us and not really you.
T. Michael Thomas: I think that for those - the people who are gonna be listening to this, what they need to do, they need to really sit back and look within theirselves, and say, hey, listen. What is it that i can do to help better somebody else’s life? So i challenge everyone else that we should have a system, even if it’s once a week, or once a month, that let’s us do something for someone else without looking for something in return.
Alexander Lynn: I would definitely say that student activism needs to be community activism. Because this it’s where it’s gonna happen. It’s not gonna happen at schools.
Andrea James: And the next time somebody needs to know what’s a good organization doing some really great community work, tell ‘em to look us up and send us ten dollars. Use your voice to help raise some money, there’s a whole lot of organizations in roxbury, not just ours, there’s a ton of them that are doing really good work. And you guys who are students, i know, i was privileged. I had access to education, i was just like you guys, i was able to go to some of the best schools in the country, and we have a responsibility. Those of us who are privileged and have the, i don’t give a shit if you’re dirt poor eating noodles, whatever. You still are privileged to the point that you are afforded an education. So as you go through that experience and come out the other end, don’t forget about the people who are on the ground trying to create change for people who don’t have that privilege. I’m teasing about the other things, but not really, but I really want to leave that as students from a school that I love and think is one of the best schools in the country because of our co-op opportunities and the fact that we are a social justice university. I want to just leave that with you students know to understand that we have a greater responsibility than just getting our degree and taking care of ourselves, okay?
Adam Foss: I mean, you name it, people of color are suffering from a lack of it. Adequate health care, adequate mental treatment, adequate nutritional food, adequate prenatal and postnatal care, adequate early ed, adequate regular ed, adequate high school, access to real employment, I’m not talking about jobs, I’m talking about careers. Access to transportation, housing, you name it, and everything is to the detriment of people of color.
Again, it’s not a coincidence, and I don’t think that there are people like sitting in an office somewhere like, ‘yeah, let’s get ‘em all,’ but it’s an uncomfortable conversation that we have to have. It’s like, this is still happening, it’s on all of our watches, we need to admit that it’s happening, figure out how to fix it, make everything - at least try to be equal for everybody.
Jason Lydon: I think when we think about organizing and fighting and victories and what we’re going to secure, my hope is that when we win something, we are clear about what we’re winning and that the compromises we make - are we sure we’re going to be willing to go back for people? Because I think about the LGBTQ movement, and I think about gay marriage and organizations like massequality and all these big groups that fought incredibly hard to get marriage and made a lot of things better for wealthy, white gay men and lesbians, and then enormous amounts of money just disappeared, dried up. They’re not supporting groups like Black and Pink, or EJIP, or these other organizations that are predominantly made up of people of color and criminalized folks. They care about them securing victories for themselves. I think, for any movement, when we are securing victories, to do so in a way that paves the way for more victories, not sets us up for one win and we’re all set.
Lisa Owens: So we all have to unlearn. We’re all living in this system and the oppression impacts us in lots of different ways. So all of us are coming from some area of privilege, not just people who we typically think of as the people who are most impacted. And the process of organizing collectively unearths some of the internalized oppressions that we’ve been educated in, and it gives us opportunities to unlearn these things together.
Haywood Fennell: I think that we should value our youth. We should encourage, not discourage them. We should tell them the truth: that life is a struggle. But it doesn’t mean that we capitulate and go to the easy way out.
Hajah McGee: I want my kids to know that your community is impacted by you. And i always loved that quote by - mahatma gandhi? Be the change in the world that you want to see. So i wanted my kids to see just how impactful a voice can be. I have to lead by example. If my kids say who’s my role model? I want them to say my mom, my dad. Because it’s easy for them to get sucked into that subculture of developing in communities that when they feel ostracized, or when they feel like they’re outcast, or when they feel like they don’t have a connection to it, it’s easy for us to look into those things and find that. If you look back into your childhood, maybe a lot of the friends you had, you all had a lot of commonalities and similarities. I wanted my kids to see the opportunity that everyone’s voice matters, and it doesn’t matter on what topic or what subject, but everyone’s voice matters. And if something is affecting you, or it’s affecting a loved one, know that you have a voice.
Barbara Fields: I love young people, i love our community, and i love our people. I look back on those who came before us and all that they did to get us to the point where we are at. So i think about the harriet tubman's and all the other folk that pulled us from a point of being enslaved, and all that they risked for that to happen. And how can we not risk that struggle because we are not totally free yet. The more things happen to pull that away or to impede us from moving forward, the more i get convicted that we don’t have the luxury of sitting back and not destroying that struggle. So when i get tired and want to stay home and read books i just can’t do it as long as we are still fighting for kids to get a good education. The more i see the inequities, if we just organize and use our political strength, we can turn things around for our community.
Monica Cannon: I don’t think that there are programs who are actually doing anything wrong, i think the issue is us coming together. A lot of us always talk about unity and how the young people get together and do better, but they need an example. If you have adults who can’t sit in a room and come together, and work together, then how can we expect you people to do it?
Michael Curry: If you’re not at the table, you’re on the table or you’re on the menu. At the table is voting. At the table is being at the boardroom and in the conversation in the courtroom. Is showing up at the city council hearing, the state legislative hearing, having your voice heard, coming with the research, coming with the data. And not ending up on the table.
Alexander Lynn: Oh yeah, the african american institute. You know, they changed it’s name - the Amilcar Cabral african american institute, i don’t know if you’re hip. Amilcar Cabral - if i could say one person as a mentor. Unbelievable. Unbelievable revolutionary. And the students at northeastern occupied a building until northeastern gave it to them. That’s where that came from. And they named it the amilcar cabral african american institute, until they change the name.
Alexander Lynn: We need an organization of revolutionaries. The purpose is so when the people rise up, there’s a group organized to lead them in a correct direction. We don’t make a revolution. An organization of revolutionaries doesn’t make a revolution. It facilitates the people making a revolution.
Carl Williams: There’s one thing that we need to do. Just one. People need to organize and build a structure, machinery to combat injustice and oppression. That will solve problems. That is the only thing in this country and anywhere in the world that has ever really solved problems. That might take a lot of different shapes, but people need to be organized and say we have the ability to win, and we as black people in this country have always, every - like you could pick the year and i could tell you what we were fighting. And you could pick a year and i could tell you what we were fighting, and i can tell you when we won. So we will win. That is absolutely no question, the only question is when, and i can tell you when too. The harder you and me, and everybody else that we know works, it will be one day sooner.
It’s easy. People are always like, ‘don't you get-,’ no, we’re closer today than we were yesterday. We’re closer today than we were yesterday.
This is in frederick douglass’ autobiography, he talks about the day that he felt the most free. He says the day that he felt the most free, he got in a physical fight with his - i don’t like to call the person his master's ‘cause that’s like a weird concept that someone was frederick douglass’ master, but he got in a fight. That person said, ‘oh, you need to go work on this other farm, i’m gonna rent you out, go down the road and go work for him.’ And he’s like, ‘i don’t wanna work for that guy, that guy is crazy. He beats me up all the time. I don’t want to work for him.’ And he said, ‘naw, i’m telling you to go.’ And frederick douglass said, ‘i’m not gonna go. I’m not gonna go.’ And he had actually - part of this is, one of his friends had given him this magic herb that he believed was magic and said you’ll never be beaten again, and he’s like, ‘that’s crazy.’ But he had it in his pocket and he kinda said, ‘maybe that’s true. Maybe that’s true.’ And his master tried to start beating him, he’s like, ‘nah, you’re not gonna beat me,’ And he said, ‘as of this day, you’re not gonna do it.’
And i don’t mean to say that every person needs to immediately liberate themselves and every person who was enslaved did something wrong and frederick douglass did it right, but he just said, ‘look, i’m liberating myself from my mind and i’m not gonna like this way anymore. And i’m taking that step whatever i can do every day from today, i’m stepping towards freedom. Everything i do is in that direction.’ And he says - this is a person who went to paris in the 1800s, a black person who was still an escaped slave. He still was someone’s property, according to the law. Went to paris, went to london, traveled europe. I mean that shit was like three months to get there, right?
And he spoke before enormous audiences and was seen as the - rightfully so, as one of the main, at least men, that was working to liberate our people. And he said the day that he felt most free was a day that he was enslaved. He was enslaved for years after that. And i think that is incredibly empowering. ‘Cause it’s like - i tell people, ‘take the step out on the road and move towards freedom. Right now, put that shit in your mind and get about the work about being free.’ Because whatever bad things are happening to you, whatever’s happening around you, if you’re working towards that goal, you, from this moment forward will be more free.
…There’s not much more to say after that. If you’re feeling as inspired by those amazing people as we are, do something! Everyone who spoke to us today is involved in a community organization, and they would all love more support - get involved in whatever way’s best for you, whether that’s volunteering or donating money. If any particular organization or issue caught your attention, you should check out the community page on our website, at www.coloredpodcast.com/community, we’ve listed out every organizer we talked to over the course of the summer.
Thank you so much for listening to Colored. This has been an amazing experience, and we can only hope you’ve been as impacted as we’ve been.
We have to give so many thanks to all of our interviewees - you all taught us so much. We hope that we weren’t too much of a burden on your already ridiculously intense schedules. Often times the work that you do is thankless - hopefully this project even slightly illuminated why it’s so important. We’ll always be thankful that we met each of you.
We are extremely appreciative of the Northeastern University Scholars Program - particularly Jonna, Andrew, and Kate. You’ve been with us for three years, you got us the funding to make this project possible, and you always held us down if we needed to find a room for an interview at the last minute, bounce some ideas off of you, or whatever else.
We’re also incredibly grateful to our mentor, Dr. Sarah Jackson. You’re one of the most brilliant professors I’ve ever had, and we’ve benefited immensely from having you in our corner - watching to make sure we didn’t do anything stupid.
Our friend Alyson del Castillo made our awesome artwork. Alyson, we gave you a painfully vague description of what we wanted, and somehow you came back to us with six awesome ideas - it was hard to choose just one. You all can find more of her work at http://alyson.del-castillo.net/.
My boy Joey Powell did all of our music - you’ve made us sound infinitely more professional with your skills. Check out the Converse Rubber Tracks Sample Library to find the samples he used. Shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to commission his talents. Joey's also a multi-talented guy - if you like hats, check out a new project he's started.
Many thanks to our intern Albert Chung. You helped us with the tedious process of interview transcription, and we wish you all the best.
And a huge thanks to all of our friends, new and old, who have supported this project in so many different ways. Your love - from the moment we put out our trailer - has blown us away.
Outside Audio Source: C-SPAN "The War on Drugs: Policy & Priorities"