|Greetings from the 12th National President|
Yesterday I Cried. Today I Smiled. – Tomorrow I Hope To Rejoice
Yesterday I Cried Because…
Today I Smiled Because…
Tomorrow I Hope To Rejoice Because…
I stand in solidarity with you Black Social Workers, in our pain and sorrow, in our quest for a better tomorrow and in our claim for peace and justice. Ase’
Toni Oliver, President
National Association of Black Social Workers
Habari Gani Family!
In my previous message to you, I encouraged you to support the social media boycott of what is termed "Black Friday” and to sustain it throughout the commercialized Christmas holiday. My supporting rationale was that if our lives don’t matter, neither should our money. The outcome of joining that effort has been quite positive. The financial industry is still scratching its head trying to figure out why it missed its Black Friday prediction by 11%. This 11% can be translated to approximately twenty-two (22) million dollars. In an attempt to regroup, the financial industry’s rationale was at first to say that many shoppers now wait to do their shopping on cyber Monday. Guess what – those projections were missed, as well. Scrambling to attract shoppers with "last minute” sales the retail community began hyping "Super Saturday” a shopping event I had never heard of before. Regardless of recognition, the power of collective decision making was definitely felt during this shopping season. Now we must build on that synergy to demonstrate our strength and power and our commitment to building and nurturing our community. I am asking that we do that by joining and sustaining another initiative - #BuyBlack, which is more fully explained at the end of this message.
We Can’t Breathe
I would love to think we could close the book on 2014 and start a new and exciting new book of adventure and accomplishments, however, with all of the atrocities and abuse we have witnessed at the close of 2014, there is absolutely no way to close a book on the effects of the repeated and arrogant miscarriages of justice that we have witnessed by the recent murders and legal decisions in the highly publicized cases of Trayvon Martin, Jordon Davis, Michael Brown, Eric Green, Tamir Smith, Ezell Ford and Akai Gurley. I personally know of no one who was surprised by these legal "findings of fact.” While not surprised, we are definitely being shaken out of numbness into the realization that the façade of equality is merely a game of words without substance. We have been forced out of unconsciousness into the conscious reality that we can’t breathe. We have accepted weapons of mass distraction that are systematically put in place to make us repeat the mantra and even believe that we’ve come a long way but we have a long way to go. Really?? I personally don’t want to hear that said one more time.
A History Lesson
Let’s see how just how far we’ve come. Beginning with so-called slave revolts of Denmark Vesey and others, all of our civil rights movements have been removed from American history books that train Americans on the virtues of America. What we must not be distracted from is the fact that the first Civil Rights Act was enacted in 1866. The second Civil Rights Act was passed in 1875. The one we are allowed to remember is of course, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/reconstruction/activism/ps_1866.html
The Radical Reconstruction Period which followed the Civil War (1867-1877) is very similar to our current experiences in this US of A. Lest we forget, during this reconstruction period, Blacks were elected to local and state and national legislative offices and were the overwhelming majority of Republican voters (the party of Lincoln). http://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/black-leaders-during-reconstruction Our expanding numbers, however, became so uncomfortable for white Americans and that poll tax was assessed and Jim Crow laws were enacted throughout the country and from the 1880s into the 1960s to legislate segregation and with the express purpose of eliminating any semblance of equality and voting rights for Black Americans. An example of the viciousness of Jim Crow is demonstrated by a quote from Bill Tillman (SC Governor and US Senator) who said, "We scratched our heads [to find ways to take black off the voter rolls]. We stuffed ballot boxes. We shot them. We are not ashamed of it.” http://www.charlestoncitypaper.com/charleston/ben-tillman-was-a-racist-terrorist-and-murderer-its-time-to-take-down-his-statue/Content?oid=4857402
We’ve Come A Long Way
So we’ve come a long way, huh? Most of us are not even aware of the political and voting strength Blacks had during reconstruction and many believe we first gained the right to vote in 1964. While we are having fifty year celebratory recognitions of the March on Washington, Selma, and the passage of the civil rights and voting rights acts of 1964, the history of Jim Crow is also repeating itself. Both acts have been gutted through Supreme Court decisions. Thirteen (13) states have passed restrictive voting requirements and voter suppression, legislative redistricting and gerrymandering is unbridled in an effort to lessen the impact of the Black vote. Affirmative action cases are rarely, if ever upheld and many have been stricken for lack of conclusive evidence of intentionality. New tech public lynching via stand your ground laws police murders without consequence become more frequent. Through these weapons of mass distraction our attention is drawn away from systemic issues of disenfranchisement systemic racism and disregard for Black lives in general.
Removing the Blinders
So what are we to do? There is no one answer. I am encouraged by the leadership shown by Black youth via social media. Unlike the singular faces we came to know in the 60s, Huey, Eldridge, Bobby, Malcolm X, MLK, Jesse, Rev. Al, we now have a flurry of very organized hashtags guiding our way. #Blacklivesmatter, #anonymous, #allivesmatter, #ericgarner, #icantbreathe, #every28hours, #Justice4All, #trayvonmartin, #mikebrown, #thisstopstoday to name a few. The St. Louis Rams 5 stood in their truth, emerging from the locker room with their hands up. Basketball teams have played games wearing "I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts. Across the country millions have taken to the streets in mostly peaceful protests and die-ins to call attention to the unrest and un acceptance of the flagrant manipulation of the law and grand juries in the highly publicized and unnecessary public murders of Black men. Lawmakers wore hoodies on Senate and House floors across the county to call out the travesty that a young black unarmed Black male could be gunned down because he was a perceived threat. The Miami Heat and other teams, pastors in pulpits across the county and protestors from coast to coast wore hoodies in memory of the senseless and racist nature of this life lost.
On some level, every community across America experiences a dysfunctional and oppressive relationship with law enforcement. That is not to say there are not good cops. However, Kareem Abdul Jabar frames the systemic nature of todays conflict well in a Time Magazine article. He writes, "In a Dec. 21, 2014 article about the shooting, the Los Angeles Times referred to the New York City protests as "anti-police marches,” which is grossly inaccurate and illustrates the problem of perception the protestors are battling. The marches are meant to raise awareness of double standards, lack of adequate police candidate screening, and insufficient training that have resulted in unnecessary killings. Police are not under attack, institutionalized racism is. Trying to remove sexually abusive priests is not an attack on Catholicism, nor is removing ineffective teachers an attack on education. Bad apples, bad training, and bad officials who blindly protect them, are the enemy. And any institution worth saving should want to eliminate them, too.”
A Call for Activism
We are at a watershed moment that will define how effectively we respond in the face of this growing moral crisis. MLK & JFK both referenced Dante’s Inferno when they said the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who are neutral in the face of moral conflict. We cannot afford to be neutral and we cannot afford to get distracted.
I am calling on NABSW for activism. Many of the hashtag protests are supporting and developing sustained change strategies, a necessary trajectory of protest if it is to have meaning. Some activism is focused on community forums and strategies targeted toward improving police/community relations, police training, police cameras, etc. Some activism is focused on initiatives to document and then eliminate disproportionality and disparities in educational opportunities, affordable housing, living wages, healthcare and social services. Some activism is focused on voter education, voting rights information and legislative advocacy. Some activism is focused on making community safety a community citizen responsibility. Some activism is focused on mentoring youth, especially black males. Black women are quite visible in these movements and more of our men are needed to stand up and show leadership in this all of these areas.
I am specifically calling on NABSW to join the #BuyBlack movement and focus our 1.8 trillion of annual spending (the 9th lagerst in the work)toward our community and with businesses that demonstrate a commitment to give back to our community. We must turn our consumerism into wealth building. Blacks are the profit margin for a tremendous segment of the financial community – with no return on our investment. For example, we are 13% of the population and over 30% of Cadillac sales. At the same time research shows that dealers quoted significantly lower prices to white males than to black or female test buyers using identical, scripted bargaining strategies.
Our current spending behavior does not send our dollars through our community not even once. However, in other ethnic communities their dollar circulates 5 – 10 times before coming out.
#thismustchangetoday! When we direct our spending, we develop the power to not ask people to be kind to us, but instead demand the type of treatment we desire AND most importantly, develop individual and community wealth.
New Black Trade Circle App:
If Our Lives Don’t Matter, Neither Should Our Money
Here is what I am asking of you:
In the spirit of Kwanzaa, I ask that the principles be more than a seven day celebration, but a way of life that constantly demonstrates Umoja – Unity, Kujichgulia – Self Determination, Ujima – Collective Work and Responsibility, Ujamaa – Cooperative Economics, Nia – Purpose, Kuumba – Creativity, and Imani - Faith.
In the spirit of our Code of Ethics I ask that we show respect and love for ourselves, our communities our families and our brothers and sisters throughout the African Diaspora, following our Code of Ethics, making no distinction between their destiny and our own.
In the spirit of the Ancestors, my prayer for us is that at the end of Our Black Year we will be able to demonstrate and report on the tremendous and positive impacts we have had in our communities and our families.
In the spirit of Harambee (Pulling Together in Kiswahili),
J. Toni Oliver
12th National President, NABSW Inc.
SINCE OUR LIVES DON’T MATTER, NEITHER SHOULD OUR MONEY
Once again contrived court proceedings have arrogantly manipulated the law to devalue and disrespect Black life. Social media is asking that we boycott Black Friday. I am asking you to take it a bit farther. Boycott for at least a week! Sisters, do not leave any money this week in those nail salons where all the clients look like you, while those taking the money don’t. Brothers, don’t leave any money in those sports bars where everyone giving up money looks like you, while the community you’re supporting has no one that looks like you.
I would love if we spent very little during this entire holiday season. When your spending resumes, I urge you to look through your African eyes at who and what your dollars support. How about resuming spending in celebration of Kwanzaa? You will have the opportunity to capture sales. You will show your financial power! You will make a statement about what matters!
This is not a sacrifice. The Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted 361 days – 1 year! Other communities spent months buying nothing in major stores. And the walls came tumbling down. Our boycott will be a huge statement that we are aware of the "games” being played on us. Our boycott sends a message that we recognize we do have power. Our boycott tells the world that we matter.? Money talks! Join me as we speak loudly with our money during this holiday season. Let us continue to speak loudly throughout the New Year, in a variety of ways, including our money, and our vote!
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"Rise Up Black Social Workers"
Like many of you, I have been in a state of shock and confusion as I watch the travesties unfold in and around Ferguson, MO. Another unarmed young man shot and killed by police for reasons that change with each day and with each news report. A militia policing a small town of 21,000. A town that is reportedly 70% Black, that used to be a middle class suburb of St. Louis and whose revenue, reported by the New York Times, is generated from traffic tickets and related fines and court fees. The NYT article suggests that residents of this small town of Ferguson, MO have become accustomed to an unbridled police state since municipal reliance on revenue generated from traffic stops and court fees adds pressure to make more of them.
With primarily white police forces that rely disproportionately on traffic citation revenue, the NYT reports that according to a recent report from Missouri’s attorney general, blacks in St. Louis County are pulled over, cited and arrested in numbers far exceeding their population share. In Ferguson last year, 86 percent of stops, 92 percent of searches and 93 percent of arrests were of black people — despite the fact that police officers were far less likely to find contraband on black drivers (22 percent versus 34 percent of whites).
So long before the senseless and barbaric murder of Michael Brown, this small town had been under siege and living in a police state. That may begin to explain why the Ferguson police immediately took a vigilante approach with the peaceful protesters from the community with drawn guns, not just any ole gun, AK47s and machine guns and armored tanks and riot gear and tear gas and intimidation. I’m watching TV and they’re saying its Ferguson, MO but it looks like Bagdad.
Why is a small Black community being treated like terrorists? Why has murder become a common response to exercise authority over young Black males? Why have the demographics in Black communities across the country shifted rapidly over the past decades resulting in high unemployment, increased crime and incarceration, deteriorating housing conditions; substandard educational opportunities, disparate health outcomes? With this rapid spiraling decline in the quality of life for African Americans there should be no question that an execution type murder of Michael Brown would light the powder keg of simmering anger and unrest across the country. Mike Brown is a symptom of a much larger problem – the wholesale abuse of justice and power in Black communities everywhere. I call for a national police policy in the United States of America.
Those who remember the civil rights movement may see this as a 2014 rendition of civil unrest in the 60’s. Then it was dogs and fire hoses and guns and tear gas and fire bombing and intimidation. Today it is AK47s and M16s and humvees and tear gas and armored tanks and cargo trailers and night vision gear and explosives robots and militia and intimidation. Back then, strategies were developed by passionate, committed and intelligent young people that spawned effective political organizations such as the Black Panther Party, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, to name a few, to address community issues, create viable solutions and protect the Black community.
Unfortunately, the more things change, the more they stay the same. In 1882, "nervous” enslaved people told their enslavers of Denmark Vesey’s plan for a rebellion against unjust and horrific treatment of enslaved people in Charleston, SC, which resulted in Veasey being killed by hanging. In the 60’s informers infiltrated the Panther Party, the NAACP and other progressive civil rights groups to provide information to the police and FBI on civil rights plans of these organizations and to incite confrontations when directed to do so. Now in Ferguson, a town so small that everyone knows if you’re from there or from somewhere else, provocateurs, also known as thugs, creep in at night to turn what had been a peace-filled day into a night of civil and criminal unrest, all done in an attempt to transform a serious community issue into a picture of wild, unruly and criminal Blacks who can only be subdued through excessive force. This is thug life at a most destructive level, an element that we know well and one that only we can control.
Today, strategic organizing factions are very much needed and sorely missing among our youth. In fact, those who speak out on Mike Brown-type incidents and consistently work on immediate and long range strategies to address injustice in Black communities across the country are typically those who were the youth of the 60’s and some 50 years later remain steadfast and committed to peace and justice everywhere. It is impressive that today peaceful protests of thousands can be pulled together quickly and effectively through social media. What happens after the gathering is over and the cameras go away. Hopefully, these valiant and impressive efforts will not stop there because the revolution will not be televised.
It is past time for Black communities to begin to address the generational divide, trust each other, become self determining and take our communities back. To that end, I implore every Black social worker and every ABSW chapter to use your meeting space as a war room, so to speak, to plan strategies targeted at eliminating the evils that are threatening our communities. Conduct community assessments to identify at least one community issue that plagues your Black community and develop strategies to address specific injustices and inequities. It might be police/community relations. It could be educational reform. It might be housing equity and subprime lending. You may want to develop opportunities for Black families and individuals to improve relationships through mental health counseling, listening sessions, seminars and retreats. It may be addressing mental and physical health disparities. In every community there is a need for voter education and registration, particularly in areas where voter suppression laws and behavior is active.
There is no limit to what committed Black social workers can to create change in our communities and it won’t happen if we sit back and watch the televised revolution, go out to protest and tweet it, Facebook it and post it on Instagram. The revolution will not be televised. It requires commitment, passion, planning and perseverance. Rise up Black social workers as our Founders did as young social workers 47 years ago. Build on their work to build this awesome association of Black social workers to live out our Code of Ethics – adopt the concept of a Black extended family and embrace all Black people as my brothers and sisters, making no distinction between their destiny and my own.
J. Toni Oliver, MSW
12th National President
National Association of Black Social Workers, Inc.