Mr. Luc El-Art Keynote Address
Black History Month Celebration St. Joseph's ,February 23,2014
On May 17, 1954, approximately 60 years ago this nation witnessed the most progressive and landmark change to education in the direction of integration. The United States Supreme Court in a unanimous decision stated that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” Many people truly believed that this was a monumental change and that as a people we have overcome. What they failed to realize in 1954 is that they would have to return back to the US Supreme Court in 1955 to desegregate the schools. It seemed obvious that if the Court held in 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education that separate educational facilities are inherently unequal, there would have to be some movement towards desegregation. Well it wasn’t. Despite the decision issued by the highest Court in the nation, schools, neighborhoods, and establishments still fought to segregate their facilities. Many fought to deny the same liberties and rights to minorities as they were given. They fought so adamantly against segregation that Ms. Brown had to return back to the court in 1978 to further enforce the desegregation of the schools and fight to be afforded the same rights that the other children are afforded.
Today, we are still fighting for those rights; equal educational opportunities in our neighborhoods, equal representation within our justice system, and equal respect from society. The only thing that has changed is that now our fight is not against the race that once denied our rights, but from the races that look like us.
About 20 minutes away in Far Rockaway there is PS 106 who has been without math or reading and writing books for the rigorous Common Core curriculum. The 234 kids get no gym or art classes. Instead, they watch movies every day. No substitutes are hired when a teacher is absent — students are divvied up among other classes. About 40 kindergartners have no room in the three-story brick building. They sit all day in dilapidated trailers that reek of “animal urine,” a parent said; rats and squirrels noisily scamper in the walls and ceiling. The principal who looks just like the students she is supposed to service, is nowhere in sight. As we fought to be afforded the same educational opportunities as our white counterparts, here we have a school with the ability to soar and the leader is not helping to advance their abilities to be doctors, lawyers, engineers, nurses, and productive members of society. Yet we ask why are our kids wandering the streets, being targeted, and being locked up. What are we doing to advance the educational opportunities our minority youth?
In 1955, a 14 year old black boy was murdered in Mississippi for reportedly flirting with a white woman. Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam took Emmet Till, transported him to a barn, beat him and gouged out one of his eyes, before shooting him through the head and disposing of his body in the Tallahatchie River, weighting it with a 70-pound (32 kg) cotton gin fan tied around his neck with barbed wire. His body was discovered and retrieved from the river three days later. They were acquitted of Till's kidnapping and murder, but only months later, in a magazine interview, protected against double jeopardy, they admitted to killing him.
Fifty Seven years later, a man observed a 17 year old black boy as he returned to the Twin Lakes housing community after having walked to a nearby convenience store. A violent encounter took place between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, which ended when Zimmerman fatally shot Martin 70 yards (64 m) from the rear door of the townhouse where Martin was staying. Zimmerman was acquitted of Martin’s murder.
Fifty Seven years later, a man gets into an altercation with a 17 year old black boy because his music is too loud and when Jordan Davis turns his back, Michael Dunn fatally shoots him, then goes to his hotel with his wife and has a glass of wine. Although Dunn was found guilty of attempted murder and possession of a firearm, he wasn’t convicted for the murder of Davis’ murder.
Fifty Seven years later, young black and Hispanic men are being stopped and frisked exponentially greater than their male counterparts while our system defends the disproportionate findings.
These stories continue to permeate throughout our justice system. We continue to witness a justice system where the time doesn’t fit the crime and is dependent on race.
These are some of the vivid and unequivocally unequal stories we have heard and seen. The need for equality is still relevant.
We live in a day and age where we have a black president, but many won’t address him with the respect due because of his race. Many won’t work across the aisle with him because of his race. Many will publically ridicule and tarnish his name because of his race. Civil Rights movement is not over. We have yet to overcome.
Every time my colleagues or myself walk into a courtroom to present a case, the looks of astonishment and shock prevails. Every time I address an audience of my counterparts, the comments of how well I speak or the surprise of how knowledgeable I am or how well I carry myself prevails.
We live in a day and age where our own actions become the judgment of everyone in our race: the music videos, which degrade women or promote the “N” word. The notion that getting money is more important than getting an education prevails. The pride in serving time rather than serving our community prevails. The prevalence of pants around the ankles rather than around the waist and the list goes on.
And we as a race have the audacity to say we have overcome. We have yet to see the mountain top. Where do we start?
We must remember that black history is very relevant and must be taught every day. We must be accountable for our young black men and women who are products of those schools who don’t give them the resources they need to be successful. We must get involved in the politics and laws that affect us who often time fall victim to their bias and prejudice. We must advocate for what is right and not sit silent and not be apathetic for what is wrong. We must promote the positive in our youth and encourage them to see how the world views them. We must empower our youth to stand up and speak out against inequalities. Some of our greatest leaders recognized that there was something wrong at early ages and despite those naysayers and people who tried to stifle their voice, they still stood up and spoke out. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s father wanted him to return back to Atlanta after seminary school in Boston, but MLK said no and knew he had a mission and a calling to stand up and speak out. Nelson Mandela often encountered critics who were content with the status quo and felt he was stirring up too much trouble, but he stood up and spoke out.
Who among us is next? Who will carry the torch? Everyone can help everyone reach the mountaintop. We are all in this together. We all fall victim to the inequality that prevails. I challenge every one of you to be an activist in this movement, whether it is volunteering to mentor a youth so that they are guided in the right path, starting a scholarship fund to help those who are unable to afford an education, or donating your talents to your local schools and community. These are strides to ensuring that we are moving towards the mountaintop. If we don’t do it who will? We cannot wait; the movement began already and is still going.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
It won’t be easy, it never is, but it is in the moment of uneasiness that true change is made.