The Police Camera Shows Us #BlackBoyJoy Can’t Exist, Not When Guns Are Drawn

A few days ago the Grand Rapids Police department released a body camera video from an incident involving two officers, and five black boys.

The police were looking for an armed robbery suspect, and apparently these boys fit the description. The description apparently being black male. None of these boys turned out to be who they were looking for. The police officers later visited these boys’ families, apologized, and thanked them for their compliance to the investigation. Not long after, the Police Chief for the Grand Rapids Police Department issued a public statement saying, “The officers showed empathy, they understood the ages of the children….They did their due diligence in terms of not putting themselves in harm’s way but they also showed that they appreciated the fact that these were young men.’’ In other words, if they could do it over again, they would not have changed a thing.

What these police officers, police chief, and supporters of #BlueLives fail to realize is that these were not young men–they were boys, just playing ball on the block. At what point do black boys cease being boys and become men? Black boyhood has always been erased and diminished by the state. No amount of empathy from these police officers could give that innocence back to these kids, not when guns were drawn.

I don’t doubt that there will be people who will see this video and justify it. They will say these boys did the right thing by listening to these police officers. They will say this is the job these #BlueLives men have to do, and we must comply unquestionably. There will be people who will applaud how calm these officers remained, and that they are to thank for the situation not getting out of hand, when in fact these officers were the ones who planted the seed of fear and terror on these children.

It’s a video that reminds us no matter how hard we try, #BlackBoyJoy doesn’t actually exist. We may attempt to wish it into existence, but at any moment the state can strip that bliss from us. The same joy that these boys were channeling, could have been their death. Black boy joy killed Tamir Rice and Trayvon. These boys could have been no different.

 

 

Making Meaningful Music: Inspiration Behind The Oneness Project

I don’t where to begin, but I guess I have to start somewhere. I remember 2 years ago being unsatisfied with music. I was playing with bands, writing music, touring, but it was missing something. I had been playing music for a long time. It’s always held a special place in my heart, and that’s why I was feeling empty. When you know how powerful music can be, when you’ve had the ability to touch people’s hearts in certain ways, even just once, when you fall short of that, no matter how “good” the music may sound, it just can’t feel right.

The Oneness Project is a response to that. I began writing the music a little over a year ago. These songs are dear to me, they represent spiritual growth, overcoming real hardships, and finding love in all things.  It is an understanding that your soul can’t be full, and your music will never reach the highest level, until all aspects of yourself, and your art, are ONE.

It was one year ago when we recorded the first and only video, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Since then, it’s only received great responses. it’s reminded me the power of music, and what purpose it should serve, and who. Now, a year later, I’m realizing I need to finish what I started, and do an entire album.

It’s a huge an undertaking, and I can’t do it alone. I’ve a started a GoFundMe Campaign, and I’m reaching out to all of you–my friends, my family, to people I’ve never met but who have continually supported me over the years–to help make this a reality, to donate, share, and spread the word to the people they know, and even the people they don’t. Here is the link. 

The goal is to raise $1,000, it seems like a lot, but making an album isn’t easy, and that goal will only help with some of the costs, the rest I will carry on my back.

Here’s what the funds will go towards:

1. Studio Time – Studio time is not cheap, especially when you want to make something that does not feel rushed.

2. Musicians – All of the musicians involved are amazingly talented, and deserve to paid their worth. From rehearsals, traveling across the region, and the actual recording, they will be dedicating a lot of time to this project. I want to make sure it is not in vain.

3. Distribution – Purchasing CDs, artwork, and shipping are all critical to getting the music you.

4. Most importantly: Through meeting this goal, I will be able to give away this music for FREE! I don’t believe in selling music, and I want this music to be accessible to everyone. You all can help with that.

Thank you to everyone who has helped, encouraged, and supported me this far. It’s meant a lot, and you all are the reason I am doing this.

Here’s to making good music!

-Mtali Shaka Banda

A White 6th Grader’s Letter on #BlackLivesMatter and Being an Ally

Recently, four 6th graders at the school I work at wrote a letter to President Barack Obama on the #BlackLivesMatter movement. It’s a powerful letter, and you can read it here. So powerful is the letter, in fact, it received thousands of shares, tv stations ran the story, and just a few weeks ago, President Barack Obama even wrote back.

What’s more inspiring is while all of this was going on, one of the boys’ classmates, a white student named Louis, wrote his own letter to the President–largely inspired by what his four classmates had already written.  

Louis’s letter isn’t attempting to overshadow what the boys have done. It’s a letter of encouragement, and more importantly, it is an example of what white allyship can adequately look like. This may be an issue that impacts Black youth at disproportionate rates to whites, but white youth should still be contributing to this movement. Silence is its own form of oppression, and this movement–this world–could use more people like Louis, where at just 12 years old, he is understanding his privilege and that he also  has a social responsibility: to be an ally.

 

Here is the letter:

Dear Mr. President,

Inequality is a huge problem in our modern day world, even at a young, elementary school age. Studies have shown that black students were three times more likely to be expelled than white students in the 2011-2012 school year. It is hard to imagine that a black child who is doing the same thing as a white child is being treated worse. I feel as though I should give back to people of color in every way possible to make up for the harsh injustices that have happened to people of color in the past. I try to remind myself that I am not one of the many people who believe that the color of someone’s skin makes them better or worse than another person.

In the news I hear about all the horrible things that have gone on involving inequality. I hear about the killing of Michael Brown, I hear about the statistics that are so far from fair, but I also hear about my schoolmates. I am so proud of my four schoolmates for standing up and bringing inequality under a spotlight. They wrote a letter that has gone so far, to thousands of internet shares and a place in the news. I feel strong when I know that they made a difference.

But they also received hate from people who wrote rude things, because these people knew that if they wrote it on a viral article they would get attention. And that disgusts me. I posted a video for a school project on YouTube about the importance of Black Lives Matter. Somehow, someone found the video and posted hateful comments toward me and people of color. He assumed I was African American and said “…As long as too many blacks commit too many crimes, like over half the murders, you are just another scumbag justifying your races criminal behavior your dindu attitude.”  

This ruined my day. It ruined my day because he said those incredibly racist things, but also because he assumed I was an African American.This ruined my day because he thought there was no such thing as an ally, someone who stands up for people who are being bullied when they are not. Every Time I read a disturbing fact about white people treating black people with inequality I feel emotional. I feel emotional about the injustice of it, but I also feel emotional about the fact that I am white. I wish that I did not have something in common with this person who is being so rude to their victim but also to themselves. This person who commented assumed I was black because I cared, but just because I am white and these issues do not affect me does not mean that I do not care.

When you bully someone of a different skin color, you are bullying one of your fellow  human beings. And I say bully because anybody who treats someone differently because of their skin color is a bully. And everyone has been bullied, just on lower or higher levels. They are no different from yourselves. If everyone hated different looking or thinking people it would be a messed up world.

The whole reason I am writing this letter to you is because after reading my schoolmates letter, I learned about the Black Lives Matter movement in America. After reading so many letters, facts, and articles I have learned that black lives do matter and inequality is a massive issue in America that needs to be addressed. Everyone has the right to be treated equal, and that’s not happening.

I encourage you to read their letter as well. We all would like to conference with you about this problem that needs to be addressed. Inequality is an emergency that need to be tended to.

~Louis, on behalf of Keidy, Zayd, Bryson, and Phoenix.

Barack Obama Responds to the Four African American 6th Graders’ Letter on #BlackLivesMatter

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It’s been almost 3 months since I first shared the letter from the four African American 6th graders–Zayd, Phoenix, Keidy, and Bryson–addressed to President Barack Obama. In the letter, they point to the depressing statistics facing African American youth today, and inform Obama that as an African American in the highest elected office, he has a duty to helping find solutions to institutional racism.

The letter has since touched many hearts, and received thousands of shares over social media sites. National news sites, blogs, and TV stations have all kept these boys’ words alive. Since the letter has been posted, these boys have been asked to speak on panels, recite their letter in public, and answer questions so many people now have for them. They were even nominated and won the Human Rights Heroes award in their hometown of Amherst, Massachusetts.

And just last week, four large envelopes appeared at Wildwood Elementary School. Each addressed to one of the boys, with a return address of none other: the White House. These four 6th grade boys wrote a letter to President Barack Obama, and the President wrote back.

LetterFromObamaThese kids, are just that–kids. But they are black, and thus have to learn harsher lessons of what adulthood means earlier on, because society doesn’t put their childhood into account. They found this out the hard way when racist comments began trolling the various websites their letter was posted on.

But more importantly, they are learning that the power of words transcends racist bigots, and can go all the way to the White House.

I’m proud of what these boys have been able to achieve, and look forward to seeing what more they have to say, because this is just the beginning.

Here is the full letter from President Barack Obama to the boys:

Dear, Keidy, Zayd, Pheonix, and Bryson

Thank you for your powerful letter. I appreciate hearing from you, and I admire your courage in speaking out on the important issues our Nation faces. When any part of our American family doesn’t feel fairly treated, that’s a problem for all of us–it means we are not as strong as a country as we could be. All young people deserve to live, learn and grow in safe and supportive environments, and providing your generation with every chance to realise your full potential is a priority for me in everything I do as President.

As a nation, we have made enormous progress in race relations over the course of the past several decades. I have witnessed that in my own life. Still, important work remains to be done. That is why my administration is working to build better relations between law enforcement and those they serve, and we will keep striving everyday to help communities heal and recover so students like you can reach for your highest aspiration.

As you continue to build on your unique talents and skills, I hope you never forget that ours is a country where, with hard work and determination, you can accomplish anything you can imagine. So dream big, always look to help others, and put your best effort into everything you do–because I’m counting on your generation to chart our Nation’s course.

Again, thank you for writing. I hope you will remain committed in both thought and action toward the solutions needed to help shape a brighter tomorrow. Please remember your President expects great things from you.

Sincerely,

Barack Obama

The Importance of Black History

Last month, I was invited to speak at Amherst Regional High School as the keynote speaker for their Black History Month Teach-In, here is the full talk.

Reflections on Ferguson: Notes From Malawi

RIP michael BrownAs I write this, I sit in a cafe in the city of Blantrye, the second largest city in Malawi. It’s a beautiful country–from the people, the scenery,  and the mood that fills my soul. But what’s most beautiful is how I fit into this space. This is the land of the resting place of my grandparents, of their parents and grandparents as well. I have seen almost 60 acres of land in my family’s name. I have seen a giant monument in the capital in honor of the late president–designed by my uncle. I have gone back to my native village that my family has lived in for generations, and where a long line of Bandas have served as chiefs. I have heard stories of my grandparents, and how my grandfather–the man who I am named after–served this country as founder of the first black political party in Malawi, and then served as one of the first foreign servicemen upon Malawi’s independence as an Ambassador. In the states, my history is always clouded by slavery, Jim Crow, and the refusal of basic human rights. In Malawi, my history is that of chiefs, public servicemen, and humanitarians.

Just the other day, I attended an event with Malawian politicians, diplomats, and other higher up officials. I was sitting in between the CEO of The Nation–the leading Malawian newspaper, and a Malawian Parliament member. Immediately after introductions, we began discussing politics, and they asked me about my critique of Malawi compared to the States. I didn’t need to tell them my credentials, what I studied, who my family in Malawi was, and yet, my opinion had value. The same was the case when I walked into stores, no one questioned or followed me. When I came to Africa, I no longer was seen as a black man, and blackness was no longer negative–I became a man who happened to be black, but I was an individual person first.

In contrast to all of this was that only a few weeks prior to this trip, I was walking in my own neighborhood, and was pulled over by the police, asked my name, and then had to prove my identity by showing my identification. I knew I was in the right. But what I also knew was that just a week prior a man in Staten Island died under the same circumstances, so I didn’t talk back. I’ve always known, but more so now, that every situation for a black man is a proving ground. In the classroom, I am proving how smart I am, that I deserve to be there. And then in the streets, on the basketball courts, in the barbershop, I have to prove how down I am to the code of the street to blacks. It was that dynamic that killed Michael Brown. He was a scholar, going on to college, but he may have presented himself to what the outsider would label as a “thug”. To be black in America means to constantly wrestle with that internal struggle of being who you are, and risking death, or subscribing to perceptions of ignorance and bigotry in order to survive.

When you are black in America, it’s only when you leave America that you really understand what it means to be black and in America, and then the idea of never returning becomes completely reasonable. The label that “black” puts on the imagination–it chains it up. I’m beginning to understand that now. When you see an African navigating through the states with pride, you aren’t seeing arrogance, you are seeing someone who has never been told they must see life through certain socially constructed limitations.

Now that I am in Malawi, I can say with certainty: black lives in America are extremely undervalued. It’s hard for anyone who isn’t black to imagine a reality that can produce the events of Ferguson. But for anyone who is, we know well the context that it is placed under. When you look at an American history, you see how black lives have been mistreated, and you almost become desensitized to a system that has always regarded you as a second class citizen. I think that is the same realization that made it so easy for James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Dexter Gordon, Miles Davis, W.E.B Du Bois, and so many other prominent black leaders to leave this country. There is something very poetic about being so distant from the events that are taking place in Ferguson that define the African American experience, but then being so close to the land that defines my African experience. You see the veil you have been trained to live under, but you acknowledge how free those are who have no idea what that veil is.

FergesonProtestYou can’t ignore the historical context that sparked the American race riots in the late 1960s, and thus the protests in Ferguson. I can only imagine, but I am almost certain that when you grow up in a world that says if you make the wrong facial expression, walk into the wrong bathroom, say the wrong thing to the wrong person, and if you attempt to register to vote that you could be killed–that says something very real to you. When you see what little leaders you have had that speak to your needs be gunned down, that says something to you. When you see everyone older than you telling you to work hard, to play by the rules, only to still be denied equality, this all says something to you. It says your worth will never be valued  because of attributes of your own being you have never had any control over.

Anyone who judges what is happening in Ferguson as a singular event is not only misguided, but extremely fortunate to be able to look at history from such privilege. The atmosphere that killed Michael Brown was the same that let George Zimmerman get away with killing Trayvon Martin, it was the same air that allowed a Stop and Frisk policy to control the NYPD for decades, the same that allowed legislatures to continue to deny blacks the right to vote, it allowed Rodney King to be beaten to death, it allowed racially restrictive housing covenants to be seen as acceptable practices, it was the same atmosphere that killed Emmett Till, that separated blacks and whites under Jim Crow, that passed Plessy v. Ferguson, that allowed blacks to be hunted down like dogs and publicly hung like a circus act, that had blacks hiding under their beds as the Ku Klux Klan would burn crosses outside of their homes–and that saw our value as being higher in chains than without for almost 250 years. A world that leads a college bound, and unarmed, 18-year-old boy to be gunned down eight times doesn’t seem much different then the world we have been continually trying to reshape since the first slaves arrived in 1619 Jamestown, Virginia.

To be black in America means to constantly have events like Michael Brown remind you that your imagination of what you can be will only be allowed to go so far. That your odds at success–let lone, survival–are only predicated on how lucky you are. When I see the anger of those protesters, I don’t judge, I am only just reminded of the history of an America that produced such frustration.

The Grammy’s Gentrified Hip Hop

images (5)That night when Macklemore won 4 Grammy’s and Kendrick came out empty-handed. This is why I stopped taking awards shows seriously. It stopped being about talent a long time ago, and last night it reached new lows when they straight dissed “good kid, m.A.A.d city.” Hip Hop just got gentrified.

Once in  a decade–and I mean that–an artist will come along and transform an entire art form. Today, that artist is Kendrick Lamar. He embodies all the things we look for in a hip hop artists: flow, consciousness, genius conceptions, and a gangster complex. Even before “good kid, m.A.A.d city” dropped, I was pushing the K. Dot bandwagon hard. So hard, in fact, by the time the legendary album did come out, most of my friends didn’t want to hear what I had to say, because they already knew the extent to which my man crush could carry in a conversation.

A lot of people want to compare him to the second coming of Nas, and “good kid” to the “Illmatic.” It’s not a bad comparison, and I think it fits. There is a lot weight behind that album, and so many layers that speak to me when I listen to it. The themes of being black, living in a cesspool of violence, and the unpredictable violence that follows is a heavy pill to swallow when you actually listen to it. So often we hear artists acknowledging where they come from, but how they conquered it. Kendrick doesn’t take that route. Rather, he shows that he is, in fact, a good kid in a mad city.

The fact that we would witness a rapper like K. Dot, who represents everything you could ask for in an artist, get dissed that badly proves there is always an agenda behind awards shows like the Grammy’s. And this year it was validating white hip hop–if that’s even a safe word to call it.