August 25th, 2014
Lamin Swann believes his grandfather would be proud of him for joining protesters and community organizers in Ferguson, Mo., who don’t want the recent killing of an unarmed black man by a white police officer ignored.
Swann is the grandson of the late William C. Parker, a former vice chancellor of minority affairs at the University of Kentucky and civil rights activist. His grandfather took a van load of students from Oberlin College, where he was a professor, to participate in the second Selma to Montgomery, Ala., march in 1965.
“We’ve made progress on so many other things,” Swann said, “Why not on the killing of blacks and poor people? It could have just as easily been an 18-year-old white kid from the other side of the tracks.”
Swann, 36, laments that only a few other young activists from Lexington are planning to gather with various other groups in Ferguson to learn how to handle any similar circumstances that might arise in their home communities. He had hoped to take a busload of people. But, he has faith that Ferguson has ignited an activist movement with younger people.
“Someone posted on Twitter that our parents dropped the baton on the civil rights movement and that our grandparents passed it to us,” Swann said.
Social media seems to be how the younger generation is getting and staying engaged in activism. Most of the communication has been through conference calls, he said, and through Twitter.
That’s how Operation Help or Hush got started. The grassroots group has been providing supplies to make signs, cover travel expenses, as well as food and shelter for Ferguson protesters. It connects with activists throughout the country through social media.
Swann is traveling as a journalist, documenting events and people he finds in Ferguson.
And he is traveling as an activist, gleaning information from the groups converging on the St. Louis area so that he and others can shore up or change policy in Lexington.
“I want to know what we can do after Ferguson,” he said. “What can we do locally?”
April Taylor, 32, arrived in St. Louis County on Friday hoping to get a first-hand perspective for the blog she writes for Your Black World.
She noticed soon after the shooting that Brown’s death would be different.
“One of the things I do is skim through the news,” she said. “There is no shortage of stories about black people getting shot down. But what was unfolding on the streets of Ferguson was different.”
She monitored her Twitter feed and noticed that the mainstream media was not covering the shooting and the initial events around it. It was the protesting with their tear gas that brought the attention.
But it wasn’t long before she started seeing tweets about local organizing, conference calls and meetings.
“That was reassuring for me,” she said, adding she hadn’t experienced a major black movement led by black people in her lifetime. “It showed me my generation was capable of stepping up.”
She hopes to not only talk with local residents, but also attend meetings called by The Stop Mass Incarceration Network, a group co-founded by author, professor, and activist Dr. Cornel West, the scheduled speaker for the LexEndPoverty, the Community Action Council’s annual fundraiser on Sept. 27.
Long before Brown’s death, Taylor said, the network was planning events throughout October to draw attention to the high rate of imprisonment for black people. The network set aside Oct. 22 as the National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation.
Plans are being made in Lexington to acknowledge Oct. 25, the 20th anniversary of the death of Antonio Sullivan, an unarmed black teenager, who was shot by Sgt. Phil Vogel, a white police officer.
“We’re planning to have a media round table and symposiums to talk about race and some of their experiences with race in this community,” Taylor said.
But while she is in Missouri, she hopes to talk with some of the older soldiers in the civil rights struggle.
“What do they feel like they want to tell our generation?” she said. “Is there anything they could have done differently?”
I hope she gets answers to her questions. I hope she can correct any mistakes my generation made or pick up any balls we dropped.
Time magazine recently published a letter Sybrina Fulton, mother of slain teenager Trayvon Martin, wrote to Brown’s parents. It said in part: “The galvanizations of our communities must be continued beyond the tragedies. While we fight injustice, we will also hold ourselves to an appropriate level of intelligent advocacy. If they refuse to hear us, we will make them feel us. Some will mistake that last statement as being negatively provocative. But feeling us means feeling our pain; imagining our plight as parents of slain children. We will no longer be ignored. We will bond, continue our fights for justice, and make them remember our children in an appropriate light.”
We need to do more to ensure no more mothers have to write those words. We must not ignore, or forget, what has happened in Ferguson.