The National Action Network’s annual convention is under way this week in New York, featuring dozens of panel discussions tackling civil rights topics from voter repression to stop-and-frisk laws, as well as planned remarks by President Obama.
The event’s primary goal, founder and president Al Sharpton told The Root, is to create an “action agenda” for the upcoming midterm elections.
Get the latest updates and highlights from the NAN event here.
Thursday April 10, 5:20 p.m.: What Will It Take for America to See Black Boys as Human?
“I feel that our young black boys don’t feel that they’re human. They don’t feel love. I’ve met many black men who’ve never had another black man look them in the face to say, ‘I love you.’ And if you don’t feel human, how do you treat somebody on the street?” television personality A.J. Calloway asked at a Thursday NAN convention panel titled, “Are You My Brother’s Keeper? A Discussion on Fatherhood and Mentorship.”
“And if George Zimmerman saw Trayvon as a human, he would possibly still be alive,” said Calloway, who announced plans to launch a program designed to humanize black men and boys in the American imagination.
In an emotional panel discussion, marked by fiery speeches and standing ovations, Calloway and other speakers—including Trayvon’s father, Tracy Martin—enumerated the ways in which they say American society undervalues and demonizes black men, pointing to deep-seated white supremacy and stereotypes that permeate everything from education to criminal justice.
“I can’t be mad at the system because the system wasn’t designed to protect us,” said Martin. “I honestly believe that this country was built on the backs of African-American men, and we as African-American men need to stand up and claim our rights in this country.” He urged the audience to treat the young men in their communities with respect from the time they were old enough to talk.
“They don’t like Richard Sherman, and they don’t like Barack Obama,” said Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson, who argued, “In every moment, black masculinity is under the scrutiny of an unjust society.” He took the African-American community to task for “smuggling in that white supremacy and internalizing the self-hatred that white supremacy purchases.”
Criticizing the normalization of violence against African-American children in comparison with the sense that this “shouldn’t happen here” when school shootings and other tragedies occur in predominantly white areas, Marc Lamont Hill of Columbia University Teachers College said, “The world just doesn’t love black boys, so much so that we don’t even allow them to be black boys.”
Because of that, he said, when it comes to improving outcomes for black boys, “We can make good individual choices but we need responsible policy that is not undergirded by white supremacy, which is the elephant in the room.”
Thursday, April 10, 3:12 p.m: Jordan Davis Wanted All Kids to Be Able to Afford an Education, Mother Says
In the months before Jordan Davis—the 17-year-old who was shot and killed by Michael Dunn over the loud music he and his friends played from their car—died, he was troubled by the fact that some of his friends wouldn’t have the same educational opportunities as others, his mother, Lucia McBath, said.
McBath, speaking on a panel titled “Healing Our Wounds—Addressing Past Trauma to Prevent Future Crisis” at the NAN convention, explained that she founded the Walk With Jordan Scholarship Foundation specifically to create the kinds of opportunities for young adults that Jordan said he wanted all students to have.
Jordan—who was living with his father in Jacksonville, Fla., as McBath underwent treatment for breast cancer in Atlanta, where he had spent most of his childhood—would “call all the time” and lament that kids at his new school were “just as smart” but wouldn’t be able to prepare for and afford the same caliber of colleges as his friends back home, simply because their families didn’t have as much money, McBath recalled.
She said it only made sense that she would honor her son’s memory by starting a foundation to create scholarships and educational opportunities for young adults in the communities where Jordan lived. The 501(c)(3) corporation’s mission is to “encourage and financially support students striving for higher levels of academic achievement.” It focuses on students at Samuel W. Wolfson High School in Jacksonville, where Jordan was enrolled when he was killed.
McBath was joined on the panel by speakers including Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybina Fulton, who discussed her own efforts to honor the lives of Trayvon and other teens like him by working through her foundation to repeal “Stand your ground” laws.