I’ve spent my entire career as a civil rights activist and anti-violence advocate. I hear from folks all over the country about how fed-up they are—how much they want change—but they don’t know where to start. It’s not enough just to be informed, we’ve got to work tirelessly to do better. With the “The Lookout,” I’ll collect the most important stories and action items that you need to know about and things you can do each week, keeping you involved so you can create positive change for yourself and your community.
1. Vote, Vote, Vote, And Vote
Since the Michael Dunn case ended, my phone and social media have been pinging like crazy. The jury’s version of “justice” left much to be desired and folks are searching for closure. For many of us, it feels like there is no end in sight to the senseless violence against young black men. But there is something we can do—something we all must do—and I give the same advice with every call I answer: VOTE.
If you’re not registered, get registered. If your mama and your brother ain’t registered, get them registered. We need to find everybody—look under rocks if we have to—and rally together at the polls. Problematic policies like stand-your-ground and stop-and-frisk exist because the policymakers who support them keep getting elected and reelected. When we neglect our right to vote, we shut out the most powerful and immediate way to make the change we need. When we don’t vote for our leaders, we allow those in power to continue making the wrong choices for our community.
There are 22 states where stand-your-ground or similar laws are in effect, states like Florida, Georgia, and Texas. These states also have midterm elections coming up—so get ready. Find out how to get registered and which candidates support the bill or want to repeal it. This is your opportunity to make your voice heard.
2. Let’s Raise The Minimum Wage
This Wednesday, I’m gathering with Members of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus in Albany, New York to call for an end to income inequality. This year, we will be commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and President Johnson’s war on poverty—but in all that time Black Americans are still getting the short end of the stick. The national average for unemployment is 6.6% and for our community it’s nearly double that at 12.6%. For folks that are working, the wage gap between blacks and whites is nearly the same as it was in 1964. So when President Obama said its time to raise the minimum wage, that’s great news for our Black America. Before we hold our breath waiting for congress to get behind the President, private corporations like clothing retailer Gap, Inc. are raising wages for their employees. The President and First Lady have applauded their efforts, but some major retailers refuse to even state their position one-way or the other. We’re excited about The Gap leading in this space, but as consumers our dollars are going to all types of companies, those that lead the way and those that are trailing behind. So tweet at your favorite stores, call up your representatives and tell them its time to raise the minimum wage.
3. Something’s Gotta Give: The Black Community Is Missing From Hollywood’s Biggest Night
The Oscars are this Sunday and, as usual, I can count the number of black nominees on one hand. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, and Steve McQueen are nominated for the night’s highest honors, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Director for 12 Years a Slave. Given that only a handful of black men and women have ever been nominated in these categories, let alone won, I’m hoping this year’s awards make history again for our community. But even if they win, let’s be honest, Hollywood’s “biggest night” has once again failed to truly recognize the black experience in America.
One of the most notable absences is Fruitvale Station starring Michael B. Jordan as Oscar Grant III, a 22-year old black man who was shot to death by police officers on Oakland, CA public transportation in 2009. Jordan’s performance and the movie have been widely celebrated for their honest and powerful portrayal of an all to frequent tragedy in the black community. So why were there no nominations? Why is Hollywood more inclined to recognize the victims of slavery than the victims of racially motivated gun violence when both are such major issues in the black community? Slavery is universally unacceptable and inhumane, but the daily epidemic of gun violence (the leading cause of death for black men) in our community is hardly even a topic of conversation on the evening news. So let’s demand more from our media ( TV, newspapers, movie theaters, etc.). Let’s demand that we start talking about the issues in our community so we can get the resources to improve it.
4. After Black History Month: The Celebration And The Struggle
I bet you thought we were done with this in 2014; lynching nooses hung on civil rights statues at Ole Miss, public figures calling our President a “subhuman mongrel,” and chain emails among the Wisconsin Governor’s staff equating being black to a living nightmare. A lot of people like to say we’re living in a “post-racial” society, that progress equals victory, but I gotta burst their bubble. We are just fifty years since the March on Washington and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, so let’s be clear: those were milestones, not the finish line. We still live in a country where being young and black means you are more likely than anyone to be killed by gun violence before your 35th birthday, and where black folks earn 70% of what their white counterparts make. We are in a struggle everyday, so maybe its not surprising that these racist, ignorant comments and actions keep happening across the country. But as this month comes to a close, lets not just celebrate the past triumphs in Black History—let’s make history. Let’s fight to end wage disparity, lets fight to end gun violence, let’s push forward in our fight to make our community better.
I want to hear from you; what’s going on in your community? What stories or events should folks know about? Leave a comment below.
Called “a leader of tomorrow” by Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama, Valerie B. Jarrett, Tamika D. Mallory is a nationally recognized leader and civil rights activist. Tamika is the Founder/President of Mallory Consulting, LLC and the former Executive Director of the National Action Network (NAN), one of the nation’s leading civil rights organizations. She is featured regularly as a leading voice on key social justice issues and is currently making headlines around the country for her tireless activism and strong stance on women’s issues, anti-violence, young adult advocacy, and decency.