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15 Jul 2013

Tomorrow’s Injustice

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By: Dallas S. Jones

By now I’ve had some time to digest my thoughts and feelings regarding yesterday’s verdict in the George Zimmerman trial for the heinous murder of Trayvon Martin.  My prayers are with both the Martin and Zimmerman families as they seek to piece back the remnants of their lives that existed before they were flung into the national spotlight.  For the Zimmerman family, that means learning to exist in a world where your name is synonymous with hate and bigotry, and invokes passion from millions about what justice means in our country.  For the Martins, it’s learning to live without the child that was so beloved, and never feeling vindicated that justice prevailed through his death.

For the rest of us, I believe it’s time that we look to tomorrow.  I’ve seen by now through my various social networks the anger and rage that was felt by so many around our country.  This anger and rage crossed all color and socio economic lines.  I watched friends from all walks of life come together and call for justice to be served in the Zimmerman trial.

I also watched many turn this into an issue of race in our country, and spew divisive language albeit the action of one man.  Do I believe race played a factor in the murder of Trayvon Martin? Absolutely. Do I believe the justice failed us by exonerating George Zimmerman?  Unfortunately I do not.

For me, I think the litmus for both questions remain the same.  Proponents and opponents must still look deep into their souls to ask the question if the other party was of a different race, how would we want this to play out?  In Texas, where I live, we send so many men, particularly African American and Hispanics, to prison for crimes they didn’t commit.  In all of these cases the men are sentenced based on faulty eyewitness testimony, evidence missing, or mistaken identity. In addition to imprisonment there have been many that have been executed in our state based on these same flaws in our criminal justice system.  The juries in this case were asked to convict these men unless there was reasonable doubt that they were indeed innocent.  If George Zimmerman were African American I believe the community would want and demand that this same standard applied, and in this case the jurors clearly had doubt about Mr. Zimmerman’s guilt.

In the same tone, we all know and understand that if Mr. Zimmerman was walking down the street with a hoodie on, and Mr. Martin were the one that was told not to get out of the car, the outcome of this trial may have been different.  George Zimmerman did indeed pursue Mr. Martin because he was young, male, and African American.  All of these attributes convinced him that Trayvon Martin was suspicious and should therefore be watched.  His actions after that led to one of the most unnecessary losses of life that our country has ever known.

I suppose what bothers me the most, is that I can’t help but wonder what all of these folks that have shown all of this outrage are going to do differently tomorrow?  As someone that moves populations around issues of public policy for a living, I know the difficulty in mobilizing communities of color.  It’s sad that participation increases only when issues like the Trayvon Martin murder or the Jena Six incident is the only time African Americans are moved to action.

While the world watched the Zimmerman Trial, the United States House of Representatives voted to remove provisions in a key agricultural bill that would cut the Food Stamp program.  In Texas, the legislature made final passage of one of the most important pieces of legislation that would have an effect on all women for generations to come, and limit their access to quality healthcare in their reproductive choices. I didn’t see my friends commenting in volume to any of these types of issues that happen everyday.  There is a Trayvon Martin issue happening nationally, in your state, and on your corner every day.

Certainly I would have loved to see Mr. Zimmerman be held responsible for taking the life of another being, as a human, not as an African American.  But I also know that I can’ be hypocritical in my cry for justice.  Tomorrow is another day, and tomorrow there will be another attack on our civil liberties, our freedoms, and yes even our race.  What will you do differently to prevent the next issue from spiraling into a Trayvon Martin injustice? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best when he stated, “An injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere”.  I think it’s time to get a head of tomorrow’s injustice.

By: Wendy Lewis, Senior Vice President of Diversity & Strategic Alliances, Major League Baseball

“If I had to choose between baseball’s Hall of Fame and first class citizenship for all of my people, I would say first-class citizenship.”- Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson not only changed the face of baseball, he also helped change the face of our country when on April 15, 1947 at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, New York, he broke Baseball’s color barrier. His historic achievement was a watershed moment for civil rights in America, one that even after 66 years, continues to resonate with individuals of from all walks of life.

Because of Jackie, many could be inspired to dream bigger and know that with dedication and hard work, they could accomplish their loftiest of goals. In many ways, Jackie was a trailblazer for opportunity, and for the hope that we all have a chance to do what motivates and moves us without the limitations that have been previously set-forth in our society. The impact Jackie Robinson made on April 15th wasn’t so much related to baseball as it was related to a cultural shift in the way that the world thought.  His number 42 is emblematic of this, signifying more than just a number on the back of a baseball jersey.

You’ve probably seen a lot of talk about Jackie Robinson as of late, due to the recent release of his biopic “42.” As a representative of Major League Baseball and its commitment to diversity, I can say that we are all thrilled with the critical and commercial success of this incredible movie, its depiction of Jackie Robinsion and Branch Rickey, the lives and legacy of both men, and their impact on America and the world. What happened was incredible, and has helped shape Baseball into the social institution that it is today.

Under the leadership of Baseball Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig, Major League Baseball has sought to honor Jackie’s legacy by continuing to promote diversity and equality throughout Baseball. The MLB Diversity Business Summit, for instance, is a trailblazing event that has served as a model for many major sports organizations. The Summit, now in its second year, is a combined diversity employment and procurement trade fair that aims to promote workforce and supplier diversity throughout Major League Baseball. The event will be co-hosted by the Houston Astros and will take place on June 18th & 19th at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas. Joining the Astros will be Commissioner Selig, MLB Club Owners and key executives from all 30 Major League Clubs. Executives from Minor League Clubs, MLB Network, MLB Advanced Media, and MLB’s Central Office will be present as well.

At its core, the MLB Diversity Business Summit is an event that signifies opportunity. It’s an opportunity for job seekers to find out how they can work with MLB or one of its affiliate organizations. It’s an opportunity that allows Major League Baseball to connect with both the business and host community. It’s an opportunity for diverse suppliers to connect and do business with Major League Baseball. These are certainly all aspects unique to the MLB Diversity Business Summit, but the event also stands for something greater.

What the MLB Diversity Business Summit truly represents is Jackie Robinson. It’s his fearless pursuit of capitalizing on opportunities and, in turn, opening those doors for others. Like Jackie, Major League Baseball’s dedication to diversity is steadfast. Its goal of promoting diversity is not so much about race, color, or gender as it is a different way of viewing our world. If not for Jackie Robinson, our National Pastime, and the world for that matter, would not be the same. It’s his commitment to changing the status quo – to being an agent of social change and social responsibility – on which the MLB Diversity Summit truly stands.

On June 18th & 19th, we will be continuing that legacy. The legacy of 42.

18 Apr 2013

The Race To “First”

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Chances are that if you’re even the least bit active on social media or the comments section of your favorite web site, you’ve seen it. You’ve seen that thing after a post that irritates you, baffles you, or means nothing to you. Oftentimes it takes the form of a simple “first”. At other times it’s just a placeholder word that relates to the article, simply for the purpose of being the first comment we see. While I don’t feel qualified (or caffeinated) enough to go into the psychology of why the race to “first” in the comments section is so prevalent, I do feel like diving deeper into the pitfalls of that same race when it comes to modern-day media and news reporting.

As you probably know, there was a clear act of terror committed during the 117th running of the Boston Marathon a few days ago. Nearly two hours after the winners crossed the finish line, two bombs went off in quick succession killing three and injuring over 175 others. The days that followed the attack have been filled with confusion and extensive media coverage. From Ricin-laced letters sent to President Obama to explosions in West, Texas, it has certainly been one hell of a week.

But even through all of that, one of the most troubling occurrences of all wasn’t a bombing, or an explosion, or a tainted letter. Those things were all plenty troubling, to be sure. But, as someone who consumes a large amount of news on a daily basis, what had just as significant an impact on me was the way in which the media handled the “Breaking News” that a suspect had been identified, tracked down, and brought in to custody in the Boston Marathon bombing case.

For me, it started on Twitter. Part of what my role entails at Elite Change is to always be current on what’s going on. I like to do this in my personal life as well, but my job definitely keeps me more in-tune with the current events of the day. Anyways, reports started coming in that a suspect had been identified thanks to camera footage from a retailer across the street from the bombing. Then other reports started rolling in that authorities were “close to or had already” made an arrest in the case. Then reports came out that the detained suspect was to be brought to a Boston courthouse. All of this happened in a matter of minutes.

I was enamored with the furious speed that this was happening. I was refreshing my Twitter feed every 10-15 seconds just waiting for the latest bit of news. (Seriously, if you haven’t been on Twitter when a breaking news story is unfolding, you’re really missing out.) Multiple sources had confirmed to multiple media outlets that an arrest had been made and the suspect was being transported to the courthouse, the street in front of the courthouse becoming an impromptu media gathering space. It was about to happen. We were about to see the person(s) who committed these heinous acts.

But then, nothing. What had been the most engaging couple hours of news in recent memory turned out to be, in essence, a bad prank. In came the news of “conflicting reports” from the various media outlets. Then it was “in custody, not arrested.” Then it was, “Oh wait, we were wrong. Nobody’s even been identified.” On came the disappointment. While watching anchors and outlets walk back their “Exclusive Breaking News” reports is always a sight to be seen, it speaks to a much larger issue of our constant, 24-hour news cycle. It’s that need to be “first” just for the sake of being “first!” Or in other words “Be first, verify later.”

CNN

CNN

Throughout our country’s media history, there’s always been the journalistic goal of “scooping” a huge story. It’s a huge deal to be the first one to report a groundbreaking piece of news on a big story; I get it. What I don’t understand is when “scooping” that story comes at the expense of throwing solid journalistic practices to the side and, even worse, at the expense of spreading misinformation. Oh, and not to mention physical harm – the media frenzy that happened outside the courthouse prompted a bomb threat. What would have happened if that false bomb threat were really true?

Due in large part to technology and social media, the rate in which we acquire our news today goes just as fast as it comes. Add to that the speed in which that information travels, and you’ve got a very high-pressure situation for news outlets and their corporate owners to break a particular story – to be “first”. But do you really want to be first when you might as well be last? Wouldn’t you rather be second and right than first and wrong? Does the speed of information have to make you take the leap before you look over the ledge? I certainly don’t think so. We must expect more out of our news stations and journalists.

Besides, I’d rather be the one who saw the ledge early enough to stop than the person who jumps off just so that they can say “first” on their way down.

Urban Souls Dance Company Urges the Community to Emancipate Themselves

Urban Souls Dance Company celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation with the second installation of its third season with a performance entitled “Re-Written in Stone– 1863 allowed Freedom: 2013 choosing Freedom.” The black history dance concert gave the public a chance to honor this turning point in history through a creative expression of dance, spoken word, and music.

In collaboration with The African American Studies Department at The University of Houston, USDC chose to not only highlight this important moment in American history, but to also help illustrate that people are still shackled by the metaphorical chains projected by the mediated stereotypes of today.

This year’s performance featured choreography by Founding Artistic Director, Harrison Guy; General Manager, Walter Hull; and Courtney D. Jones. Guest performances were performed by Hope Stone Dance Company and KoumanKele African Dance and Drum Ensemble.

One of the key performances was Walter Hull’s choreography of “I Am a Thrival,” an examination of younger generations of African Americans based on self-discovery and on newer generations of African Americans “thriving” in a world where they are free to create their own destiny. Using its focus on African American children as a backdrop, USDC unveiled its newest project, Urban Kids.

Urban Kids is a community initiative that provides dance training and social development skills to youth in the Greater Houston area. After an amazing performance from the young ladies of Urban Kids entitled “Sisters in Spirit,” HISD Trustee and Urban Kids parent Paula Harris urged audience members to support Urban Kids in its mission to develop the creativity of community youth.

The event, held at The University of Houston’s Cullen Performance Hall was a night dedicated to the future of community youth, many of which were in attendance. Barbara Johnson Tucker, who aimed to highlight the verbiage of the Emancipation Proclamation, helped to close out the performance with heartfelt songs. The poets Jem, Lyro, and Seek also helped closed the show with spoken word performances that addressed the plagues of the contemporary African American experience. These performances remind us that although we were allowed freedom, it is now up to us to choose it.

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About USDC
Urban Souls Dance Company is a social arts organization located in Houston, TX. Rooted deeply in the community, USDC believes in always challenging views that separate us. We believe in thinking differently, taking the position that art transforms people, and people transform the world.

For more information please call Urban Souls Dance Company at 832.687.3928. www.urbansouls.org

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