This article was published on December 11, 2012 in the The Democrat & Chronicle newspaper in Rochester, NY.
Before destroying racism and mis-education, you must first know they exist.
Which is why a small but committed group of area activists met at the Downtown United Methodist Church Monday night, on the 64th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to discuss points made in the the book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander.
Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School President Marvin McMickle delivered the keynote address, recapping the history of segregation in America.
McMickle shared a personal experience from his youth, when his family was forced — with other blacks — to move to a segregated train car in Cincinnati before heading into the southern states.
He went on to say a family member was shot to death in Kentucky in 1930 when trying to register to vote.
Panelists, Rosemary Rivera, director of Citizen Action of New York, Ricardo Adams a community activist, and Maurice Miller, a college student, each spoke of their experiences growing up with societal pressures and temptations of crime and making wrong choices.
“Sure, I made some bad decisions, but there were some traps set for me,” said Adams, adding that segregation today is still pervasive, though less obvious to some. “The only difference between the Jim Crow now, and the Jim Crow previously, is that slaves knew they were living in the times (of) Jim Crow. A lot of us today don’t know.”
Rivera said some white community activists are too attached to their downtown protest comfort zone to go into black community.
“We have to reach out to the African-American community. We have to reach out to people of color where they’re at.”
Miller, 24, said mixed messages from his father, his friends and the streets complicated his decisions and continue to make it hard for young black men to avoid the “prison pipeline.”
Monday’s effort sprung from a book club, but Rochester activist Ream Kidane, 32 said an organizing meeting seeking to build a coalition to end the mass incarceration of blacks, who statistically are far more likely to be jailed than other Americans, will be held in January.
- Gary McLendon (GMCLENDN@DemocratandChronicle.com)