Discover more from Weekend Briefing
Weekend Briefing No. 266
Welcome to the weekend.
2019 marks the 400th anniversary of slavery in the US, and I’ve been feeling compelled to explore more about how it still impacts our country today. To that end, I’m just back from a trip across the American South (New Orleans, Jackson, Selma & Montgomery) focusing on race and justice. This week’s briefing focuses exclusively on this topic. I know this isn’t my typical content, and may make some feel uncomfortable. Honestly, I’m still processing all of this and know I have a lot more to learn. But, if we don’t get curious about the racial inequity in our country, we’ll continue to see the divide of race and wealth moving us further and further away from the “more perfect union” all of us would like to see.
Check out my Instagram starting this morning to get a glimpse of the trip. I seriously wish all of you were there to experience it with me (though, we’d need a bigger bus)!
This trip was incredibly impactful for me and I’m more deeply considering racial inequity in the US and globally. Inspired by this trip, I want to invite you to explore these issues with me. So, I’m partnering with Illumine (my friends who ran this trip) to lead a similar trip in South Africa in February 2020.
On this first Weekend Briefing experience, we will explore Apartheid and learn how a wide range of cultural and business leaders address the seemingly intractable issues South Africa still faces today. We’ll meet with veterans of the anti-Apartheid movement, young entrepreneurs, key social and political leaders of all backgrounds who are committed to building a just society today.
We’ll engage with South African change agents in thought-provoking settings. We’ll enjoy unique access to historic sites in Johannesburg and Cape Town (one of my favorite cities in the world), off the beaten-path locations, world-class cuisine, wine and rich culture. Join me on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore and be inspired by South Africa.
We want this trip to be intimate, so we’ve limited it to only 15 spots. Click here to learn more details and apply to join me in South Africa.
2.2 MM – The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other nation in the world. The increase in the jail and prison population that went from less than 200,000 in 1972 to 2.2 million today has led to unprecedented prison overcrowding and tremendous strain on state budgets.The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population but nearly 25 percent of its prisoners.
120 – The average wealth for a single white female in the US is $41,000, whereasthe average wealth for a single black woman is $120?
73 – In 1898, 73% of Alabama’s state revenue came from convict leasing. Under this system, companies and individuals paid fees to state and county governments in exchange for the labor of almost exclusively black former slave prisoners on farms, at lumberyards, and in coal mines.
The Case for Reparations
Something interesting happened last week, David Brooks – a center-right columnist and author – made the case for reparations. He notes that the racial divide doesn’t feel like the other divides. There is a dimension of depth to it that the other divides don’t have. It is more central to the American experience. One way to capture it is to say that the other divides are born out of separation and inequality, but the racial divide is born out of sin. Slavery doesn’t merely cause pain and suffering to the slave. It is a corruption that infects the whole society. It is a collective debt that will have to be paid. That sin travels down society through the centuries. That injury shows up today as geographic segregation, the gigantic wealth gap, the lack of a financial safety net, but also the lack of the psychological and moral safety net that comes when society has a history of affirming: You belong. You are us. You are equal. That reconciliation requires direct action, a concrete gesture of respect that makes possible the beginning of a new chapter in our common life. Reparations are a drastic policy and hard to execute, but the very act of talking about and designing them heals a wound and opens a new story. New York Times (9 minutes)
We met with the members of former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s staff and discussed the process they went through to remove confederate monuments in the city. It was a three-year long battle with all the behind the scenes drama of a West Wing episode. They talked us through the process of writing the legendary speech that the mayor gave as the last statue was taken down. My favorite line in that speech is, “consider these four monuments from the perspective of an African American mother or father trying to explain to their fifth grade daughter who Robert E. Lee is and why he stands atop of our beautiful city. Can you do it? Can you look into that young girl’s eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her? Do you think she will feel inspired and hopeful by that story? Do these monuments help her see a future with limitless potential? Have you ever thought that if her potential is limited, yours and mine are too?” New York Times (13 minutes)
The New Orleans criminal justice system, like many other local systems across the country, operates significantly on funding generated from the people cycling through it—from bail and associated fees before trial, to fines and fees levied after conviction. So, the judges that are setting bail have a significant conflict of interest. These practices come with hidden costs to defendants—the majority of whom are poor and black—and taxpayers alike. Such “user fees” are often set without consideration of the defendants’ financial means, and failure to pay can keep someone behind bars or land them back in jail. This perpetuates an over-reliance on local incarceration that exacts significant unnecessary costs on individuals, communities, and taxpayers. This explainer video from the Past Due project sheds light on fines, fees, and financial bail in New Orleans. Vera Institute (4 minutes)
Jackson Mississippi is a key city in civil rights movement. Following the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, Medgar Evers, a civil rights activist from Mississippi, worked hard to gain admission for black students to the University of Mississippi, a public university in Oxford. The first NAACP field secretary for Mississippi, Evers also helped organize boycotts and led voter registration drives. Because he thought Mississippi was “too racist and violent” for lunch counter sit-ins, “The Tougaloo Nine” chose the Jackson Public Library for their famous sit-in. Evers was assassinated by a Ku Klux Klan member in 1963, the same day President John F. Kennedy delivered his civil rights address. We saw his office, met with legendary civil rights leaders, young activists as well as visited the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. Mississippi Civil Rights Museum (4 minutes)
MLK & Nonviolence
At the Selma Center for Nonviolence, Truth and Reconciliation we learned the six principles of Kingian Nonviolence. 1) Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people. 2) The beloved community is the framework for the future. It’s not just the destination but the journey. The means are as important as the ends. 3) Attack forces of evil, not persons doing evil. Dehumanizing others dehumanizes ourselves. Oppression hurts the oppressed and the oppressor. We don’t call people out, we call people in. 4) Accept suffering without retaliation for the sake of the cause to achieve a goal. 5) Avoid internal violence of the spirit as well as external physical violence. Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. 6) The universe is on the side of justice. The moral arc of the universe is long and it bends toward justice. This is not a principle of magic, it is the result of flawed people continual striving to bend that arc. Selma Center for Nonviolence Truth and Reconciliation (6 minutes)
In Montgomery, we visited the museum and memorial that Brian Stevenson and his team at Equal Justice Initiative built to recognize the African American struggle from slavery to mass incarceration. The installations are powerful and expertly executed. Mr. Stevenson and a small group of lawyers spent years immersing themselves in archives and county libraries to document the thousands of racial terror lynchings across the South. They have cataloged nearly 4,400 in total. I found 4 in the year 1919 in my home Knox County, Tennessee. Inspired by the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin and the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, Mr. Stevenson decided that a single memorial was the most powerful way to give a sense of the scale of the bloodshed. But also at the site are duplicates of each steel column, lined up in rows like coffins, intended to be disseminated around the country to the counties where lynchings were carried out. People in these counties can request them — dozens of such requests have already been made — but they must show that they have made efforts locally to “address racial and economic injustice.” New York Times (7 minutes)
We visited the Houma Native American tribe and cruised the bayous of Isle de Jean Charles in Southeast Louisiana. Due to the rise of sea levels, that earth is now dying, drowning in salt and sinking into the sea. With a first-of-its-kind “climate resilience” grant to resettle the island’s native residents, Washington is ready to help. The effort has exposed the logistical and moral dilemmas it has presented point up in the microcosm of the massive problems the world could face in the coming decades as it confronts a new category of displaced people who have become known as climate refugees. Whether to leave is only the first of the hard questions. (Nobody we met wanted to leave, this is their home.) But if they do leave, where does everyone go? What claim do they have to what is left behind? Will they be welcomed by their new neighbors? Will there be work nearby? Who will be allowed to join them? New York Times (11 minutes)
Below is a list of just a few of the new friends I met on the trip that are doing good work toward creating a more just society. You should follow them and support their work.
Hollis Watkins is a legend of the Civil Rights Movement. He became a member and organizer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1961, was a county organizer for 1964's "Freedom Summer", and assisted the efforts of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to unseat the regular Mississippi delegation from their chairs at the 1964 Democratic Party national convention in Atlantic City.
Mike Espy, former US Congressman from Mississippi and Secretary of Agriculture under President Clinton.
Cassandra Overton Welchin, an organizer and advocate for women is running for a seat in the Mississippi House of Representatives.
Jennifer Riley Collins, Ret. U.S. Army Colonel and former ACLU Executive Director is running for Mississippi District Attorney.
Ainka Jackson is Executive Director of the Selma Center for Nonviolence Truth and Reconciliation.
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The wind brings your names.
We will never dissever your names,
Nor your shadows beneath each branch and tree.
The truth comes in on the wind, is carried by water.
There is such a thing as the truth. Tell us
how you got over. Say, Soul look back in wonder.
Your names were never lost,
each name a holy word.
The rocks cry out -
call out each name to sanctify this place.
Sounds in human voices, silver or soil,
a moon, a sorrow song,
a keen, a cackle, harmony,
a hymnal, handbook, chart,
a sacred text, a stomp, an exhortation.
Ancestors, you will find us still in cages,
despised and disciplined.
You will find us still mis-named.
You will find us despite
You will not find us extinct.
You will find us here memoried and storied.
You will find us here mighty,
You will find us here divine,
You will find us where you left us, but not as you left us.
Here you endure and are luminous.
You are not lost to us.
The wind carries sorrows, sighs, and shouts.
The wind brings everything, Nothing is lost. - Elizabeth Alexander