Monday, March 10, 2014

Light the Black Candle: Illuminating the Darkness of the #TrayvonMartin and #JordanDavis Murders Through Dialogue, Part 1

R3 Contributor

As an educator, one of my greatest joys is working with full time first year students, helping to guide them through the initially bumpy waters of academe. Currently my work with first year students at my institution centers on serving as the Faculty Coordinator for 15 student African American males who are enrolled in the the Men Of Vision and Excellence (M.O.V.E.) program. M.O.V.E is a multifaceted support program for African-American males entering Armstrong as first year, full-time, college freshman. 

The goal of M.O.V.E. is to “enhance retention, progression, and graduation by creating a culture of academic support and success. Armstrong Atlantic State University’s program is part of a larger program, the University System of Georgia’s African American Male Initiative (AAMI) first implemented in 2002.  Statewide, the overall program has flourished. By 2012 there were 36 programs on 26 of the USG’s 35 campuses.

In my first year as faculty coordinator, I have helped students with financial aid issues, set up study sessions with our school’s Writing and Science tutoring centers. I have contacted my colleagues on these students’ behalf, serving as an advocate against faculty or staff racism and a voice of professorial reason when a student shares (usually belatedly) a complaint or concern about a poor grade on an assignment or exam. I track their academic progress by using such tools as Degree-Works and Early Alert. Although my time with M.O.V.E comprises 20% of overall academic duties, in future years I want to make sure that I give a lot more to the cause.

The murders of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis make my dedication to this cause all the more real. Our program mentees are 18-19 years old, the ages both Trayvon and Jordan would have been had their lives not been cut short by murderers.  Part of my duties as our students’ academic coordinator is to help employ measures to keep them safe and focused on graduating from our institution at a future date. Sometimes applying these measures mean joining forces with other campus agencies equally responsible for making these young men’s learning experience a long term protected academic encounter. This special First Year Experience program has been carefully crafted and monitored by the Armstrong Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA).  

Cultivating the student’s social development,  the OMA is hosting a panel discussion, “Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis: The Dangers of Being A Black Man in America,” on Tuesday, March 11 at 12:30 p.m. that will benefit not only these students but the 23% African American student population of this institution.  Three African American male graduate students will serve pivotal roles in the discussion; two will moderate, one will serve as a panel member. Four Pan African faculty members will serve as panel members; I am one of those four.

While the panel discussion will no doubt focus on lamenting over America’s apparent inability to positively assess the inherent worth of all humankind especially when this type of assessment pertains to African-American, panelists may also feel compelled to provide reasonable solutions to an unreasonable societal problem. The wanton, senseless killing of young African American men with legal hand guns is America’s newest form of “high tech” lynching. As long as state laws openly sanction this type of selective genocidal destructive carnage, young African American males may never be truly safe.

Pessimism aside, this discussion will is a monumental even for our campus and Savannah community.  Armstrong needs to have this long overdue dialogue about the plight of young black males. Those who attend the event will have the opportunity to ask questions. Many will no doubt ask how these types of murders can be prevented and what should be done to those who inflict such types of injustices on the millennia generation. My fervent prayers for this event are that it serves as a therapeutic and cathartic release of what can only be fear and pain in the hearts of those these types of murders impact—the young African American male.  I also hope that it will be an informative outlay of Pan African cultural concerns and ideas to the majority race administrators, faculty staff and students who don’t understand the pervasiveness of this fear of losing yet another black male to senseless gunfire waged by self- proclaimed protectors of a privileged white society.

How will Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis be remembered? Are they the Emmitt Tills of the 21st century?  Colin Powell the former secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff doesn’t seem to think so. "These cases come along and they blaze across the midnight sky and then after a period of time, they're forgotten,” he said. Personally, I think he’s wrong. I believe these cases are the quintessential start of a surging Civil Rights March catalyst for the millennia generation. On Tuesday, I will find out that at least on my campus, I am right.

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