There are some big problems going on in the country right now and we have the power to fix them. Gun violence, police brutality, and high unemployment disproportionately impact African Americans, and our young Black males in particular. At the same time, high school dropout rates are high and college enrollment for Black men lags behind enrollment for women.
The two most popular options we typically use to effect change are:
1. Making choices at the voting booth and
2. Lifting our voices in protest marches.
This week, the football team at the University of Missouri took the power of protest to a new level and it could start a trend that may have far-reaching impact. They stood firm collectively against racist practices on their campus that had been ignored by the school’s administration. A number of students took part in the protests, including graduate student Jonathan Butler, who even went on a hunger strike calling for the resignation of the Mizzou’s president.
But when the football team let it be known that they wouldn’t play in this weekend’s football game against Brigham Young, things began to happen and the president ultimately stepped down. I always say follow the money. The school stood to lose upwards of a million dollars if that game was not played this weekend.
Let’s turn back the clock for a moment. When Black people refused to ride Montgomery public buses on December 1, 1955, to protest segregated seating, the boycott lasted 381 days. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately ordered the city to integrate its bus system. Slowly but surely, the city began to feel the financial loss. 75 percent of its riders were Black.
Eventually the bus company had to cut back on bus service and raise prices from 10 cents to 15 cents. Black people began to do their shopping closer to home so white downtown merchants began to feel the financial pressure as well.
Do the math: 381 days to stop segregated seating in 1955/56 vs. a matter of hours for the administration at the University of Missouri to ask its president to resign.
I’m no sociologist but I think our community as a whole can benefit by leveraging our power the way the University of Missouri athletes and protestors did.
If one group of football players can band together with their fellow students to bring about change, what could thousands of Black fathers and men do if we stood together to force a change in our public schools? What if Black parents demanded that their kids quit playing football or basketball in public schools until there were after-school jobs and other programs that would keep kids off the streets?
What if African Americans all over this country told mainstream colleges and universities that our student athletes would not attend unless those institutions made contributions to the cities where those kids come from? What if our college athletes refused to sign with an NFL or NBA team unless they made donations to causes that equaled the playing field, literally and figuratively, at HBCUs?
We have that power! It’s the power of the wallet and we need to start exercising it more and more.
What would happen to the NFL and NBA if players refused to suit up in cities where we continue to see injustice, like in Cleveland, where it’s taking far too long for the Tamir Rice case to go to trial?
If we truly realized what power we had and joined forces to use it, we would see the kinds of changes we’re looking for in record time. There’s nothing wrong with using what we have to get what we need.
As Dr. King said, change comes when we legislate, educate and agitate!