As I am watching people freely walk around the airport this morning, I realize our perception of the reality of freedom is misplaced.
You don’t understand the concept of freedom until you are not free anymore.
These comments are the result of an unexpected meeting this weekend at the CBC annual festivities that left me with a heart full of mixed emotions: pain, gratitude and fear.
My eyes welled up with tears over meeting three beautiful black men who only gave me praise as they lived a life or horror I could only comprehend through watching Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us that was released on Netflix.
Three members of the exonerated five, formally the central park five, purposefully made their way to me and praise me for my work, particularly my asking the president if he would apologize to the men. Dr. Yusef Salaam in his height of strength power and his amazing calm, thanked me calling me the most courageous woman they know. I was in shock and humbled. It was all about that question of the president.
I asked a question that no one else asked during the decades that those men were accused of raping a woman in central park. I could not believe in all this time no one publicly asked Donald Trump for an apology for his call for the death penalty for these boys. They were children then. Teens. They were forced or coerced into pleading guilty to a crime they did not commit.
I asked the president in June of this year if he would apologize for the full-page ads he took out in 1989. With his words he made the the five arrested teenagers guilty. He tried to sway public opinion in the case and called for the return of the death penalty.
In the answer to my question President Trump said, “You have people on both sides of that. They admitted their guilt,” Trump went on to say, “If you look at Linda Fairstein and if you look at some of the prosecutors, they think that the city should never have settled that case. So we’ll leave it at that.”
The men were exonerated in 2002; they were released from jail because of a confession and because of DNA evidence. But during the Central Park Jogger case in 1989, then civilian Donald Trump spent $85,000 on full page ads in the New York Times calling for the death penalty.
What is also heart wrenching, if it were left to this president those young men would be dead from his calls for the death penalty.
The three men thanked me for being the singular person to put it on the table for the world to see after Donald Trump’s public declaration. Trump was not alone, Pat Buchanan also tried to wrongfully sway public opinion.
But what saddens me is, as we fight for justice and equality and for life, we fail to ask the basic questions that humanity offers. I was humbled by their comments, moved to tears, yet it made me realize that we the people don’t realize the power we have to work to form a more perfect union.
Today in 2019 we have been bullied into submission and not taking care of the basics.
There’s a new movie coming out on Christmas Day called Just Mercy, once again showing people who’ve been framed for murder on death row somewhere. This movie should win an Oscar with the performances from Jamie Foxx and Michael B Jordan.
It takes just one person to ask the relevant questions and the rest to rally around and support. Are we our brothers keepers? Or do we only do this in times when it hits our home? Because what I see is me and my family on that screen in these true life scenarios. I’m from Baltimore , the predominately African American rat infested city where Freddie Gray lost his life. I’m from a community of survivors who have to look out for each other because that is what we do to ensure that our next generation does not fall through the cracks.
Today I am asking every person under the sound of my voice to figure out what are you doing to help change the cycle of madness and racism that has darkened the hearts of so many.
Everyone, I mean everyone, walks with an invisible cape. We are from the linage of the strongest that survived and for that alone we walk in Wakanda power. However we all don’t have to be superheros, but we can dream of a better day. I am calling on all dreamers, who have a dis ease about the hopelessness that perpetuates the injustice. I am calling on all dreamers who are willing to stand and question authority when they are wrong and applaud authority when they get it right. We don’t have to be Harriet Tubman, but we need to keep the push alive for grandma Moses to be on the 20 dollar bill, we don’t have to be Tom Joyner in his push for HBCU’s but we should not turn a blind eye to financial support of the black institutions that need our sweat equity and pocket change.
Simply put we need to be the overseers of our community. Each one of us in our own unique ways are our brothers and sisters keepers of the exonerated five and others who have been wrongfully labeled and framed.
We can’t say we have their back and then walk away and allow the system to tear them down when they are still viable contributors to society. Don’t be afraid to look at the pain because once we recognize it, we can say never again and march on.
This weekends meeting with the exonerated five propelled me to do a 15 minute interview with three of the five member of the group: Dr. Yusef Salam, Korey Wise and Raymond Santana. You can hear the interview on my AURN podcast, On The Record With April Ryan. For the record these men, are not just part of the movie When They See Us. They are us. Let’s truly see them and all the other brothers and sisters in need today and work to change the dynamic of racism and injustice our ancestors fought and died for. As Iyanla says, I am my brothers keeper, no I am my brother. I am my sisters keeper, no I am my sister.
It has been 400 years since the first enslaved Africans were documented in this country, and we still are not sure if we are part of the founding fathers equation of we the people who are still forming a more perfect union.
But if we do our part to call out wrong, we will surely change the dynamic that has placed shackles on this nation today.
Thank you to the exonerated five and others for your strength and courage when wrong happened you are still standing for truth.