They were spat upon, attacked by vicious dogs, hosed down, beaten and called every despicable name there is. They were treated worse than a smidgen of dirt on the back of someone’s shoe. Yet, these drum majors for justice during the Civil Rights Movement never fought fire with fire because they knew that would only fan the flames of hatred and violence. Instead, they fought fire with the water of nonviolence.
And because they took the road less traveled, our nation is better. But, as we get ready to reflect more deeply upon the trials, tribulations and triumphs of African Americans during the month of February, we need to ask ourselves if we still have what it takes to face the giants of our day. Do we have the verve to serve others, the desire to use our talents for the edification of someone else without expecting anything in return? Do we really have the compassion, courage, competence and commitment of a true leader?
I would like to think that the best is yet to come. I want to really believe that I will soon see the day when people are judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put it. That truly will be a happy day. Until then, we need to stop singing “We Shall Overcome” if we as a people are unwilling to stop the runaway train of a mindset that views the hip-hop culture as real blackness while eschewing the virtues of erudition, moderation and integrity.
If wearing baggy pants off my derriere, sporting a grill (gold teeth), rapping like Lil’ Wayne and calling women “hoes” constitute the essence of being an African American in 2012, then there has been a quantum leap backwards in what we have become in light of the stalwarts of Dr. King, Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers and so many others. The hip-hop culture will never raise the level of consciousness of our youth to the point where they would want to read the works of Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston and Maya Angelou.
It will never get our kids to appreciate the knowledge that Africans or African Americans were the brains behind math, medicine, chess, the traffic light, the self-lubricating engine, the refrigerator and many other awesome inventions. And It certainly will not enlighten its followers about the miseducation of our children, the mass incarceration of black boys and men and the devaluation of our cultural currency.
Let’s face it. Hip-hop is a flop, a societal cancer, a bane on the brain of those who have become co-conspirators in their own self destruction.
If the end result of paying the price for a better day is what I see from the likes of Gucci Mane, T.I., and Nicki Minaj, then I want a refund. We as a people are better than that. Although we have come a mighty long way, if we want to overcome like the vanguards before us, then we must conquer the battlefield of the mind.
We must recognize the power of words because they shape our thoughts. When those thoughts take root, they manifest into actions. Repeated actions turn into habits and those habits will lead to one’s destiny. A changed life is always the result of changed thinking.
Today’s mentality will shape tomorrow’s reality and no matter how badly I want a crop of bold and brilliant drum majors for justice to arise in these perilous times, the tune in their heads must first change.
Kevin McDonald is a Tampa native who has been teaching English in the Palm Beach County School District since 2001.
Photo: Kevin McDonald