Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Black Boy Joy...and Pain

Jenkins and McCraney. Photo Credit: N/A
At the close of another (always too brief) Black History Month, celebrations of our accomplishments past and present recently reached a pinnacle on one of the world's largest stages: the 89th Academy Awards. In a year that broke records for presenting the most African-American nominees with Oscars wins, the barrier was further broken when the year's Best Picture award was (ultimately) presented to "Moonlight," the fictionalized story of a young black man's arduous journey to manhood and in discovering his sexuality, while growing up on the tough streets of Miami. Having received the Best Adapted Screenplay award earlier in the evening, when its writer Tarell Alvin McCraney gave his acceptance speech, he thanked everyone on behalf of himself and director Barry Jenkins as just "two boys from Liberty City (Florida) up here on this stage representing the 305."

Trayvon Martin. Photo Credit: N/A
Amidst so much "black boy joy," however, I was reminded of the pain, as the Oscars February 26th award date also marked the fifth year anniversary of the death of Trayvon Martin--a non-fictionalized, young black man on his own journey to manhood, whose life was cut short on a Florida street, and who's death sparked the movement we came to know as Black Lives Matter. Yet, such a stark juxtaposition of highs and lows has always been the norm within "our community," where we're often leery of celebrating too long in anticipation of what may be yet to come; where the same weeping that endures for the night and brings joy in the morning easily gives way to those joys that endure for a moment but can give way to tears that last a lifetime; where on our journey toward progress, we tread lightly lest we make one wrong step; and where we're reminded that although awards and accolades, while warranted and often long overdue are appreciated, will never compare to the magnitude of change that's still needed and of the work that's left to be done.

Kalief Browder. Photo Credit: N/A
On such a note, the debut of hip hop mogul Jay-Z's powerful six-part docu-series, “TIME: The Kalief Browder Story”(trailer here) premiering March 1st on Spike TV could not be more timely. Having debuted at the Sundance Film Festival and also featured in Ava DuVernay's powerful Netflix documentary "13th," that examines the prison to pipeline phenomenon, the docu-series follows Browder, a former Bronx resident, who was sent to Rikers Island prison in 2010 at age 16 without a trial following allegations over a stolen backpack. His experience at the prison complex unveiled abuse from guards and inmates, as well as countless days in solitary confinement. The case was eventually dismissed and Browder was released from prison in June 2013. He committed suicide in 2015. And, yet, Browder's story is but one of many that need to be told and for whom we continue to fight.

Ava DuVernay. Photo courtesy of Instagram @ava
So, as the fanfare of award season concludes and we're able to give the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag a rest (for now), let us not be blinded by temporary celebrations of "inclusion" and continue to invest our time and best resources in what really matters: keeping the movement alive and moving it forward. As African-American, history-breaking, Emmy, Tony, and now Academy Award winner Viola Davis said in her acceptance speech this year, "[When I'm asked] what kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola?” I say, exhume those bodies, exhume those stories. The stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition..." Stories just like Trayvon's. Stories just like Kalief's.

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