Cover Photo: Andricka Willams (wife of Alton Sterling) and Gus Coleman
By Arielle Johnson
In spite of the promise of plummeting temperatures and sleet coated roads & bridges by nightfall, people from all walks of life, packed the Gilley’s South Dallas Ballroom for the Course Correction Conversation event. This event, which was 3-4 months in the making, finally came together Monday evening on Martin Luther King Day.
Hundreds of people showed up with their families, friends and colleagues, prepared to hear various on stage conversations, about what it would take for our polarized nation, to join forces and become one. As Bishop Omar Jahwar, Founder of the Urban Specialists always says, “We have to stop thinking it’s us again them.”
Before the conversations began on stage, Afram News had an opportunity to speak with the widow of Alton Sterling, Andricka Williams, who is also the mother of his 3 children and her Grandmother, Gus Coleman in the media room. One of the first questions we asked was, how they felt about the “I Can’t Breath” social media movement and protests across the nation, following the death of Alton Sterling, and Nick Cannon leading the protest in New York City wearing a shirt with the words “I Can’t Breath” in bold lettering. Much to our surprise, we found out they were not included in the organization of those protests and had no knowledge of Nick Cannon’s involvement. But although they may not have been aware of the protests prior to our mention of it, Andricka and her grandmother, Ms. Wallace say they are forever thankful for the person/persons who captured the cell phone footage of Alton being killed by the police. Andricka stated, “The police were saying Alton was resisting arrest, but he had a breathing problem. He never even slept on his back at the house, so when we saw the video, we immediately knew he was trying to position himself, so he could breath.” Andricka’s grandmother, Ms. Wallace told us, you can hear the officer going to the extreme in video by stating, ‘I’m gonna shoot you in the head mutha–ck-!’ “If it wasn’t for that cell phone video, it would have been his word against a dead man’s word.”
There were 25 people seated on the stage, in addition to the moderator and Bishop Omar Jahwar. Some of the on stage panel of guests were – Senator Ted Cruz, Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, music producer Rico Love, Marcus Peters of the Kansas City Chiefs, the Feurtado Brothers of New York City, Pastor Billy Stanfield, Denesha Chester (Mother of Slain Rapper Lil Snupe), Andricka Williams (Wife of Alton Sterling), Arthur “Silky Slim” Reed (former Baton Rouge, LA gang leader), Scarface (Houston Rapper), John Carlos (1968 Olympian), William and Valerie Bell (parents of Sean Bell) and the widows of fallen Baton Rouge police officers Montrell Jackson and Brad Garafola.
Bishop Omar asked the guests on the stage if they would use their influence to affect the communities they are trying to change. Questions were posed by the moderator, to the panel of guests who had a moment to consider the question before raising their hand to respond and other questions that were directed at certain guests. When former Olympian John Carlos was asked why he raised a black gloved fist during the national anthem at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, he expressed a litany of concerns that troubled him about the country he had traveled to Mexico to represent. “I will never take my fist down. The injustices have not stopped. My Dad was in World War I and he came home to not be represented. We used the Olympics to speak for those who couldn’t speak for themselves. I watched families torn apart by the Heroin epidemic. We had men looking in the mirror not liking themselves for not being able to fulfill promises they made to their children. ‘Daddy, when you gon’ buy me that dress you promised me’ or ‘Daddy, when you gon get me those sneakers you promised me?’ But then he looks in his pockets, and they are still empty.”
The crowd responded to Mr. Carlos’ comments with a thunderous applause, which he shut down quickly and said, “I don’t need applause. That’s not what this is about. America’s great, but we can make it better. If we don’t stand now, our children have no future.”
John Carlos and his teammate Tommie Smith, both track stars and Bronze and Gold Medal winners, caused a political controversy back in the 60’s when they chose to raise black gloved fists at the 1968 Olympics which was held in Mexico. But not only did they raise their fists to send a message back home to America to television and other media sources, they also stood shoeless in black socks to represent black poverty and wore black scarves and wooden beaded necklaces to represent the black lynchings in this country. John Carlos said he was not ignorant to the fact, that he could possibly lose everything by choosing to take a stand against injustice, but he did it anyway.
The moderator introduced Scarface improperly by misquoting the title of his rap classic, “My Mind Is Playing Tricks On Me,” which he had to correct before responding to her question, which was “How do you translate the Urban Experience?” Honestly, it took him a moment to respond, as he was clearly overcome with emotion, but when he spoke, he expressed the sentiments of others in his generation who often sit back and wonder what we can do to reach today’s youth. “When I was growing up, I tried to soak up all the knowledge the older generations had to give. I was always taught to lead by example. Today’s generation under me is lost. We lost the ball, and now we trying to recover.” Scarface believes the way to get our youth back is to be aware that we need to stop passing jobs to them, and pass on businesses instead.
As the evening progressed, time sort of got away from the group of guests who appeared on stage, and although everyone did not have a chance to speak, they achieved the appearance of something which may not have been a primary goal at all – Solidarity. To see a stage packed with people who are willing to put their political differences aside, and promise to work outside of the confines of what they are known for by most people, to achieve something even our government is incapable of addressing at the moment, gave everyone the room a sense of hope. We know the potential of this past Monday’s event, and are praying the necessary changes our society needs to achieve equity, happen in the most expeditious manner.
To find out more about the Urban Specialists and what you can do to get involved, please visit urbanspecialists.org