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African Americans nationwide galvanized behind the six Black teens in Jena, Louisiana perhaps more than any other event in recent history since the Million Man March. More than 20,000 Blacks from as far away as New York and Los Angeles descended upon the small town in Louisiana to protest the uneven administration of justice. And Blacks nationwide wore black clothing that day as a show of solidarity.
A divergent group of African Americans were at the helm of the protest. Intrinsic leaders ranging from radio show host Michael Baisden and Los Angeles Sentinel Publisher Danny Bakewell used their media influence to inform and inspire.
Alan Bean, executive director of the Texas-based Friends of Justice, was among the first activists to investigate the case and the actual petition to the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice was created by Thomas McNamara-neither activist is a national name.
Moving forward, perhaps divergent leaders will continue to take the national media stage to demonstrate to America that African Americans are looking to more than Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson for leadership and galvanization. Perhaps such divergent leadership can give sharper focus to the needs of the Black community at large without being muddied by the presence of current media “Black Leader” favorites.
Even as many African Americans change their view of the Jena Six case, particularly of Mykal Bell, who already had a litany of battery charges, there is a great deal of good that has come from the case.
One good thing is what the case has demonstrated to America. It has demonstrated that more of us are active and concerned than the usual Black Reverends who rush to the spotlight when anything goes awry.
That demonstration came in the form of the tens of thousands of Blacks who descended upon Jena, Louisiana, who were inspired to do so without the opportunistic prodding, yelling and rhyming of Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson.
It is crucial to highlight divergent leaders so that the eventual media stunting of Sharpton and Jackson will not taint any protest by African Americas, as though the two preachers are the only representatives of the Black community and/or that on their unique command, African Americans will blindly march like rats to the Pied Pipers’ tune.
Mainstream America, through the mainstream media, must be given a more thorough perception of racially charged issues, so that they clearly understand how America is harming itself from the inside out.
America is harming itself when racially charged issues are swept under the rug.
In a quick survey of twenty White citizens and twenty African American citizens, I found that fifteen percent of the Black citizens and five per cent of the White citizens understood the particulars of the Jena Six case. Only one of the White citizens knew that there were nooses hung from a tree, that one of the White students pulled a gun on one of the Black students, or that the police charged the Black students with gun theft after they took the gun away from the White student.
The majority of Whites surveyed viewed the case simply as a racial issue, yet, the case is about the unequal administration of justice in America.
A clash of White and Black students occurred and while the White students were portrayed as victims, the six Black students were charged with attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy and face as many as one hundred years in prison in a case without serious injuries.
That is an issue affecting all Americans and should not be a Black issue.
In that same short survey, I also found that twelve per cent of the Black citizens and two per cent of the White citizens understood the particulars of the case in West Virginia, involving a twenty-year-old Black woman who was tortured, raped and forced to consume animal waste, as she was being held hostage by six Whites who yelled racial epithets while holding her hostage.
Eight of the African Americans and only one of the White citizens recognized the name Amadou Diallo, who was shot forty-one times by New York police after reaching for his wallet in 1999.
All of these incidents have been reported in national Black media outlets, yet virtually ignored by mainstream media.
When I informed the White citizens I surveyed of the details of each case, I was met with amazement.
My point? Few details of racially charged issues are disseminated by the national media, yet, America is bombarded with the details of OJ Simpson’s foolish antics or the details of Michael Vicks’ dog fighting and abuse, unless the two Soul Curl Preaching Brothers are on the scene.
African Americans paid attention to the injustices they saw in Jena, Louisiana.
Mainstream media in America paid attention to Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.
Baisden, Bakewell, Bean and McNamara—all Black activists—should have been given the national spotlight for representing Black interests, while truly inspiring and galvanizing.
A great number of African Americans believe that mainstream America simply doesn’t care.
I’d like to believe that most of them just don’t know.
Hopefully the Jena Six Case will help to make some changes.
Darryl James n is an award-winning author who is now a filmmaker. His first mini-movie, “Crack,” was released in March of 2006. He is currently filming a full length documentary. James’ latest book, “Bridging The Black Gender Gap,” is the basis of his lectures and seminars. Previous installments of this column can now be viewed at www.bridgecolumn.com. James can be reached at