For me, it was Eric Garner.
That's where I finally broke. All my rage, hurt and frustration collided with my optimism, my faith, and my politics. I sat on my couch and cried with the same intensity I had when my sister passed away. It’s when all of the romantic ideas came crashing down. I was mourning not only his death, but the death of my idealism. My wife came running in from the kitchen. It dawned on her that in six years of marriage she has never seen me cry. Come to think of it, I hadn't cried in at least 10 years.
My father was a Black Panther, and Vietnam war vet. Quite a combo I know. My bedroom, as a child, didn't have cartoon characters plastered all over the wall. I had posters of five African empires and their kingly lineage: Timbuktu, Ghana, Mali, Songhai, Zulu. I had a Marcus Garvey poster right over my bed. I distinctly remember a bedtime story about Cesar Chavez. I once wrote a book report on Nat Turner because my Dad assigned it.
My sister? She was assigned Angela Davis and Malcolm X’s autobiography. We would regularly come home from school and watch movies; however, these films were not Disney. We watched “The Autobiography of Mrs. Jane Pittman,” “Sounder,” “A Women Called Moses.” These freedom fighters were Superheroes in my eyes!
I often thought, “One day, I will be able to change the world and be just like them!”
Only problem was, they already changed the world. We could vote, drink from the same fountains, and swim in public pools. I just needed my own cause.
Don't get me wrong. I am well acquainted with my own experiences of systemic injustice and racism. I'm a child of the War on Drugs, stop-and-frisk laws, red-lining and gang sweeps. I was a preteen during the Rodney King trial and the LA riots. It's not that I thought the struggle was done; I just wanted to fight and succeed like my heroes.
Enter Oscar Grant, and Trayvon Martin.
I had been a full-time artist touring and speaking across the nation for years by then. I had taught high school for six years prior to that and I had gained a level of public influence. I noticed that whenever I was asked to come speak or do any sort of Q and A, the questions I was being asked centered around justice. I felt as though all my gifts, training and desires were all falling into place. This was our chance to carry the baton, and it seemed like the rest of my generation felt the same. Community organizers were brewing up across the country after Mike Brown's death, culminating with the birth of Black Lives Matter. It was destiny! We have our cause to fight! We will better America.
We did rallies and community concerts in St. Louis with my buddies Lecrae, This’l and Derek Minor. My boy Sho Baraka wrote articles for NPR. I wrote articles for the Washington Post, and Relevant Magazine. My friends wrote for Billboard. Kendrick Lamar did his thing on the Grammy stage. We were becoming what our parents taught us.
How naïve of me!
Sitting on my couch, after watching a father of two get choked out in the fashion of the Rollin’ 20 Crips, by an officer of the law. Then to have that officer have no charges brought against him sent my fantasy of being a Justice Jedi crashing down into the harsh reality: “We shouldn't have to still be fighting this fight.”
How are we still here? It's been hundreds of years. Generation after generation, all just asking to be treated as if we were the same species. As simple as that. I could handle a few twitter trolls that would say silly things like,
"What about black on black crime?!”
That statement clearly shows that they have no actual relationship with the Black community. Otherwise, they’d know 1) the context and history that created that problem; 2) the illogical nature of the objection (Black-on-Black crime is statistically higher because we live in closer proximity to each other; just like Chinese-on-Chinese crime. Duh.); and 3) that there are thousands of organizations and peace concerts and efforts we've made within our community to combat it. So I could ignore their ignorance.
But to see a death play out AGAIN on camera. AGAIN. And to defend the concept that selling an untaxed cigarette is grounds for Capital Punishment, without due process, as somehow justifiable, revealed just how unromantic the experiences my father's friends went through actually were.
That day I cried. It felt like the Civil Rights Movement was a fail. I felt like I had failed. I felt hopeless, tired, helpless. It was time to really consider the cost of what I and we as a family were about to embark on. My daughter cries anytime I leave town; not because she misses me but because she thinks I'm going to die.
I show symptoms of PTSD. It's called race trauma; look it up. A person can't watch someone that looks like them be executed in the street, then told it's because they had some innate flaw that caused the execution, and not have their psyche negatively impacted. I have trouble sleeping. My wife and I fight so much more. I felt like my church didn't care because when Sandra Bland died, I heard not one word from our pulpit; yet when the officers were shot in Dallas, we stopped and prayed.
I imagined a quote from Dr. King:
"Well, the most pervasive mistake I have made was in believing that because our cause was just, we could be sure that the White ministers of the South, once their Christian consciences were challenged, would rise to our aid. I felt that White ministers would take our cause to the White power structure. I ended up, of course, chastened and disillusioned. As our movement unfolded, and direct appeals were made to White ministers, most folded their hands - and some even took stand against us."
He goes on to say, that there are MANY examples of outstanding exceptions. As there are today. And even in my home church, they are definitely making efforts to address these issues now. Yet that didn't soften the blow of imagining my children growing up without me because my life was taken.
This caused me to call my father and between my tears ask... HOW DID Y’ALL DO IT? HOW DID Y’ALL STAY IN?
He gave me three pointers:
1. Justice is a marathon, not a sprint. We knew the fight wouldn't end with us. Know that you sit in a stream of history and get to play an amazing role. And if one child is saved, it was worth it.
2. Justice WILL come. At the end of the day, the Scriptures show a God that will not allow for oppression to go unpunished, whether it was the Israelites in Egypt or sin’s oppression on human beings. The Lord will redeem us.
3. Enjoy the relationships you have now. Hug your children. Tell your friends how much you love them. Unplug from your phones. Go on walks. Listen to good music. Remember, you only have so many years.
The romance of revolution is now gone.
These people that were larger than life to me, I see are just regular people. These people had many flaws and many pains.
I'm now more motivated to push and use my voice for more than selling records. The gospel compels me to care about others more than myself. Jesus talked about counting the cost of following him. I know that it's a very high cost to be a poster on some future kids wall.
But if all goes well, I won't have to be.
Los Angeles native Propaganda is a poet, political activist, husband, father, academic and emcee. With LA flowing through his veins and armed with a bold message, Propaganda has assembled a body of work that challenges his listeners with every verse and reaches across the spectrum of pop culture. From aggressive battle raps to smooth introspective rhythms, Propaganda’s music will cause you to nod your head, but more importantly it will stretch your mind and heart.