I hear people say all the time, “The Black Press is dying.” Instead, I’d probably say, “the Black Press hasn’t adapted.”
What I have found as I covered the protest for Rayshard Brooks on June 13, that it’s pretty easy to see why not only “Black Lives Matter” but “Black Journalists Matter” and “Black Media Matters.”
As 2020 combines the revolutionary protests of 1968, the worst economic downturn in American history (1932), coupled with a president who cosplays George Wallace, no group of people is better positioned for a turbulent time than Black Journalists and wholly-owned Black media outlets.
Throughout the two weeks of protests, I made a labored attempt to cover the majority of these demonstrations from a proverbial distance of objectivity. I was even asked to serve on committees and think tanks set out to redefine the Black Agenda for Millenials and Gen Z.
While loved ones pleaded with me to stay away from these volatile protests, I languished while the days passed on. Everyone was fed up with EVERYTHING. I watched the videos of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks dying at the hands of white men and cringed like you did.
On June 13, I walked from The Atlanta Voice offices to the Wendy’s on 125 University Avenue to cover what was brewing in the aftermath of Brooks’ death. It was a Wendy’s that at times my colleagues and I would grab a quick bite after a long night of editing or a quick lunch between assignments.
When the fast-food restaurant went up in flames, spirits of anger, death, doubt, evil, malice, rage and unbelief filled the air. Those spirits churned in the air like steaming collards in a crockpot. The protesters received lustful satisfaction and yet, family and close friends said, “Yo, don’t get f****ed up out there. I see you on CNN right now.”
Meanwhile, I noticed two other Black photographers working closely with two white photographers as they attempted to navigate the metaphorical eye of a hurricane.
Though the local news stations and cable news networks probably had riot porn on their minds, the five of us made a pact to keep each other safe and get the content our bosses would predictably salivate over. It was raw and real.
The protesters had their agenda. The members of the Atlanta Police Department in full riot gear were ready to hit anyone with tear gas and rubber bullets. We were smack dab in the middle, tasked with documenting it all.
But I felt an even greater sense of responsibility: How could I, a Black man, in a position of editorial leadership with a Black newspaper historically situated in this neighborhood and rooted in a tradition of documenting civil disobedience not document this seminal moment in Atlanta’s history?
The last thing I was going to let happen was to let two white boys and two Black outsiders walk into my proverbial backyard and tell MY STORY FOR ME. Through tear gas-stained eyes and a rollercoaster of emotions that followed me deep into the morning that followed, I had a job to do.
This is why “Black Press Matters.”
As conservatives attempt to figure out how to solve the riddle of surviving America’s changing ideological climate, Rush Limbaugh said in his June 16 episode, “the woke mob is attempting to take over America.”
Along their journey, they’ve discovered the concept of intersectionality. They believe America is being redefined by liberal, left-wing, socialist minority men and the white people — most notably white men — that believe their privilege is a sin, as Ben Shapiro said in a 2018 clip for Prager University, an online platform for conservative educational videos.
However, intersectionality is defined as the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.
Growing up as a second-generation Nigerian born in the United States, I was often told, “You don’t get involved in that sh–. You’re a Nigerian first and foremost and you just so happen to be born in America.”
While that line of thinking was intended to keep me away from conflict and focused on school, the one thing that was unavoidable was the color of my skin and future interactions with the police.
I got my first car, a 1989 Toyota Camry, during my senior year of high school. My father handed me a Police Benevolent Association decal to stick on my back window. He said it was to keep the police from pulling me over and harassing me.
I didn’t question it, because I knew at 18, I didn’t want the police to mess with me, even if I was going to church or traveling to and from Tennessee State University. Even when my parents bought their dream home, their neighbors were white cops. They felt because they followed the law and they’re Nigerians first, they’d be okay.
While age and legacy serve as natural and formidable barriers to progress and cause the metastatic cancer of stagnation, these past two weeks if for nothing else, should quicken some old bones to embrace new ideas and bring the conversation forward while introducing the voices of the voiceless to a growing segment of Americans looking for authentic and relevant reporting germane to the Black experience. Who has it better than us? What better time than now? If not now, when?