Voices from the local Black community contemplate the primary challenges facing African Americans and how best to address them.

Reflections on Race: Once it’s up there it’s stuck there

Writer, storyteller and community advocate Ray Alford
Writer, storyteller and community advocate Ray Alford Photo by Travis Gauthier

Black. When you see the word Black, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Does it cause a positive or negative reaction? 

Growing up and still to this day, I think of raised fists and great and powerful leaders like Malcolm X and Dr. King and writers like Alex Haley, Maya Angelou, Phillis Wheatley and Langston Hughes. I think of my parents and grandparents before them, all of whom, in one way or another, helped to influence me to believe my Black is strong, my Black is resilient and my Black is beautiful.

But I’m also a realist. I know everyone doesn’t see us the same. I remember being in the Navy living in Japan, and a Japanese woman asked me why I’m not like the other Black people. Confused, I asked her what she meant by that. She said Black people are gangsters and like to shoot. Shocked, I asked her why she thought that. And she said she watched the movies Boyz n the Hood and Menace 2 Society. At that point I realized we as Blacks have to be careful with the images we put out to the universe.

Like the song says, “Once it’s up there, it’s stuck there,” and there couldn’t have been a more truer statement. We wonder why our youth are walking around lost. But if you watch the majority of rap music videos there are numerous guns and drug references throughout. Young impressionable minds are watching this and emulating them in real life. So now the question is: How do we turn this around? 

Lives. To paraphrase Dr. King, our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. “A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right,” he said. “A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.” 

These statements ring so true in this day and age. Growing up I was always told it takes a village to raise a child. As a child, if I was somewhere I shouldn’t be or doing something I shouldn’t, somebody’s parent was going to step in. And they were picking up the phone calling my parents to let them know what was going on. If there was a fight, adults would stop their cars and break up fights.

With the rise of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, that’s no longer the case. Yes, phones are still being picked up. But now it’s only to record those fights. Most are usually started on these same social media sites. 

We are losing our youth at alarming rates because we are too scared to tell them when they are wrong and need to do better.

I’ve been mentoring kids for the last 10 years. One thing I’ve learned is if you’re sincere they will listen. It’s about planting seeds and speaking life into our youth. We have to hold ourselves accountable and say enough is enough. 

About Reflections on Race

Black history is unfortunately not always recognized as American history — even today as it was in 1915 when Dr. Carter G. Woodson, hailed as the Father of Black History, and others brought his “brainchild” to life.

If you ever wondered how Black History Month originated, you need go no further than the founding group’s website asalh.org. It stands for the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.

In its own history, focusing on Dr. Carter, the association notes: “During the dawning decades of the twentieth century, it was commonly presumed that black people had little history besides the subjugation of slavery. Today, it is clear that blacks have significantly impacted the development of the social, political, and economic structures of the United States and the world.”

The association chose as this year’s Black History Month theme: The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity.

Our guest columns for Reflections of Race will help to secure the foundation of the Black family by identifying challenges and issues facing the African American race. We asked our guest columnists to comment from a local or national viewpoint, and offer solutions along the way. And they did just that.

Ruth Foote, collection editor

Matter. When it comes to matters of importance in this country, we as a race have more times than not come up on the short end of the stick. And, yes, it’s true we didn’t dig this hole we are in. But we also can’t expect the same people who helped put us in the hole to help dig us out. It’s going to take all of us working as one. And don’t get me wrong — I get it. We were so busy making Michaels like Jackson and Jordan that we got away from making leaders like Malcolm and Martin. We were more worried about being accepted than being exceptional. 

But we can’t say Black lives matter and still support industries that are a part of the problem. If you look at the music industry, they blatantly feed us negative stereotypes of Blacks daily with no regard for the repercussions. But music executives don’t live in our communities and neighborhoods. The gunshots they hear are made up in the studio. 

We face an uphill battle. The change we seek won’t happen overnight. But as I raise my fist in the air, one thing is for certain, two things for sure, my Black is strong, my Black is resilient, my Black is beautiful.