Do Black Lives (Still) Matter to Black People?

by Brienne Kenlock


On April 9th, a panel discussion was held in the Faculty Dining Room concerning the issue of violence and other ills that befall the African-American community. The event, “Do Black Lives Matter to Black People”, centered on the effects of violence from the panelists who lost loved ones to tragedy or experienced it.

“My son was shot 17 times over a parking spot. It is a pain you never get over, no mother should have to bury their child”, Dorothy Johnson-Speight said in her speech. “Mothers In Charge helped me live again, it gave me a purpose”.

This panel discussion was in response to recent events, such as the Trayvon Martin, Akai Gurley and Freddie Grey cases. In the Jamaica area, 19-year-old Peyton Manwarring was killed last year on Halloween night. Manwarring’s death had hit the York College community hard, even to friends and family who knew him. Like others in the Jamaica community who lost their loved ones to violence, Manwarring’s family had attended the panel discussion.

Vincent Banrey, the Dean of Students, recalled how he still prays that his sons are safe every day and how his experience as a rookie police officer led him to pursue a career in education. Like those affected by violence, he added, “Life is a very important thing. To take a life at such a young age is very devastating. We need to say ‘No more’”.

One aspect that was covered at the panel was the influence of culture and what role it has played directly or indirectly, when it came to violence.

One panelist, Ashley Oliver, who is a writer for Pandora’s Box, responded that media does play a role in what people think is acceptable when it comes to certain situations.

“Sometimes on social media, I read posts and they would have gang symbols or people encouraging bad behavior”, she said. “Why is doing bad acknowledged as acceptable? That mindset has to change”. She also spoke about anger and hopelessness, two things that lead to people committing crimes.

Ron Daniels, a political science professor, noted that there is a paradox within the black community; people are concerned with police brutality and the justice system, and on the other hand, there are worries about being attacked from someone from the community. The black community faces a double-edged sword.

Another panelist, Gregory Hetmeyer, an Alumni and member of the Social Work Club for York, responded to a question from panel mediator Ron Daniels if restorative justice could be one answer. He said, “As a society, we are taught to value violence to solve problems. It’s a pipe dream to think that a prison sentence is going to solve anything because when someone gets out, they can’t adjust in society”.

Johnson-Speight, like other panelists, called attention to statistics. “Homicide is the leading cause of death among African-American males. Yet, there is no outrage about that”.

“There should be outrage when an officer shoots an innocent, but there should be the same amount of outrage when a black person is killed by someone who looks like them”, said Sugar Wright, founder of the Jamaica organization, Keep Our Streets Safe.

Dorothy Johnson-Speight is the director of the Philadelphia-based organization, Mothers In Charge, which focuses on helping young adults, families, and communities that have been affected by violence. They also focus their attention on mentoring at-risk youth who would fall under the cycle.

“In the end, all life matters”, said Hetmeyer.

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