GLOVER COLUMN: Fear of perception new issue

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 18, 2007

Monday, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I attended a local function, the First Annual Unity Brunch, at the Demopolis Civic Center. I was there for work, as a reporter for the paper, to cover the event, though I must say I was looking forward to the event, and I applauded its cause.

It was a brunch organized to celebrate the life and works of King and to provide scholarships to young men in high schools across Marengo County. The youths were asked to write an essay on the works of King and their meaning and effects on today’s youth. Five of the some 20 individuals who turned in essays were presented $500 scholarships for their works, which were chosen for being exceptional expressions of their views on the subject.

There were several speakers and performances prior to the awarding of the scholarships, and while the whole program was quite good, one speaker in particular grabbed both my and the audience’s attention with his speech.

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His name was Amir Abdel-Malek. He is a sophomore at Demopolis Middle School, and, from what I heard Monday, an oratory prodigy. Though not necessarily striking in stature, Abdel-Malek spoke clearly, with little embellishment or flowery remarks &045; a trend that has grown in popularity among orators of late &045; and issued a thought-provoking, brief speech with a presence that transcended his years.

Abdel-Malek spoke about the dream that King had, worked toward and tried to instill in others. He outlined King’s dream of racial equality. Not only racial equality but, in a sense, an end to racial distinctions. Abdel-Malek said in King’s dream race becomes a non-issue.

Abdel-Malek said the United States has as of yet failed to live up to the dream of King. He spoke about the atrocities committed in recent years by police officers and others on the black race in the United States.

Abdel-Malek decried the actions of the New York City Police Department in the shooting of Sean Bell on Nov. 25, 2006. Bell was shot more than 40 times by undercover officers, who stated they overheard Bell say he had a gun in his car. Bell left the strip club where the comment was overheard and was asked to put his hands up once he and two friends were in the vehicle. Bell was drunk according to toxicology reports and the car rolled into an officer as Bell raised his hands. The officers fired. One officer alone shot 31 rounds at the vehicle, reloading at least once. Bell was at his bachelor’s party; he was to be married later that day; no gun was found.

Abdel-Malek mentioned this and several other incidents of brutality and corruption that shine light on the lack of equality. Then he made a transition that shocked me.

As a 22-year-old white male I was shocked. In a room populated by an overwhelmingly black majority I awaited an outcry against a member of the race’s youth laying blame on his community. None came.

Abdel-Malek began making a case against a present culture prevalent in black youth. He argued that pop culture has taken away the sanctity of the relationship between a man and woman by degrading and undermining the value and importance of strong women in the culture. He said he was appalled by the derogatory names and insinuations placed on the black woman.

Abdel-Malek also railed against the perception that money and fame is the pinnacle of success among the black youth. He asked for a return to the values which King and the leaders of the civil rights movement stood for.

As Abdel-Malek’s speech drew to a close I began surveying the room, watching and listening for the reaction that the speech would illicit. I was surprised by what I heard. Members of the audience voiced agreement. Abdel-Malek’s passion on the subject drew out the passions of a community that agreed with what he was saying.

As Abdel-Malek closed his speech he was greeted by thunderous applause and comments of concurrence. I began to analyze my own apprehension that sprang forth as Abdel-Malek began his tirade against the demeaning and devaluing effects on the popular black youth culture.

Why should I be shocked that Abdel-Malek spoke out against an influence that has a deteriorating effect on the efforts and morals of his race? Especially when I found myself agreeing with Abdel-Malek about the slow erosion of values among his community and all other communities that have youth who buy into the concepts of wealth and fame over family and moral fiber.

I realized that in my generation people were brought up reading about the struggle that took place during the civil rights movement. I was raised not to speak against the black community because of the negative racial epithets that were once, and in certain circles still are, prevalent in demeaning their race.

I realized though that there is a difference between racism and trying to root out problems that strike at the heart of a race’s community. I had become so leery of being perceived as racist, a problem a white male must bear, that I quit opposing things that I would fight against in my own community.

Abdel-Malek’s speech made me realize that we have not reached the dream of King. Our nation is still recovering from a battleground that has left both races bruised and scarred.

Once we can identify problems in communities as problems facing everyone and not fear being perceived as racist by trying to remedy those problems we are there.

When racism no longer is in the back of any person’s mind when they want to decry a wrong we are there.

I hope one day in my time we make it.

Brandon Glover is a staff writer for The Times. He can be reached at (334) 289-4017 or by e-mail to