“In order to improve race relations in America, we must speak up. Comfortable silence has gotten us nowhere,” said Alomar Burdick, one of the young panelists speaking at the Community Forum on Racial Justice on Aug. 18 at Brookins AME Church in Oakland.
Urging a need for community and action, three young people led the discussion as they shared their outlook on race in America and ways that people can work together against racism.
“In order for us to speak up, we must replace comfortable silence with verbal discomfort and we must take action,” said Burdick, a member of the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee hosted the forum, and sat on the panel along with Councilmember Desley Brooks. Julie Nelson was moderator.
Another young panelist stressed the importance of knowing and embracing one’s identity.
“What I think is really important is to really know where we’re trying to go,” said Adeniji Asabi-Shakir, of Young, Gifted and Black.
“I would like to find a way to be able to…thrive and speak pride openly,” added Asabi-Shakir.
To make strides in fighting the system of racial injustice, Black and brown communities need to work together, stressed one youth panelist.
“The system has us pinned against each other, it’s divide and conquer. Our kids are growing up alongside each other and don’t understand each other,” said Jose Alejandre.
“I want to put a call out to community members to lead by example to show the kids that we can build up Black and brown communities in East Oakland, wherever we are,” he said. “If we don’t do it now, the separation between Black and brown (people)…will get bigger and bigger.”
The discussion included the impacts of institutional racism, pointing to racial disparities that exist in education, criminal justice, housing, jobs, and other areas.
Studies show that African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites.
A recent Department of Education survey highlights inequities in the education of Black preschool kids. While Black children, ages 2 to 4, are only 18 percent of students in preschool, they make up 40 percent of the number of kids of the same age that are kicked out of preschool.
“How do you suspend a preschool baby from school? There’s something wrong,” said Congresswoman Lee, who raised this issue at the forum.
“Everywhere you look in American society, you’ve got issues around structural and institutional racism,” she said
It is especially important, said the congresswoman, that we “really not allow people to say we’re playing the race card if we want to talk about race. We have to talk about how public policies and structures, and funding policies in a way that includes race, is a factor.”
Lee said she is pushing legislation to reverse these disparities, and has included language to address the expulsion of Black preschool children.
She is also pushing for legislation to increase police accountability, end racial profiling, and seeking federal funding for schools, job training, re-entry programs, violence prevention and apprenticeships for youth.
Councilmember Desley Brooks recently led a fight to establish a Department of Race and Equity in the City of Oakland, which the city approved this summer.
Brooks said, “This (department) is about truly looking at the policies and procedures of the city and changing them.”
The new department will seek to address systemic inequities in city policies and practices – such as housing, jobs, contracting, and employment.
Congresswoman Lee will hold additional forums in the future throughout her congressional district.
For more information, visit Rep. Barbara Lee on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.