Celebrating Black History Month
By John Register
We have been through a lot over the past couple of years. The racial tension in America seemed as if it might be on the brink of real change. Some Black Americans thought the country might experience a true shift and an acknowledgement by government leadership of the horrors wrought by (and a true pathway forward concerning) America’s original sin of slavery.
Others were less optimistic and wondered when the allyship veil would lift as people tired of the rhetoric. I continue to look for sustainable change in America for opportunities extended to all.
As a young person, my parents Rev. Donald and Dolores Register took my two brothers and me to Detroit Michigan, from Oak Park, Illinois, for summer vacations and Thanksgiving breaks to ensure we stayed connected to our family roots.
I did not know it then, but I certainly know it now that my family are advocates, allies and are change makers.
My uncle, Gloster Current, is the most famous. He was deputy executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Director of Branches and Field Administration of the NAACP during the Civil Rights Movement. In his role, he was the last person to see Medgar Evers alive and oversaw the platform speakers at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963, where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his now famed “I Have a Dream” speech. A speech that really was not a about a dream of Black and white unity, but rather civil and economic equal rights of African Americans.
He and his wife lived in Hollis, New York.
When I reflect now, I see the progress we as Black and Brown people have made in the United States, and I also see a long road ahead. Sometimes when I visit Washington D.C., I do a monument walk. I stop by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Kings’ commanding figure emerges out of a mountain of despair. His arms folded and eyes appear fixed across the tidal basin at our third President, Thomas Jefferson. It is as if he is still hoping to fully emerge from the sins of the father.
My dad was a Presbyterian minister and part of a group of clergies responsible for building suitable housing for the poor. I can’t imagine how hard the work might have been as they had to fight the unfair “redlining” practices of the federal government which refused to give loans to Blacks and subsidized builders for entire subdivisions for whites. We still see the impacts of this practice today.
During one of my summer months, back from college at the University of Arkansas, I was rummaging through my dad’s desk drawer in the basement. I was looking for a pencil.
I found was an article showing how my dad and nine other white clergy went to Mississippi to assist in the right to vote for Blacks.
He was thrown in jail for nine days and fined. His crime, placing a sign on the wrong side of a chain fence when police asked them to put their signs down.
However, the article continued and stated the judge who had put them in jail had died and was replaced by a Black woman. I was floored.
When I confronted my dad about the rest of the story, he stated, “Yes, she came by the church and asked if I wanted my record expunged?”
“What did you say?” I asked.
Dad just shook his head and said, “No. That proves I was part of the struggle.”
Now, that’s a badge of honor in my book.
Though we have overcome in some areas, the disparity which causes depression remains in the job market. Two decades after Kalisha White, a Black woman, won a discrimination suit against Target, studies show not much has changed.
According to a report by WBUR, a nonprofit news organization, “economist from the University of California Berkeley and the University of Chicago found that out of 83,000 job applications sent to 108 Fortune 500 employers — half with traditionally white-sounding names, and the other half with Black-sounding names only applicants with Black names were called back 10 percent fewer times across the board despite having comparable application to their white counterparts.
I tell the youth I coach that hard work is necessary but not to mistake hard work with equitable opportunity.
This is what Dr. King was trying to get us to understand.
Dr. Harry Edwards, sociologist emeritus from the University of California Berkley, shared three elements for sustainable changed at the NFL Diversity and Equity Forum in New York City.
- A dependable and developed pipeline of talent.
- A pervasive and persistent demand.
- The institution being pressed to change, has to want change.
He further explained when you have all three aligned you have a recipe for sustainable change. If not, a quota system is more likely to emerge.
Is the leadership and institution of America ready to change to embrace all her citizens? Are we up for the challenge, as the pervasive demand to cry out for a demand an overlooked pipeline of talent to be heard?
I remain optimistic.
As a combat Army veteran, my oath was to, “protect and defend the United States Constitution against all enemies foreign, and domestic, and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”
When I end termed my service, the amazing thing is that no one “unoathed” me.
I believe American can get there because she too has an oath to uphold, “that all people are created equal and there should be liberty (freedom) and justice (equity) for all.”
No one has unoathed her yet either.