With the recent shooting of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, another face added to the pantheon of black martyrs. At one time this pantheon included icons such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Emmit Till, Medgar Evers, and even John and Robert Kennedy. The aforementioned individuals were assassinated for the cause racial inequality and injustice that was prevalent during the superficial age of American exceptionalism of the 20th century. While America was showing strength on the world stage, it was allowing its own citizens to be egregiously desecrated, beaten, and even lynch under the guise of national and ethnic pride.
For generations, the pantheon of black martyrs was on display in frames on the walls of many homes in the black community. Black civic and religious leaders would routinely speak the praises of those men and women we held in high esteem. We would see their likeness portrayed in dramatic expression throughout the year as we yearned for more like them to rise from the churches, ghettos, and streets and speak words of empowerment and liberation to us once more.
As the 21st century has entered its second decade, the faces of the pantheon of black martyrs have changed. We now see the faces of Tupac Shakur, Christopher “Notorious BIG” Simmons, Adamou Diallo, James “Jam Master Jay”Mizell, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant III, Trayvon Martin¸ Eric Garner, and now Michael Brown. These individuals were not on the front lines of civil rights protests or movements. They were not aligned with forces of evil intent on destroying white American privilege or power. These individuals were simple human beings who happen to have darker hued skin. Some of their deaths were the results of lifestyles that although on the edge, brought them notoriety and celebrity. Others were simply ordinary men, who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nonetheless, their faces have been added to the pantheon of black martyrs.
What makes the latter’s addition so significant? Perhaps it is the fact that those men were all martyred for a cause other than equality, justice, and peace. Perhaps it is because their faces reflect the myriad of justice disparities faced by people of color in these great United States. It is more likely that these men represent a hope for change that has not come. They represent the continual saga for freedom that has yet to be fully ascertained. These new faces bring to light the darkness of the past when some felt justified in taking the life of black men and women. Their deaths though deemed justifiable by some in law enforcement, are not justifiable for the cause of advancing humanity.
Their violent deaths reflect a deeper oppression beyond that of a supposed post-racial America. It reflects a generation of identity and leadership voids begging to be acknowledged and attended. It reflects a generational gap that has been largely ignored by our elders who have found success after their marches and protests of the 50’s and 60’s. It is the fury of a generation feeling slighted civically, socially, economically, and educationally. It is the pantheon that reflects the withdrawal of courageous men and women standing against oppression of disenfranchised blacks in urban areas once populated by soul businesses happily catering to their patrons with the knowledge that they were not only in business for themselves, but also for their people. It is the pantheon reflecting the age of the “race hustlers” gains fame and fortune at the expense of another black person’s violent demise at the hands of white and black people, with little to no regard for the value of human life.
So what then should be done in lieu of this knowledge? How do we honor the new faces in the pantheon without discrediting the sacrificial foundation of the founding ones? My suggestion is to empower our people to see beyond the temporary bliss of media hype on the plight of Blacks in America. We must rise as a phoenix from the ashes of self-contempt and victimization and become the sacred masters of our present and future. We must empower this new generation to see this pantheon of black martyrs as icons of a royal priesthood, a chosen race, children, and heirs of the Most Benevolent and Merciful Creator. We must present to them the pantheon as faces of humanity blessed of God. It is only when they see the faces in this pantheon of martyrs from that perspective that they will be emboldened to change the cycle of death into one of life, liberation, and love.