In early September the National Civil Rights Museum hosted the third of a four-part national convening, “The Restoration: Community Healing for Solutions to Police Violence,” which examined how the mental health and well-being of black and brown communities are negatively impacted by the racial trauma caused by police brutality.
This series is a collective response to the brutal murder of Tyre Nichols in January 2023 and the unrest that ensued in Memphis with excessive police violence in cities like ours with too many unarmed victims to count. Adding to the frustration is the unyielding pursuit of justice for egregious crimes against black and brown bodies, creating a powder keg of emotions and apathy, laced with mental anguish and economic hardship. All the ingredients that stunt the growth of the community and demoralize its constituents.
Sixty years ago this December, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about the difficulty of changing the hearts of men saying, “It may be true that the law cannot change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me and I think that’s pretty important, also,” he said. King, the Dreamer and nonviolent leader, would die a violent death here at the very site that is now the National Civil Rights Museum.
What’s also important is the unaddressed, generational trauma with deep historical roots tracing back to slave patrols, Black codes, Jim Crow laws, and mass incarceration to intimidate Black communities and subjugate youth to what seems like a hopeless future. This month’s 60th anniversary of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham reminds us of the ruthless audacity and the unlawful extremes in which hate manifests to exact ruthless violence on innocent youth. In 1963, the global media put America on notice that its blood-stained version of democracy was unfathomable. Something had to change.
Yet, generations of our ancestors somehow survived the brutal tactics of KKK violence, lynching, and degradation. They thrived through self-expression in the arts, storytelling, professional excellence, and the everyday Black Experience that continues to shape and enrich American culture. The Black Power Movement defined a new era in the way Blackness took up space. Its principles of empowerment, self-reliance, and self-defense by any means necessary posed a threat to the status quo. More importantly, it planted seeds of a victimless mindset, one that imagined a different future for its people. The historical Black “firsts” we see now, from President Obama to Coco Gauff, are the fruits of our ancestors’ sacrifice and ingenuity. We imagine an America of Afrofuturism and the influence on new genres in art, tech, business – everything. We envision a society beyond representation, but one rich with fresh creativity, inclusivity, and ownership.
Our task today is to train each generation in the lessons of resilience, to reinforce pride in experiencing Black Joy. But without hope, healing is nearly impossible. Despite the wrongdoings and with the right tools, we are accountable for managing our emotional triggers in as much as a bad cop should be responsible for pulling the trigger on an innocent victim. America needs therapy. As one of the richest nations on the planet, we have the resources, expertise, and capacity to heal the scars of racial violence. When we prioritize both the physical and mental well-being of our nation, we’ll see a marked improvement over the societal ills that serve as the rusted planks of political platforms.
Our fear-mongering issues are not new, but the problem-solving mindset must be. Hope must reign supreme to fulfill the Dream. The National Civil Rights Museum is committed to being a beacon of hope. We will continue the conversation toward community healing during our fourth daylong national convening, “The Resilience,” on February 22, 2024. Join us in being a part of the solution.
Learn more about the National Civil Rights Museum’s vision for a better America at ImagineAnAmerica.org.