Riverside Reflects on Times of Turmoil
By Dianne Anderson
Black History Month is a lot like looking through the mirror of time with the fatal Trump mob eruption reminiscent of reconstruction, that while shocking, was not surprising, and to a large extent, predictable.
At least since the early 2000s, Keith Willis said the Black community repeatedly sounded the alarm on the rise in white supremacist terrorism.
“We’ve been talking about domestic terrorism for years. Every time those discussions have been had we’ve been made to feel that we’re overreacting. Collectively, they’re trying to gaslight us, like Blacks don’t recognize terrorism when we see it,” said Willis, president of the 100 Black Men of the Inland Empire.
Prior to the election, he said their students of “the 100” understood what was happening. They were hearing the language and seeing the vitriol smeared across social media.
But, he adds, that Kamala Harris as the first Black female vice president, and victory attained in Georgia under voting rights activist Stacy Abram’s effort to overcome disenfranchisement is a major shift.
People, Black and other, mobilized to be heard, which has literally changed the complexion of the government, he adds. Looking back, he sees how the moves under President Obama, and going back to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 are all interconnected.
“In part, this is what our ancestors and predecessors were fighting for,” he said. “We’re living it, and to that end, I think that’s what Black history is all about. We should continue that legacy on the local and state level to make sure that we’re upholding equity with respect to voting rights and being represented.”
Willis, who is also an attorney, said one concern in the past was whether heady topics, such as taking certain freedoms for granted, seemed remote to the kids, as everyday access to entertainment and social media competes for attention.
“With everything that’s happened in the past few weeks, I think these are the civil liberties that we need to continue to fight for and demand. We need to be more vigilant. They [kids] might not have the language, but they can see what the challenges are,” he said.
Many activists also do not believe that the insurrection if left unchecked is a one-off event.
Community activist Corey Jackson said white supremacy has been allowed to grow and fester for decades, and at least half the country voted for Trump, thousands risking their lives in support of the failed coup.
“It’s sad, it’s alarming, it’s also disgusting and we have a lot of work to do, which shows how multiculturalism, color-blind society concepts have failed us,” said Jackson, CEO of SBX Youth and Family Services.
In the aftermath of months of turmoil, he said there is a sense of fear, anger, and high-stress levels for adults, and kids.
“Concepts of trauma have been ignited, they’re locked up in their homes because of COVID, questions of their full humanity because of George Floyd. Now, the hostile violent takeover of white supremacists. It’s a child of color’s worst nightmare,” said Jackson, also President of the Moreno Valley City-Wide Coalition, and Political Action Chair of the Riverside NAACP.
One glimmer of hope he sees is the future is in good hands with the younger generation. This summer, the message was loud and clear that they are not willing to accept the world as it is, and the world stood up in support.
“They are speaking out without being asked,” he said. “All those things we’ve blamed them for have now become their strength.”
Last year, Jackson’s organization, Sigma Beta Xi, partnered with the ACLU in the lawsuit against Riverside County’s YAT program to restore constitutional rights to teens who were wrongly criminalized.
Jackson, also a member of Riverside County Board of Education, said the restorative justice settlement will bring a minimum of $7 million over a five year period to local community-based organizations through an RFP process.
In the coming months, he expects to see new data from how that lawsuit impacted change in the system, reflecting the dismantling of the school pipeline to prison. He is encouraged that both Riverside and San Bernardino County have declared racism a public health crisis.
And while the trauma of recent weeks is hard on everyone, it is especially compounded by the recent death of a colleague.
Last week, Moreno Valley Councilmember Dr. Carla Thorton passed away. She was 42.
Jackson described Thornton as a formidable opponent for the District 2 seat they competed for on city council, and that he had an immense amount of respect for her.
“She beat me out, but when George Floyd [killing] came up we connected and said that we’re going to work together. Politics is over, it’s about our people,” he said.
Because of that connection, together with other officials and members, the Riverside County Alliance of Black Elected Officials was formed. They plan this year to roll out an annual state of African Americans in Riverside County. He expects to recognize her in a memorial at the event.
“I feel like I’ve lost a sister, a fellow warrior on the battlefield, one of the few elected officials who actually rolled up their sleeves and got to work. I will definitely miss her,” he said.
For more information, parents are encouraged to contact the chapter through their website at www.100bmie.org
To learn more about Sigma Beta Xi and the lawsuit, see https://www.sigmabetaxi.com/post/sigmabetaxilawsuit