By: Joseph Williams

National — First and foremost, all lives matter and have value. Specifically, in our current climate, I am angry that Black Lives are not valued in America. When I think about Travon Martin, Freddy Grey, George Floyd, Tamir Rice, Ahmaud Abery, Breona Taylor, and countless others, I cannot help feeling like we have made little progress in American around race relations.

Why do I feel like I am being targeted? Why do I worry that I might not make it home if I encounter a law enforcement officer? Why am I a threat? Why does the melanin in my skin deem me uneducated, unqualified, and a criminal? I want to be clear- not all Law Enforcement Officers are bad actors, but we need those who are not the bad actors to step up and hold their colleagues accountable… and we need to protect them when they do.

In 2019, 1,099 people lost their lives at the hands of a Police Officer; Black people make up 24% of those deaths but are only 13% of the population. 

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd, people, young and old, black, and white, are searching for answers and trying to develop solutions to the injustices in America.

I have spent over half of my life advising and guiding public, community-based, and private companies on the design of youth, higher education, and workforce development policy and systems. What I have learned from those experiences, is how to effect change by impacting public policy and administrative practices. 

For example, I, with the help of my colleagues on the San Bernardino Community College Board, was successful in obtaining a resource allocation of $10M to provide the first two years of local college for free to address some of the inequities in the higher education system.

President Obama recently reminded us in his timely Medium article that it is “mayors and county executives that appoint most police chiefs and negotiate collective bargaining agreements with police unions.

One way for those looking to have an impactful voice in local issues, is by logging on to your city or county council meetings. While in attendance, make a public comment. Schedule time with your state and local elected officials and find out what they’re working on to address the situation; offer them your help and ideas. We must become active. We cannot afford to continue to be silent.

We need to be able to open our churches in a safe way to provide people with an outlet to express and experience their faith. Pastors and church leaders must hold themselves accountable for providing constructive and useful information to their congregations. We cannot just have our minds on Heaven when living Hell on Earth.

After over 20 years of looking at data maps that tell the supposed story of Blacks in America, experience has taught me that Black people need to take charge of their narrative. We must tell our truth and not be ashamed of it any longer; we need to share our complete history and honor it. We can no longer be afraid of being judged for telling our story. We must speak with confidence and clarity as we begin to uncover the many atrocities that have plagued the African American community. We also need to place a demand on media outlets to tell clear stories. Clearly distinguish the difference between peaceful and unlawful. Until we own our story and tell our story, others will continue to speak untruths.

Yes, the more than 200 years of being enslaved and the oppression that has lingered many years beyond has caused a significant impact in our communities. Yes, we have been affected by being enslaved and oppressed, and, yes, others have benefited from Black oppression. In America, blacks were enslaved longer than they have been free.

Most Americans are two to three generations removed from the enslavement period in America. Black families have not benefited from the wealth created from the forced labor of the enslaved Africans and being held hostage in America; additionally, segregation-maintained wealth disparities, and overt and covert discrimination limit Black recovery efforts.

If you are tired, truly tired of being a target, tired of being isolated and demoralized, yet, you have never voted before, NOW is the time more than ever in modern times vote; we have to vote. Educate yourself on the issues and the electorate. Check with your loved ones and make sure they have registered to vote. Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. has a national program called A Voteless People is a Hopeless People and has put various resources in place to assist with navigating the voter registration process.

I am most interested in the feelings and ideas that our youth have. I believe that among our youth are many of the answers we are all struggling to find.  Investing in youth is, in my experience, the most critical thing we can do. As a leader and elected official, I feel like I missed the boat this past week. We should have opened every available community center and been ready to receive and engage the thousands of young adults that took to the street out of frustration. I feel as though I missed the opportunity to help my younger brothers and sisters, to direct their energy toward constructive means.

Our youth are searching for answers, searching for leadership, looking for solutions, and looking for spaces where their voices can be heard. They are also looking for opportunities to have ownership in effecting change in their communities. My role as a leader is to work to create safe spaces for this kind of development and exploration. We need to work alongside youth and channel our collective energy and ideas into implementable solutions.

About Joseph Williams:

Joseph Williams is an American of African descent (black male), a husband, father, and founder of Youth Action Project, a social enterprise dedicated to empowering youth and young adults in developing the skills and habits needed for economic and social success. Williams is also a Public Affairs Manager at Southern California Edison, an elected member of the San Bernardino Community College Board of Trustees, and a Governor Appointee to the California Workforce Development Board.

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