I’ve spent my entire career as a civil rights activist and anti-violence advocate. I hear from folks all over the country about how fed-up they are—how much they want change—but they don’t know where to start. It’s not enough just to be informed, we’ve got to work tirelessly to do better. With the “The Lookout,” I’ll collect the most important stories and action items that you need to know about and things you can do each week, keeping you involved so you can create positive change for yourself and your community.
1. This is Not How We Honor Trayvon
This is not how we celebrate the life of Trayvon Martin and the many young black and brown men who lose their lives everyday to the prejudices of their neighbors and our justice system. By now, I’m sure many of you have heard that George Zimmerman, Trayvon’s recently acquitted killer, has been hoping to take part in a televised celebrity-boxing match. This week, rapper DMX announced his desire to get into the ring and “beat [Zimmerman’s] a**.” The idea of seeing Zimmerman battered and bloodied may seem like a triumph to a lot of folks, but even if he loses the boxing match, Zimmerman still wins:
- Zimmerman is NOT a celebrity and we shouldn’t let him to believe that he is. Michael Skolnik, board director of the Trayvon Martin Foundation, says applying the celebrity label is insulting to Trayvon’s legacy—the court gave Zimmerman a “get-out-of-jail-free card” but we can’t forget the truth of what happened.
- We prove to Zimmerman, and everyone who shares his dangerous racial ignorance, that black men are thugs. If DMX or any “big,” black man gets into the ring with Zimmerman to beat him to a pulp, all of Zimmerman’s ideas that black men are dangerous thugs prone to violence become true for him and anyone watching. We can’t afford to let these people get the better of us, so don’t encourage this; It’s not “cool” and the Martin family is not supportive. In your daily posts and conversations push back on this spectacle that will do nothing but disgrace Trayvon and the Martin family legacy.
2. Breathe Easy: CVS Stops Selling Cigarettes
This week, CVS Pharmacy announced its plan to pull cigarettes from store shelves by October 1st. President Obama and the First Lady celebrated the decision by the retailer and so should we. So many of us smoke, our parents smoke, our grandparents—it’s not just a habit it’s a family tradition. Yet the consequences for this tradition are major: An American Lung Association report from 2008 found that black folks are at a much higher risk of developing deadly and preventable diseases from smoking—much more likely than white Americans who smoke the exact same amount. CVS is taking a major step in getting tobacco out of our communities, but they are just one retailer. No matter how wide their reach, CVS cannot end the culture of smoking completely. Maybe, and hopefully, other retailers will follow suit but until they do, we have to look to ourselves to get healthy.
3. Stress Relief: Find Out About Tax Extensions
A few months ago, the IRS postponed the opening of tax season to last week—January 31st—but that doesn’t mean the closing date has changed. April 15th is still the last day to file taxes so be ready to get your things in order and file—the sooner the better. If you’re feeling overwhelmed as many of us are during this time, there are ways to help yourself so you avoid the stress and, more importantly, any penalties. The IRS lets anyone request an automatic six-month extension on tax returns with the Form 4868. Spread the word and help your friends and family if you can.
4. The War on Poverty Is Very Real
First the Senate and now Congress refused to pass a bill to extend unemployment insurance to millions of Americans who are out of work. This week, Congress also passed a bill cutting food stamps by 8 million dollars. It’s pretty clear that the war on poverty is very real and very dangerous. If we keep cutting the lifelines for those who need it, we’ll be facing even more problems down the road. While unemployment has now gone down to 6.6 percent, the lowest in a long time, it does nothing to help those who have been chronically out of work (to the tune of 3.3 million people) that don’t even show up in these statistics. We have to do better.
5. Black History Month: Our Olympic Legacy
As you know, the 22nd Winter Olympics begin tonight in Sochi, Russia. The Olympics give our community the opportunity to break racial barriers with athletic ability, but you should know that the black Olympic legacy goes far beyond athletic achievement. Let’s take this time to remind ourselves of a great moment in history for the olympics, African Americans, and our entire nation.
At the 1968 Olympics—just months after Martin Luther King Jr.’s murder—African American athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, accepted their track medals with their fists held high in the symbol of the Black Panther movement. An act of defiance and pride that shocked the world, their heroic gesture was not just a salute to African American rights, but to human rights. The Olympic committee stripped them of their honors for the political action, but they couldn’t stop Smith and Carlos from inspiring folks back home and around the world to fight for equality.
Now, as the Olympics get started in Russia, there is widespread criticism that the Russian government is limiting the rights of its citizens by making public displays of gay life and relationships, such as pride parades and advertisements, “illegal propaganda.” The Olympics are supposed to be free of politics and opinions, but if the legacy of Smith and Carlos teach us anything, it’s that we cannot stand quietly in the face of oppression.
What would our world look like if more artists and athletes used their voices for something other than entertainment, and stood up against injustices energizing their fans (all of us) into action?
I want to hear from you; what’s going on in your community? What stories or events should folks know about? Leave a comment below.
Called “a leader of tomorrow” by Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama, Valerie B. Jarrett, Tamika D. Mallory is a nationally recognized leader and civil rights activist. Tamika is the Founder/President of Mallory Consulting, LLC and the former Executive Director of the National Action Network (NAN), one of the nation’s leading civil rights organizations. She is featured regularly as a leading voice on key social justice issues and is currently making headlines around the country for her tireless activism and strong stance on women’s issues, anti-violence, young adult advocacy, and decency.