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Mel Gravely

The Gravely Group Stands with Black Lives Matter

Protests in The Gravely Group’s home city of Columbus, Ohio on June 6, 2020. Photo courtesy of The Columbus Dispatch.

The Gravely Group stands with Black Lives Matter protestors and their fight to end systemic racism and injustice.

Not to date myself too much, but I remember the 1960s. It was a transformative time for civil rights in America, with marches, protests, boycotts, sit-ins, and, yes, even riots, happening throughout the country calling for an end to systemic discrimination of marginalized groups. While the popular discourse today often romanticizes those times as being about a couple summers of peaceful marches and stirring speeches, the reality is more complicated. Protests went on for years (decades, even) and were both planned and impromptu, structured and organic, peaceful and provocative.

The modern Black Lives Matter movement shares a lot in common with those times. While the killing of black people by police and citizen vigilantes may have been a catalyst for protests today, it isn’t new to the struggle for civil rights. In Martin Luther King Jr’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, just before he gave some of the most famous and quoted lines of his speech, he said “I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulation… Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering.”

But as someone who was there back then, this time does feel different. This time, it’s being live-streamed. No more reading about protests the next day in your local paper. This movement is being led by a diverse group of young people, organized through social media, and ignited by the horrific real-time visual evidence of structural racism in action. These young activists understand the meaning of “What the eyes can’t see, the heart can’t feel.” They are filling social media feeds with powerful imagery of injustice and solidarity, so even those who are far away from protest centers find it hard to ignore.

So far, their voices are being heard. The New York Times reports that support for Black Lives Matter has increased significantly just in the past two weeks. A majority of Americans polled now agree that black people face discrimination in modern America. That wasn’t the case only seven short years ago in 2013, when Black Lives Matter as a movement first began.

After two decades of consistent pressure by leaders such as MLK Jr., a handful of landmark bills were passed in the 1960s, the two most cited being the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Fair Housing Act in 1969. Today, police reform legislation has already been introduced at the local, state and national level. Perhaps most surprisingly, lawmakers are even beginning to take a hard look at the allocation of funds in their communities and what that says about us as a society. After all, where you spend your money shows where your priorities are.

I’ll be writing more over the coming months about the complicated past of the education system in America being a tool of both emancipation and disenfranchisement for black people, and how Head Start fits into the picture. But for now let me just say this. I won’t be around when the history books are written about this movement. But the young protestors will be, and the kids we’re teaching in our Head Start programs will be. As educators and leaders in our community, it’s important that we each use our unique skills to advocate for equality and participate in the fight for justice however we can. Let’s do our best to make our kids proud.

Melvin J. Gravely

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