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The Truth About Kalief Browder

June 20, 2017, 6:10 PM UTC

I’m taking you to church once again.

Last night I attended the Juneteenth Justice event at New York’s famous Riverside Church. The event was hosted along with the Union Theological Seminary, Auburn Theological Seminary, New York Theological Seminary, Drum Major Institute, Healing of the Nations Foundation, and The Ebony Ecumenical Ensemble, Inc.

Along with extraordinary music and prayerful talk, “Spirit Alive” awards were given to Dr. Johnnetta Cole, Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and former president of Spelman College, and the four lead co-organizers of the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, D.C., Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour, Bob Bland and Janaye Ingram.

I’ve included a link to the entire program, all of which is worth your time, especially if you have a church fan handy. But if you only have a few minutes, I’d recommend spending some time with Brittany Packnett, the extraordinary educator and activist and former Washington, D.C. school teacher who has devoted her life and career to issues of justice. She became nationally known for her work in Ferguson after Michael Brown’s death, and deserves the wider audience she’s getting.

Her nearly impossible task was to introduce the only posthumous award that night, one given to Kalief Browder. She delivered.

Browder was just 16 years old when he was arrested for stealing a backpack he swears he didn’t take, unable to raise $900 for bail, and ultimately imprisoned on Riker’s Island. There he was brutalized and beaten, attempted suicide four times, and kept in solitary for more than 700 days of his three-year incarceration. He ultimately died by suicide.

A six-part Spike documentary series Time: The Kalief Browder Story, executive produced by Jay-Z and Harvey Weinstein, tells his tragic story in greater detail. But it was Packnett’s duty to frame Browder’s life in bigger terms because those are the terms that frame the world so many people of color inhabit.

“I firmly believe that Kalief Browder stands as the most significant and consequential activist of my lifetime,” she began. “I often find it hard to discuss him because in his eyes I see too many men I know. Too many men I love, too many of my former students with whom I’ve lost touch,” she said. “I call Kalief an activist because it is improper and disrespectful for us to only remember him in death or even in bondage and in Kalief’s own words, he just wanted to stand up for what was right. That made him an activist, inside and out. For me, he is and will always be, a giant among giants of modern day freedom fighters.”

Packnett came bearing receipts.

She introduced herself as the daughter of two preachers. Her father, also a long-time organizer, had pastored at the Central Baptist Church in St. Louis, a church founded by enslaved people, and where Dred and Harriet Scott found regular fellowship, back when they were real people seeking salvation and dignity, and not a short answer on a history test.

“Some of us activists chose this life because like me we were raised in protest, or we worship a God who loves justice and commands that we do the same here on earth,” she said. Others, because we understand that the victims could be someone we know or love. “Kalief Browder chose this because it was him.”

Her remarks begin around the 1:56:00 mark. Akeem Browder, brother of Kalief Browder, takes the podium to accept the award at 2:07:33.

I’ll give Packnett the last word, a balm for these difficult times: “Our spirits are bigger than the systems we face.”

On Point

The share of women appointed to corporate boards declines for the first time since 2009Well, this is disappointing. According to a new report released last night, that the progress toward gender parity on Fortune 500 boards has not just stalled, it’s reversed. Despite slow but steady increases since 2009, the women’s share of new board seats dropped two percentage points in 2016. The original goal for parity was 2026, but according to Heidrick & Struggles, the executive search firm that conducted the study, the goal may not be reached until 2032. Says Bonnie Gwin, the vice chairman and co-managing partner of the global CEO and board practice for the firm, it’s “a setback.”Fortune

David Clarke’s prison record
Now that the infamous Milwaukee County sheriff is no longer in the running for a high-paying job in the government, it’s worth remembering that he’s terrible at the one he has. David Clarke’s tenure as head of the Milwaukee County Jail has been deadly. Within a period of six months in 2016, four people died inside the Milwaukee County Jail, one was a baby born alive to a pregnant inmate, and one was a man with bipolar disorder who died of dehydration. And he continues to oversee one of the most violent cities in the country. Jamil Smith places his success with the Trump crowd as pure politics. “[T]hose in conservative spheres haven't raked Clarke over the coals for his failure — because his star keeps rising,” he says. “And in a political environment in which talking tough about "law and order" is more important than actually enforcing it, and in the context of an administration that is doing the most to exploit the advantages that systemic racism affords to them, Clarke is a natural fit.”
MTV News

The Ford Foundation adds a new board member
Ai-jen Poo, the director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and co-director of Caring Across Generations, has been tapped to join the prestigious board. “Ai-jen is an extraordinary leader and a strong voice for large communities of people – domestic workers, caregivers and the elderly – whose rights are often challenged and under-protected in this country,” said Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, in a statement. She has a long history of advocacy. In 2010, she helped make sure New York State passed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, the first in the country guaranteeing basic labor protections to domestic workers. Most recently, she wrote a must-read response to Alex Tizon’s now famous Atlantic story, “My Family’s Slave.” The problem is not limited to one culture, she says. “To the contrary, completely ordinary people can be incredibly cruel when they have a decided power advantage and no checks on their power.”
Ford Foundation

Meet the new Ken Doll. Really, he’s something else
No longer content to be the plain vanilla Everyman, the less popular part of an impossibly buff power couple, the new Ken doll is, well, every man. Literally. All of them. Cornrowed, man-bunned, Asian, normcore, in some cases a little heavy around the middle. This was the reboot of choice for Mattel, a re-imagination of the All-American-Nice-Guy, now rejected by Millennial Moms. Brilliant Caity Weaver manages to both inform and delight, as is her usual style, and this piece turns into the romp into corporate thinking on inclusion that we all deserve. “How does a corporation select the shades of brown it will use to represent black people?” she asks. “Who decides how fat a ‘fat Ken’ can be?” She manages to get pretty close to some fundamental truths. “The Mattel design center, in El Segundo, California, is sort of like the Pentagon, except it’s very difficult to get into,” she observes. Enjoy.

The Woke Leader

We really did some sort of a job building the Panama Canal
The famous passage is back in the news after President Trump appeared to take credit for its successful creation in the lighthearted banter portion of a visit with the President of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela. “I think we did a good job building it, right?” Trump began. “Yeah. One hundred years ago," Varela quietly interjected, in a real-life version of a most excellent sub-tweet. Well, actually… there may have been some problems back in the day. According to this piece from Barbados Today, the canal was built, in part, by some 60,000 Barbadians who were encouraged by the U.S. government to relocate to Panama with the promise of new wealth. Instead, “it was an experience of pain, suffering, racism and exploitation,” says writer Anesta Henry. “In addition to suffering the indignity of the United States-style Jim Crow segregation, they had to work with the constant probability of instantaneous death from accidental explosions of the dynamite being used to blow through the mountains to make room for the canal,” she says. The men were largely abandoned after the effort, but one American documentary filmmaker tracked down some survivors.
Barbados Today

Spas can be nightmares for transgender and non-conforming people
Arabelle Sicardi raises an issue that many of us may not have considered, that the luxurious relaxation of spas and spa culture around the world are emotional mazes for people who are unable or unwilling to choose a gender-identified robe, locker room or soaking pool. The unwritten rules: “If your gender identity is not what you were assigned at birth, if you have gone through all gender-confirming surgeries to align your gender and sex and it is visible, if your anatomy doesn’t align with expectations of gender norms — you’re essentially not allowed in, unless you optionally choose to misgender yourself.” The further away from femme Sicardi moves, the more difficult the spa trips becomes. “[I]t’s also a reminder of the fact a place that was once a place of comfort is also (and has always been when I wasn’t thinking about it) a place of restrictions and sometimes violence.”

Read this story about Masherhala Ali and you’ll want him to be your president
But that would be a mistake, a misuse of his powers to inspire and enlighten. And yet, after reading this resplendent profile by Carvell Wallace, you will want to believe in the actor’s abiding wisdom. “What I’ve learned from working on Moonlight is we see what happens when you persecute people. They fold into themselves,” Ali famously said. But for a man who toiled for years before he became an overnight success, recently followed for shopping while black at Barney’s and who still on a terrorist watch list for his last name, he is keenly aware of what his new status with white audiences may mean. “A way to relieve pressure for people? Like a peace offering?” A must read. And yes, the pictures are also a delight.

It's World Refugee Day
Since it's World Refugee Day, maybe take some time to learn and share the stories of people who have fled for their lives, escaping violence or other imminent danger. It's always best when these stories are told by people themselves, a rare moment when social media gives more than it takes. Follow the hashtag #WorldRefugeeDay on Instagram as well.


I guess it depends on your definition of “temporary,” but I didn’t meet many refugees, some of whom have been displaced for decades, who felt that they were just passing through. Some families have spent two generations — and some young people their entire lives — as refugees. They have been exiled by their home countries only to face a second exile in the countries that have accepted their presence but not their right to move or to work. You hear the term “permanent temporary solution” thrown around by officials, but not with the irony you’d think it deserves.