Recent events involving the death of Freddie Gray have demonstrated once again that this country has much progress still to make in upholding the rights of all its citizens, black and white and everything else along the spectrum of color. I have to admit I am new to Baltimore and don't fully understand the complex issues that communities face on a daily basis or the historical context in which recent events have unfolded. However, I do know injustice when I see it, and the continuing deaths of unarmed black men across this country certainly constitute this ("Why Freddie Gray ran," April 26).
As part of my job, I have spent the last four years living abroad, first in Burkina Faso and then in Haiti, working to alleviate poverty through empowerment of the most vulnerable. I have witnessed firsthand human rights abuses and the institutionalized abandonment of the poor in those countries. In January, I made the decision to return to the United States, "the land of opportunity" that so many refer to from outside these shores. What I have heard from a distance and am now discovering in Baltimore is quite different from the common narrative that our country is accorded by so many. Is everyone truly regarded as equal under the law and treated as such? Does opportunity truly exist for everyone regardless of race or color? On other shores across the Atlantic Ocean, the historical sites of Ouidah and Ile de Goree in West Africa attest to the greatest injustice in human history, slavery. And yet, despite the years that distance us from that abominable practice, the incarceration system continues to propagate fear and discrimination of people of color. Vestiges of segregation and racial bias permeate American society despite the passing of civil rights legislation. It is true our nation has come a long way since those dark days, but it is not enough.
So where do we go from here? Baltimore is now under the spotlight, and the nation is watching to see what will happen when police investigations are concluded. Daily protests here in Baltimore have brought continuing attention to Freddie Gray's death and demonstrated an outpouring of emotion from a grieving community. Peaceful demonstration and open dialogue are good first steps in raising awareness about the issue of police brutality and these efforts are to be commended. Grassroots movements such as BlackLivesMatter, Millennial Activists United and Dream Defenders were all born from the anger and frustration of previous acts of police brutality against black Americans. Documentaries such as "Ferguson: A Report from Occupied Territory" shed light on institutionalized discrimination and help keep the cause for justice alive.
However, a national movement to not only deal with police brutality but also the underlying issues of poverty and equal rights for African-Americans has yet to materialize. In other words, emphasizing local grievances is a start but a hashtag does not a movement make. For this country to change at a systemic level, local efforts must give rise to a cohesive, well-organized national movement with clear objectives and a vision. The end game must be defined and a strategy with proposed solutions targeting specific legislation must be developed. The civil rights movement was national in scale and had clear objectives of doing away with legalized segregation. There is much to learn from that approach and although current youth initiatives are different from "your daddy's civil rights movement," young leaders would be wise to consult their elders. I believe youth of all colors are fed up with the current state of affairs and want to see this nation embody equal rights. It will take broader thinking and collaboration across states and generations to achieve this.
I don't have the answers on how to pave the way forward for Baltimore or for the nation after Freddie Gray's death. I am as white as they come, but I am also as human as they come. I want to be engaged in this fight for justice but am not quite sure how to be effective. I am an outsider and still have much learn about this city. One thing is certain, I have spoken to many others out there who also want to get involved in breaking down the systemic discrimination of blacks in America. We are here and we are ready. I urge all of us to become one unit and raise the profile of these issues on the national stage.