When They Fail Us

I've had a sinking feeling in my spirit for a few days, but couldn't find a reason why - that is, until Ava DuVernay's "When They See Us" came out.

There's been some contention over who the intended audience of "When They See Us" is, and if it even needs to be seen at all. IMO, if you don't know the case of the Central Park Five (or as DuVernay calls them, The Exonerated Five; I'll do the same from here on out), then you need to at least read about it. Ignorance is a privilege that nobody should be afforded. If you know what happened but just don't want to watch, I totally understand - but turn it on anyway with the volume off and walk away so the crew can get their streams in.

Jharrel Jerome as Korey Wise

Caleel Harris as Young Antron McCray

Asante Blackk as Young Kevin Richardson

Ethan Herisse as Young Yusef Salaam

Marquis Rodriguez as Young Raymond Santana

DuVernay's chilling depiction of the case was released just a few days before June 6 - the 4th anniversary of Kalief Browder's suicide.

If you know anything about Kalief's story, then just the mere thought of it will make you sick to your stomach. I've often cited his life and death as one of the single most tragic instances in contemporary U.S. history.

If you don't know about what happened to Kalief Browder, check out my summation below:

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Getting justice for Kalief’s imprisonment + death has taken its toll on his family, especially Venida, who was with her son every step of the way. The shock of finding his dead body, picking up his cause, + managing lawsuits against the city (upwards of $40 million on the table) led to chronic heart failure, finally killing her in October 2016, after suffering 12 heart attacks in one 24-hour period. Politicians, celebrities, the Browder family, and others are working to make sure Kalief + Venida’s deaths have not been in vain. President Obama signed an executive order banning excessive use of solitary confinement for all juveniles in federal prison, citing Kalief for the decision. A foundation to aid wrongfully imprisoned people + a scholarship fund at his alma mater was created in his memory. Prospect Ave. in the Bronx was renamed Kalief Browder Way. Perhaps most symbolic, NY Mayor Bill De Blasio announced a plan to close Rikers Island down for good. The story of Kalief Browder is, in my opinion, the greatest tragedy in modern American history. He deserved better, but I’m happy to spread his story if that can be my piece to help. #Justice4Kalief
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I don't think that you can discuss one case without the other, because they're too terribly intertwined. 

There are many similarities in the experiences of the wrongly accused, despite a 20-year time gap: no DNA evidence, no weapons, no eyewitnesses...but they were young, they were poor, and they were Latino or Black, and that's all the system needs. If officials in New York cared more about its residents, then what happened to Kevin, Antron, Raymond, Yusef, and Korey would've never happened to Kalief two decades after the fact. 

So let's do a check in. Are you outraged? Dismayed? Fed up? 

Don't let these feelings dissipate before you take action. We owe it to the victims of the criminal justice system. We owe it to our families and friends. Most importantly, we owe it to our children and future children - because if we don't get it under control soon, one of our babies will be up next. 

Where Do We Go From Here?: When Cultural Champions Die

Today, one of the most prolific trailblazers in cinematic history has left us at just 51 years old. Whether you're a fan of Ryan Coogler, Ava DuVernay, Jordan Peele, F. Gary Gray, or all of the above (just to name a few) John Singleton is your fave's fave. 

In a way that few can master, Singleton: 
  • Told Black stories from an authentically Black perspective
  • Refused to decode certain cultural cues - if you don't get it, then maybe it's not for you
  • Catalyzed the convergence of hip hop culture into film 

His professional blueprint served as a guide for Black and brown creatives across all disciplines as society moved into the new millennium. 

Whether Singleton knew it or not, one person who benefited from this work was none other than Nipsey Hussle.

Among casual followers, Nipsey was best known as a rapper and Lauren London's longtime love. But to those who paid more attention, especially after his horrific murder last month, Nipsey represented economic independence, advancement in education, and relative accessibility in a time of disconnection between stars and the general public. 

Without the sacrifices and triumphs of John Singleton and his successors, it would've been even harder for Nipsey Hussle to realize his power as a Black man in the entertainment industry, and in turn, serve as an inspiration to the newest wave.

Where does this leave us now? When cultural champions die, where do we go from here?

The answer is twofold - One, we show up and show out in our own work. Two, we crystallize those who are still left in our collective memory *and* support their late-stage endeavors. 

Beyoncé is a prime example in the first area. For some reason some of y'all misogynistic anti-Black haters still won't give credit where it's due, but sis is a movement by herself, and a full-fledged force when a team can bring her visions to life. 

On the other side, my favorite podcast, Strong Black Legends (a collaboration between Netflix and Strong Black Lead, hosted by Tracy Clayton) does a great job of giving our creatives their flowers while they can still smell them.

Interested? Watch or listen to Jason Weaver's episode:

There's a lot of discernment that has to be used when it comes to consuming or curating content. 

It's not enough to be passive in what you receive. It's not enough to hope that someone will put you on. It's not enough to look out only for yourself. In times like this, when cultural champions are dying younger and younger, it's not enough. We owe it to them and to ourselves to preserve and manipulate the culture for the better. We are beautifully talented, flawed, complicated, magical, ordinary people. Let's act like we know.

#TMC 🏁


Sometimes people take more than they give to the culture and do not deserve to be revered. We don't separate art from artists over here. I will never be so Blickety Black as to turn my head to horrible actions just because y'all's nasty uncles and aunties wanna keep playing predator music in the function. But that's another post for another day. Be blessed!