The death of a legendary artist and musician best known as, “Prince”, came as a sudden shock to the world on April 21, 2016. Prince released his first studio solo album at the age of nineteen and is known for his celebrated chart topping records such as “Purple Rain”, “When Doves Cry” and “Kiss”. Prince went on to sell over 100 million records, won seven Grammys and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. He undoubtedly touched the hearts and souls of millions with his music, style and personality.
Conversely, those closest to Prince stated that he left behind more than his music. Although, Prince may have shied away from publicizing his efforts, his ex-wife, Manuela Testolini, described him as a “fierce philanthropist” in a statement following his death. Reverend Al Sharpton also commented on Prince’s philanthropic efforts. During an appearance on MSNBC, Sharpton stated, “What many people didn’t know is that he [Prince] would support many of our civil rights causes”.
After the 2012 shooting that led to Trayvon Martin’s death, Prince donated money to the Martin family. Trayvon Martin was an unarmed seventeen year old who was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch member, George Zimmerman. Trayvon’s tragic death sparked national controversy over racial profiling, which ignited conversations about race relations in the United States.
The extent to Prince’s passion, with regards to racial and social issues, was apparent in the Grammy Awards in 2015, when Prince presented album of the year and made the statement, “Albums still matter. Like books and black lives, albums still matter – tonight and always.”
In this statement, Prince was referring to the Black Lives Matter movement which was stimulated by the 2014 police killing of an unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. He donated $1.5 million through a charity concert that donated to Black Lives Matter and other social justice organizations in line with the message.
Is this the extent of Prince’s philanthropic involvement?
In an interview with CNN, activist and close friend, Van Jones stated that “he’s [Prince} a humanitarian, first and foremost”. Jones and Prince were recently working on organizations such as: Green for All, which creates green jobs in disadvantaged communities; #YesWeCode, an organization with a mission to educate 100,000 low income youth about technology; and Rebuild the Dream, a movement that seeks to raise awareness on issues such as excessive incarceration, student loan debt and racial injustice.
Prince’s generosity does not end there.
After a show in 2011, at the mayor’s request, Prince donated $250,000 to Eau Claire Promise Zone, an organization working to help preschoolers and their families in struggling neighborhoods in north Columbia, South Carolina. He also donated $1 million to the Harlem Children’s Zone, a non-profit organization for poverty-stricken children and families living in Harlem and $250,000 to the Uptown Dance Academy when he found out they were going to lose their space back in 2011. He also supported City of Hope, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, the Jazz Foundation of America, The Bridge, Urban Farming, H.A.L.O., the Edith Couey Memorial Scholarship Trust Fund, the Elevate Hope Foundation, and the Goss-Michael Foundation.
Prince’s humility and faith as a Jehovah Witness did not allow him to speak publicly about his humanitarian efforts. Although, it was through his music, charitable giving, and way of life, which inspired others to believe in hope for justice and opportunities. His creativity and boldness knew no bounds, as he demonstrated genuineness through his messages and actions. Prince’s ability to master his art has impacted multiple generations around the world for nearly four decades. There is no doubt that even after Prince’s sudden death his legend to inspire hope for the oppressed will live on
By Irene M. Ota, College of Social Work and Irene H. Yoon, College of Education
The unfolding events in Ferguson, Missouri sparked a cross-campus dialogue at the University of Utah to discuss racialized police violence and what concerned community members can do about it. We were already planning this informal gathering to create a space to dialogue about Michael Brown and Ferguson, Missouri, co-sponsored by the University of Utah’s College of Social Work, College of Education, and the Women’s Resource Center. Then, just days before the planned event, in Saratoga Springs, Utah, about 35 miles from Salt Lake City, a young mixed race Black man named Darrien Hunt was shot and killed by the police. With this local case, the need for community connection and action on campus became even more palpable.
We knew the University needed a campus-wide opportunity for people to find each other, dialogue, process concerns, and identify effective forms of action and engagement to press for change and collective urgency. But, we didn’t know if anyone would come.
We have a largely commuter campus, so many students work jobs during the day. We are in a state with relatively little community outcry over racialized violence. We told ourselves that even a conversation with five people was important, in order to build connection and start a series of conversations and action.
The response was greater than we had anticipated, with over 40 people attending from numerous areas of the University of Utah and the greater community. We were a diverse group in age, ability, academic discipline, profession, sexual orientation, race, and ethnicity.
Students, staff, and faculty identified themselves as coming from sociology, chemistry, environmental science, psychology, theater, business, communication, and the U.S. Army (Fort Douglas, an Army Reserve base, is on campus), in addition to education, social work, and the Women’s Resource Center. As each person introduced themselves, they shared their reasons for attending.
Many people felt they didn’t know who else to talk to, who else cared about the situations in Ferguson and in our own backyard. Some people were there for very personal reasons—friends of Darrien Hunt, mothers afraid of what fatal police shootings mean for their children and grandchildren of color.
#UFergusonDialogue: "This is the first time I've been in a group this ethnically and racially diverse." —Student
Others were angry about injustice, not only for Michael Brown, but for many other people of color, and had found their outrage was falling on deaf ears in other parts of campus or in their other communities. Finally, almost all agreed that they wanted to be part of collective action and public pressure on local government and police departments, public and elected officials, and local media outlets.
In addition to meeting the needs above, we were explicit about our goals. We felt a dialogue was necessary for our campus climate—for concerned individuals to have a space to have difficult conversations where they were allowed to speak their emotions. We knew that, on this large campus, individuals would want to network and find each other.
As educators, we facilitators also wanted to be available to participants who needed to unpack competing accounts, imagery, media narratives, and statistics about Ferguson and racialized police shootings. Finally, as individuals who had participated in many dialogues in the past that had petered out over time, we wanted to make sure we didn’t stop at talk, but also brainstorm constructive collective action. We decided one first action could be a joint letter to the editor of several newspapers.
For a dialogue with individuals who wouldn’t know each other or have relationships with each other yet, we started with a structured two-hour process. We began by establishing “ground rules,” or norms for participation and dialogue. Next, we briefly situated the conversation in a long history of (officially or unofficially) sanctioned violence against young Black men. About 10 minutes into the session, we were ready to begin.
For the first hour and a half, participants shared who they were, why they were participating in the dialogue, their emotions and concerns and questions about how and why Michael Brown’s and Darrien Hunt’s deaths had occurred. We observed that the diverse group had a range of needs, from working through personal identity to wanting to show up in quiet support. Some individuals shared what had pushed them over the tipping point from passive personal concern to joining a group dialogue for action.
Before moving on to our collective action item, we brainstormed tips and wisdom about what we could do in response to the shooting of Darien Hunt, as well as addressing racialized police violence more broadly. Participants suggested:
Calling and emailing elected officials in this midterm election season (drafting a “script” for people who were worried about getting tongue-tied)
Writing letters to local police departments
Tweeting and leaving Facebook posts on pages of local police departments and elected officials
Forming an action group to serve as a “home base” for sharing information about events, action items, and resources
Speaking up within our own existing networks and communities (e.g., classes we teach, places of worship, our families).
#UFergusonDialogue: "I'm here because I have two sons… I'm scared for my children." —Community Attendee
Finally, for the last half hour, we presented drafts of several letters to the editor that we had tailored to each newspaper’s coverage of Ferguson and of other fatal police shootings like Darrien Hunt’s. Participants read the letters, gave comments or suggested revisions, and had a few moments to consider whether or not they wanted to sign their names (or sign as “Anonymous”). Virtually all participants signed on to these letters. More have signed on since.
Implications for the Future
So what can we say now? Was the event a success, in terms of our goals and needs? We think so, because our main intention was to create space and build networks for the future. Many connections between individuals and organizations were made – we noticed people staying after the event, crossing the room and shaking hands, exchanging emails and phone numbers. Two social work students are creating a phone tree, which would alert individuals to incidents, concerns, and issues, and encourage them to write, email, and/or phone their legislators with possible resolutions and action. Those letters to the editors will go the local newspapers, which we hope will be printed. We plan to share them over social media networks regardless.
As with any grassroots community organization that is spurred by a single event, it can be hard to keep things like this dialogue going over time. One of our goals and guiding questions was how not to forget, but to stay engaged, despite everyone’s own busy lives and community engagement in disparate spaces. We are cautious until the suggested initiatives take hold. We will continue the dialogues and calls for action. We are committed to supporting each other, staying socially conscious, and we are dedicated to moving forward.
Note: We would like to extend special thanks and appreciation to Debra Daniels, Assistant Vice President of Women’s Enrollment Initiatives and Director of the Women’s Resource Center, and Jennifer Nozawa at the College of Social Work, for their support and collaboration in planning and facilitating the event and this essay.
By the time Norma L. McCorvey was 21, she had abused drugs and was on her third child. While carrying that third child, her scheme to falsely claim she was raped in order to obtain a legal abortion put her in the path of attorneys seeking to challenge U.S. abortion laws. Those attorneys who would make her (as “Jane Roe”) the lead plaintiff in a landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court case that would make abortion within the first three months of pregnancy legal for all women in America and halt the deadly practice of amateur, underground abortions: Roe v. Wade. Subsequently, McCorvey, despite her background, became a national symbol of women’s rights and the fight against female oppression.
Was McCorvey an angel? No. Was McCorvey free from teenage and young adulthood missteps? No. Was her right as a woman to make decisions about her own body worthy of justice and defense –regardless of her sketchy background story? Yes.
Enter Michael Brown, 18, of Ferguson, MO (2014).
An unarmed Michael Brown was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014 in Ferguson. Community uproar and demand for accountability, justice and legal recourse for police brutality followed the shooting. Then on the day Ferguson police officials released Wilson’s name to the media, they also released a video allegedly showing Brown stealing cigarillos from a convenience store right before his shooting. Several days later, it was ‘leaked’ that an autopsy revealed Brown had marijuana in his system on the day he was killed.
The message being sent from the video and marijuana leak was clear: Brown wasn’t an angel. Therefore, because there were no wings found on his dead body, the legitimacy of the community and others fighting for his rights and seeking justice against police brutality should be questioned.
Those looking to understand why McCorvey’s backstory did not alter public and court perception about the need for justice in her case while the exact opposite plays out in the Brown case need only know this: McCorvey is white. Brown was African-American.
Sure, a situation in both the lives of McCorvey and Brown intersected with a long-standing discriminatory American policy/law, thus garnering demands for change. The difference is that in America, there is an expectation steeped in racism that African-American victims of injustice and/or those African-Americans fighting for justice should be beyond reproach, while white victims or justice fighters can be ‘flawed’ or ‘complex.’
Just look at the African-American symbols of injustice in some of the most significant U.S. Supreme Court cases and justice movements in history: James Meredith, who integrated the University of Mississippi; Rosa Parks, who brought national attention to Jim Crow laws on public transportation; little pigtailed Ruby Bridges, 6, who stoically endured racists and violence while integrating a white Southern school; and Mildred Loving, the other half of the couple in Loving v. Virginia that struck down laws against interracial marriage. These people were so squeaky clean that if they were a floor, you could eat off of them.
Meanwhile, America is quite comfortable with its white heroes, leaders, and activists being flawed. What does it matter that Thomas Jefferson had essentially a second family with his slave Sally Hemings while President of the United States? Why should politician David Dukes let a little fact that he was a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan stop him from being voted in by the American people as a Louisiana State Representative? Who can forget the Oscar-winning performance by Julia Roberts of Real-life Environmental Activist Erin Brockovich. The film portrays Brockovich, as a struggling single mother, who was able to expose corporate environmental crime after being hired by a boss who, when first meeting her, was able to overlook her dressed with certain upper body parts hanging out to see her ‘passion’ and ‘potential.’
As the Brown case illustrates, even teenagers are not spared from this ridiculous double standard. For teenagers doing teenager stuff resonates quite differently when that teen is African-American. I can speak from past professional experience working in a treatment center serving white, rich kids, that marijuana use is not exclusive to African-American teenagers. Many of those kids had lied and stolen to support their drug habits. Some have been violent right before my eyes toward their parents seeking help for them. But with these teens – as with the infamous “affluenza” teen, Ethan Crouch, who killed four people while driving drunk and was sentenced to not-so-hard time in a treatment center – we are supposed to understand that not being fully mature, teenagers need our support, understanding, and second chances because they have – “potential.”
By contrast, the news that Brown may have had marijuana in his system, whether true or not, has been used to illustrate his being unworthy, a “thug” (aka, N-word), not deserving of empathy, but very deserving of being shot at least six times (twice in the head) by Wilson. One need only read Twitter feeds, listen to commentators on television news programs, or read the comment section of virtually any newspaper covering the story to see examples of this thinking.
Then the video of the alleged cigarillo ‘robbery’ was released, and the judgment was swift and decisive. “HP” wrote in the New York Times comment section that the video has convinced her “that incident is no longer between a Gentle Giant and rogue cop. It is between a felon and a cop.” And then in the same comment section, “David” of Chicago reminds us that Brown could reasonably have been expected to act aggressively toward Office Wilson because “as any psychologist will tell you, past behavior predicts future behavior.”
So, Brown, whom authorities have verified did not have a criminal record, is now labeled permanently in death as a “felon.” But, of course, that’s a fair assessment because, as “David” points out, what was done in your past is always what you will do in the future.
But, again, such reasoning only applies to African-American victims.
When then 20-year-old Caroline Giuliani, daughter of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, was arrested in 2010 for shoplifting at a Sephora in Manhattan, the worst she was called was “rebellious” (New York Post). The New York Daily News even went so far as to try to milk sympathy for her plight by calling her a “Poor Little Rich Girl,” while even interviewing a psychologist on what could motivate someone like her to steal. They even included a photo of her as a cute little girl to further drive home the point of her innate innocence to readers. Absent were the references to predictions of “future behavior” of the then Harvard student –– flawed, but worthy of a chance at a bright future. And unless my ears and eyes are failing me, I missed that psychological assessment in media accounts of Brown’s alleged cigarillo swipe.
The double-standard extends to those who are fighting against injustice, as well. Lest we forget, the Occupy Wall Street Movement took over – let me repeat – took over a park in downtown Manhattan for months, met police efforts to shut them down with righteous resistance. They disrupted as they raised awareness about economic inequality between the 99% and the One Percent. Yes, people were tear-gassed. Yes, people were arrested. Yes it was mayhem. Yes it was chaos. Yes it was an uprising watched worldwide. These people meant business. Now, there was some public and media resentment toward the movement, including Newt Gingrich famously telling the large hipster contingent of the movement to “go get a job right after you take a bath.” But unless my ears are failing me, I don’t recall these activists being referred to as “animals” deserving of being murdered by the police, despite whatever flaws critics thought Occupy protestors possessed.
But “animal” has actually been mild compared to other things said about African-American protestors in Ferguson. Some Americans have consistently questioned the protestors’ right to speak out about injustice toward the black community by whites because of “black on black crime,” looting,” and other irrelevant topics. In other words, how can a race of people, whose issues and actions are ‘complex’ and not perfect like their grandmother’s sweet potato pie, think they have the right to demand justice against police killing unarmed black men and women? That’s like saying white Americans should just sit back and accept the murders of loved ones at the hands of serial killers because the vast majority of serial killers are white males.
But, then again, one can’t really expect a logical assessment of Ferguson protestors from people who view them as racially inferior people whose lives are not worth much at all. “If looting and firebombing, destruction of property and violence is their reaction to everything, perhaps we haven’t shot enough?” asked “Kevin,” of Kansas, on a New York Times comment section, without any shame.
But not every white person in America is drinking that Kool-Aid. Some get the double standards in both word and deed. One poignant Ferguson protestor sign carried by a white male captured on Twitter read: “At 18 Yrs old in Festus, MO, I shot a cop with a BB Gun. Why am I still alive?”
People who are looking for perfection from fighters for justice are living in an alternate reality. For as history has shown, those who are willing to risk it all to right a wrong or correct injustice are not usually those who have the most to lose in the way of big and shiny things like cars, houses, boats, and the corner office. It is usually those with nothing left to lose, nowhere to go but up. And life at the bottom ain’t no crystal stair. Therefore, the people at the bottom will not be perfect. They may look the brother in the now famous Ferguson protest photo, who slings a fiery object back at police with one hand while holding a bag of potato chips in the other. But they will be courageous.
Author James Baldwin, himself a participant in the black Civil Rights’ Movement of the 60s, understood this formidable combination when he said: “the most dangerous creation in any society is the man who has nothing left to lose.”
But don’t’ be misled that this powerful fact is lost on those participating in the smear campaigns of Michael Brown, Eric Garner before him, Renisha McBride before him, Jordan Davis before her, and Trayvon Martin before him.
Their goal in focusing on the imperfections of victims and protestors is to silence minority concerns through de-legitimization. Their goal is to create a smoke screen to blind others to the obvious injustices. Their goal is to steer the discourse off-topic in hopes that it will remain there and never find its way back.
It’s an old tactic. It’s a pretty transparent tactic, but people still accept it in America.
International Women’s Day 2014 saw the Domestic Violence Scheme, better known as Clare’s Law, applied nationally throughout the United Kingdom. The scheme is a result of the ‘Right To Know’ Campaign led by Michael Brown whose daughter, Clare Wood, was strangled and set on fire by her ex-boyfriend in 2009.
After Clare’s death, it transpired that she had been unaware that her ex-boyfriend had an extensive violent history, including kidnapping a previous partner at knifepoint. The new law now gives people the right to contact the police to find out whether or not their partner has a history of violence. The aim is to give people the chance to make informed decisions about a relationship and ultimately prevent any further deaths as a result of domestic violence.
There are concerns from various charities throughout the UK who work with victims of domestic abuse that Clare’s Law will not protect victims. The concern is that there is not enough follow-up support for someone who discovers their partner has a violent past. However, there is another glaringly obvious issue that needs to be addressed as a priority with regards to this Law.
The language surrounding Clare’s Law has done little to acknowledge men as victims of domestic abuse. Home Secretary Theresa May’s deliberate decision to launch the scheme on International Women’s Day further perpetuates the myth that when it comes to relational violence, women are victims and men are perpetrators. There is a lack of understanding at the highest levels of Government, as demonstrated by May’s comment, that the government are implementing measures to keep “women and girls safe”. Comments such as this are likely to discourage men from using this Law and they will consequently not receive the protection it affords.
In the UK there are currently numerous television and poster campaigns which aim to highlight to young people what abuse looks like, but common to all of them is the critical flaw that the man is never victim. I have worked with many teenage boys who have been in violent relationships and all too often they allow their girlfriend to hit them during an argument because “she’s only a girl” and they could “never hit a girl”. This has corrosive consequences for both genders. Firstly, it belittles the female, as if they are in some way inferior, both physically and in terms of being able to manage their behaviour. Assault is assault; if you make a choice to hit or punch another person, it does not matter whether the punches are light, that relationship is unhealthy and all women and men deserve better.
Secondly, the likelihood that the boy will begin hitting his girlfriend increases if she is allowed to continuously beat him every time they have an argument. Every person has their breaking point and therefore a crucial aspect of domestic abuse prevention is telling women that they also cannot hit their partners. Similarly, we cannot expect men to accept violence without implicitly fuelling the cycle of male violence. If we do not allow space for men to be victims then the only role left for them is that of aggressor.
Of course the majority of domestic abuse victims are female, but we have to ask ourselves if we really know the extent to which men are abused. Clare’s Law is a necessary step in tackling a problem that sees approximately two women a week murdered in Britian alone. However, around thirty men each year are also killed in the same context. If men are made to realize that there is no shame in being victims and support is made equally available to them, we may just find that the problem of domestic violence against males is much higher than we first thought.
Will this new law be considered as a model for replication in other countries with high mortality rates due to domestic violence?