After Michael Brown’s death on August 9 in Ferguson, what was already clear to young black men and their families became clear to everyone else: we are not living in a “postracial” society. Despite progress on many fronts, racial justice eludes us. Young black men are 21 times more likely than their white peers to be killed by police1. Sixty percent of incarcerated people are people of color despite the fact that they constitute only 30% of the population2. In 2012, American schools spent $334 more on every white student than on every nonwhite student3. Racism plays a significant role in America’s deportation policies, which in 2013 forcibly removed 368,644 people, more than 95% of them originally from Central America.4
A particularly poignant response to Michael Brown’s death came from Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother. In a public letter in August to Lesley McSpadden, Michael Brown’s mother, Sybrina wrote:
“I wish I could say that it will be all right on a certain or specific day, but I can’t. … But know this: Neither of [our sons’] lives shall be in vain. The galvanizations of our communities must be continued beyond the tragedies. While we fight injustice, we will also hold ourselves to an appropriate level of intelligent advocacy. If they refuse to hear us, we will make them feel us.”
Sybrina Fulton, and thousands like her, are channeling their outrage and pain into action. Here in Philadelphia, the fight for racial justice is being waged on many fronts: reversing the trauma of mass incarceration, ending the deportation crisis, building a quality public education system, and more. Bread & Roses grantees are leading — and winning — these fights.
These movements are different now. They’re paying attention to intersectionality, and they’re refusing to make gains at the expense of others. Racial & Economic Justice Fund grantee DreamActivist PA, a group of undocumented youth, recently supported the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers in their contract negotiations. Racial & Economic Justice Fund grantee Philadelphia Student Union and Phoebus Criminal Justice Initiative grantee Youth United for Change are demanding that the broken criminal justice system be fixed in tandem with the dismantling of mass incarceration.
In another example, the movement to end unjust deportations in Philadelphia won a huge victory in March. As members of the Philadelphia Family Unity Network, Racial & Economic Justice Fund grantee 1Love Movement and Phoebus Criminal Justice Initiative grantee New Sanctuary Movement ended collaboration between Philadelphia police and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.
Their statement celebrating this historic victory illuminated the real strength and promise of new movements for racial justice:
“Built on years of prior work together in our communities, and through an intentional undertaking of creating shared principles and accountability processes within our coalition, we were able to stand together in unity in the face of social and political divisions that pressure us to throw each other under the bus. … The fact that we refuse to be divided and instead stand with each other as people and families deserving of dignity, respect, and justice — period — is victory in itself.”
1ProPublica, October 2014, www.propublica.org/article/deadly-force-in-black-and-white
2The Sentencing Project, http://www.sentencingproject.org/template/page.cfm?id=122
3Spatig-Amerikaner, A. (2012). Unequal Education: Federal Loophole Enables Lower Spending on Students of Color. Center for American Progress.
4TRAC Immigration, http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/350/