Walking up the crosswalk to College of the Mainland’s conference center recently, I knew the night would be exasperating as we prepared to view Ava Duvernay’s “When They See Us.”
The Netflix limited series is about the Central Park Five’s case in 1989 in which five young African American boys were tried, convicted and later exonerated of raping a white woman in Manhatten’s Central Park.
I calmly walked into the room to see some of our county leaders, community movers and shakers, parents and activists of all colors in the conference room. This would be my second time viewing the miniseries, but my first time viewing it in a room of racial diversity.
I knew the pain this miniseries unveiled for American Americans who live this uneasiness every day to be falsely accused. It took me two days to watch the film from the comfort of my home. How could I watch it again without crying and looking weak among my community friends? My heart skipped a beat. Keep breathing I reminded myself.
It was again difficult to watch. Within the first 30 minutes, an African American man sitting at a table got up and walked out the room never to return. His wife said later it was too much for him. The tension was thick. Together, though, we continued to press on as we watched the seemingly justified racism spewed within the first episode of the miniseries toward the young boys.
We pressed on to view the second episode, which shed light on the trial and problems within a criminal justice system bent on imprisoning young black males, guilty or not. After the second episode we all breathed a sigh of relief. Some dabbed at their eyes.
Most of us in the room were alive in 1989 and we remember the divisive language and the pleas from the boy’s mothers in the black press to free their sons. We remembered how rap music changed to reflect the anger against police brutality and we bobbed our heads to the new emerging gangsta rap. We were the first kids of integration and it seemed that racism and slavery had just evolved into a different form. Again, we exhaled.
Moderator Roxy Williamson swiftly came to the microphone and introduced the panel, which included a police chief, a teacher, activist, a preacher, a former judge and two nurses. For the next hour this diverse and experienced panel answered questions from the moderator and audience about the current judicial system, the effects of trauma due to racism, and suggested corrective actions to help eliminate the problems we see of ineffective legal counsel, bail reform and a lack of knowledge about American laws and civil rights.
An honest thoughtful, peaceful dialogue filled the room and it was decided that we would come back for a Part 2 to watch episode 3 and 4 of the Netflix miniseries. It is in these types of academic forums where strategy and plans are created to fix and improve our institutional system to make them equal for all Americans.