Langston Hughes

VIDEO: A Dream Deferred in Ferguson

Ryan Herring, former Sojourners intern and editor-in-chief of the The Ghetto Monk, traveled to Ferguson, Mo., to participate in the protests and events “eerily similar to ones decades ago during the civil rights movement.” In Langston Hughes’ poem “Harlem,” Hughes asks what happens to a dream deferred.

Decades later, Herring finds himself echoing Hughes’ question in ‘Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!’ (Sojourners, November 2014). Will the dream for equal rights “dry up like a raisin in the sun,” like Michael Brown’s body “left to bake in the sweltering heat for nearly hours after he was executed?” Or will the deferred dream “explode?” In other words, will the laments and protests of Ferguson grow into a larger movement for racial equality? 

Watch this video to see photos from Ferguson and to listen to Herring reading “Harlem” in the background.

Jenna Barnett is an editorial assistant for Sojourners.

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'Hands Up! Don't Shoot!'

ON AUG. 9, Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot to death by Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson. A collective groan was let out across social networks—people began the lament “Not again.”

Just four days prior, John Crawford III, a 21-year-old black man, had been gunned down by police in a Walmart in suburban Dayton, Ohio, without warning, while shopping for a BB gun. A few weeks earlier, Eric Garner, an African-American man, was choked to death by a New York City police officer.

For young black men, each incident is a reminder of how easily our lives can be taken away by police aggression. For the people in Ferguson, however, over-policing is all too familiar. In a city where 67 percent of the residents are black, there are only three black police officers on a force of 53.

A 2013 report from the Missouri attorney general’s office revealed just how bad relations are between officers and black citizens. Out of the 5,384 traffic stops made last year by the Ferguson Police Department, 86 percent of them targeted black drivers. Black drivers were searched and arrested at nearly twice the rate of white drivers, although contraband was found at a rate 13 percent less than that of white drivers.

The shooting death of Michael Brown was the tipping point. The gathering anger and frustration bubbling on the streets of Ferguson from an abusive and militarized police force finally erupted.

What followed was astonishing. A generation often criticized for its supposed apathy toward social issues organized and protested while being tear-gassed and shot at with rubber bullets. Peaceful demonstrators took to the streets each night to demand the arrest of Darren Wilson and were met with an aggressive response by law enforcement. Police used dogs, tear gas, and stun grenades to disperse the crowds exercising their right to assemble—events eerily similar to ones decades ago during the civil rights movement.

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Mary J. Blige, My Guardian Angel

Mary J. Blige performs during a scene from the movie “Black Nativity.” Photo courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures

In her book “The Funny Thing Is …,” Ellen DeGeneres describes being invited to God’s house for wine and cheese. When the Almighty walks into the room, Degeneres describes God this way:

“I would say she was about 47, 48 years old, a beautiful, beautiful black woman. And we just immediately hugged.”

When I think about the guardian angels who I’ve been told surround me like spiritual body guards, I picture the Angel In Charge as looking and sounding a lot like the Grammy-winning singer Mary J. Blige.

How appropriate, then, that Blige portrays a character in the upcoming holiday film, Black Nativity, (based in part on the Langston Hughes play) who appears to be an angelic being with a huge platinum-blonde Afro, dressed head-to-toe in silver-colored leather.

Building Better Business DNA

Being a socialentrepreneur used to be a lonely endeavor. I grew up believing that to be in business meant leaving your soul at the front door -- being ruthless, shrewd, and above all focused on profitability at any cost. But as a businessman, I found myself less interested in the bottom line of profit than in the bottom line of community impact. For example, I started Busboys and Poets as a restaurant and gathering place, but also a social enterprise -- a business with a conscience -- in Washington, D.C.'s U Street neighborhood.

Having grown up in D.C., I was amazed at the dramatic changes that swept various neighborhoods in the 1990s. The U Street corridor in particular was undergoing some of the most vivid transformation.

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