‘A Change is Gonna Come’—Lansing, it is here

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Lansing Voices

Professor John Long, Retired

“A change is gonna come” to Lansing, and it is on our doorsteps and across the world.

Many of you may be familiar with the first five words, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” a song written and sung by the late recording artist Sam Cook. He wrote it as a protest song to support the Civil Rights Movement and his personal anguish in the mid 1960s. One of the stanzas in the song:
“I go to the movie and I go downtown
Someone keep tellin’ me, Don’t hang around…
But I know a change is coming, oh yes it will…”

Metaphorically, today there are white people still telling us African Americans, “Don’t hang around.” Many cannot obtain the jobs equal to their educational level. In 2018, approximately 33% of African American adults aged 25 to 29 had at least a two-year college degree, compared to 44% White Americans, according to the National Student Clearing House. Are we treated with the same respect as our white brothers?

Prior to the rally in Lan-Oak Park I noticed on numerous occasions — on Ridge Road and sometimes on 178th street — two or three high school students, black, brown, and white, holding up signs saying, “Black Lives Matter.” Metaphorically, they were alone blowing in the winds like tall grass, cars passing by with no expression. I admired them. I would honk my horn and give them the black power sign of the sixties.

When the Village sent a robo call to the residents informing us that there would be a protest rally, I made up my mind to attend. There, I was surprised to hear white people say that Black lives matter. The last time that I heard that sincerity was in 1965 when the late President Lyndon Johnson in his State of the Union speech to the Congress said that black lives matter (even though we were referred as Negroes in those days). His words were: “But a century has passed, more than a hundred years since the Negro was freed. And he is not fully free tonight. It was more than a hundred years ago that Abraham Lincoln, a great President of another party, signed the Emancipation Proclamation, but emancipation is a proclamation and not a fact. A century has passed, more than a hundred years since equality was promised. And yet the Negro is not equal.” One can add, 55 years later, African Americans are still treated unequally.

I was extremely impressed at the rally. I found that it was organized and the brainchild of three high school students from Thornton Fractional South High School. I was very worried because the gains of African Americans have been erased by white privilege and tribalism. These young white students get it. It is time for the adults to get on board. A change has come, and it is time to get on board. I urge all leaders in the village and the school system to begin to evaluate if they are in the equality queue.

Professor John Long, Retired
University of Illinois at Chicago


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8 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you, Professor Long. I appreciate your words and your sentiment. Thank you for sharing your comments about Sam Cooke and the change that is is still in the process of coming!

    • Mr. Fetters,

      I certainly agree with you the change is in the process of coming. However, I am hopeful.

    • Boo,

      When a group performs as a police state, sets up barriers to suppress voting rights, and prevents persons to live where they can afford, you are correct. It is POLITICAL

  2. Hello. Thank you for the your opinion. I have questions about a few points in your letter because I honestly don’t know what you mean. Can you explain what you meant with…

    1) “I was very worried because the gains of African Americans have been erased by white privilege and tribalism. “. How was it erased? What do you define as which privilege and what do define as tribalism?

    2). “ give them the black power sign of the sixties”. You reference the 60s so that sign is related to the Black Panthers and their ideology was questionable. There is chatter on social media that the hand sign is related to BLM but seems to me that some people related it back to the Black Panthers-which many be a problem for some. Anyway my question is why did you have to emphasis the sixties in your statement.

    Other than those two points I am in agreement. Glad the youth in this town are PEACEFULLY protesting and having conversations with others with bullying and demeaning their neighbors.

    • Janice,
      Thank you for the questions. I will begin with question number two. The raised fist for Black Americans appeared in the 1960s. It was a symbol of unity, solidarity, and justice in the Black communities. It was highlighted by the Black Panther organization who fought for justice for Black people. Note, during the civil rights movement, it was just one of the symbols used by Black people in the struggle for equality and pride. The Black Lives Movement has appropriated it and added it to its symbol of resistance.
      Question #1: I wish I had more space to explain these concepts and give you more context for a better understanding of the issues. First, the dictionary meaning of privilege is a special right, advantage granted, or available only to a particular person or group. As you know, over 1 million African American slaves were freed in 1865 with no land, money, and rights after over 200 years of slavery. After their freedom, they faced the burdens of Lynching, Jim Crow, segregation, and now, institutional racism.
      To assist you in understanding the statement, think about some of the following conditions of White privilege that Peggie McIntosh of Wellesley College found in her daily life:
      1. I can if I wish to arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
      2. I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.
      3. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.
      4. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
      5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
      6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.

      I hope this adds to your reflection on my statement and the condition of African Americans in America today.

  3. That change is coming way to slowly. Black Lives are not equal to mine. And for those of us white folks who don’t understand or see our privilege, that is what has been keeping the change from coming.

    I was class president in 1970’s. We talked with the faculty over the course of a few months about addressing the racial tensions in our school and community. The Principal & School Board wanted no part of it and asked that I not address the students. I could not be silent. We actually had a great discussion and formed a club for students who wanted to be a part of the solution.

    I am so happy to see our young people stepping up to be the leaders we need to help the us all move forward together. Seeing, listening and working toward moving forward with one another.

    And just to say Professor, I too honk and give the young folks on the corner the black power sign, followed by the peace sign. I stand with all our people of color. Black Lives Matter!!

  4. Carol Marie:

    I am so proud of you, and wish I could point to a similar contribution I made as a student at TF South (I graduated in 1959). I am confused that another reader has not noticed the ways in which gains by African-Americans have been undercut by the larger society. African-Americans made valiant contributions during times of war and expected to be treated as equals afterwards. These developments were undercut again and again, from the death of Crispus Attucks in the Revolutionary War to the sacrifices made by African-Americans in all the wars that followed, to the death of Emmett Till in the 1960s, to the many lynchings throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries, to the murders of countless black people going forward. Through segregation of schools and the economic redlining. Sandra Bland, a professor at Prairie View A & M college who was arrested for a minor traffic accident and died in police custody. Eric Garner, who was choked to death by police for selling cigarettes on the street. George Floyd, choked to death by a policeman who knew him personally, because they had worked night club security together. Breonna Taylor, killed in her own home when police served a no-knock warrant to the wrong address These names are just the tip of the iceberg. These effect of these events has accumulated through time, and every time it seemed that we celebrated positive changes, some dreadful event would happen to undercut them. But I know you know that. I just appreciate what you said here and that you had the courage to follow through on what you chose to do when you were a student, despite the failure of some faculty to support you. Thank you.

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