It has been a year since the racial incident at Jena, Louisiana, where a group of black students challenged the de facto segregation of their high school by requesting permission to sit under a tree where only white students sat. They were told by a school official that they could sit wherever they pleased. However, the next day, students arrived to see three nooses hanging from the tree.
Although the students responsible for placing the nooses there faced suspension, the incident became much more tense at a party which escalated into a gun rustle at a convenience store. On December 4, 2006, another school fight broke out between six black students as well as a young white student who persistently taunted one of the six boys. The fight left the white student with a minor concussion and multiple bruises, and the six boys, who would later be known as the Jena Six, were charged with attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy. Local district attorney Reed Walters pushed for the maximum charges, which could carry sentences of up to 80 years without parole. But on September 16, 2007, convictions were overturned for one of the Jena Six, Mychael Bell, who is now free after being unjustly convicted by an all-white jury. It is a heartrending reality to know if one lives in this supposed great land of “liberty and justice for all,” he or she may become a victim of a racial discrimination. It has become an utter disgrace to know that the ideas and movements of our past civil rights leaders, such as the great Dr. Martin Luther King, never seemed to be fully absorbed by some of our young people living in this generation. Some of the youth today may have never imagined that the few types of racial occurrences, such as the ones portrayed above, could ever happen in their generation, since they are usually accustomed to reading about them in history textbooks.
Haraya, the Pan-African Student’s Coalition, invited all SJU students to Marillac Auditorium last Thursday, September 20, at 7:30 p.m. to partake in a discussion where the theme focused on “Making Connections: How is the Jena Six a microcosm of the flawed manner in which our political and justice systems are structured to handle hate crimes?” Students were encouraged to wear all black in solidarity of the friends and families of the Jena six.
Haraya did a great job, as it created an open mic discussion and an organized a petition to Governor Blanco of Louisiana to request just intervention for the Jena Six. The gathering seemed to captivate the entire congregation as students and SJU staff members raised important questions and shared their personal incidences of racism. David M. Alcius, member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. as well as the President of Haraya, noted, “Whether you are born in this country or have recently immigrated, there should not be any aspect of our Constitution that should have been stripped away from our citizens, such as the Jena Six.”
Let us not forget what is happening to the Jena Six. Let it become an example as to why we should continue to speak and act against the injustice that is still occurring in our society today. And, most importantly, remember that racism is still very much alive.