“… the movie ‘Selma’ is about the American civil rights movement, that totally worked and now everything’s fine.”
– Comedian Tina Fey, opening the Golden Globes
The reason that joke works so well is not only that it ridiculously ignores recent violent and fatal cases involving police and people of color from Ferguson, Mo., to New York City, but that white Americans in general are fine with the notion that all is well.
Albuquerquean Patrick Barrett is not. Neither are the 80 or so other members of the Sankofa Men’s Leadership Exchange, a grass-roots network of Metro-area black men who have spent the past year building partnerships between the black community and others.
Barrett is an activist and consultant who worked on Mayor Richard Berry’s goal-setting Plan for Prosperity. But he sees his most important role as the single father of a 7-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son, as the role model who will not only defy, but change the “negative images of black men that dominate the news cycle; images that are negative when victims of shootings and beatings are black men.”
Journal UpFront columnist Joline Gutierrez Krueger featured Barrett and Sankofa recently after he penned a letter to the editor in which he asked “how often these days do our children see positive images of their fathers? Left unchecked, these images suggest that black men do not care about their communities, that too may of them are trapped in an overstayed adolescence and that few of them are committed to changing the prevailing narratives. Lost in the news cycle are the many things that are being done by black men that are positive and on the side of right.”
Sankofa is an African word that means to “reach back and retrieve,” and its members – including state Treasurer James Lewis, state Rep. Conrad James, and community leader and restaurateur Joe Powdrell – are working via conversations and good deeds to retrieve and reshape public perception of men of color in the Metro area.
From a shoe drive for poor children to ongoing conversations with the Albuquerque Police Department, Barrett says Sankofa is working “to get out in front to save lives and improve the quality of life, not just for the black population, but the entire community.”
That goal and approach mirror those of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on this MLK Day. And while everything civil rights is certainly not fine 47 years after King’s death, with leaders like Patrick Barrett and the other members of Sankofa, they will continue to get better.
It is fitting that, on the day we set aside to honor MLK, we listen to their message.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.