When African-American documentary filmmaker Marlon Riggs made the film
about the history of black images and identity in American television, he found that while we would love there to be a magic bullet television show that could have the perfect mix of the entire African-American experience rolled up into it, that is impossible. In the end there needs to be more images of blackness out in the world for everybody to see and more importantly, for young black people to see and dream about.
DeVaughn Ward and Pastor AJ Johnson know these stereotypes all too well, so they planned an event that puts those notions to shame — just in time for the first day of school. After seeing a group of men in Georgia greet kids on their first day, Ward and Johnson knew they had to bring the idea to their hometown of Hartford, Conn.
The men created a call-out group on their social media pages called "Calling All Brothers" and asked the men of color they knew to tag others. Their goal? Form a group large enough to greet the children of Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School on their first day. And do it wearing suits.
The Black Lives Matter movement is nothing new. There have been people in African-American communities throughout this country working diligently for centuries to uplift black people from out of the oppression and bigotry and consequences of our country's original sin. The inability for some people to understand or at least respect both the common experience, and more importantly the unique experience shouted by Black Lives Matter, is to deny black people's humanity.
Johnson told A Plus that that particular school has lots of kids from the inner city area, most of which are children of single mothers. He wanted his fellow black men to be there not just to break stigmas, but to show the kids themselves that the men in their neighborhood really do care.
"For a group of well-dressed men to be there meant a lot," he said.
He recalls one of the men who came out being in his 50s or 60s, and had seen the height of the civil rights era. He turned to Johnson and told him, "Brother, you're on to something." A mother of one of the little girls who attends his church came back in tears after dropping her daughter off.
The more images of "blackness" one sees, the more ways all of us can see ourselves and others. White America has always been the de facto culture in popular storytelling. There are innumerable images and ways white people are represented and have always been represented. People of color have, historically, been relegated to the side, to stereotypes. Just because there are a bunch of black hip-hop artists in popular music doesn't mean it isn't a narrow perspective. Black people like white people want to be able to be anything and everything. In the end we all need just a touch of a dream when we are young in order to create the magic that will be positive lives.
Check out the photos from that beautiful first day of school here.