I look at my life currently and proclaim that truly, America is the greatest country on Earth! I firmly believe my story is only possible in the United States of America! I also give due recognition that I work hard for what I am now. I live in an upper middle class neighbourhood. I am one of two black families that live there. I am an early riser, usually up by 5 AM and so I have 2 hours to spare before I get to work.
Some mornings as I lay in bed reminiscing about life, I only wonder what it feels like to take an early morning stroll in my neighbourhood! As I watch my neighbours ride their bikes early in the morning, I can only wonder how and what the smell of an early morning breeze feels like! I am afraid to do such, early in the mornings because I fear being labeled a trespasser and getting a cop called on me!
I have a Green Bay Packers sweatshirt! I cherish it so much because it was given to me by Greg Jennings, a former Packer football player. It has a hood and when I walk in my neighbourhood in the evenings, and it gets chilly, I would have loved to pull my hood up and get comfortable! But I am afraid to do so in my own neighbourhood lest I get labeled a thug and shot on scene.
There is a poorly lit road that leads to my neighbourhood. When I work swing shifts and I get there I always drive 10 miles below the speed limit! I have discussed with friends, where on that road will it be safe to stop when a cop flashes his blue light! Should I switch on my hazard lights and drive to the YMCA where there is enough light or should I just call family and friends and stop, just to tell them I have been stopped by a cop, just so they know. I know my white friends don’t have such problems because I watch them drive pass me by on that particular road, every time I work the swing shifts!
I do sympathize with people who really feel angry about others disrespecting the National Anthem and the Flag! I really do! But as a Black Man I also feel that there has never been a good time, a good place or a good cause to protest! You see in life perspective matters! If you are white you may not understand so allow me to explain! When your forefathers were fighting against the British for Independence, they were hailed as heroes! But when my forefathers escaped slavery for their basic freedoms, they were labeled rebellious and lynched and murdered to serve as a deterrent to other slaves!
On February 28, 1948 a group of unarmed ex servicemen in Ghana were marching to the British Governors abode at the castle to demand payment of their retirements and other entitlements! These were veterans who fought alongside the British in the Second World War! They were stopped by the colonial police at the Osu Crossroads, and shot. Three of them, Sergeant Adjetey, Corporal Attipoe and Private Odartey Lamptey were killed and many others wounded.
Ghanaian WW-2 veterans who were shot and killed by British Colonial forces during a peaceful protest in Accra – 1948
Then on March 7, 1965 a group of 600 Civil Rights marchers were marching peacefully across a bridge in Selma to demand a fundamental right of every human being, the right to vote! They were met by State troopers and beaten and tear gassed! It was a Sunday and that date in history is known now as “Bloody Sunday.”
So we knew that old Black folks could not march peacefully to demand their pensions. We also thought that adults marching on a Sunday was not a good thing. So in racist apartheid South Africa we decided to do something different!
On June 16, 1976 Black South African children went on a peaceful protest to demand that they be taught in their local languages rather than that of their oppressor! They were met by the police and shot, a conservative estimate of 176 children lost their lives. So we know from then that even kids won’t be shown any mercy! The courageous The World newspaper photographer who took the photo the changed the course of Apartheid in South Africa was not hailed a hero and promoted, he lost his job!
In 1963 when the Rev Martin Luther King organised a Million man march to Washington, to demand basic freedoms and human rights as enjoyed by other folks, only 25% of Americans supported that idea. So we do know it’s not about patriotism or respect for anyone! It’s basically about the protests!
What confuses me the most is how within hours the same group of people chant “Make America great again” and within hours, literally within hours, this same group chants “It’s the greatest country on earth.” How do you reconcile those oxymoronic statements!
I hear you say but this is not 1948, 1965 or 1976! Yes things are better! But we can certainly do more! What more you ask? I will like to feel what a early morning breeze in my neighbourhood feels like without the fear of being labeled a trespasser or risk being shot by the police, I will like to be able to put on my hood when the breeze gets chilly and walk comfortably in my own neighbourhood. I will like to drive home without fear of being stopped by the police and possibly getting killed. And I hope you don’t take my concerns as mere hyperbole or perfunctory because you don’t have the same fears as I do.
Now to my family and friends who have expressed fear that I openly discuss my view in public and risk losing my job! Please be guided by the words of the great Bob Marley!
“The greatness of a man is not how much wealth he acquires but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively!
If on my deathbed you remember me by the things I owned more than who I was and what I stood for, then I would have been bigly disappointment in what I wanted to be.
Above all, when you pray for me, don’t pray for my salvation or for me to go heaven! Pray for good health and mental fortitude, for when you have both nobody, absolutely nobody can take away your freedom or your access to wealth!
By Dr. Yaw Berko a Physician who practices in Green Bay, Wisconsin