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“Let’s get a group photo,” said the birthday girl on Saturday afternoon. It was a 1990s themed party. A grey Panasonic boom box sat idle in the grass next to a couple of young ladies in TLC themed outfits, complete with color coordinated bandanas. Board games like Sorry!, card games like UNO, and a bouncy blue kickball were stacked on a table to the left.
It took nearly five minutes to organize two-dozen young people to take a photo. I fancy myself a photographer, so I grabbed my phone as well. That’s when I noticed a text message from my mother: “Not guilty.”
That’s all the text message said. I read it aloud. A young lady named Brenda overheard me.
“The verdict came out?,” she asked, loud enough for others to hear.
“Yeah, not guilty,” I replied in a low-defeated voice.
After a momentary reaction to the news, we all assembled ourselves and “smiled” for the group photo, then posted the pictures to social media outlets before wrapping to-go plates and hugging goodbye.
I packed up a couple of hot dogs in some foil, picked up my bouncy blue kickball and marched from Mosswood Park to Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland, California.
During the two-mile walk I called city officials, friends and community elders. I was looking for a game plan.
Arnold Perkins, a respected elder in Oakland who spent much of his childhood in Florida, brought a tear to my face as I talked to him over the phone from the A’s game. He stepped away from the roaring crowd to tell me that this verdict, “is to be expected.”
Perkins, former member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and retired head of the Alameda County Health Department, now works with the Brotherhood of Elders, an intergenerational network of African American men who look to do good in Oakland.
He didn’t have an answer for me about what I should be doing. I take that back, he did have an answer for me, he said: do nothing.
So, I sat down on a curb near the outlet grocery store on Broadway, bouncing my blue kickball, and thinking; the Trayvon Martin verdict, the Oscar Grant movie, the group photo at the BBQ, the bigger picture, my generation.
Why is it so hard to organize my peers to take a group photo? I can’t imagine what it would take to organize them to change the administration of justice here in the United States.