Kudos and gratitude to all of the dedicated community organizers who made the 2014 Pasadena Black History Month Parade & Festival another tremendous celebration! In annually honoring the richness of African-American heritage and culture, this series of events unites our diverse Pasadena/Altadena communities to joyfully honor our past, celebrate our present and look optimistically toward our future.
I had the honor of participating in this year's Black History Parade with the youth, mentors and staff of Mentoring & Partnership for Youth Development (MPYD), a nonprofit organization that supports male students at Muir High School through character building and academic guidance. Marching down Fair Oaks with MPYD, in a parade that showcased so many great organizations that are making a difference in the lives of young people, warmed my heart and fired my confidence in the unlimited potential and promise that our kids represent.
How deflating it was to leave the joy, pride and hope of the Black History Month Parade and return home to the news that a Florida jury had deadlocked over the murder charge against Michael Dunn, the 46-year-old white man who fatally shot Jordan Davis as the black 17-year-old sat in a parked SUV listening to music with friends. The killing of Davis, like that of fellow Florida teen Trayvon Martin, is a grim reminder that, despite the countless positive achievements being made by our kids every day, a paranoid, enraged and racially-biased element within the white community continues to regard African-American men and boys as a dangerous threat worthy of violent, even deadly, confrontation. Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin were both assumed to be criminals even though neither of them committed any criminal acts. But they were young, black and male which many small minded people consider probable cause for suspicion.
Living in the United States has always forced our people to contend with racism. But Americans of African descent have neither the power nor the responsibility to eradicate the racist attitudes which have befouled our nation since its colonial infancy. It is not our job to illuminate bigots to the obvious fact that the majority of us are not menaces to society (or "thugs" to use Michael Dunn's word of choice). Rather, let those who scorn, fear and despise African-Americans and other so-called "minorities" take the ignorant, frightened blinders from their own eyes and look realistically at the world around them.
Our responsibility as black folks is to not allow the hatred of others to define us. Our job is to preserve and nurture our own dignity, pride, intellect, creativity and commitment to excellence. In this way, we will continue to overcome, achieve and succeed. And we will empower and challenge successive generations to live out the greatness that is our heritage and our obligation. This is the necessity and the opportunity that we reaffirm each year during Black History Month.
These thought came into focus for me during a recent conversation with Lt. Duane Allen, Jr., who is second in command at the Altadena Sheriff's Station. Descended from a respected and groundbreaking family from Alhambra, Allen is a living example of how history can inspire success. His dad, Duane Allen, Sr., was a standout receiver with the Los Angeles Rams in the early 1960s. His uncle, Hardy Allen, was a revered race car mechanic who built customized engines for heralded drivers like A.J. Foyt at a time when African-Americans were practically nonexistent on the Indy Car circuit. And Allen's grandfather, Thomas C. Allen, was a pioneer aviator who gained fame in 1932 on a historic cross-country flight with famed African-American flyer James Herman Banning. The elder Allen went on to serve as a test pilot and instructor for the Tuskegee Airmen, the fabled black fighter pilots of World War II.
When I asked him about what he learned from his high-achieving family members, Duane Allen told me that it was more about influence than lessons. "When you have role models like that, it never entered my head that I couldn't do something. It wasn't even like they verbalized expectations, it was just how you were raised . . . with that type of thinking that you are special, that you can do whatever you want. If you dream something you can do whatever you want."
That's the beautiful thing about black history. It's filled with the real life stories of men and women who conquered the odds, made a way out of no way and created their own success. So, even if you don't have hands-on role models like those Duane Allen grew up under, you can adopt any of the countless heroes of history as a personal template, studying their methods, being inspired by their words and knowing that because they made dreams come true, so can we all!
Thank you for listening. I'm Cameron Turner and that's my two cents.