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Reflections on Juneteenth

Dear True Moringa Friends & Family,

The Cape Coast slave castle--just one of dozens dotting the West African coastline--is Ghana’s top tourist attraction. Collectively, these castles served as the last stop for an estimated 10-40 million enslaved Africans before they were shipped off like cargo on the Middle Passage and, for those who survived the grueling journey, on to the New World. The castle tour is a deeply moving experience and serves as a sobering reminder of the human capacity for both evil and redemption:

  • The capacity to commit great evil;

  • The capacity to allow injustice through silence, inaction, or adulterated beliefs--directly above the castles’ packed dungeons are often churches, where the slave traders would gather for Sunday worship;

  • And also, the capacity to end injustice and learn from history. Today, the slave castles serve as monuments memorializing a dark period of human history as well as the end of it. The words inscribed on the commemorative plaque, pictured above, challenge humanity to “never again perpetuate such injustice.”

To the Black community in the United States, June 19th marks the effective end of American slavery; some call today Freedom Day or America’s Second Independence Day.

As a Ghanaian, an American, and a Black man, this Juneteenth hits me differently. I’m grateful for the progress humanity (and specifically the U.S.) has made and believe today is worth celebrating. On the other hand, there’s an uncomfortable tension in the history and reality of Juneteenth, what I can best describe as “already but not yet”. Slaves were “already” declared free 2.5 years prior to June 19, 1865--the Emancipation Proclamation had officially outlawed slavery on January 1, 1863--but slaves in Texas were “not yet” free until Federal Troops arrived to announce and enforce their liberation on the day we commemorate today. Today, I see this same “already but not yet” tension everywhere: Black people “already” have equal rights, but our experience shows this is “not yet” true. We live every day as targets of a derivative injustice: systemic racism.

It’s hard to explain the mix of anger, frustration, tears, and exhaustion that has been hitting me with each new video of crushing and sometimes life-stealing racism: Christian Cooper, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd. I have been the Black man strolling in the park, jogging in the streets, sleeping in my bed, and shopping at the corner store. I was ashamed of how fast and hard my heart beat climbs when I’ve been stopped by the police in the US, but these events have snapped me out of my silence. 

This goes beyond police brutality. It’s about systemic racism and how its far reaching fingers wrap around our necks still, extending beyond the US and even to Ghana. It tightens its grip when a woman clutches her purse tighter as I walk by; when my white teacher says I will never get into MIT; and when I, the CEO and co-founder of my business, am told in Twi (local language) to wait outside while my white colleague is ushered in for my meeting, or I’m addressed as the “driver” or “houseboy” when with my obruni (Twi for non-Ghanaian) wife. Or Perhaps the scariest, in Ga, my mother tongue, when we describe a technological wonder we say a phrase that literally translates to “white people are amazing/awe-inspiring.” My grandma would affectionately call me in Ga “her white man” because I built robots in high school and interned at NASA. I’ve lived my whole life thinking this was ok, not realizing how the infiltration of my native language and warped sense of black achievement are fingerprints of institutionalized racism.

We can’t celebrate Juneteenth without acknowledging the “already but not yet” realities today. As I remind myself of the words inscribed on Cape Coast Castle’s walls, I invite you to join me in this vow: “In everlasting memory of the anguish of our ancestors, may those who died rest in peace. May humanity never again perpetuate such injustice against humanity. We, the living, vow to uphold this.” 

If you are looking for next steps, consider this non-exhaustive list:

  • Empathy: Hold space in your hearts and prayers for each victim of police brutality. Create the space to hear what others around you are experiencing. Your experience might be different, but it doesn’t change the fact that their experience is real.

  • Reflect: Take time to learn about how racism became institutionalized in America. Check out this reading and listening list created by YSRP founders Lauren Fine and Joanna Visser Adjoian. Think about ways in which your actions may have been racist, even though that wasn’t your intention. See “privilege” as a tool for change, not a marker of shame and guilt. See “silence” as active participation in an unjust system, the church above the slave dungeons in Ghana.

  • Golden Rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated. If we made this our lens and active goal, our lives, votes, and dollars would move from partisan battlelines to our shared humanity.

  • Support: Consider patronizing Black-owned businesses and donating to causes fighting systemic racism. 

At True Moringa, 20% of sales this month are going to Black-led organizations fighting for racial justice. We are supporting: 

  • Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project - keeping children out of adult jails and prisons

  • Raheem - building data collection tools for police accountability

  • Essie Justice Group - harnessing the collective power of women with incarcerated loved ones to end the harm of mass incarceration 

  • Baltimore Corps - working for economic justice and providing resources to create leaders in Baltimore, my home city. 

June 19th, 1865 marked the beginning of Black liberation in this world. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” 


With Love,

 

Kwami Williams 

Co-Founder & CEO, True Moringa

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Meet Essie Justice Group - Ending Mass Incarceration's Harm to Women

Throughout this month, we're highlighting organizations focused on dismantling systems built on racial injustice. We'll be donating 20% of this week's sales to Essie Justice Group, an organization harnessing the collective power of women with incarcerated loved ones to end mass incarceration’s harm to women and communities.
Read more →

Meet Raheem: Making Police Behavior Visible & Accountable

Throughout this month, we're highlighting organizations focused on dismantling systems built on racial injustice. We'll be donating 20% of this week's sales to Raheem - using data to make police behavior visible & accountable. 
Read more →

Meet YSRP - fighting to keep children out of adult jails and prisons

Dear True Moringa Family, 

Throughout this month, we're highlighting organizations focused on dismantling systems built on racial injustice. We'll be donating 20% of this week's sales to the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project (YSRP), a Philadelphia-based advocacy organization. To read YSRP’s statement on the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless others, please click here. To read about YSRP’s values as a racial justice organization, please click here

the issue: keeping children out of adult jails and prisons

According to YSRP, "In Pennsylvania, children as young as 10 years old can be prosecuted as adults, meaning that they face time in adult jails and prisons. This has harmful consequences for their health, their emotional well being, and their futures. It often means being sent far from their families and supporters. Being charged as an adult makes a child 34% more likely to end up back in the system upon release."

In Pennsylvania, youth are automatically prosecuted as adults if they are charged with certain crimes. In many other states, including neighboring New Jersey,  for a child to be prosecuted as an adult, a prosecutor must request that the child be tried in the adult system, and a judge must grant this request. This data from WNYC's analysis of New Jersey court records illustrates that stark racial bias exists at both levels of decision making:

 

wync kids in prision data - true moringa - ysrp

Source: Administrative Office of the Courts, NJ from July 1, 2011 through May 19, 2016.

According to Laura Cohen, the director of the Criminal and Youth Justice Clinic at Rutgers Law School, “Controlling for nature of offense, controlling for family background, controlling for educational history — all of the things that go into a prosecutor’s decision, there are still disparities, significant disparities, that cannot be explained by anything other than race" (WNYC)

YSRP's work

YSRP works with youth charged as adults in and around Philadelphia, as well as a subset of this population  - "Juvenile Lifers" - those sentenced to life in prison without parole. In 2012, the US Supreme Court held that mandatory sentences of life without the possibility of parole are unconstitutional for individuals who were sentenced as children, in Miller v. Alabama. In the 2016 Montgomery v. Louisiana decision, the court held that this ruling should be applied retroactively, affecting thousands of cases across the country. YSRP carries out their work with Juvenile Lifers through mitigation, reentry planning and support for people when they come home, training for defense lawyers and judges, and advancing policy reform.

Mitigation

During the court process in individual cases, YSRP presents prosecutors and judges with mitigation reports, or individualized narratives of a person’s experience.

For Juvenile Lifers eligible for resentencing and Parole Board hearings, YSRP provides mitigation reports, as well as workshops inside of prisons on mitigation, reentry and self-advocacy.

Reentry Planning

As close to a child’s arrest as possible, and prior to Juvenile Lifer resentencing hearings, YSRP creates individualized reentry plans that connect youth or Juvenile Lifers with critical supports and services in housing, employment, education and health and mental health care.

Before, during and after incarceration, YSRP connects youth, Juvenile Lifers and family members with individualized supports and services.

Training For Legal Defense & Advocacy

YSRP creates tools and provides trainings for defense attorneys to raise the level of representation for youth charged in adult courts and Juvenile Lifers facing resentencing and Parole Board hearings.  

YSRP trains and supervises graduate law and social work students and other volunteers to work in teams that create impact within and across systems.

Advancing Policy Reform

YSRP aspires to end the practice of charging youth in adult courts. In the interim, YSRP’s policy advocacy chips away at the harmful impacts of adult incarceration on young people and their families.

learn more

Further reading recommendations from YSRP on youth sentencing and racial justice more broadly:

Books:

  • Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
  • The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
  • Felon: Poems by Reginald Dwayne Betts
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color by Andrea J. Ritchie
  • How To Be An Antiracist — Ibram X. Kendi
  • White Fragility:  Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo

 

Podcasts:

Films:

  • Just Mercy
  • When They See Us (Netflix)
  • 13th (Netflix)
  • The Hate You Give (also book)

Articles:

 

what other organizations are doing great work to promote racial justice?

 

  • Movement for Black Lives
  • Black Lives Matter
  • Color of Change
  • Equal Justice Initiative 
  • Essie Justice Group
  •  

    how can I get involved with YSRP?

    Beyond donating, you can help further the work of YSRP  by signing up for YSRP's newsletter

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    Who Are the Kayayei?

    Meet Asana. Like many Kayayei women, she traveled to Ghana’s capital city Accra from the Northern region of Ghana to earn enough money to follow her dream of completing her education and becoming a nurse. Income opportunities are scarce in her home village, and climate change is making farming income less viable and predictable.
    Read more →