Against the cacophony of domestic and international news about the recent Iran Nuclear weapons agreement; the financial “bailout” of Greece; NASA’s unprecedented photos of the planet Pluto; the travels and speeches of Pope Francis; the continuing fight against ISIS; Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and other Republican and Democratic presidential contenders; the Confederate flag in Charleston, SC; shootings at a Marine Recruiting Center in Chattanooga, TN and at a military base in Lafayette, LA; the issue of continuing gun violence; the “Black Lives Matter” movement in response to deaths of young black men; and the suicide of Sandra Bland while in police custody; any other “good news” is subordinated or obscured.
Such is the current San Francisco and surrounding communities celebration of the 200th college graduate from the San Francisco based Alive & Free under the leadership of Dr. Joseph Marshall and others.
Twenty-eight years ago, Dr. Marshall, a MacArthur awardee and an undergraduate and Ph.D. graduate from the University of San Francisco, made a promise to at risk young people: “If you stick with this and beat the streets, I’ll send you to college.”
A press release celebrating this event reminds us that:
Alive & Free Omega Boys Club was founded in 1987 when public school educators Dr. Joseph Marshall and Jack Jacqua just couldn’t handle losing another one of their students to the streets. “Back then something terrible seemed to be happening every day,” recalls Marshall. “The drugs, the gangs, the turf and funerals-we had enough of it and we knew something had to be done Alive & Free was ‘that something.’”
The Club has received national and international acclaim. Now, 22 years after is first college graduate in 1993, it celebrates its 200th college graduate. Hallelujah!
I met Dr. Marshall (Joe to me) several years ago. One day in a discussion about “milestones” or important dates in the African-American experience and history in the United States, I mentioned 1619 (slavery introduced into the United States), 1863 (Emancipation Proclamation), 1896 (U.S. Supreme Court decision in Plessey v. Ferguson, upholding the constitutionality of “separate but equal”), 1954 (U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, overturning Plessey and outlawing racial segregation in public education), 1955 (Rosa Parks/Dr. King Montgomery Bus Boycott), March On Washington 1963 and Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the election Barack Obama as the first African-American President of the United States.
Joe listened and said, yes, but I had omitted another very important year. I asked, somewhat surprised, “What date are you talking about?” He responded, “1980, the date that crack cocaine was introduced into the Black community.”
I thought for a moment. Then, it hit me: how profound and accurate Joe Marshall’s observation was. Indeed, the introduction of crack cocaine materially affected all aspects of lives within African-American communities. The consequential accuracy of his observation is powerfully and persuasively described in Professor Michelle Alexander’s best selling book, The New Jim Crow –Mass Incarceration in a Color Blind America.
Last week I was in Washington, D.C. and revisited the National Memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. Engraved in the stone monument are the words “From A Mountain of Despair, A Stone of Hope,” excerpted from his August 28, 1963, “I Have A Dream” speech. When, I think of the extraordinary work of Dr. Marshall and Alive & Free, I also think of those words spoken by Dr. King, during his speech across the street from the State capital in Montgomery, AL, after he, John Lewis, and others had marched from Selma, AL. in 1965.
In response to a question from one of the marchers who asked in effect, “how long, Dr. King, will it take for us to achiever racial justice and equality?”
I know you are asking today, “How long will it take?” (Speak, sir) Somebody’s asking, “How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne?” Somebody’s asking, “When will wounded justice, lying prostrate on the streets of Selma and Birmingham and communities all over the South, be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men?” Somebody’s asking, “When will the radiant star of hope be plunged against the nocturnal bosom of this lonely night, (Speak, speak, speak) plucked from weary souls with chains of fear and the manacles of death? How long will justice be crucified, (Speak) and truth bear it?” (Yes, sir)
I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, (Yes, sir) however frustrating the hour; it will not be long, (No sir) because “truth crushed to earth will rise again.” (Yes, sir)
How long? Not long, (Yes, sir) because “no lie can live forever.” (Yes, sir)
How long? Not long, (All right. How long) because “you shall reap what you sow.” (Yes, sir)
How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. (Yes, sir)
The “Arc of the Moral Universe” of Alive & Free bend towards justice and saving the most important thing in today’s society: our children. For 28 years Dr. Joe Marshall has been saying and acting on the basis that Black lives, Hispanic lives, young lives on the streets of San Francisco and surrounding communities matter. He is my hero. He should be yours also.
The Community celebration of Alive & Free’s 200th graduate will take place on Sunday, August 2, from 2-5:00 p.m. at the West Bay Conference Center in San Francisco. I plan to be there. I hope others who believe in the extraordinary work of Dr. Joseph Marshall will also be there with me.
Again, I say: If not now, when? If not us, who?
Originally published on the Huffington Post Blog