Guest Column By Melissa Morgan.
I find that the poem, “Still I Rise” by the distinguished Dr. Maya Angelou, holds a valuable message to communities targeted and affected by acts of hate and bias.
“…Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries…”
The recent news of sightings of nooses in our city is a sad, and to some a painful reminder of a “history rooted in pain,” as Dr. Angelou calls it. Reportedly, more than 70% of the people lynched between the 1880’s and 1960’s were Black/African-American. Certainly, the City of Long Beach condemns such low acts of hate. To many, the noose is a terrifying symbol used by those who choose to intimidate and harass their fellow human beings.
“…You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise…”
Across the U.S., increased noose sightings in the workplace, educational settings, and in public locations have polarized communities. Our country has recently seen a rash of noose incidents, as many as 60 cases have been reported in the past three months, when only about twelve were reported on an annual basis prior to the September high-profile Jena, La. rally in protest of perceived racism. These incidents mirror the social reality evidenced in the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations report that most hate crimes are committed against someone because of their racial/ethnic/national identity, and, that African-Americans continue to be the number one victim of hate crimes.
“…Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise…”
A recent performance of the “Horizon Line” play by Encompass — an exploration of bias-motivated behavior through the eyes of a young white male character on a path of escalating destruction, and the people in his life who influence his choices, for better and for worse — reminded me of the power of influence that adults can have on youth. It strikes me that in order to rise above acts of hate, we must do it together. We must be connected as Black, White, Latino, Asian, Multiracial, young, old, rich, poor, gay, straight, male, female, transgender, American, immigrant, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim people. Acts of hate do not affect just some of us, they affect all of us.
To rise, we must be committed to our youth, interested in them, engaged in their lives. To rise, we must model for our country how the “most diverse city in the nation” unites in the face of bias. I hope that you will rise with me in support of diversity, one of our wonderful City’s greatest strengths.
Of great concern to the City of Long Beach is that hate crimes and bias incidents potentially occur 24-28 times more than reported, according to the U.S. Justice Department National Crime Victim Survey. Some reasons these incidents go unreported are fear of retaliation, cultural barriers, immigration status issues and fear of insensitive treatment.
If you are ever the victim of a hate crime, you should call 9-1-1 to report the crime. You should also report bias incidents to the City of Long Beach Human Dignity Program by calling 570-6948. The City of Long Beach has a trained Community Assistance Team of volunteers who are available to respond to hate crimes, bias incidents, and inter-group conflict with dedication and professionalism.
Melissa Morgan is the City of Long Beach Human Dignity Officer. The City of Long Beach is committed to embracing and valuing racial and cultural diversity and stands by its Human Dignity Policy. Visit dignity.longbeach.gov to learn more or to get involved.
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