Commentary: We must open our eyes to racism in our communities

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Demonstrators on South Broad Street on Tuesday during the Democratic convention.

Marcus Allen

is the CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Independence Region

In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Brazilian author and scholar Paulo Freire states, "No one can be authentically human while he prevents others from being so."

I've been thinking a lot lately about this idea of humanity, and who is afforded the privilege of being perceived as fully human. In recent months we too often watched as black men and women had their lives taken at the hands of police, and we also witnessed the murder of police officers.

Amid the heartbreak and the terror, an equally troubling sentiment emerges: fear. I lead an organization that pairs youths with role models to guide them on the right path and give them a trusted partner and friend they can turn to when they face difficulties. This connection is often so powerful that it creates a safe zone for openly discussing fears. It can break down walls and help two people from different walks of life find common ground and see each other as authentically and fully human.

We are all worthy of existing without fear, even in times when we ought to be scared. Black Americans are 21/2 times more likely than white Americans to be shot and killed by police. Black men make up 6 percent of the U.S. population, but of all unarmed people shot and killed by police in 2015, 40 percent were black men. Black-on-black crime is also rampant in Philadelphia and in urban communities across the nation.

Based on these statistics, many would have us believe that the black community does not like the police. This could not be further from the truth. We must not let this divisive notion define this moment.

Instead, this is what we have to keep in mind: For many of us, violence and injustice are not just another news headline or viral video. They are daily fears.

The nation has received a wake-up call on these fears from two very different sources, President Obama and Donald Trump.

Obama's mixed-racial background and the events during his time in office have made racial tensions in this country more visible and have required him to address the issue more directly than any other president before him. And Trump's unabashed willingness to speak openly and share his opinions and perspectives, despite the ugly and hostile manner, has forced America to take a good, long look in the mirror. These two men have accelerated the conversation around human value. We must never forget that at the heart of the killings of black men and police officers is a total abnegation of the dignity and value of human life.

Now, we have a choice - and an obligation. As citizens of a free country, we can choose to support local, state, and federal officials who believe in protecting the rights of all U.S. citizens, not solely the privileged. And we can speak out and demand that our next president address police brutality.

We must commit ourselves to no longer blaming others for the divisions in our country. Instead, we must build bridges. At Big Brothers Big Sisters Independence Region, we are exploring the creation of mentoring programs with police departments in Philadelphia and Camden. Our hope is that police officers would serve as mentors to young children who face serious adversity. We believe such partnerships would help to build mutually beneficial relationships and reestablish trust between police and local communities.

Our main purpose in life is to make this world a better place for the next generation. To do that we must not be afraid to engage in intelligent, honest, and thoughtful conversations around race, injustice, and privilege. We must come together and chart a path for our future - for ourselves and for our children.

I want to live in a world where my children will not be presumed guilty because of the color of their skin, where my white friends feel and vocalize the same despair and shock when they watch a video of the shooting of an unarmed black person, where we can hold all people to the same standards, where protests are viewed as an opportunity to achieve excellence, and where all lives really matter.

We all need to open our eyes to the pervasiveness of racism in our communities. It is not a black or white problem, a Democratic or Republican problem - it is an American problem. Our leaders cannot solve this issue; it must come from the people. This is a collective issue that we must rigorously discuss, persistently challenge, and relentlessly seek to understand.

I can tell you this: Addressing this issue will not be comfortable; it will not make you feel good. But we can choose to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, or we can continue to live in a world plagued with racial injustice and fear.

MAllen@independencebigs.com