Drop Your Labels Freedom Fighters
Struggle. It crosses every sector of human existence. No matter your skin color, economic class, geographic upbringing, perspective on faith nor educational attainment, we all have seen or been apart of struggles to make life on this earth just a little bit better. As an African American male growing up in the United States, I have a particular view of struggle that was inherited through birth and reinforced through my personal experiences. I could go on a rant citing the quantitative and qualitative basis for why I know this country is still a bastion of racism, but that is not why I’m writing today. Yesterday, I was apart of an extraordinary and historic vote by the NAACP National Board of Directors to reaffirm our mission and clarify our stance defending marriage equality in this country.
For those without background, the NAACP is and historically was a morally conservative organization based mostly on our inextricable connection to the black church. Even today, our current Chairman, Rosalyn M. Brock, is an ordained minister. This relationship has often times confined organizational stances and policies to the confinement of biblical law. As a Baptist Christian brought up in South Carolina, I have struggled in understanding the separation of my religious beliefs and my political beliefs. Many would say there is no separation, but I don’t believe my faith is one of divisiveness and discrimination. Although my personal beliefs are aligned with what the Bible says, our nation does not have the right to enact discriminatory policies against anyone. Just as Ben Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP said yesterday, “Civil marriage is a civil right and a matter of civil law. The NAACP’s support for marriage equality is deeply rooted in the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and equal protection of all people.” For too long, many of us have stood silent because of our personal conflictions, but this is not a personal issue, it is one of public policy and protecting the rights of people who are our loves ones, friends, students and coworkers.
Yesterday, a civil rights icon stood and recited a quote from one his teachers from Morehouse College. This teacher only taught one class of four students, and two of the four were Julian Bond, and this gentleman speaking, Dr. Amos Brown. And in his deep and baritone voice, he said, “the time is always right to do what is right,” this being one of the more famous quotes from his teacher, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The biggest lesson I wish to share with people is how powerful it is when organizations and people stop thinking about their “struggles” in silos, as if they are not connected to larger, bigger fights that exist in our world. We do not have the time nor the capacity to be organizations or movements that are disconnected from other organizations or movements based on things like issue areas or restricted funding from funders. Friends, it is time for us all to stand up and be more than our labels. Yes, I am an environmentalist, but before that I’m a human being with an ancestry of struggle and if any one of my brothers or sisters calls on me to stand and speak up about their struggle, I am there. And you should be too.
Quentin James is the National Director of the Sierra Student Coalition and National Board Member for the NAACP, where he is the Vice Chair of the National Climate & Environmental Justice Committee. Quentin also served as the Deputy Youth Vote Director for Barack Obama’s 2008 Presidential Campaign in Ohio.