Justice Talk Sparked Memories
Last night’s Justice and Race Town Hall talk sparked several memories. The talk on justice and race was an unqualified success with respect to content. In terms of turn out, it did not bring together anywhere near the 5,000 people that Aurille Lucier, a 20 year old spoken word artist, convinced to show up as a result of one tweet asking for ten people to come out and occupy Interstate 20 in downtown Atlanta last fall.
Perhaps there is less sex appeal in asking people to turn out to give careful thought on ways to impact justice and race in America, than it was to ask them to come out and stage a protest for the same cause one year ago.
In any event, after blogging about the need for a national discussion on justice and race in America since the 2008 presidential election, I finally got my town hall discussion last night. Albeit, I had to convene it myself.
Ten people attended the town hall, nine African Americans and one American of European ancestry. There were three men and seven women, nine “Baby Boomers” and one millennial. The town hall discussion was held at Sweet Auburn Seafood, which is around the corner from the Walden Building, Atlanta’s first black owned office tower.
The Walden Building and the Butler Street YMCA next door to it are in a run-down dilapidated condition and are indicative of the fact that black lives have not mattered in a long, long time. The Butler Street Y in its heyday hosted monthly discussions like the one held last night at Sweet Auburn Seafood. But that was back in the day when black lives mattered, at least, to black people.
In 1996, as President of The Gate City Bar Association, I tried to halt the deterioration of the Walden Building. It was after all, built by A. T. Walden, the chief organizer of The Gate City Bar Association, Georgia’s first black bar association. It housed Walden’s law firm and was a source of pride throughout the Atlanta community as black people would come into town just to gaze up at the three-story building and marvel with pride at what Lawyer Walden had achieved.
I dedicated my term to raising capital to secure and restore this bit of our collective history. I brought lawyers Vernon Jordan, Willie Gary and Johnnie Cochran into town, largely at their own expense, to help me raise money. I pledged not to spend any of the money I raised during my term in office. A pledge I kept.
But it was not to be. My board could not see the efficacy of preserving an old relic. We raised and left in the treasury over $32,000.00. All spent the following year on travel and social events. So eighteen years later, the building is as stately as Walden left her, yet dusty and haggard, as she sinks into the foundation that once supported her in all her splendor.
As the town hall attendees weighed in on the topic of justice and race last night, my mind drifted back two decades ago and thought how different it would look around the corner from Sweet Auburn Seafood had others supported my vision (although they may not have been able to see the vision) and restored the Walden Building.
Then my mind drifted to the reality, that perhaps this vision of justice in the round will die a similar fate from lack of participation from people who do not believe that a simple town hall discussion can make black lives matter again, at least matter to black people, if to no one else. I shuttered at the thought that 20 years hence, the black lives matter movement could be as dusty and as haggard from inattentiveness as the Walden Building.
If you are inclined, kindly join us for the town hall series finale on October 19, 2015 from 6-8 pm at Sweet Auburn Seafood, just around the corner from the Walden Building and the Butler Street Y. If you are careful, you might be able to hear Maynard Jackson speaking at a bygone Hungry Club Luncheon. You might be able to hear him say, as he said, on a crisp October mid-afternoon 33 years ago: “Anybody who stays home and does not turn out to vote for Andy Young for mayor might as well walk down Auburn Avenue and spit on the tomb of Martin Luther King, Jr.”
Enough said. See you next month. We will serve birthday cake to attendees, while I am being interviewed by award winning journalist Steen Miles on the topic of Justice and Race in America.
Harold Michael Harvey, is the author of the legal thriller “Paper Puzzle,” and “Justice in the Round: Essays on the American Jury System,” available at Amazon and at haroldmichaelharvey.com. He can be contacted at email@example.com