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Who are today's Emmett Till and Tamir Rice?

Atlanta — IN winter 1916, several hundred black families from the Selma, Ala., Cotton Belt began quietly defecting from the Jim Crow South, with its night rides and hanging trees, some confiding to The Chicago Defender in February that the "treatment doesn’t warrant staying." It was the start of the Great Migration, a leaderless revolution that would incite six million black refugees over six decades to seek asylum within the borders of their own country.Emmett Till and Tamir Rice, Sons of the Great Migration

The story of my son...from Mississippi to Tennesee; from Tennessee to Massachusetts; from Massachusetts to Connecticut.  It's been five generations since the migration of the Wilkerson/Wardell/Harris family,which began in Mississippi. The majority of my great grandfather's family ended up in New York and Chicago. My grandfather moved his family to Memphis, TN but he did not go on to New York or Chicago. Although he decided to remain in Memphis, he encourgaed his seven children to continue heading north for a better life for themselves and their children as many of them were beginning to get "too settled" as he put it. He himself had to drop out of school when he was in the third grade to begin working in coal mine in order to take care of his mother and siblings. My dad, Hessie Lee Harris, the eldest son of the seven children decided to head to Massachusetts in the early 70's; choosing to stop in Boston, MA to raise his five young children, four of whom are Black males. Dad's motivation for leaving Memphis when he did were strikingly the same as my great grandfather's reason for migrating towards the north 70 years before - to escape the racism and violence towards Blacks.

 

My dad also wanted his children to have better access to education and opportunity, so Boston appealed to him because of the great institutions there. Growing up, Dad always talked about his "seeds", which is how he referred to us, his sons. I remember that exciting day when my son, Kolton was born and my dad whispered to me, "You know, he's my seed too, you know?" I was so proud to connect my son to my dad's legacy, which he often shared with us through stories of my grandfather and great grandfather. The burden of that legacy was one that emerged as the fears of raising a Black son grew within me each year Kolton did. Kolton is now 23 years old and preparing for graduate school.  His undergraduate degree was completed at Connecticut College where he graduated with honors and was the institution's first African American male commencment speaker.  I get excited every time I think about how awesome he is.  And every time I do, I feel a piercing  gaze coming from the "silent son" that I've raised alongside Kolton.  He's been fed and nourished by generations of headlines and commentary echoing from stories like Emmett Till's and Tamir Rice's.  Yes, it's that "burden of legacy" I mentoned earlier, racism. 

 

So after reading Isabel Wilkerson's article this morning, I was left with the question, "Where are today's Emmett Tills and Tamir Rices?" Kolton graduated past their young  ages and therefore cannot be today's Emmett and Tamir but I still worry about him being another Black man having his Black body possessed, violated and destroyed. I don't know where Kolton will take his "seeds" but I pledge to continue working to ensure that they will not be tomorrow's Emmett Till and Tamir Rice. I also pledgeto keep praying that all of those "silent sons" stop getting nourished and eventually die,  so that all young Black boys can live! #nomoretaken 

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