I was born and raised Chicago Illinois, and had only ever heard of New Orleans, but five years ago, here I was talking about a place called Jena.
Jena is about 160 miles southeast of Shreveport,and 220 miles northwest of New Orleans in central Louisiana. It is here where a civil rights “moment” of a lifetime took place.
It was December, 2006. I had gotten call from a local on-air talent in Louisiana telling me the story of the Jena 6.
A black student, Kenneth Purvis, a junior, asked at a public assembly, if he could sit under an oak tree in the campus courtyard. The tree had reportedly been planted by white and black students as a “unity” tree. The next day, two or three nooses where hung from the tree; a reminder of the Jim Crow South and the KKK.
A fight occurred, and six students were charged with second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit second-degree murder. All six were expelled from school.
As I heard the story, the lawyer and the activist in me said this was wrong.
I then asked the local air talent if he could get the parents of the six black students on my radio show. They agreed to come on.
After speaking with one of the students, Michael Bell’s, father I knew we needed to get this story out on a bigger scale.
My show was syndicated, but this story needed to be on every radio station in America.
I called Rev. Al Sharpton, and he agreed with me. Together, we used our shows to highlight this case. Soon, Tom Joyner, Steve Harvey, Russ Parr, Rickey Smiley, and Michael Basiden all started talking about it. The local radio host and the local news media were talking about it.
The way the story spread showed the power of black radio; something black America once knew, in the past, when our radio programs empowered us to be a part of the civil rights movement.
The next thing I knew, I was in a church in Chicago with Rev. Sharpton, Martin Luther King III, and a host of others, planning a march in Jena.
The march had folks come from all over the country, demanding justice for the Jena 6.
A host of media covered the event. I thought to myself, wow, we are on the brink of true unity; that we would come together and not just shake our butts, but really make change the way my mother’s generation and the generation before hers had.
Too bad, someone had to throw a party. Too bad, the march ended up being about competing camps, instead of people being one in the love that is unity.
Too bad, the beauty of the march turned into the Jena 6 being treated like thugs by many in the white media, and like rap stars in the black media.
Too bad that we stood and looked into the face of a movement, only to see it turned into just another moment in time.
I must give kudos to all the radio hosts who promoted the Jena 6 march, and to all the students who came together for justice.
However, as I look back at the march I am truly saddened.
We came to Jena in the hundreds of thousand’s and we had a chance to start a movement, but instead, we had just a moment, albeit too many, it was a good moment.
But imagine if we had let Jena be the spark for change in all our communities. Then not only would the Jena 6 have had justice, maybe — just maybe — we would have had a movement!