One of my favorite Spike Lee films is School Daze, and I have found myself thinking about it a lot recently. The movie offers a glimpse into the secret world of Greek life, including pledging, hazing, brotherhood and even the comical salutations demonstrated by Lee's character Half Pint, when he salutes Dean "Big Brother Al-Migh-Tee." As members of these fictional Greek organizations evolve from their personal issues of skin color and hair, they begin to realize there are much more relevant challenges that face them as a young marginalized community. Similarly, I see a real-life movement being formed through a metaphorical fraternal order of activists coming together protesting 18-year-old Michael Brown's death and similar incidents of injustice.
Like many of you, I have been quite disturbed by recent news regarding Brown, the black teen shot and killed by a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer. A number of conversations have arisen since the shooting and, more recently, the grand jury's decision to clear Darren Wilson. In our collective attempt to process these events, we are all analyzing the teenager's character, condemning the looting, cheering on the protestors or symphathizing with the parents.
What has captivated my attention most is the subsequent national and global protest that has spread like wild fire in response to these events. My social media feeds are bloated with outcries all sharing a similar message of frustration, anger and a call to action. This growing collective is organizing against a system that they feel shows historical disparity in the treatment of its citizens, especially as it relates to marginalized communities.
I have dubbed this expanding fraternity of disenfranchised voices as Not One Iota — as in they do not give one flying Iota about the status quo.
Membership is largely comprised of folks from marginalized groups, and victims like Michael Brown are part of this order. Often, not everyone associated with those communities claim membership until they are uncomfortably or even tragically reminded that they do not enjoy the same rights and privileges as their mainstream counterparts. The sad truth is that some members are becoming younger and younger and succumb before having the benefit of counsel from more established members. Just ask the family of 12-year-old "Little Brother-Shot-2-seconds-after-officers-arrive-for-having-a-toy-gun" (Tamir Rice).
Not One Iota has plenty of supporters. They may not know all the inner workings of the group but have an appreciation for their mission. These global acts of solidarity between members and non-members is significant because even those who have not been racially profiled or victimized by the system themselves recognize, like Martin Luther King Jr. stated, that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
Greek organizations are easily distinguished by signifiers, such as their colors. Not so with members of Not One Iota, although some in the mainstream and even some closer to home will attempt to identify members by broad assessments of their character (calling them predators and thugs) or by their dress, demeanor or even association. Non-supporters of Not One Iota do this in some futile attempt to justify the injustices against these members because maybe if they were not dressed in a hoodie, or listening to hip-hop or engaging an authority figure, they would not be victimized. Maybe we should ask "Little Brother-Unjustly-profiled-in-his-own-community" (Trayvon Martin) or "Little Brother-Gunned-down-for-listening-to-loud-music-like-any-typical-teen" (Jordan Davis) or even "Big Brother No-your-Harvard-professor-status-does-not-protect-you-from-being-arrested" (Henry Louis Gates).
Unlike other fraternal organizations, Not One Iota members do not enjoy a "crossing over" ritual where the pledge and hazing process ends. Ironically, once you have been inducted, you tend to experience continued hazing by the system. You can be victimized at any given moment if the power structure or authority figures characterize you as a threat. Just ask the family of "Big Brother-Death-by-choke-hold-due-to-suspicion-of-selling-loose-cigarettes" (Eric Garner, New York).
Members and supporters of Not One Iota also know that what happened in Ferguson happens in all corners of our society. Even here in the Carolinas, we have seen instances, of, at best, slack justice and citizens victimized due to gross characterization by authority figures. Check out "Little Brother-Found-hung-in-mysterious-circumstances-in-white-neighborhood"(Lennon Lacy, South Carolina) or "Big Brother-Shot-in-broad-daylight-for-attempting-to-produce-ID" (Levar Jones, South Carolina) and even here in Charlotte, "Big Brother-Shot-and-killed-after-seeking-assistance-after-serious-car-accident" (Jonathan Ferrell).
Despite all this, I am still encouraged. How is that possible? Well, another poignant reference from Spike Lee's film School Daze may help in justifying my optimism and supplying maybe a partial explanation to why Ferguson has inspired a global movement of activism. Folks have finally decided to "Wake Up."