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#NSBESpeaks: Our Response to Police Brutality, Racism and Violence in America

By Chairman Matthew Nelson Statement

It is with a heavy heart that I offer my first official communication as the national chair of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). I find myself in a difficult situation when responding to recent instances of social injustice. A significant portion of the revenue used by NSBE to fund scholarships and programs for aspiring, young black minds comes from corporations seeking to increase their diversity through their relationships with our organization. I hope this letter does not estrange them. However, our mutual goal of a diverse engineering workforce is unattainable when black students are more worried for their lives than about their lectures, and when black employees lose productivity over concerns of prejudice.

Over the past few days, the deaths of Philandro Castile and Alton Sterling have peeled back the scab that covers the septic state of race relations in America. These incidents are especially concerning given the manner in which they occurred: Sterling shot while being pinned to the ground, Castile while reaching for his wallet at an officer’s command. Although both officers will face investigations to determine legal culpability, the visceral reaction evoked is one of shock, fear and fury. The most frightening notion is that our compliance with law enforcement officers may no longer be sufficient for survival. Recent events have caused individuals who have made significant contributions to the advancement of science, technology, engineering and math to question the relevance of their education in a society that undervalues their lives.

However, the value of life is not exclusive to one race or one profession. The solution to addressing the concerns of our community certainly does not reside in the assassination of public safety officials. Incidents like the recent shootings of police in Dallas during a peaceful protest make a hazardous atmosphere even more toxic. Just as we are praying for the families of the black men slain, we pray for the families of the police officers who were struck down while in the line of duty.

The issues plaguing the black community extend far beyond police brutality. Unemployment, lack of access to services, underfunded educational systems, the prison-industrial complex, black on black crime, etc.: all of those concerns need to be addressed. However, we must not avoid confronting the ugly truths around policing in America. We must hold our elected officials responsible for the conduct of the officers who work on their behalf. A sheriff is typically an elected official. A police chief or commissioner is usually appointed by a mayor or city council. Research your candidates for government offices, and continue to voice your concerns once they begin their terms.

In addition, leverage your economic power to influence policy. Choose wisely when deciding where you will live and pay taxes. Make the choice to shop and dine in areas where black consumers are welcomed and appreciated, not labeled and harassed. Take note of the response from the LGBT community to North Carolina House Bill 2 and the effect of that response on that state’s economy. Circumstances will not change until the message is made clear: the unjustified use of force against blacks will be met with swift political and economic repercussions.

Times like these challenge our belief in justice and our faith in humanity, yet we still must march on, carrying the burdens of oppression, discrimination and hatred in a country that often fails to acknowledge our contributions, our place in society and our rights as citizens. Although these events have obviously rocked us to our very core, emotionally and spiritually, this is not the time for us to lose sight of our mission. It is imperative that we continue to expose our people to opportunities and encourage each other to strive for excellence, while engaging in meaningful dialogue about how to navigate today’s world. Cultural responsibility must prevail. For additional resources to help you focus your frustrations on positive outcomes, read the post “STEM and Social Justice: Applying an Engineering Lens to Social Change,” located on NSBE’s website (www.nsbe.org) in the Blog section.

If you take nothing else from this letter, please understand that as the leader of NSBE, I feel the same pain, anger, confusion and hopelessness you may be feeling. When one of us is hurting, we all feel the effects. I realize that NSBE cannot turn a blind eye to the needs of the black community. We may not be able to address them all, but we must be cognizant of their impact.

Toward this end, I have activated NSBE’s Culturally Responsible Task Force for our 2016–2017 program year. The purpose of this entity will be, in part, to respond to issues that affect black communities; to create a safe space online where our members can express their frustrations about racism without fear of repercussions; and to write reports that capture concerns about racism on college campuses that have active NSBE chapters.

We also encourage you to use social media and the hashtag #NSBESpeaks to continue the conversation about social injustice.

I pray for your understanding of the constraints placed on our Society with regard to activism, and I hope for the day when Black Lives Matter is a historical reference and no longer a current cry for justice.

Riverside Community Residents Gather Together for Peaceful Protest

RIVERSIDE, CA-Last Thursday, after days of rallied in the Inland Empire decrying perceived police brutality in the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, protestors marched through Riverside demanding not just justice being brought to the system, but unity.

Riverside residents Jeff Luckey, 22, and Anthony Curtis, 23, said that was the goal in organizing the march, which started at noon outside City Hall, continued with a march toward Riverside Plaza about 2 1/2 miles away and ended about 3 p.m.

“Right now nobody’s together,” Luckey said. “We don’t want this to be a black thing or a white thing, we want to develop a solution.”

There were approximately 75 people that attended the protest at the plaza. Some held signs and many chanted as they walked saying, ““Hands up, don’t shoot,” a slogan that has become a rallying cry for those protesting police shootings of black men.

Hennesy Brown, of Ontario, attended the march with her 1-year-old son King and her 9-month old son Angel. Brown chose to participate in the event to raise awareness in the community so that her sons won’t share the fates of Sterling and Castile.

“I don’t want my sons to become a hashtag,” Brown said.

By 2 p.m., the crowd at the plaza had grown to about 100. People were initially standing in the street in front of the movie theater, blocking traffic and forcing cars to turn around, but they moved when requested by police. “I love the diversity, it shows that its not just black people who are affected,” Brown said.

“I’m glad to see that Riverside does care about its people,“ May said. “The city has a lot of heart.”

Hollywood Next: Jeff Friday’s American Black Film Festival Fuels The Future

By Ronda Racha Penrice, Urban News Service

When Jeff Friday traveled to his first Sundance Film Festival to catch Love Jones in 1997, what struck him most is what he didn’t see.

“I returned from Sundance very inspired by what I saw there, but what I did not see was filmmakers of color,” says Friday. “So I came back to New York inspired to create something like it that really served as a platform for black filmmakers.” That’s when Friday first envisioned the American Black Film Festival.

Back then, the Newark native and Howard University alumnus — who holds an MBA from New York University — worked as a high-ranking advertising executive at the black-owned UniWorld Group. There, he oversaw marketing campaigns targeting African-American moviegoers. Mexico’s Ministry of Tourism, a UniWorld client, loved the concept and hosted the event in Acapulco.

Ninety people, including longtime supporters Bill Duke and Robert Townsend, attended that very first Acapulco Black Film Festival. Nearly 800 arrived the next year, and 3,500 attended in 2001. The festival moved to Miami Beach in 2002 and domesticated its name to the American Black Film Festival. From South Beach to L.A. and New York City, the site of 2015’s gathering, between 5,000 and 10,000 regularly attend.

While there are many other black-oriented film festivals, Friday’s uniquely integrates black Hollywood veterans, new talent and numerous corporate partners.

“The artistic community, the actors, the writers, the producers, the directors, they all support us, and the corporate community,” says Friday. “You need companies to support [the festival], so we’ve been very, very successful at getting companies to understand the importance of the mission, the importance of diversity. This was before #OscarsSoWhite, so it was a little more difficult getting companies to understand the importance of inclusion in film and TV.”

Founding partner HBO, known for its signature HBO Short Film Competition, got it from the start. The festival also has welcomed, among others, Fox Searchlight, Starz, TV One and Universal. In addition, it has sought non-traditional partnerships. Cadillac has been a long-term partner. And, this year, McDonald’s sponsored the “My Community” national video competition for aspiring black filmmakers, giving them a chance to be mentored by The Best Man writer/director Malcolm D. Lee. Prudential presented a seminar with Oscar-nominated costume designer Ruth E. Carter (Malcolm X, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Black Panther).

The players may change, but the festival’s primary mission never does. “This was always about empowering people of color to make movies and being a platform for supporting the next generation,” Friday says.

Actress Emayatzy Corinealdi remembers this support the most. “They’re about nurturing you and giving you opportunities,” says Corinealdi, winner of the 2010 Rising Star award, a festival honor first given to Halle Berry. Corinealdi’s recent credits include Roots and Miles Ahead.

Producer Will Packer (Uncle Buck, Think Like a Man) and actor/director Nate Parker (The Great Debaters, Red Tails) are other talents whom this festival embraced early on. And they give back. At this year’s gathering, Packer hosted a “first look” for his latest film, Almost Christmas. Parker did the same with his highly anticipated Nat Turner slave-rebellion film, The Birth of a Nation. Corinealdi was a “Black Women in Hollywood” panelist.

Serving the black film community beyond the festival is very much on Friday’s mind these days. To honor black Hollywood pioneers and welcome new talent, Friday and his team conceived the ABFF Awards as a private dinner long before the #OscarsSoWhite firestorm resulted in BET televising the affair this past February. That successful partnership led to the inaugural ABFF Encore during the 2016 BET Experience, which supports the BET Awards. Standouts included a master class with Black-ish creator Kenya Barris and indie pleaser Destined from this year’s festival.

Other efforts include the short film showcase ABFF Independent on the Magic Johnson-owned network Aspire, as well the series For the Love on Comcast/Infinity, featuring industry interviews with such shakers as Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil, the husband-and-wife team known for Being Mary Jane and The Game.

Friday is also confident that a more embracing Hollywood vanguard — like the Oscar-granting Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ recent membership invitation to a record number of black film professionals — won’t drop the curtain on the American Black Film Festival.

“The general market can’t possibly serve our community like we can serve our own, and I promise that won’t change,” Friday says. “We will always have a space to focus on our own.”