They came by car, bus, plane, and train - on a Thursday - a workday - to the small town of Jena, Louisiana.
They came by the thousands. They marched and chanted - and they prayed. They prayed for justice to replace the injustice that has taken place in that small town in the deep South and across this country. They prayed for young men and women everywhere to learn from the past and change the future.
In a scene resembling that of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960's, African Americans and whites said, "Enough is Enough." They demonstrated their displeasure at the injustice that had been handed out to six black high-school boys, as well as the inequality running so rampant in the American Justice System. Their voices and their presence commanded enough media attention to make sure that their message was heard, not just in Jena, but around the nation.
By as early as 5 AM, most of the parking areas were full and traffic was jammed up for miles on the road leading to Jena. They came from all points, and represented all age groups. And...they were united by one common thread - stop the hate.
There were speeches from the City Hall steps and news interviews from local and national mainstream media. They exercised their first amendment rights and settled for nothing less than being heard.
"It's not about black and white. It's about right and wrong," said Martha Kelly of Alexandria, LA.
Rallies were held elsewhere, as well. In Oklahoma City over 400 people gathered at the State Capitol to support those in Jena. St. Louis and Baltimore also had demonstrations. At Josey High School, in Augusta, Georgia, people wore black to show their support for the Jena 6 and the media is referring to it as "Blackout Thursday." According to a report by Channel 12 in Augusta, 12th grader Darius Collins says the black "doesn't symbolize race--it symbolizes unity.
"It does my heart proud to see that a school can come together to support something going on in a different part of the country. It shows that if there can be unity here--there can be unity there."
Inequality in the justice system is rampant in America. Race, social status, and poverty can readily be pointed to as major factors in those inequalities. Recently, the combination of age and race has come under close scrutiny as more black teens are imprisoned than white, as well as more black teens being tried as adults.
In the case of the Jena 6, blatant racism is undeniable. District Attorney Reed Walters had the audacity to stand before the cameras and claim that the case has nothing to do with race. Additionally, he now claims that the incident where three nooses were hung from what has been termed the "White People's Tree" had nothing to do with the fight that landed the Jena 6 in jail.
During the rally, a school board member sought out CNN to tell his side - which really wasn't a "side" at all since he hedged and dodged most of the questions he was asked. In fact, he admitted that he was not present at the Board meeting when decisions concerning the boys who hung the nooses were made.
The fact of the matter is, Jena - just like many other towns in America - is suffering from a good-ole-boy mentality that has been handed down generation to generation and they have just met up with their nemesis. They have just been slapped into the 21st Century and told that their brand of racism and bigotry won't fly in this world. They have been caught - pure and simple. No amount of back-peddling or twisting of facts will be sufficient to hood-wink the public any longer. No more business as usual.
Jena is the center of the nation's focus today solely because of that good-ole-boy attitude. The District Attorney is the same man who addressed the students after the nooses were hung, and black students defied the tacit "White's Only" message and sat under the tree, who told the kids "I can be your best friend or your worst enemy... I can take away your lives with a stroke of my pen."
His stance, as well as that of the school-board, typified the racism of Jena as well as exacerbated the racial tension in that community.
It's a sad thing to realize that we still have so far to go in the educational process. An even sadder commentary that there are still those who would perpetuate and attempt to justify the crimes of the past. But, today was a good day - a day of hope and unity - a day when all of America got a wake-up call - a day where tomorrow is happily anticipated.
For further background on the Jena 6 read the May 19th article entitled "Racial Demons In Louisana" on this blog.