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Classic Koonsman: Lead on, Brother. We are all hungry.

Jon Koonsman


“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Several years ago I took on a project building luxury lofts on Fort Worth’s trendy ‘near south side’.

The area was a veritable crossroads, the human confluence of affluence and poverty. The indulgence immediately to our north was as foreign to me as the abject poverty to our south.

Over the course of almost a year, I made the trip from privilege to subsistence several times a day.

I preferred the south. The food was better.

Just a few days into the project, I found myself standing with one of my employees in a popular fast food restaurant on Rosedale Avenue.

The restaurant had a walk-up window outside with a line stretching to the street. We walked inside where the room was packed shoulder to shoulder for ‘Wednesdays Special’ - which consisted of legs and thighs for 50 cents apiece and three biscuits for $1.

Seriously, who could pass that up?

With the exception of myself and Steven, the patrons of the restaurant were exclusively African-American.

When the young mother in front of us finally made it to the order counter, she quickly placed her order and put her money on the counter. The cashier rang up the order and quoted her a total of just under four dollars.

Realizing she’d forgotten something, the young lady quickly informed the cashier, “I’m sorry, I promised my kids I would get them biscuits. I need three biscuits.”

The cashier gladly added the biscuits and gave her a revised total, but unfortunately the young mother had come in with only $4.

As the pair tried to refigure the order, I discreetly leaned forward and offered to pay for the meal.

The irritated young mother wheeled around and confronted me, “What the hell do I look like to you?”

“You look just like me,” I answered her abruptly. “Hungry.”

I hadn’t realized the entire restaurant was watching the exchange until they started laughing.

She allowed me to pay for her meal, thanked me, and gave me a hug.

I’ve been a White guy most of my life. I can’t tell you what it’s like to be a young Black mother, but I can tell you what it’s like to be hungry.

It is this dose of empathy, however measured, that is the distinction between an act of charity and an act of humanity.

And it matters.

Like many Americans, I have watched the events in Ferguson, Missouri unfold on the evening news over the course of the last couple of weeks.

According to the news coverage, the tragic shooting death of an 18-year-old African-American man at the hands of White police officer Darren Wilson has been the catalyst for riots and looting – an unfortunate commentary on President Obama’s ‘post-racial’ America.

As the details of the shooting trickle out and evidence emerges that the victim, Michael Brown, may not have been the choir boy he was made out to be, it seems to further infuriate the local African American community.

The very idea that the shooting may have been legally justified, an act of self-defense by an officer that had been badly beaten, appears almost incomprehensible to the people of Ferguson.

While the Revs, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, elbowed their way toward the cameras leading cries of ‘Justice for Michael Brown’ and ‘No Justice - No Peace’, a family and a community grieved for the loss of one more of Dr. King’s stolen dreams.

Whilst the Revs decried the ‘epidemic of young Black men killed by white cops’ (a relatively rare occurrence), three dozen of those young Black men shot each other in Chicago.

In fact, 91 percent of Black men murdered in this country are murdered by other Black men.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again. Let’s talk about race. But let’s tell the truth.

I’ve done little to hide my disdain for the Rev. Al Sharpton, the race-hustling bigot of Tawana Brawley fame.

With a number of promising young Black leaders on the horizon, his continued support by the African American community has led to a lot of head scratching by those on the outside looking in.

But perhaps the most egregious of disservices perpetrated on the Black community by Mr. Sharpton is the corruption of their sense of justice.

Rev. Sharpton, Rev. Jackson, Gov. Jay Nixon, allow me to explain something. There is no justice for Michael Brown. There is no justice for Officer Wilson. There is only justice.

The funny thing about justice is that you can never realize it by depriving someone else of it.

You see, the selective application of justice is not justice at all, but the very antithesis of it. Terms like ‘social-justice’ and ‘distributive justice’ have just further distanced us from the concept, increasingly regarding it as a material commodity that we may somehow ‘receive’.

Justice is blind.

Our criminal justice system is not. It is imperative that we make that distinction.

However, you do not correct injustices in the system with further injustice.

Our system is cumbersome and fallible, and as much a reflection of humanity’s imperfection as the face staring back at me in the mirror. But no group should be more concerned with righting those inequities than the African-American community.

I’ve met some extraordinary people through this column and Quincy Miller is among those I most admire.

Several months ago, Quincy (an African-American man from Fort Worth) took me to task online over a column I had written on the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s ‘I have a Dream’ speech.

As the conversation progressed, it was evident that despite our political disagreements we shared Dr. King’s dream.

Quincy was well-reasoned, articulate, and exceptionally bright. A half hour into the conversation, I looked over at Jenni and said, “This dude is brilliant.”

It is time for Al Sharpton to go.

In the absence of facts, he has once again resorted to inflammatory rhetoric and shameless self-promotion.

As the details of the shooting trickle in, I am left wondering what will happen to the people of Ferguson if it is determined that the officer was justified in using deadly force. Will he be around when they ask, “What now?”

Only if the cameras are there.

It’s time for some new leadership. And when I wonder what the way forward looks like, the first face I see is Quincy’s.

Black or White, he’s a leader.

Lead on, Brother. We’re all hungry.


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