Struggles built on love: Cultural Thursday presenter encourages partnerships to help build equality
Black History Month and the civil rights movement can often be characterized by frustration, anger and struggle. But Bukata Hayes, this month's speaker at CLC's Cultural Thursday event, encouraged his audience to think of the fight for equal rights as a struggle born from love.
Love and struggle — two words not often heard together but when put side by side express a powerful duality representative of the fight for equal civil rights throughout the U.S., both historically and today.
Those two words served as the title and theme of Bukata Hayes’ Cultural Thursday presentation Feb. 6 at Central Lakes College in honor of Black History Month.
Hayes is the executive director of the Greater Mankato Diversity Council and spoke for the second time at CLC.
The civil rights movement, Hayes said, was a struggle born out of love. He opened with a quote from Frederick Douglass, the 19th century abolitionist and orator who escaped from slavery and went on to fight for equal rights.
In 1857, during his West India Emancipation speech in New York, Douglass said:
“If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.
“This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle.”
Today, we need to have the same mindset, Hayes said, continuing to work hard while staying steady to the overarching goal.
One thing Hayes told the audience his father used to say is that without love, struggle loses its raison d'etre — it’s reason for being. Love is the bedrock of progress and the motivation for struggle, he said.
“So as we celebrate Black History Month, one of the things that we have to continually do is not simply talk about the ways in which we may have fell short or ways in which society did not see us as a whole and complete and part of it,” Hayes said. “But we must also celebrate the ways in which we took on our own agency and autonomy to make it real for us.”
Many times the civil rights movement might be characterized as beginning in anger or frustration, he said, but it began from love, from a simple desire to be seen as valued members of a community.
Civil rights leaders, though, didn’t all go about that simple desire the same way. Just as love and struggle seem to oppose each other but ultimately come together for a common goal, so too did many of the influential black leaders throughout history as they fought for equality.
Booker T. Washington strongly believed in southern African-Americans using the skilled trades to thrive in their rural communities. At the same time, W.E.B Du Bois believed true equality could only be brought about by African-Americans studying the liberal arts to become intellectually elite leaders.
The followers of both men historically butt heads, but the leaders themselves both came to recognize the importance of the education style the other advocated for.
A similar story followed Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, two African-American leaders working very differently for the same goal.
King famously advocated for non-violence, while Malcolm X vowed to do anything necessary to protect his people. If that meant bearing arms, so be it.
Eventually, though, the waters between the two began to settle.
“After his trip to Mecca, (Malcolm X) came back and said, ‘I'm willing to work with anybody who wants to work for our liberation,’” Hayes said. “... That duality is important. Again, I'm asking us not to choose one or the other. Because that's oftentimes what we are pitted to do. You got to pick one way or the other. I'm telling you, and I'm encouraging you, that the notion of ‘love is struggle’ means we utilize many, many ways to have our agency and our autonomy be recognized.”
What do some of the African-American community’s struggles look like today? Black Lives Matter, criminal justice reform, closing the achievement gap, anti-racism initiatives.
The statewide graduation rate for high school seniors was about 83% in 2018, according to the Minnesota Department of Education. For white students, it was over 88%. For black students and Latino students, it dropped to about 66-67%, and for Native American students, the graduation rate was around 50%.
In those cases, Hayes said there must be something wrong with the system.
To stress that point even more, Hayes said if the female graduate rate was only 50% compared to a rate in the 80% range for males, society would likely say there’s something wrong with the system, not something wrong with women. Yet the reasons for racial achievement gaps are often put on the students.
When asked after his presentation what he thinks can be done about the achievement gap, Hayes said we have to look at implicit bias.
As an example, he said when he goes to the hardware store with his wife, more than 90% of the time, the employees are going to talk to him before his wife simply because he’s a man.
“There are these things that we do and we engage in that impacts how we see each other, and so maybe that's why when we see discipline data within schools, we have disparities — white students vis-a-vis students of color,” Hayes said. “And if those discipline disparities are out there, then maybe that's part of why we're getting graduation rates that also have disparate outcomes.”
And part of that, he added, is how we work with teachers so they can better understand what each unique student brings to the table.
Hayes also pointed to mass incarceration as a struggle for today’s African-American community.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 1 in 9 American men are likely to be incarcerated in their lifetime. For white men, that ratio falls to 1 in 17. For black men it rises to 1 in 3. The likelihood for American women is 1 in 56. For white women it’s 1 in 111, but for black women it’s 1 in 18.
“If we’re taking a look at education, we're taking a look at incarceration. We're taking a look at health outcomes,” Hayes said, noting stress can lead to health detriments, like high blood pressure, heart disease and mental health issues.
And racism, he maintained, is one of the most stressful things a person can go through.
What can we do today?
Individual actions, coordinated initiatives and change institutions are what Hayes said we need to focus on today to keep working toward those same goals the civil rights leaders had.
Individual actions, he said, are everyday actions we do in the name of community and prosperity.
Coordinated initiatives are partnership programs like Cultural Thursdays that bring people together to engage with one another, differences and all.
Then there are change institutions, like the NAACP or King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
He pointed out about 70% of the founders of the NAACP were white people working alongside African-Americans.
“I always like to bring that up because I think sometimes folks think that, ‘We can't partner for folks of color success.’ We can,” Hayes said. “And folks of color would love for white community members to partner. We’re just simply asking you to partner. We’re asking you to partner, be by our side, walk through the fire with us when that fire comes, and not lead or not take over or co-opt.”
Then he posed to the audience: what are those coordinated initiatives today? Are you a part of them? Do you support them?
After the presentation, Hayes said he hopes his listeners really understood the relationship between love and struggle — that all struggles start from a place of love. And knowing that, he said, will help in enduring any struggle.
The CLC campus, he added, is the perfect environment for the message he was trying to spread, as it’s a compact space full of young people being exposed to new experiences.
“Because you are in tight proximity, right? You are in frequent engagement, and we can begin to understand each other more fully,” he said.
And all the interactions college students are essentially forced into, Hayes said, give them the chance to bond and build relationships that carry the community.
Before finishing up, he left his audience with a final thought on love and struggle.
“I encourage you on this campus, I encourage you in your community, to love, have
deep compassion and care for each other,” he said. “And then to struggle to make sure that the things that we do within community reinforce, reassure, amplify that deep care and love and compassion that we have for one another.”
THERESA BOURKE may be reached at email@example.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.