Law and Politics

Celebrating Black History

February 8, 2013
Jelani Mashariki

In 1964, America was asked to choose the ballot or bullet.
Nearly half a century ago, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, better known as Malcolm X, told those in power that they had to make a choice between the ballot or the bullet, making clear that if Black political power wasn't taken seriously, there could be grave consequences.

 In 2013, we're celebrating Black History Month just weeks after inaugurating our first Black president to his second term, feeling comfortable in knowing that we as a country chose the ballot. But part of celebrating our achievements as a people is remembering the struggles that led to our victories.

In New York City in the decades since Malcolm spoke those words, these are just a few of the struggles that community members participated in:

Demanding that local employers hire Black workers, the Brooklyn chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality(CORE) used direct action to target bakeries in Flatbush, milk plants in Bed-Stuy and A&P supermarkets across the borough in the early 1960s, forcing a change in their hiring practices.

In late 1960s, CUNY students went on strike, first at City College and later at Brooklyn College and other campuses, demanding an admissions policy that would bring more students of color into the system. The results were incredible, almost immediately bringing in thousands of primarily Black and Latino students.

Taking the struggle to city government, a coalition of activists led the effort to change the city charter in the late 1980s, in order to give people of color better opportunities to be elected to office. After a hard-fought election, those changes were approved by the voters, abolishing the Board of Estimate and giving us the 51 Council Members that we have today.

As a resident of Central Brooklyn, as a former CUNY student and now as a candidate for the City Council, these are not just episodes in Black history. This is my history, the story of how I was able to become the person I am today. By celebrating Black History Month, we're not just remembering our heroes; we're paying tribute to those who paved the road to get where we are.

Through the struggles of the past four decades, we chose the ballot over the bullet. Now as people committed to making a difference in our communities, we have to take seriously what Malcolm meant when he said "ballots are freedom" in that same speech. We have to elect people who know the history of our community and who are committed to giving a political voice to every community member. This is why I'm running for the 35th Council District: to make city government a vehicle for those voices to be heard.

February 8, 2013

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