Twenty-five students from the African American Male Initiative at North Carolina Central University made their way up the steps at the Hayti Heritage Center. Their marron jackets and prideful strut illustrated why the more than fifty people gathered waited for their arrival.
They represented the core of Black people’s dreams.
Founders of OneKMB (One Thousand Black Men) called a meeting to discuss the future of Durham. It was a blending of eulogy and revival with an action plan targeting increased gun violence.
“When we have kids using bathtubs for shields in Durham, we can do better than that,” Antonio Jones, chair of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and one of the founders of OneKMB, said.
Black men stood in an area above the crowd – like a commissioned army taking an oath of service. They wore the pride of a common bond, a commitment stirred by memories of scuffling in a world conditioned to discount Black men.
“We’re brothers. We’re fathers. We’re sons, uncles, and in some capacity, we’re mentors and coaches,” Omar Beasley, past chair of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and co-founder of OneKMB, said. “We, as a community of Black men, have been working together to galvanize our efforts, but now is the time that we can not allow Covid to be the reason for us to not put our plans and programs in action.”
A year has passed since OneKMB organized as a challenge to Black men. When the city was shut down due to Covid-19, crime didn’t take time off. In Durham, and in places across America, gun violence has escalated during Covid-19.
“We are here because there is no species on the planet that will stand by and watch you slaughter their offspring,” city council member Mark-Anthony Middleton said. “From the smallest turtle to the fiercest lion, there is no species on the plant that will just idly stand by and watch their children killed. Whether they wear feathers or talons, we will not stand by and watch the slaughter of our children as a spectator sport.”
Middleton, another co-founder of OneKMB with Leonardo Williams, a candidate for the city council, says he’s issuing a clarion call to every Black man in Durham.
“Whether you are in the board room, or on the corner. Whether you’ve been to college or not. No matter what area you participate in life, we need every Black man in this city to stand up, unite and say it’s up to us,” Middleton said. “We are not here to exempt the government, or to relieve them of their responsibilities. But we are here to say we are going to be perpetual, persistent partners in saving our children because we do not need permission to save our lives.”
Middleton announced the four pillars of OneKMB. The group will advocate for policies and programs already formed to address the needs of Black people.
“So, I’m saying to our local and state officials, adequately fund programs that are for us and by us,” Beasley said. “We have existing programs, existing plans, that don’t have adequate funding.”
Middleton says OneMKB will be a support system for existing programs.
“We will now have a virtual army, a data base of 1,000 plus men that are willing to come in and buttress up your program,” Middleton said.
OneKMB will also build an economic development strategy that utilizes resources among Black men to create pathways to opportunities. Middleton says some Black men have special access due to experience and relationships to offer direct intervention.
“Some can pull up and speak to brothers directly,” Middleton said. “They can go into situations and pull people out.”
Williams says his work with OneKMB is personal.
“I’ve lost count personally of how many students I’ve lost. Whether they were the killer or the one who was killed,” Williams, a two-time Durham Teacher of the Year, said. “What I can say consistently is they are all victims, and that is what we have to stop.”
Williams acknowledged that people are doing the work to curtail gun violence without adequate resources, while far too many people are left wondering what to do.
“I think we have been waiting for permission, but also we have been audience participants for too long,” Williams said. “Now, we’re sitting back eating popcorn watching news stories.”