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ITK: Black Lives Matter

Examining the movement, its local impact and identifying ways we can make a difference.

Story by Luana M. Graves Sellars

Luana M. Graves Sellars, a journalism major with a minor in Black studies, has researched and written about Gullah history, people and culture since moving to Hilton Head Island in 2015. She is a community activist, raising awareness for issues that face the island’s Gullah community through her writing and speaking engagements.

According to the site Grammerist, to ​walk a mile in someone else’s ​shoes means before judging someone, you must understand ​their​ experiences, challenges and thought processes. The common conception of the Black Lives Matter movement is that it has been around only for the past several years, since the murder of a Black man on July 13, 2013, in Ferguson, Missouri. On that day, it was reduced to a hashtag.

The truth is Black lives have always mattered. Since slavery ended and the Civil Rights movement in the ‘60s, Black people nationwide have been fighting for and shouting that Black Lives Matter. Of course, there are communities that experience more racial incidents than others, but no community is discrimination and racially exempt. BLM, however, is more than just police brutality. It’s also about systemic racism, discrimination, redlining, racial profiling, economic inequality, voting suppression, the school-to-prison pipeline and unequal treatment in the criminal justice system, which often includes harsh sentencing.

It’s more than just Black voices this time

The difference between today’s Black Lives Matters movement and movements of the past is that the BLM movement is a worldwide movement that has captured the attention of people from every race who are outraged by acts of senseless brutality perpetrated upon Black people. No longer is the movement one that consists of just Black voices. It consists of young people who are not afraid to confront the issues of police brutality.

The Civil Rights Movement, which was fueled by a generation of people who were willing to risk their lives for a cause, was mostly led by Martin Luther King Jr. The Civil Rights Movement was a nonviolent approach to civil disobedience that spoke to issues of equality, equal pay, discrimination and more fair practices from the government.

If you Google protest signs from the ‘50s and ‘60s and compare them to the signs from today, the messages are the same. Posters with “Stop Killing Black Men” and “Police Brutality Must Go” are decades old. A recent sign read, “My Arms are Tired from Holding this Sign Since the ‘60s.”

Yes, racial discrimination still occurs

Recently, one of my Hilton Head neighbors and I were talking about the national protests in response to the murder of George Floyd. She said that she was “very comfortable in the fact that police brutality and issues of racism don’t exist in the area.” Well, unfortunately, they do. We may not have had any current situations of police brutality to talk about; however, incidents of racism, discrimination and bias are alive and well in the Lowcountry, but they often take the form of micro-aggressions. For most Blacks, it’s not a question of if they have experienced racism or discrimination, but when.

My first experience was unforgettable, as was my oldest daughter’s. We were both 9 years old.

Just a few short months ago, I was on the phone with my friend, Alex Brown, who is Gullah. He has lived on the island all of his life, a Native Island leader and former chair of the Town of Hilton Head’s Planning Commission. Our conversation was supposed to discuss town business, but our conversation could not begin because he was in shock. For the first time in his life, he had been called the ‘N’ word by a white woman while driving in a Bluffton parking lot.

Another friend, a Black police officer, was in plainclothes and wearing a badge while standing in line at the Bluffton Sam’s Club. He was confronted by a white man and challenged about his right to openly carry his service weapon.

You can make a difference

Hundreds of locals showed their solidarity on racial and social injustice by attending the “Rally for Justice and Change” in June at Chaplin Park. ©ARNO DIMMLING

Silence is consent. Past are the days when you could ignore how your Black friend or neighbor was feeling or what their experiences were. Now is the time for uncomfortable conversations. Dr. King said it best, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.​”

Last month, I was standing in front of the Cherry Hill School with three Black male friends as we waited to go into a meeting. A white woman was riding her bike down the path and stopped to speak with us. At 60, she felt compelled to apologize to us for being oblivious to all of the things that she has recently learned about what it’s like “living while Black.” She shared that she had been thrilled about the 100th anniversary of the Women’s Right to Vote, until she realized that in 1966 and during her lifetime, the Voting Rights Act was passed to protect Black voters from being disenfranchised. She left saying, “there’s still work to be done.” Yes, there is still work to be done.

If you see something, then say something. Get involved. Become an ally. Ignoring racism and discrimination is akin to stepping over an injured person on the ground, and walking away while they bleed. Black people are hurting right now.

“​We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they all are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that amongst these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

It’s time to ​start listening, hearing what’s being said, and trying to understand what it’s really like to ​walk a mile​ in a Black person’s shoes.

Ways to help

Learn Educate yourself on racism and protest history by reading anti-racist books, subscribing to race-focused podcasts or streaming TV shows or films that explore racial inequality.

Donate Make ongoing, monthly donations to organizations that benefit Black communities. Volunteer at local food banks, literacy centers and youth organizations.

Join Become active in a social or religious group here locally or join a nationally recognized organization.

Support Consciously buy from local Black-owned businesses. Directories can be found through the Beaufort County Black Chamber of Commerce and The Bluffton MLK Observance Committee.

Take action Attend a local event, sign online petitions, vote, keep listening and keep learning.