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A mind is a terrible thing to waste

Venson Jordan

As a boy growing up Black in America, I remember that there were a few TV advertisements that spoke directly to me. For me the most memorable was the words from the United Negro College Fund. They rang in my head like the bells of truth. The heavy, articulate voice would say, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

We were encouraged to study hard and think … freely. Not to waste time, not to waste life, but to build a better tomorrow from our experiences and those of our ancestors. We were taught that a strong mind is a valuable thing not to be lost or squandered away in some frivolous act or activity. We were taught that every mind is a gift from God, to be revered and protected.

As I poetically try to write what I think, I do not speak for Black and brown Americans; I only speak for me, though many of us who reside in this country will tend to agree. The flag that waves for justice and freedom is not the flag we see.

This justice system has never been just, and her freedoms have never been free. If you think that we believe this system that continues to oppress us has changed her spots, renounced her ways, and now opens her arms to caress us, you have lost your mind.

If you think we believe that a new president, a new party, a new Black chief of a gun-carrying cult of authoritarians who regularly kill us are now there to protect and defend us, you have lost your mind.

If you think that most Black and brown people are ready to trust police, prosecutors or judges who do not live in our communities and are not accountable to us, our neighbors or our peers, you have lost your mind.

We are trapped in a system of fears conceived to oppress us, designed to distress us, and no matter what we do or say they are most inclined to arrest us. The law enforcement system America loves to protect is culturally programmed to defend itself. It does not protect my community, my family or my health. 

Today, when the growing source of public eyes record the knees on our neck, the guns at our back, the hands on our throat, the demeaning words, the Nazi looks, the entitlement, the gloat; they parenthetically capture a calculated approach designed to tactically intimidate the Black and brown communities with impunity and hide themselves from civil suits with qualified immunity.

Now that the eyes of the world can truly see America policing Black people like me, they realize that the prosecutors and judges — those gods of what is just — provide police a presumption of innocence they rarely provide to us.

We can never be safe in this country while the homicide of our people is justifiable. Sure, the government can make new laws, it can add new Black and brown faces, but the problem remains the same. Our people are continually terrorized by the police, and all Americans wear the shame.

It seems to me that when America is serious, she is the best at everything, and can do anything … except stop police from killing innocent unarmed Black and brown people. Until America can do that, that flag, it can wave for justice and freedom, but it does not wave for people like me.

Our minds are a terrible thing to waste.

Venson Jordan is an author, public speaker and screenwriter living in Glocester, Rhode Island.

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