Editor’s Note: Paxton K. Baker is chairman of the Founding Partners Group, Washington Nationals Baseball Club, chairman of the board of the US. Congressional Award Foundation, managing partner of LIQUID SOUL MEDIA and president of PKB Enterprises. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion at CNN.
It should not be difficult to say, Black Lives Matter. And yet there have been instances of people trying to delegitimize the movement, by answering the call – to care about the lives of a race of people who have been systemically disenfranchised for centuries – with “All Lives Matter.”
If you’ve thought or said this out loud during this time, you are missing the bigger picture.
Studies show that Black people, and primarily Black men, are killed by a rate of about 3 to 1 compared to whites by police officers annually.
It has been going on for decades. Today, the primary difference is awareness due to the use of smartphones and social media.
Speaking out against police brutality can literally save a life. Silence is not an option.
By now everyone has heard the name George Floyd. We know that he was brutally suffocated and killed while handcuffed like an animal. Ahmaud Arbery suffered a similar fate, hunted and killed for sport while jogging.
I am sure many White Americans can’t even begin to imagine what it feels like to know you could be killed by a fellow American civilian or by the police on any given day or night. And to realize that the person has a fairly good chance of getting off or beating the charges because of the color of their skin must be even harder to imagine.
But Black people have had to live these experiences. That’s why we – along with non-Black allies across the nation and globally – say Black Lives Matter.
Really think about all of the ways that, under the law, Black people have been treated as less than. We were the only race of people brought to the US as slaves. We were bought and sold like a commodity, not valued for being human but for the work we produced. The Constitution of the United States defined us as three-fifths of a person. Not only were we enslaved, but educating a slave was against the law. We could not own land and we could not vote. Even after segregation ended, we were still only allowed to buy land in designated redlined areas. Banks would not provide us loans and we were again segregated - our neighborhoods, our families, our schools, our children. The cycle continues today.
Protesters are forcing institutions to be accountable for any way that they have continued the legacy of not seeing Black people as equal.
Over the past few weeks, many friends and colleagues have contacted me asking how to help. And my answer is for those of you in positions of authority, hire people of color, give someone a chance. Stand up against injustice, speak up when you hear derogatory names and statements made against people of color. Educate yourself on Black history, slavery and institutional racism. If you see a Black person stopped by a police officer pull over and film it. You could literally save a life.
Believe it or not, things have gotten better. I have seen many statements that have read, “nothing has changed.” That is not true. We have come a long way and for that I am proud. I would not be here today, with the opportunities that have been afforded to me, unless there had been true progress. Let us not forget those who have gone before us. We stand on the shoulders of many men and women of all colors who have sacrificed, marched and fought for equality and justice for all people.
As we move closer to the elections this November, know that elections matter.
I encourage my fellow Americans to commit to change.
If you are a teacher, a parent, a mentor, a brother or a sister, be a leader. Know that your actions matter. Racism is taught. It is a learned behavior. We are not born with hate in our hearts. Acts of kindness and respect go a long way.
Know that it matters how you treat people. And not just some people, all people. People living in poverty. People without means. People without influence or power.
To everyone I say, broaden your networks. Make a serious effort to develop friendships that cross racial, economic and social lines. Expose yourself to a different way of thinking and new ways to see the world.
And, possibly the next time you see injustice, you will see the bigger picture. #BlackLivesMatter.
And then remember, that there is HOPE. VOTE.