Posted by Executive Director Alan Bean:
I have been in Jena for three days now and this is the first time I have had time to send an update. This is being written from Robert Bailey’s computer and will be mercifully brief. The big guns have arrived in town and the community is bracing for the arrival of thousands of visitors. Today was a media circus with Al Sharpton, Michael Baisden and other luminaries holding forth for the cameras.
Meanwhile, coverage of the story on CNN has degenerated to a single question: “Which is worse, Justin Barker’s black eyes or nooses hanging from a white tree?” Reed Walter’s role as producer and director of this entire tragedy is being entirely overlooked by most reporters. Tomorrow the event itself will control the day–the thousands of folks who have sacrificed sleep and income to make this trip will be center stage alongside the Reverends, the rappers and their retinues. When I showed up at Antioch Baptist church, I remembered the first organizing meeting when I was the only person from outside Jena in the room. This time, the church had been comandeered by VH1 and I was told I could not enter. Instead, Salt and Peppa (remember them) were inside interviewing the Jena 6 parents while fully uniformed members of the New Black Panther Party patrolled outside. It was a cartoon–something I didn’t particularly want to be associated with. I have no beef with these people–but why are they suddenly in charge? And why have the folks who stood by the families when no one else would listen been so rudely thrust aside. I know I’m not supposed to focus on these questions–but I have watched this movie before–in Tulia, Texas.
Meanwhile, Jesse Jackson is accusing brother Obama of being soft on the Jena 6. How’s that for solidarity?
Tomorrow, the Jena 6 will likely be nowhere to be seen. Lawyers are concerned that the media may pry comments from them that could be damaging in court. The concern is legitimate. I hate to see these kids miss the action; but they must be protected from their admirers.
Friends of Justice has been working with Joseph Mathews, a young pastor and former teacher with a unique passion for the hip hop generation. While the media scrum chases Brother Sharpton, Joseph and I have been talking to the young people of Jena. The other night, before the hordes descended, we spent five hours with several members of the Jena 6. We didn’t talk about the law, the fight, or anything else the media would ask about; we talked about their families, their faith, and their future. We got them talking about girls, music, college and their dreams for the future. These are fine young men. Joseph Mathews has a unique capacity to relate to young people; it has been a pleasure to watch him work. He is putting together a documentary for the hip hop generation and we have shot some incredible footage. Hopefully, we will be able to post the end result on our website.
Joseph and I have been subsisting on four hours sleep and we haven’t been grabbing our first meal until five or six in the evening–too much going on. I will write more about our adventures when I have more time. Keep praying and fighting for these kids–when the crowds go home and the dust clears, they will still be looking at a long uphill slog.
I would also ask you to pray for the thousands of people who will descend on Jena tomorrow, and for the residents of this community as they adapt to a new world. I may be cynical about the leaders of this shindig, but I have nothing but admiration for the folks riding the buses. God bless them, every one. And God bless you for investing so much love and compassion in this fight. Jena is America. Tomorrow, America comes home. The logistical problems in tiny Jena will be incredible. Gridlock and chaos are virtually inevitable. But I’m not sure any of that matters. Simply being in Jena will be an experience no one will forget.