Open Letter to Mychal Bell

From J. Michael Carr Jr., President and CEO, Fathers for the Future Foundation

Dear Mychal,

It is an honor to reach out to you! Surely, thousands of people have sent letters while you have been unjustly jailed the past few months and continued to be held. After the rally in Jena and Alexandria on September 20th, I am confident that your correspondence has increased in volumes. So I had to think long and hard about writing a letter that would give you hope and internal peace in this time of introspection. Therefore, I have decided to share with you a personal experience from when I was your age.

My 20th high school reunion is next year. For high school, I attended a military academy in Aurora, Illinois. I was one of nine black students in a school with a body of 300 give or take a few. Most of my white classmates to this day remain my friends as much as you can say that after 20 years. One evening though, when I was a senior, a couple of my white classmates and I went to a keg party at a forest preserve in Cicero, Illinois, which is still known for its racial tension between blacks and whites. At this party, my friends were confronted by a few local party goers. Two white gentlemen approached my classmates and sternly asked, “Which one of you brought the NIGGER”! I immediately realized, through no conscience fault of my own, that I had made a mistake coming to this party and my life was in danger. I had heard stories about Cicero but thought, “this in 1988 and the civil rights movement was a fond memory of our parents used to lecture us about responsibility. Nobody was really going to hurt the little black kid from the south side of Chicago because I was from the street”. Mychal, I was wrong. As the two men pushed my classmates aside and took off chasing me through the pitch black forest, I had never wanted to live so badly in my life. That feeling of survival occurred later in my life, but for that particular moment, I was scared of living and scared of dying. The men used the headlights of their motorcycles to scour the forest with a noose screaming, “We should have lynched that nigger when we had the chance”! I prayed and prayed and prayed. Eventually after an hour of hiding a couple of feet up on a tree branch, I made it back to our car, and my friends were able to secure my stealth escape by covering me with a blanket in the trunk.

It wasn’t until I visited Jena did I understand God’s purpose for my high school experience, which is why I share it with you. Few know that happened to me, but its time for the world to know that extreme hatred and racism still exists. God has a unique and deliberate way of stretching us especially when we don’t want adversity in our lives. During these difficult times we tend to resent and resist the challenges placed in front of us.

The other instance I mentioned earlier when I didn’t know if I would be able to overcome a major obstacle that God put before me was in 2002. As a young, 32 year-old father of three, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. This manageable cancer has a 95% recovery rate in men, but the facts still didn’t help me with questioning why God could let this happen. The age old question, “Why do bad things happen to good people”. I was forced to change my lifestyle from being a heavy drinker and smoker, to being a positive vessel for peace and universal love so I could see my children become adults. After the surgery, radiation treatment, annual check-ups, and a brief stint with clinical depression, I have accepted the challenges in my life. In fact, from this tremendous ordeal, I was able to take my experiences and skills to create an organization dedicated to assisting young men, like you, with overcoming adversity. The Fathers for the Future Foundation is here for you and for all men in America that need that helping hand.

Now, like I have done and so many people who have had to overcome life’s bumps in the road, you will need to accept God’s plan for you too. On September 20th, you secured your place in history as a victim of national circumstance with Mrs. Rosa Parks (R.I.P). Mychal, you never asked for this level of celebrity or notoriety, and I’m sure that everyday you curse your jailers and the system from which they administer their unjust laws. I will not tell you to “turn the other cheek” or “love your enemies”, because that type of love requires a self-actualization that not even the most enlightened men (i.e. Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., El-Hajj El-Shabazz) in history could accomplish without practice. However, I will recommend you find peace in your circumstances as the catalyst for racial resolve in our country.

Reminiscent of the late 1960s, dark times are ahead for the United States. What happened to you in Jena is a reflection of the national climate for all black and brown men across the world. Racial tensions have started to elevate daily. The Jena 6 will be another chapter in the book of civil rights. As various people continue to immigrate to the United States, we will need to absorb their cultures. The continued fight for justice will be expanded to include peoples of other colors, nationalities, and ethnicities. Eventually, America will have to choose a side. The demarcation line will finally be drawn between right and wrong. And I am writing to say, I, as well as my associates, friends, neighbors, and this entire nation, will stand on the side of justice not intolerance and bigotry. We stand by your side. Please know that your plight is not in vain. The movement for civil, cultural, and human rights continues in you. So feel the love that surrounds you, and know in your heart that the challenges you must overcome will only build character and integrity. We love you brother! Thank you for your strength, courage, and fortitude.

Yours in the cause for peace,
J. Michael Carr Jr.
President and CEO
Fathers for the Future Foundation

3 thoughts on “Open Letter to Mychal Bell

  1. Do you think that Mychal Bell is a hero he is not. He is in jail for 4 crimes he commited before he jumped on Justin Barker. He is a thug a criminal why would you want him out of jail? You are giving him the ok to be a criminal that is wrong. What your not understanding is that some of the crimes he commited was on the black community. You don’t see the black community from Jena behind him just his close family why because all the crimes is has commited they feel safe he’s in jail. Jumping on old people and stealing from them hitting a girl in the face so badly that she’s hurt for life is not a hero in my book. A repeat offender is a threat. The jumping on this white boy was a planned deal. It was gang violence you all are sending the wrong message out to the young black youths.

  2. Mychal Bell had been sentenced to a juvenile detention facility for crimes that predate both the noose-hanging incident at Jena High School and the Jena Six beating incident. In addition to mutiple counts of battery and destruction of property, he has a record of school disciplinary offenses, including sexual offenses, that would have resulted in additional criminal charges if the school had reported them to police. His conviction on the battery charrges, which include beating his girlfriend so severely that one of her eyes was dislocated from its socket, is not controversial within Jena’s African-American community. Officially, the Jena Police Department says it has no suspect in the Jena High School arson case. Someone set mutiple fires that burned much of the school’s main building. Jena bloogers, who allege Bell’s convictions for destruction of property involved arson, say there is a suspect.

  3. Good morning:

    I have been reading several of the comments after my Open Letter to Mychal Bell and even before my post. It seems to me that most of the comments still focus heavily on race and symbols of race relations (i.e. nooses). Well…I would like to change the conversation or at least present a different point of view.

    From my point of view, Mychal Bell is a hero. A hero because as a young man in today’s time, he has to overcome all of the challenges that society has placed in front of him. Most of our young men are heroes to me now and that is not just black boys and men but all men. Society is not making it easy for them. I don’t subscribe to the belief that life should be easier for them because they are black but I do believe it should be fair for everyone. Let me continue…

    For all of the individuals upset with the Al Sharptons and Jesse Jacksons of the world, there are just as many blacks that hold the same disappointment. These gentlemen have positioned themselves as the spokesmen for an entire race. Unfortunately, the media has allowed them to do it. All of us (blacks) do not hold the same beliefs or values that these two men display to the nation. Most of us are hardworking with families, and believe we have the same right to the American Dream. Most of us are not looking for handouts or government support; however, there are quite a few that have spoiled it for all of us. I don’t believe that most whites in this country are racists; however, there are quite a few that have spoiled it for all of you.

    Nor do I believe most black boys are thugs. Commercial hiphop markets have undoubtedly made thug life as an achievable standard instead of the unaccepted norm. That is an entirely different conversation though. The point is Mychal Bell may have had problems with his temper, but does that make him a criminal. I know just as many whites as I do blacks that have problems with domestic violence, drugs, alcohol, and crime. If we (society) would stop looking at problems from the point of view of race, and started resolving issues at their core, then we could mend other areas of relations. The problem with our young men, and that’s all young men, is that they need to be nurtured not housed in prisons. Placing Mychal Bell in prison only further deepens the societal problem because ultimately it increases taxes, makes it more difficult for him to complete school, which subsequently makes it more difficult for him to find employment. An unemployed man is the worst possible citizen because he can no longer be a supportive father or confident spouse or engaged citizen.

    As much as we would like to think of the Jena 6 case as race issue because Jesse and Al have framed it that way, this is still very much a case about economics that affects all of us at some level. Nooses are terrible thing, and as a black man, I can truly appreciate that need for stronger hate crime laws. Nevertheless, symbols are only intangibles that we give power to. The discussion needs to be changed from prison to education. Instead of nooses let’s talk about economics. If we continue to talk about race (i.e. nooses) then the problems that face this country like outsourcing American jobs, the housing collapse, and spending for the unpopular Iraqi war, then the true issues can not be resolved. And Jena is part that discussion, not about nooses but about why is there still a two class justice system? The criminal justice system is set up in an way that institutionalizes the men in prison. If you think Mychal Bell is a thug now, let him spend twenty years in a maximum security prison, then you will have a real hardened criminal. After prison only makes him a hardened criminal, what will you do then?

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