The Dreamer’s Vanishing Army

Written by

Henrie Treadwell
Henrie Treadwell

Dr. Treadwell is Director and Senior Social Scientist for Community Voices of Morehouse School of Medicine and Research Professor in the Department of Community Health and Preventive Medicine. Her major responsibilities include program oversight and management for Community Voices: Healthcare for the Underserved, a special informing policy initiative that is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Dr. Treadwell is the co-editor of “Health Issues in the Black Community (2009)” and is Section Editor-Social Determinants in the Journal of Men’s Health. Dr. Treadwell was appointed to the Georgia State Board of Corrections by Governor Sonny Perdue and selected to serve on the Advisory Committee for the Georgia Justice Project.

Martin Luther King, Jr., the drum major for justice, might have some difficulty today raising an army of soldiers for justice! The time for marching is not over as civil rights struggles continue. Witness the pandemic levels of mass incarceration. In many cities the young men, the men who used to march in an earlier era, are gone away to years behind the fence of jail or prison.

The African American family and African American culture has always been challenged by segregation, by SEPARATION from each other, all done under the shuttered eyes of the criminal justice system which functions much like the system of slavery.

Black History Month is a time for celebration of the historic path traveled to freedom. But we all now know that freedom is not free. The struggle for civil rights must continue.  We mourn together when one member of the community is lost to death at the point of a gun. We will fly, drive, ride coast to coast to express anger over final death.  But we have evidently lost our cultural and human capacity to mourn because we exist among thousands of the living dead, dead because they have been taken from their lives, from their children, from all of us. Death by Incarceration… because we have forgotten how all of this came to be and fail to recognize the civil rights injustices, the criminal injustices that are ours and ours alone to amend.

How will Black History Month be remembered years from now? Will we remember that we stood silently while hundreds of thousands are lost forever as a result of the collateral damage of incarceration that leaves them stigmatized as felons and often unable to vote, that leaves them unable to work, that leaves them unable to play with and raise their children, to be our friend, to marry our daughters and start the life cycle anew.  Is Black History Month a time when we simply rejoice in the roads traveled a long time ago? Or should we begin to think through the history that we want our children to know. Do we want out children to understand that we put our hands to the task of freedom, freedom from criminal injustice? Or will they know that we worked to sustain and fulfill the dreams of our fallen leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., who marched tirelessly for justice for all. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has fallen. Who will stand? How many will stand? Shaping the ‘heartbeat’ of history for future generations rests in our hands, yours, mine, and those in jails and prisons with often unjust or needlessly punitive sentences.  The Dreamer’s army has and is being marched away to prison; I want it back!

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