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  • Eboni D. Howell, LPC

What's Going On?

Updated: Jul 1, 2020

Picket lines and picket signs

Don't punish me with brutality

Talk to me, so you can see

Oh, what's going on

- Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”


Released in 1971, What’s Going On is a concept album and Marvin Gaye’s 11th studio album. The title song was inspired by Renaldo "Obie" Benson, a member of the Motown group the Four Tops. The group's tour bus arrived at Berkeley on May 15, 1969. During this visit, Benson witnessed police brutality and violence in the city's People's Park during a protest held by anti-war activists in what was hailed later as "Bloody Thursday". The song was composed as a result of Benson’s frustration with what he saw. After his bandmates rejected the song, Benson presented it to Gaye who made it his own.


The sentiment is still very relevant today. We wake up daily in the cloud of dust that is 2020 pondering the same question for the same reasons. I must admit that talking was the last thing I wanted to do following the outcome of yet another death of a Black brother to the hands of law enforcement. What was there for us to talk about when there are so many who don’t want to see? How can anyone not see? The rage was real and I needed to take a step back and give myself permission to not be alight. My phone began to ring off the hook with individuals who needed to process their sadness, fear, anger, anxiety, and depression.


The revelations are saddening as we discover that some of our friends and families were not our allies. The unsettling reality is that then, as now, it often happens that those who purport to be allies are not .


It is a conundrum. How do we heal that which has been built to thrive on pain? How do we deconstruct a system that is blood soaked in its every fiber? How do we negotiate with true allies and those who only wear the mask?


The revelations are also enlightening as true allies have been revealed. Those who not only understand the struggle, but are willing to put some action behind their convictions by becoming accomplices.


The road ahead requires accomplices. It is no longer enough to be a voice. It is necessary to put work behind the words we say in private and in public. There are no longer spaces where we are allowed to be silent in the face of racism, misogyny and oppression.


The moment is a call for collective action. Sometimes those actions that support the collective movement must happen in private. However, the fact remains freedom for all of us is contingent upon freedom for the least of us. In whatever forum we have been given to live, work and recreate, you are enlisted in the liberation movement. Too many have risked too much to get here. As John Lewis said, "...this is our watch". The future depends upon our work being multiplied.


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