‘You can’t download freedom’
Civil rights lawyer, activist says Blacks are ‘still not free’
By George E. Curry
HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — Rapidly-expanding technology, social media and new smart phone apps are no substitute for the hard work needed to fight persistent racism in the United States, says Thomas N. Todd, a longtime Chicago activist and civil rights lawyer.
Speaking at the annual convention of 100 Black Men in Florida last week, Todd proudly acknowledged he doesn’t use email, does not own a computer and doesn’t have a Facebook or Twitter account.
“Let me tell you this,” he said after making that disclosure. “I don’t care how sophisticated your technology is, I don’t care how fast your computer is, I don’t care how smart your smartphone is, you still can’t download freedom.”
Delegates erupted in wild applause. When the applause subsided, he continued: “There is no app for that. If you want to be free, you must work and work to be free.”
More than a century and a half after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, African Americans are still not free, said Todd, Northwestern University’s first Black law professor and former president of Jesse Jackson’s Operation PUSH, now Rainbow PUSH.
“We are a people somewhere between slavery and freedom, somewhere between servitude and liberation, but we’re still not free,» he said. «We go around and around and around in what I call the evolution of a circle — confusing movement with progress. We are still not free, so we must continue to work.”
Thomas N. Todd — nicknamed “TNT” because of his explosive oratory — accused Blacks and the media of focusing on small things instead of the big picture, what Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. calls “majoring in the minor.”
“One hundred and 51 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, we’re still not free,” Todd said. “I look at where we are and I listen to people talk about what I call media or celebrity racism, worrying about some basketball team owner, worrying about some rancher in Nevada, worrying about duck-calling person in Louisiana and yet racism in education, and housing, and living and unemployment, all are ignored by this media. I’m sick and tired.
“What you must understand is that being Black in America has been devalued, discounted and marked down for clearance.”
Todd did not limit his criticism to the news media or those who oppress African Americans.
“A few years ago, CeeLo Green put out a CD that was so filthy that they made him change the name. And when he was asked about it, he said, ‘Well, those children like four-letter words. And that‘s why we did that.’
“Well, Mr. Green, I got some four-letter words,” Todd said, with his voice rising. “Here are my four-letter words. Read is a four-letter word. Word is a four-letter word. Book is a four-letter word. Work is a four-letter word. Pray is a four-letter word. And love is a four-letter word. There’s nothing wrong with four-letter words. You just need to know which four-letter words to deal with.”
Todd urged members of 100 Black Men and the youth they mentor — many of whom attended the convention — not to accept negative labels others try to place on them.
“Don’t let them label circumstances and say, ‘You can’t learn because you’re poor,’” Todd said. “That’s not true.” He recounted, “I had finished high school, I had finished college, I had taken a 21.5 hour bar exam in Louisiana and passed it the first time, before I knew I was disadvantaged.”
Saying we’re in a war for our children’s minds, Todd said education is the most effective weapon to win that war.
“Education doesn’t open all doors, but it opens more doors and any other,” he said. “Long after Beyoncé has lost her wiggle, long after Snoop Dog, Snoop Lion, whatever his name is, has become an old dog or an old lion, long after Little Wayne has lost his tattoos, long after Chris Brown stays out of jail and when 50 Cent becomes a nickel, education will always be there.”