#MLKDay Series 2021: Keito Gray
Senior Manager, Bronx Operations
CEO New York City
As we celebrate the life and teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, we asked a few of our staff and participant colleagues to share some reflections. What emerged are powerful statements touching on the unfinished work of racial and social justice, the importance of CEO’s mission and enduring legacy of Dr. King’s example.
8 minutes 46 seconds. CDs. Wrong House Sleeping at home. Kalief Browder. Trayvon Martin. Central Park Five. Malcolm and Martin. Emmett Till. Nat Turner. The captive Africans crammed into the bowels of a slave ship, who communicated through their tears, and committed suicide as an act of rebellion - I carry these ansestors in the roots of my soul. As a Black man, I was never taught how to survive in a land that has oppressed my soul. I feel foreign to the sole of my feet as I walked on soil that was never meant to nourish and grow me. I carry the weight of injustice, but also the initiative to implement change. Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” This serves as the blueprint for the work I do today.
As we commemorate the life and legacy of Dr. King, I believe it is critical to distinguish the difference between justice, fairness, and equality; because, they are not one in the same. Oftentimes, these three terms are used interchangeably. However, there is a clear distinction between these terms. At the core of Dr. King’s fight, equality - the equal treatment of all persons regardless of race, was key. But, in order to achieve equality, we must understand the difference between justice and fairness. What is just and fair for one, may not be just and fair for the other. History has shown that African Americans and minorities were deprived of basic human rights and the ability to work for a wage and obtain wealth. The historical and present day injustice and lack of fairness can be observed in the wealth gap between blacks and whites, the achievement gap, and health gap.
In 1958, Dr. King led a prayer pilgrimage in Montgomery, Alabama as a form of protest, surrounding a black man’s death sentence for rape. “Even if he were guilty, it is the severity and inequality of the penalty that constitutes the injustice,” King said. “Full-grown white men committing comparable crimes against Negro girls are rare ever punished, and are never given the death penalty or even a life sentence. It was the severity of Jeremiah Reeves’s penalty that aroused the Negro community, not the question of his guilt or innocence.” My work at CEO allows me to keep this in perspective. I have a clear understanding of the fact that mass incarceration is the new Jim Crow. Being a Black man in a society that is systemically against me, I have a clear understanding of what young black men are faced with in our community when it comes to dealing with an unjust criminal legal system – that was never designed to benefit us. At CEO, I am able to connect with young black men and women, to help them avoid mass incarceration, and to be a pillar of hope, support, and reform to those who have been released. I have made it my personal mission to help break the generational effects of psychological slavery that many of our people feel, and to challenge the notion that incarceration equates to not being able to succeed.
Dr. King said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” As we move forward, my hope is that we can see Dr. King’s dream and vision come into full fruition. The system of racism has not been eradicated. I hope that we can continue to make strides to eradicate racial and economic inequality. At CEO, I hope to continue supporting formerly incarcerated people to establish productive lives beyond prison; especially young adults who have criminal justice involvement. I carry Dr. King’s teachings, as well as the pain and anguish of Kalief Browder and other ancestors, like tattoos etched on my black skin. They inspire me to keep trying.