“I can’t breathe.”
Three simple words shook America to its core this summer and ignited a fiery fury that continues to blaze to this day.
While the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement didn’t start in 2020 – having been formed seven years prior, after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin – it certainly earned more attention this year than ever before, as the nation became embroiled in protests following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
Not only were governments forced to investigate institutional racism on both a local and federal scale (with studies soon even revealing racial disparities in Nebraska’s own criminal justice system, as “African Americans made up 20% of arrests in Nebraska from 2014-2019, despite representing just 5% of the population,” according to the Center for Public Affairs Research at UNO), but individual Americans were also compelled to confront their own biases and prejudices.
This newfound awareness and acknowledgement of ongoing societal and political racism caused a cultural reckoning unlike this country has ever seen, but the path to progress is far from over. With a new presidential administration on the horizon, many are hopeful that change can come sooner rather than later.
Corbin Smith, a Black student journalist from Northwest Missouri State University, shared his thoughts about the continuing pain over Floyd’s passing, his personal efforts to enlighten others about racism and his faith for America’s future.
“I remember watching [the video of George Floyd] and just being heartbroken,” Smith said. “I felt myself tensing up as if I was the one trying to fight for air. It was really sad, but it wasn’t surprising. Unfortunately, I said to myself, ‘Well, here we go again.’”
As a writer, Smith is wholly passionate about the power of words, and he has used his position as a journalist to elicit empathy and understanding from others.
“I wrote my first article discussing BLM back in July,” Smith said. “Ever since, I’ve been constantly writing about my experiences as a Black male in America in hopes of sharing it with those who aren’t as [familiar] with people of color.”
Similarly, he has not been shy about his expectations for the upcoming Biden Administration and what President Biden must do to move the movement forward.
“I [recently] wrote an article about what I expect the Biden Administration to do for the Black community,” Smith said. “In it, I [gave] a shortlist of important things that the Black community needs. However, one thing I left out is that I simply expect the president to make us feel welcome. When Trump was in office, [certain] groups found comfort in outwardly opposing people of color. I want Biden to make people feel like people of color matter, and we don’t deserve to be treated as less than.”
Aside from political progress, Smith wants to see a societal change most of all.
“I hope that more people start to realize and accept that racism is still prevalent in America,” Smith said. “I pray that Black people can exist without the fear of being targeted by police officers. I pray that we can walk in public without getting dirty looks. I pray that we can soon scream that we’re frustrated, sad and upset, without being told that we’re overreacting.”