From the statehouses of Florida and North Carolina to the highways, streets, drives, boulevards, ways, courts and other roadways named after Dr. Martin Luther King, this summer has witnessed a resurgence of African American protests and civic action. Sometimes it’s a group, like the student-led sit-in at the Florida capitol lobbying against unjust laws; more often it’s one motivated individual who sets a small movement in motion.
In Maryland and in the District of Columbia, two fathers have taken their passion or their pain to make a difference with their respective anti-violence messages.
Dave Bass, a Bowie, Md., father with a 15-year-old son, is working to distribute his flyers and free disc of an original protest song in “a gospel tradition,” titled “When Will it End?” as part of his nascent public awareness campaign against racial profiling after the Trayvon Martin case and recent adverse Supreme Court decisions on civil rights.
Kenny Barnes Sr. — the well-known D.C. fixture who started the non-profit ROOT Inc., to reduce gun violence after his son was killed by a 17-year-old during a 2001 robbery of Kenny Barnes Jr. store — is invoking the Biblical Sixth Commandment for a 7-day moratorium on murder from August 21-28 along the 39 Martin Luther King roadways and boulevards across the country.
Bass, 60, has been singing in what he called the “in the tradition of Sam Cooke’s gospel music” for decades, most recently with his band Dave Bass & The D.B.G.’s. But he has also been working with teens and youth since his early beginnings as a national trainer for a K-12 anti-gun violence program, called STAR (Straight Talk about Risk) with the Center Prevent Handgun Violence, now the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. He was also the first coordinator of youth programs for Concerned Black Men.
“I believe all children are at risk of violence,” Bass told the AFRO.
After the shooting death of 17-year-old Florida teen Trayvon Martin, Bass said “I have a 15-year-old son and the news really struck me.” He has been racially profiled and he thought his son and nephews might be also. So, he sat down and wrote “a song to increase public awareness of the danger and personal tragedy which results from the combination of racial profiling, ‘toxic’ laws [like Stand Your Ground and Stop and Frisk] and available guns, legal and/or illegal.” It calls on everyone “to live in peace as others do” in the refrain.
But Bass, a trustee of the Springfield Baptist Church in Northwest Washington, did not want to charge anything for the song he hopes “resonates in this climate” of recharged protests. “I just wanted to do something that would add to and contribute to the current public debate.”
So, he called on organizations he had worked with – the National Congress of Black Women, the Greater Washington Urban League, the Spiritual Volunteers Quartet and CAYR (Come As You Are) church program — and asked them to contribute $430.50 each so he could record and produce 1,000 copies of the song. Each contributor received 100 copies to distribute freely.
“When Will it End?” can also be heard on some D.C. public broadcast programs on WeAct Radio and WPFW’s “To Heal DC.” Bass’s group has been invited to perform the song at a DC concert leading up to the 50th anniversary March on Washington.
Bass was too young to march or protest earlier, but “here’s a way I might be able to offer something with my music and feel that at least I played my part.”
As for Kenny Barnes, his publicist Lyndia Grant said a kick-off and roll call of the 39 states that have honored Dr. King with a roadway is scheduled for Aug. 21 in front of the MLK Library in downtown D.C. Barnes is asking for a “Kommitment” – not misspelled – against murder.
Barnes continued, noting how he established ROOT Inc., (Reaching Out to Others Together) and has hosted other moratoriums including one on Father’s Day in 2004, a weekend when no murders occurred in the District. “Since the time of my son’s death, I have been a strong advocate against senseless murders that have plagued our communities,” he said.
Veteran journalist Adrienne Washington writes weekly for the AFRO about relevant issues in the District, Maryland and Northern Virginia. Send correspondence to her at [email protected].