The racial climate was tense in small town Jena, Louisiana in December 2006. After a Black student asked to sit beneath the “white tree” at Jena High, three nooses were hung from it the next day, sending a clear message.
And after a school fight, six Black students were arrested, changing the 3,000-person town forever.
After a white student got a concussion, six Black teens between 15-17 years old were handed extreme charges: attempted murder and conspiracy. It was unusually excessive, since the white student left the hospital shortly after arriving, even attending a school dance later that night!
They faced up to 100 years in prison without parole, an all-white jury set to determine their fate. But Black people weren’t having it. And they did something about it!
Masses signed petitions, and 15,000-20,000 demonstrators marched on Jena, leading to one of the biggest protests in decades. As a result, the excessive charges were dropped to battery!
And years later, one of the six, Theodore Shaw, went on to law school to challenge the system that nearly took his entire life.
With the help of the Black community showing up, a small town’s injustices were forced into the light – and that literally made the difference between life and death. We, too, can show up for our own communities and work towards liberation.