I’m Will Cunningham. I’m a proud black man.
I graduated from Brown University, and University of Texas Law School. I’m a former teacher and, until recently, I worked on Capitol Hill.
I am a son of South Jersey.
I know what it’s like to have my 13-year old black body thrown to the ground and be handcuffed by a police officer because I was at the wrong place at the wrong time.
I may go to work every day in a suit, but the police don’t see an educated man — they see a dangerous black man. I know personally having been followed by police for an inordinate amount of time after driving through a neighborhood I was presumed not to belong to.
Wherever I go, my blackness is seen first.
... Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd …
The entire list of grief, anger and terror is too long for here. It started with those who died in the middle passage and grows today with the names of bodies lying dead in their own street, their own cars, their own apartments — their own beds.
People like me — dying for the crime of having black skin.
South Jersey, that’s unacceptable.
Our country must be a place where justice is truly blind and is served in our courtrooms. Death sentences should never be handed out on the street with a knee to the neck. That’s not law keeping. That’s not justice. That’s not American. That’s murder.
The lists of the dead are horrendous in their own right, but when looked at within the context of systemic, institutionalized racism, it can be overwhelming. With the deck so stacked against black and brown people it’s reasonable to believe America will never achieve its promise. But when I see the diversity of black, brown and white faces at protests across South Jersey, I see hope. People from all walks of life are standing in solidarity against police brutality and anti-black violence. United, they’re demanding an America we know is possible.
I believe we are at a pivotal moment in history. We need to end anti-black violence — but we can’t just fight for an America where black and brown bodies are no longer brutalized. That’s merely survival. Americans deserve more than to just survive. We have an opportunity to fight for everyone to thrive. We can fight for a better America.
To make this better America, our commitment to black lives mattering must mean more than simply stopping their murder on the streets. It must also mean we don’t cast votes that perpetuate wealthy, white power structures. 90% of all elected officials at every level of government in the United States are white. Privilege and access must be denied the right to power bestowed for so long with so little to show for actual progress for racially vulnerable populations in South Jersey.
So many beautiful black, brown, and white faces have come together in rallies across South Jersey demanding change — but too often we sprint to these gatherings in outrage, and somehow miss doing the harder work of change.
Creating change must not be a sprint of outrage. The race for true equality has always been a marathon of persistence; a marathon started by my ancestors who fled slavery, determined to be free. They started this race generations ago and have handed the baton to those courageous enough in each generation to keep running, to keep demanding equality and justice, even when tired.
I challenge South Jersey to do the hard work of change. Take your outrage and support to vote. Tell your network to vote for black and brown candidates across the country. Give what money you can to support candidates of color across the nation. Demand, with your ballot, that we do things differently. Demand that black and brown people become part of the power structure, because those closest to the pain must be closest to the power.
Demand the better America we know is possible.
We are in this marathon together, and we must win this race. Future generations demand it.
Will Cunningham, of Vineland, is a candidate for the Democratic nomination in New Jersey’s Second District congressional race.