Tragedies drive fight against inequality

By Jessica Brown, @BrownJessicaJ

Talk of racial equality sounded through SIU’s Student Center auditorium Tuesday evening.

John Gaskin III—NAACP’s youngest member on the national board of directors—along with SIU President Randy Dunn and various leaders of Registered Student Organizations discussed police brutality, as well as equality for the black community.

The event, “Ferguson and Beyond: Not Just a Moment, but a Movement,” was hosted by the SIU Chapter of NAACP, Blacks Interested in Business and the College of Business Office of Minority Affairs.


Dunn briefly spoke at the event.

“We have this great and strong push to have a wide variety of events for Black History Month,” Dunn said. 

The affair featured a spoken word poem by Nicolette Shegog, director of finance at the College of Business Office of Minority Affairs.

Gaskin, a resident of Ferguson, Mo., until the age of 13, was the last to speak. He said he became aware of civil injustice and abuse of police power as a child.

“I remember the police department vividly,” Gaskin said.

He said his mother was targeted by Ferguson law enforcement while driving and was often pulled over at the same stop sign.

“You shouldn’t repeatedly be harassing your own residential neighborhood,” Gaskin said.


He said he has experienced racial profiling as well.

“That’s like asking if I have a social security number,” he said. “Every African-American male that I know has been confronted by law enforcement and has been put in a situation that they shouldn’t have.”

However, his awareness of social injustice did not grow purely from personal encounters with police. Gaskin’s grandmother, Esther Haywood, was a driving force in his fight against discrimination.

Haywood, president of the St. Louis County NAACP and a former Missouri state legislator, often brought Gaskin to the organization’s events when he was young. 

He said his exposure to the NAACP helped him succeed.

Through his involvement in the organization, he met President Barack Obama on several occasions, as well as Beyoncé, Al Sharpton, Clive Davis, Russell Simmons, Snoop Dogg and other famous Americans.    

“It’s a blessing,” he said. “But you’ve got to maintain a certain level of humility to stay in this kind of game.”

His work is not motivated by the incredible experiences he has had because of the organization, though.

“What drives my force is when I look at the tragedies,” he said.

The stories of Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Amadou Diallo, Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice are just a small representation of minorities killed at the hands of law enforcement, he said.

“There are tons of Michael Browns in America who have gotten no attention and no justice,” Gaskin said. “The list goes on and on.”

The fight against racial disparity and excessive police force will continue as necessary, he said. 

“We, as young people, must make it clear that we can’t breathe until there is justice,” Gaskin said.