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African American Leader Offers Profoundly Emotional Account of Her Personal Journey to Make the End of the Drug War on Minorities Her Priority

As we reflect on the great milestones the black community has reached, we cannot forget the drug war that continues to hold many back.
 
 
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 Editors Note: 

As the government imposed, so-called drug war continues to ravish poor communities and destroy the lives of  hundreds of thousands of young people in cities across the country, slowly but surely some reticent minority organizations are coming to grips with the reality that their support of the drug war was contributing to destruction in their own communities. One of these is organizations is the NAACP.

Locked up for drugs at ten times the rate of the white population, the black community is so harmed by the drug war that in July, the National Association of Colored People (NAACP) passed a historic resolution to end it. Alice Huffman, the president of the NAACP, brought the message of the NAACP to the 2011 International Drug Policy Reform Conference in downtown Los Angeles. 
 
Speaking on behalf of that resolution in November, Huffman moved the crowd with this inspiring speech explained her incredible personal journey to drug war reform, and urged all drug policy activists to work together for racial justice.  AlterNet attended the conference and found the Huffman speech profoundly moving, presenting it to our readers today:
 
 
I do bring you greetings from the nation board of directors of the NAACP, and to tell you that yes, we passed that resolution to end the war on drugs.
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I know we’re all here for different reasons. Some of you are here because you just want your individual rights. Some of you are here because you have people who are benefiting from cannabis because of the medicinal laws that have been passed, and you want to further it so that everybody can benefit.

I am here because I am sick and tired of my people being the pawns, and being destroyed by a stupid war called the drug war.  It is my community, and the Latino community, that my fellow government has declared war on. And we need to stand up against it. Whether you love marijuana and you want to advocate the use of marijuana, or you want to further your rights, It doesn’t matter to me, because we’re all here together. And together we can end this war on drugs.

I have to tell you a little personal story. I did not come to this war on drugs very easily. I was one of those who had her head in the sand. I had a sister who used to go out in the community -- there was 18 of us -- and then, I had a sister who had fourteen. And of the twelve of us that lived, I’m the only one with no children. So, I was the one who could critique everybody else’s children. And I was a law and order girl. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was a law and order girl because I worked in government. And so I had this sister who had all these children and she would spend her time in Sacramento, walking the streets trying to rescue these little kids on drugs. We would fear for her life.

But I couldn’t hear her when she kept  telling me, “There’s a conspiracy. This is being done by the government. They are trapping our kids. Our kids are getting in for low-level crimes-- she didn’t call it that, she called it ‘for smoking pot’ -- and then they come out, they get another felony because they’re driving without a driver’s license.”

She just walked those streets. She became the hero of Sacramento, because she started a school, and she tried to bring those kids off the streets and into her school. But I couldn’t hear her conspiratory theories because she was a fundamentalist Christian, and I was the “educated” one in the family. I go, “My sister’s just got to stop with all these conspiracies. She’s got to just stop telling me that my own government, who has the war on drugs to protect us, is a government that’s oppressing us.”

I couldn’t hear her until Ethan [Nadlemann, President of Drug Policy Alliance], Deborah Small [Founder and Director of Break the Chains] and others came to a NAACP conference. I had become the Criminal Justice Chair of the National Board Committee. In doing the work for that committee, at the first forum that we had, Ethan, Deborah, and all of them came, and I was sitting there, high and mighty, listening, and  little by little their message got through to me.

“Hey, you need to pay attention, Alice. You think you’re doing something out here? You trying to get kids educated? You trying to save their lives? You trying to keep them in school? You can’t keep them in school, because the government’s putting them in prison. The government is trying to take care of its industrial complex. Pay attention, Alice.”

And I started paying attention. And I got converted. And so I want to tell you that in my conversion, in my awakening; after working all this time trying to do something  for the community, I realized where I needed to start. I needed to start right here to end this stupid war on drugs.

So, I declared war on the war on drugs. I’m waging a war against a government that doesn’t treat human beings -- people who are addicted --like citizens who need help. I have declared war on a government that has so many resources that it cannot give the little boys and girls in the community jobs. They have to sell this cash crop out there, so that they can have a little spending change in their pockets. And if there were jobs that would treat them like human beings, they wouldn’t have to create this violence in my community, trying to sell these drugs on the street so they, too, can have some nice tennis shoes.

My war on drugs says that we have to tell government one more time -- just like we told them when there was slavery; just like we told them when they were anti-interracial-marriages; just like we told them when there were the black codes; just like we’re telling them about same-sex marriage -- we got to let the government know that they’re wrong. And this government is, one more time, wrong.

All of us say so because we’ve lived in a place where we know change is possible, but it’s never possible until we band together. When government gets its head buried in the sand, like mine was buried in the sand, you have to take collective action. A lot of people want to impugn the motive of those who are the movement. I say, if you’re in the movement, it doesn’t matter what your motive is. What matters is that we work together.

And, so, in honor of that sister, who had 14 kids, who passed away this morning, I say ‘’No!’ I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her. If she hadn’t started educating me, I wouldn’t be here. She wouldn’t want me to come home. She would want me to do what she longed to do, which was to stand here and tell you that I finally woke up. That she she helped wake me up.

Don’t you worry. I’m not going to break up up here, because she lived a good quality life. She was a Christian, and she gave me some values that I’m standing up here with today. And I just want you to know that she would be proud if she could be in this room and see all of us working on behalf of justice for my community. So, I ask you, as you work for whatever reasons you’re working for, make sure you join in our race to get rid of the racism that’s in these drug policies. Don’t just do it for yourself. Think about the injustices going on and elevate your movement to embrace us as we embrace the whole movement, so that when we fight to end the war on drugs, we fight for justice for every American in this country. And when we do that, ladies and gentlemen, America will be a better place.

Alice Huffman is President of the National Association of Colored People (NAACP).