Actor Don Cheadle, activists and others dive into what being black means today

“We have to take advantage of all the levels of power right now and not let this momentum die,” Cheadle said.

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By Cynthia Silva

As protests and riots have taken place across the country following the police custody death of George Floyd, the lives of black Americans and systemic inequalities present in everyday life have come to the forefront.

Actor Don Cheadle said he believes change is possible — but it won't be easy, especially under President Donald Trump’s leadership.

“From the ashes of this conflict can come great change, but it’s not going to happen if we rest,” he said. “It’s not going to happen if we don’t get behind the people that have been doing the work thus far.”

Cheadle suggested using this momentum to energize people to vote and to fill out the census. “We have to take advantage of all the levels of power right now and not let this momentum die,” he said in a virtual discussion on race titled “Can You Hear Us Now?" that was presented by NBC News NOW and NBCBLK.

The discussion, hosted by MSNBC’s Trymaine Lee, was streamed Tuesday night and included conversations with Cheadle, actor Kendrick Sampson, Wisconsin Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes, co-Founder of Campaign Zero and activist Brittany Packnett Cunningham, NBCBLK reporter Janell Ross and New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones.

Packnett Cunningham spoke about the burden of explaining black trauma to those who haven't experienced it.

“I see a lot of black folks who are rightfully looking at non-black folks and saying, ‘This is not just my job and, primarily, it is your job,’” she said.

“Every single time we have to tell these stories, there is an additional rise in emotions and we’re dealing with all of this in the midst of other crises,” Packnett Cunningham said. “We are also trying to keep our people safe from coronavirus which is killing us more disproportionately. And why? Because the injustices that black people have always experienced are exacerbated in this moment.”

Ross has been reporting for NBCBLK in Minneapolis, covering the protests and how the residents are responding to Floyd’s death. During her time there, she said she noticed there has been a real desire from people in Minneapolis to take this situation seriously around the country.

“As much as every human being may strive for peace and enjoy the calm of going about their daily lives, the problem is that ‘normal’ was really a condition in which people were being killed all the time,” Ross said. “There are basic questions about justice and accountability that are not being answered.”

Being the second African American in Wisconsin to be elected to a statewide office, Barnes recognized the need for political action. When it comes to next steps, he explained how he will be focusing on upcoming presidential and state elections, looking at whether candidates will be addressing race. “I don’t have to endorse anyone that doesn’t take on racial justice and that’s what I plan to do,” he said.

“Because we have to build not just power, we have to build the policy infrastructure to make sure these issues get addressed and brought to the table and talked about in a meaningful way,” Barnes said.

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