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An Emotional Goodbye To Alton Sterling; a Call For Youth Leadership

By J.A. Salaam -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Jul 19, 2016 - 1:46:28 PM

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Crowd inside sports arena at Southern University for Sterling memorial services. Photos: J. A. Salaam

Funeral services for Alton Sterling were a testament to the love and respect a community had for the 37-year-old father of five. Songs and words of guidance came from speakers and half of the 8,000-seat sports arena at Southern University was filled.

Mr. Sterling was fatally shot after being slammed to the ground by two Baton Rouge police officers in early July while selling CDs in front of a convenience store.

Sandra Sterling, his guardian and aunt, broke down when she saw her lifeless nephew in a silver metallic casket. She could not stand and began to hyperventilate. Paramedics rushed to help as two men comforted her and carried her to a seat.

When all appeared calm, the eldest child of Mr. Sterling, Camron Sterling,15, walked in and looked at his father’s body. The boy burst out in tears and yelled out, “No, no, no. My daddy, my daddy, please daddy. Why, oh my God, why my daddy?” His family surrounded and tried to calm him.

Civil rights leaders Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton as well as Nation of Islam Student Regional Minister Robert Muhammad of Houston, A. Akbar Muhammad, international representative of Minister Louis Farrakhan and Student Minister Abdul Rashid Muhammad of Baton Rouge, along with store owner Abdullah Muflahi were among memorial service participants, which included activists, youth, business owners and politicians.

Min. Robert Muhammad speaking at Alton Sterling service.

“Alton was not just someone that sold CDs he was my friend. It’s not going to be the same with him not being out front of the store. I’m going to miss his jokes and how he made people feel when they came to the store,” said Mr. Muflahi, owner of Triple S convenience store, who wept. His friend died outside of his store.

“Let us not beat around the bush, this is wrong. I don’t care how saved you are, how holy you are, wrong is wrong. And so many of us are so busy trying to get past this, that you can’t get past it until you deal with it,” said Rev. Sharpton. “Wrong must be corrected and the wrong must be held accountable. Two years ago they choked a man to death on video selling loosey cigarettes in front of a store. Two years later, they shoot a man selling CDs, he’s in front of a store. We have got to stop going from funeral to funeral and America needs to deal when wrong is wrong. And whoever does the wrong needs to pay the price for doing wrong.”

Student Minister Robert Muhammad electrified the audience with his remarks. “There’s no substitute for justice, not a check, not a legal settlement, not a proclamation, not a street sign named after him, only justice will do,” he said. “I’m telling you this Joshua Generation don’t scratch where they don’t itch, they don’t laugh when there’s nothing funny. They don’t look down when there’s nothing on the ground and I say to you as God said to Joshua, ‘Be strong and of good courage.’ ”

“We the Baby Boomer generation have to repent to the Joshua Generation, we sought political gains that we should have did, desegregation was right,” he said. “But we need to atone and repent for integrating and abandoning our institutions in our own community. We have become a colony but not a community.”

He expressed appreciation that Mr. Sterling was allowed to sell CDs in front of the store owned by his friend. “But if we don’t want to be a colony anymore and we want to free the colonies, then what we need to do is make sure that Camron and his siblings must have their own store to sell their own DVDs out of. Even better than that, they need a factory to produce their CDs to sell in the store. Even better than that, they need a petrochemical plant to produce the plastic, to produce the CDs, to produce the store to sell the CDs out of. But even better than that they need their own oil wells to take to the petrochemical plant, to take to the factory,” Robert Muhammad said.

“I’m telling us elders to stop talking down to this Joshua Generation, don’t tell them to get a job when we allowed America to be deindustrialized and there’s no blue collar path to the middle class anymore. Don’t tell them to get an education, when if a people won’t treat you right you can’t trust them to teach you right. You tell them to be non-violent, but you sing the Star Spangled Banner. … They took America by violence. They kidnapped us from Africa by violence. If you want peace then give us justice,” Robert Muhammad continued.

“So I say to you Joshua Generation, you stand up. You don’t stand down. You keep on fighting, you keep on doing what you doing,” he said.

Young leaders fighting injustice plan to keep supporting an economic boycott to pressure Whites for justice. Three Black girls, ages 15, 15 and 17, started a group after the Sterling death. Seven-thousand people showed up for a march to the state capitol that the young leaders, who call their effort the Wave, organized.

Emotional Abdullah Muflahi speaking at Alton Sterling funeral as Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson looked on.

“The Wave is something that should wash over you and include you to like ride the wave over something that everybody can just get into. It’s something that is multi-generational but it’s obviously led by the youth. This passion and this anger that everyone is consumed with, we need it to be washed over our new path, our new passion. It cannot just be fueled off of anger any longer we need to find constructive ways.

“We definitely want to continue what we’re doing because we really want to see a big change … make our community stronger, less violence, less killing our Black men and just less violence in general,” they said.

Goals? “Supporting more Black businesses, making more Black businesses and just making the Black community stronger in general,” said Jeannette Jackson, 15, a co-founder of the group.

Prior to the July 15 funeral, about 40 religious and political leaders attended a special meeting called by Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards in Baton Rouge. The meeting was supposed to offer an update on the investigation into the Sterling shooting and get suggestions for how to build trust and improve communication.

With the governor in Washington, D.C., meeting with the president, special counsel Erin Monroe-Wesley conducted the session. “We thought it best to conduct an independent thorough investigation. So right now that’s in the hands exclusively of the federal government DOJ, and so that’s where we are in terms of process in terms of investigation,” she said.

“So our goal is to have engagement of community leaders, elected leaders, faith-based leaders and others and to really come through with this with some recommendations on how to improve law enforcement,” added Ms. Monroe-Wesley. She was, however, able to answer few questions.

Gary Chambers, a local blogger and community leader, urged backing young people. “We need the elected officials not to lead these marches, but to stand behind those kids that are out there,” he said. “I’m sorry but the youth are not listening to the politicians or preachers anymore. So we’ve got to get to a point where we begin to get into a position to really hear those young people and let them determine where we go.”