One of the greatest successes of an artist is to provide a platform for voice, especially if that voice has been suppressed, oppressed or silenced. In Fruitvale Station this is exactly what Ryan Coogler accomplishes. In the first moments of the film, the audience is confronted with cell phone footage of Oscar Grant being shot. Silenced. And yet from the darkness of the screen we hear his voice, discussing his new year's resolutions with his girlfriend Sophina. From the darkness of the moment that Oscar Grant's life was ended, from the darkness of a society that does not value all of its people, from the darkness of a moment that illustrates how little progress we have made from a history of slavery and racism rises the voice of a young man who should still be here to tell his own story.

I can't help but smile, a sad smile, but a smile none-the-less at Oscar Grant as he is revived by Michael B. Jordan. Jordan does an incredible job of portraying a young man trying his hardest to do right. A young man who does get sidetracked – in the first scene we see Oscar he is being chided by Sophina for cheating. He is however a young man who cares deeply and is trying to set a course for the success of himself and his family. The film follows Oscar from this first scene through the entire day before he is killed, with a few flashbacks to fill in his history. We see him with his daughter, his mother, at a grocery store where he used to work, asking for his job back. We see him lie when he doesn't get rehired. We see him call his grandmother to help a young woman make some fried fish. We see him race his four year old daughter to the car and not allow her to win, but both enjoy the moment anyway.

Race of course is a prevalent theme in the movie and in the story of Oscar Grant's life. Unfortunately, he is not the only young black man shot without cause in our nation's history. And in a nation that incarcerates more people than any other at any point in history and more black and brown people then can be explained by the rates at which people commit crimes, one must consider where we are as a society and how this affects the lives of young black men like Oscar Grant. In addition to seeing Fruitvale Station this weekend I also began reading The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. Ms. Alexander's premise is that even though we no longer have a system of slavery or Jim Crow laws and even though we have a black president in the white house, we still have a racial caste system that holds communities of color, especially those that are poor in an inferior societal position and that our criminal justice system is a contemporary system of racial control.

This book is important because it provides the documentation of how this new era of discrimination has come about, it illustrates the parallels in our country's history and it demonstrates how racism is still alive, well and being nurtured even if the language has changed. It is a book that provides the context for the events that led to the killing of Oscar Grant. Of course, so many already know this context, so many live it every day. So many live with the anger and fear of being shot – by police, by neighborhood watch, by anyone that might judge them based on the color of their skin. Fruitvale Station returned Oscar Grant's voice. We see him after he is pulled off the BART train, a young man who knows his rights and who asks to be released because he and his friends have done nothing wrong. We see him crushed for this, a knee to the head and a shot in the back. 

Can one turn away from this reality? We have spent too long claiming to live in a colorblind society. We have spent to long claiming to live in a just society. If we were colorblind and our systems based on justice our incarceration rates would be reflective of our demographics, we would not be holding so many behind bars for who they are, rather than what they did. We would not be trying to profit off of our under-resourced communities, we would be taking action to heal, provide needed resources and make amends. 

There seems to be great discussion surrounding all of this now. After George Zimmerman was acquitted for the killing of Trayvon Martin, I have witnessed many conversations about race and violence and have heard many acknowledge that things need to change. Are these discussions leading to action? Are these conversations reaching beyond the circles that already knew this? Let's not just hope so, but ensure that the answer to both these questions is yes.

Having voice and the ability to act is powerful. Those of us that have access to this power have a responsibility to use it to fight for those that are being oppressed. Much gratitude to Ryan Coogler for using his artistic voice in this way.