Black Lives Matter
Part 1 Black Lives Matter
It is 3:46 AM now, I can’t sleep. Julie and I went to the protest downtown last night and witnessed an emotional, youth dominated, peaceful, angry, solemn and diverse gathering. The most moving moment was when, “I can’t breathe!” was chanted downtown, echoing off of the buildings for what seemed like 8 minutes and 46 seconds to me.
For months I had been contemplating the tragic taking of Ahmaud Arbery’s life by Travis McMichael (and his father Gregory McMichael) and what to say. I would have something, then I would remember the stress and crisis of the pandemic, and how vulnerable we were as a community—I would put things off waiting for a better time. It is tempting to be a quiet Director of Equity and Inclusion. It is tempting to say, “I will just wait“ to speak on this or that and then not say anything at all. I am ashamed to say that I have done this far too many times. One morning after procrastinating for weeks I began to forget Ahmaud’s name. For a brief moment I was tempted to not think about him, to just let the anesthesia of Asian American privilege (right under white people – almost as good as white people, and better than all the other people of color (all of which is a sinful lie), 99% of all of us know this racial hierarchy and I would argue most learn it by age 2-5 yrs. of age) allow me to forget so I could go back to my insulated privileged world, where there is no racism or injustice and where for the most part everyone is treated equally… I have forgotten many names in the past: Emmit Till, Rodney King, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice… I have resolved to remember and speak the names, lest history repeats itself again tomorrow and the day after.
I still don’t know how to wrap my head around being a citizen of a country where two armed white men in a truck can chase down an unarmed black male, shoot and kill him, and not be arrested for months, until the public pressure and revelation of the video of the final moments came to light. I have had this crisis many times in my life. Every time I have had an opportunity to engage with a black brother or sister, their answers have always had one similar element. It has always been this way in America. How many other Ahmaud Arberys have there been in our lifetime? Most of us in this community have the privilege of not knowing his name, not saying his name, not thinking about the anguish of his family and not empathizing for his execution. Some may even be internally tempted to blame the victim, because we are culturally taught to do so. There was no intentional malice right? What was he doing on a constructed property? Why was he running through a white neighborhood? Who the hell would grab a gun pointed at them? Nevertheless, that social programming is flawed. It sustains injustice and disallows spiritual progress. Our calling is to see the image of God in all people, especially “the least of these” in our world. Ahmaud could have been one of our students… Travis could have been one of our students. Either one could have been one of our sons. And both are children of God. And how did we get here? Listen and learn. We have to break our social encoding. Some people will truly hate you if you respond to the call to stand with, support and TRULY listen to, respect and care for the black voices and black lives.
Ahmaud Arbery is one of our students. How equipped are we to see his soul? How able are we to aid in his success and understand his experience? What are we doing as teachers, counselors, administrative staff, maintenance workers and cafeteria workers to keep Ahmaud alive? What can we do to better understand, teach and love Ahmaud? If Ahmaud actually were one of our students how would we reach out to his mother and older siblings? How far would we be willing to go to enact lasting social change.
Travis McMichael is one of our students. Most of us are socially programmed to see him as good. What are we doing as teachers, counselors, administrative staff, maintenance workers and cafeteria workers to keep Travis from going down the road of taking an innocent man’s life? What can we do to better understand, teach and love Travis?
Lindsay McMichael, the sister of Travis, who posted pictures of Ahmaud’s dead body to Snapchat is one of our students. She did what so many others would have done, because we do what we are conditioned and allowed to do. How can we teach those like her to see God’s image in Ahmaud’s innocent broken body, rather than a criminal body lying before her. What can we do to better understand, teach and love Lyndsay?
Let us do the hard work of standing at the cross and being present where there is suffering and injustice.
God help us.
Please read “An Open Letter to the Commonwealth of KY” from the Kentucky Council of Churches http://www.kycouncilofchurches.org
Part 2 George Floyd
I hope many of you will have time to pray, reflect, discuss and read about the exposed fault line that has existed by design from our early history. Some have been well aware of this line while others are now just realizing the impacts of it. I feel called to take a deep dive for the sake of compassion, love and mission. I hope some of you will join me.
A couple months ago Dr. Roger Cleveland connected me with the Jesuit School Network of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Directors. The group has been such a blessing to be a part of. I will be meeting with the directors today at noon. There is extreme pain and anguish amongst these colleagues and their school communities. Please be sensitive to those around you who are who are suffering. It is a tricky mode switch to be brave, study and educate while not triggering people who are tormented.
Two nights ago at the protest downtown the people chanted, “I can’t breathe” for what seemed like 8 minutes and 46 seconds. The agony amongst the gathered was real. I couldn’t chant. I stood with the crowd, socially distant, silently and sadly with a huge knot in my throat.
George Floyd had a knee to his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. He still had the knee on him for 2 minutes and 43 seconds in which he was unresponsive. Brutality. Akin to brutality accepted amongst slave masters. I wonder how many of my black brothers have been strangled with no justice here on earth. We should all think about that, own that, and accept the mantle of anti-racism. There was no mercy shown. Total domination. Just 4 years earlier, Philando Castile was shot 5 times in a suburb of St. Paul, MN with his partner and 4 year old in the car. The officer was charged with second degree manslaughter, but after 5 days of deliberation was acquitted.
Rene Howard-Paez, Diversity Director at Marquette University High School in Milwaukee shared this powerful article by Patrick Saint-Jean, SJ entitled, “After George Floyd’s Suffocation: A Litany for Oxygen From a Black Jesuit.” Please read it and reflect. https://thejesuitpost.org/2020/05/after-george-floyds-suffocation-a-litany-for-oxygen-from-a-black-jesuit/#post-facebook-comments
Here are some words from Arian Green class of 2006. He is just one of many who are hurting right now. There are many others. He gave me permission to share:
Most of my friends are white. My colleagues; my girlfriend; my mother; half my family... Growing up, black friends teased me for not acting “black enough.” Though on census reports I identify as biracial, we live in a black OR white world. We live in a world that does not ask how we identify. It lays eyes on my skin and catalogs me— no “choose your race” boxes to be checked.
I am black.
My point in saying this is to put things in perspective. I am surrounded by individuals that will never face hurdles that I face, and will never experience things that I have experienced. They are not built to see themselves through the lens of Christian Cooper, George Floyd, or Emmett Till. They will never be one bad day away from becoming another Ahmaud Arbery.
I am angry.
After the Arbery shooting, one of my closest friends sent me a text message: “I will almost certainly never feel what you’re feeling, but I want to understand as best I can. If you have the energy, I’d love to hear how you’re processing all of it. I care about you...”
WE NEED MORE OF THIS. I do not know what prompted my friend, but it took a certain amount of self-reflection to want to be better; to want to grow as a person.
I am moved.
It is easy to retweet a message, or like a post. But action takes effort and effort takes will. One must be receptive to the viewpoints of others. They must listen instead of talk. By reaching out, my friend recognized that to some degree we will always be different and no amount of fitting in, or code-switching will change that. I challenge everyone to be like my friend. The more we learn from one another, the more we can understand each other, and the more we can grow. Let these recent tragedies serve as a catalyst that bridges us together and not the shovel that digs the trench.
I am hopeful.
I love KY. I love the UK Wildcats. And I love you my sister UK grad, fellow Kentuckian, EMT, first responder who probably saved many lives, who I have never met. I wonder how and why it took so many months for me to hear about your tragic death? I wonder what it is about our society to tell the tragedy of some and be silent regarding the tragedy of another. I guess it is hard to tell a story if people don’t want to hear it. I guess it is hard to tell a story when you would be criticized, chastised or frowned upon as you attempted to tell it. I wonder why your home was stormed at 1am, leaving you and your boyfriend fearing you were being assaulted? Was it the judge's fault, the commanding officer’s fault that this went down so poorly? Or is this a routine strategy? I wonder if a rich white well-established person church going person who had someone receive suspicious packages in their home would also be served a 1am no knock warrant? Breonna, I am so sorry you only got to live 26 yrs on this earth. And I am sorry that your boyfriend Kenneth got arrested and charged in an attempt to protect you. I also want to confess the many times I have been in the company of white friends and not said anything when they referred to predominately black schools and neighborhoods as unsafe, and ridiculed black folks they knew behind their backs, called blacks lazy and mispronounced Afro-ethnic names with disrespect. It doesn't matter that there were 3, or 4 or 10 white folks, I need to speak up and not tolerate it anymore. I know now that my silence allowed the poison of racism to live strong. True may have had no malicious intent. They may have been joking, but their words and actions supported a system that treats you as inferior. I realize now I did a disservice to you. I regret never being able to meet you. And I wonder about the many sisters and brothers who I will never get to meet, who were snuffed out by indifference, hatred and ruthlessness. I don’t know how much longer I will be here, but I look forward to meeting you in God’s house where there are many rooms.
In honor of Breonna Taylor
Statement of U.S. Bishops’ President on George Floyd and the Protests in American Cities
From this statement is an explicit call to listen.
Statement of U.S. Bishop Chairmen in Wake of Death of George Floyd and National Protests
Black Lives Matter Part 4
The day after I saw George Floyd mercilessly suffocated, I decided to have a shirt made. I needed to do something, and this would be a small start. I felt like the shirt would be an outward manifestation of my pledge to spend at least 1 moment everyday learning about, praying for or sharing the story of one black life unjustly taken every day this summer. This was my pledge to God. This was to be my penance for a life lived with a blind eye towards my black brothers and sisters for the first 25 years of life and the partial vison and partial hearing for the last 27 years. I felt an inadequacy in expressing my spiritual desire for reconciliation. One regret after placing my order was that I did not list as many female names as male. Black females have their own unique history with brutality and racism that needs to be told. Sandra Bland, Eleanor Bumpers, Deborah Danner, Aiyana Stanley Jones (7 year old accidentally shot in 2010 while a no knock warrant was being served… NO GUILT. NO APOLOGIES ISSUED!)https://abcnews.go.com/US/breonna-taylors-death-black-women-killed-police-encounters/story?id=71057133
I had seen versions of this shirt online and felt a deep need to bear the names of lives cut short by brutality and the effects of racism (Would Amber Guyger have accidentally shot Botham Jean if she were raised in a society where black males were seen as people of great honor and respect and peace? Would Amber have killed “Bo” as his friends and family called him if she was not trained to use lethal force when feeling threatened? Botham led worship the Sunday before his untimely death.)
When the shirt arrived last week I put it on. It was heavy... I then took it off and looked at it for days wondering if I would be worthy to wear these names. Would I in anyway be seen as disrespectful? Would I be able to honor the names of these beloved children of God? Did I know their stories well enough? Would I misrepresent them if someone asked about them? I am ashamed to admit when I first submitted the order, I had misspelled several of the names (Etsy Vendor Lazarino caught all the mistakes). It made me more aware of the ether-like effect of racism that whispers, “Go to sleep, turn your head, put your comfort first, this does not concern you, don’t put the effort into learning the name...” How many times have I mispronounced the name or simply gotten it wrong because I really didn’t know it? How many times in my life have I referred to that boy who got shot playing with the toy Airsoft gun (Tamir Rice) or that man who got shot reaching for his wallet (Philando Castille), or that 17 year old boy who went to the 7-11 to buy Skittles who never came home (Trayvon Martin). I resolved to fight the effect of racism to silence and learn as much as I could about these lives. I am not there yet. It might take me a year before I make another shirt. But I have to do something. I am still learning. I just learned this morning that Trayvon at age 9, he pulled his father out of a fire and saved his life. He was really good at assembling and working on dirt bikes, and that he attended a program called “Experience Aviation” which sparked his interest in repairing and flying airplanes. Racism says these are not my people. But Jesus tells me that they are my brothers, sisters and family. #saytheirname
(read below the image)
If you are called, I invite you to consider selecting names of the forgotten and learning about their lives.