Friday, October 23, 2020

Holding on to Hope!


I grew up in a loving upper-middle-class family in Baldwin Hills (an area of Los Angeles known as the Black Beverly Hills). My immediate neighbors were professional people of color—doctors, lawyers, producers, educators, actors, ministers, real estate investors, etc. My parents did a great job of providing a safe environment where I was able to grow and thrive. When it came to matters of “race,” I didn’t have a ton of interaction with White people aside from a few of my grade school teachers. With respect to the latter, I didn’t see any difference between us other than our age and skin color, but those things didn’t matter to me. All I knew is that they were kind. My parents also had a few White friends that we visited from time to time. Again, I didn’t notice any differences between us except age, color, and geographic location, but those things didn’t matter. They were kind and we all got along.

As I grew older, I began to pay attention to the news and hear stories about injustices that took place against people who looked like me. In many instances it seemed like we were looked down upon and I couldn’t quite understand why. The people I knew were mostly upstanding citizens. I got along well with the people of other races that I knew. If others gave it a try, couldn’t they make it work too?


In elementary school I heard about the beating of Rodney King. Then the city went up in smoke as angry protesters demanded justice. I heard there were the five Black boys in Central Park falsely accused and convicted of assault and rape. I learned about the property tax base and how public schools are funded (making equality in the educational system impossible and stacking the odds against people of color), the atrocities of slavery, three strikes laws, the fact that Black people were considered property (3/5 of a man) by the founding fathers, my father’s own experience as a sharecropper in Louisiana before being drafted into the Navy during World War II. I began to learn about Jim Crow laws, unfair voting laws, institutionalized racism, the great lengths people went to keep people of color from receiving an equal education, standardized testing that isn’t created with the success of diverse people in mind, redlining, and unfair practices in hiring and pay. I learned about how groups composed of Black people that were started to uplift Black people were torn down before they could really take flight. I heard about Emmett Till, who was lynched after being accused of looking at a White woman the wrong way. I learned about Tulsa’s Black Wall Street and the massacre that occurred there in 1921. I started paying attention to the criminal justice system and realized that one out of every three Black men is on paper and understanding the fact that it is by design... 

Whether it was the “by any means necessary” message of Malcom X or the peaceful message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the end result seemed to be untimely death. In the present day, many people were angrier about a Black man kneeling during the National Anthem than they were about an officer kneeling on a Black man’s neck for almost 9 minutes... 


It seemed like Black people just couldn’t win for losing and all we really wanted to do was live, be treated with respect, and BREATHE…


The stories broke my heart, and so I did the only thing I knew could make things right in an instant…I prayed. I asked God to make everyone love each other and live by the Golden Rule—to treat others the way they would want to be treated. I pleaded with Him, but I soon learned that although He is omnipotent, He provides us with free will. Treating others with love and respect is a choice He allows us to make. This realization made me feel hopeless because humans are—human. Given free will, could we love and respect one another?


Years passed and injustices continued to occur. 


Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Ahmaud Arbery, Tamir Rice, Freddie, Gray, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd…


The list goes on…and on...and on...

Along with these names and the stories of their murders is the weight of the fact that my husband, my son, my daughters, many of my friends, my family, and I are all guilty of their same crime…We are Black. We are seen as threats because we are Black. Will one of us be next? It is a fear that so many of us experience every single day as we go to work, send our children to school, and walk, run, or ride our bikes through our neighborhoods. 


We have stories about being pulled over because we played our music a little too loud or being profiled as we walked through a convenience store, or being questioned about our presence in an area where we “don’t belong.” Many of us have stories about being on the receiving end of unkind racial jokes. Oftentimes we try to explain our frustrations to non-Black people we considered allies only to be told that our experiences aren’t valid. We have stories of being ticketed for breaking rules that were created the moment we were pulled over—to justify the “routine traffic stops.” We have stories of the injustices that occur in our workplaces—the unfair hiring practices, the exclusion, the unequal pay, the missed opportunities, etc. We spoke these truths for years, but it wasn’t until cell phone videos emerged in recent years that people realized the weight of our claims. They could no longer deny the truth.


Many people who desire to be allies and advocates ask what can be done to bring about change. Just as the problem can’t be addressed in one sitting, the same is true about the solutions. However, we have to start somewhere and it is the responsibility of all people.

Change will require that we use our ears to hear the concerns of our brothers and sisters who are hurting. We have to listen from a place of love with an empathetic ear. We have to put ourselves in their shoes and listen to understand concerns and fears. We need to hold ourselves accountable when racist or exclusionary thoughts rear their ugly heads in our minds. We have to use our voices and our platforms to speak against injustice. We have to correct our friends and loved ones when they say unkind or inappropriate things about people of different cultures and backgrounds. 

Change consists of doing all we can—walking together, petitioning together, financially supporting worthy causes together, being honest with our children about institutionalized racism and working to eradicate it, being fair in our hiring and promoting practices, making sure we raise our children in such a way that they build strong friendships (and relationships) with people of all different backgrounds. We have to work to change laws that unfairly target members of marginalized communities. We have to vote in officials whose values foster an inclusive environment where ALL PEOPLE are free to live, to be treated with respect, and to BREATHE. 

I was hopeful as a young child. My hope waned as I grew older, but in light of the recent unity I have seen across the globe, I hold on to hope once again. I believe the foundations are being laid and people are choosing to do the right thing—to stand up to discrimination, inequality, and injustice. People are choosing to fight for a brighter future for their posterity--and that makes me proud. Change won't come easy, but it will come and it will be worth it. As I do my part to make change a reality, I am determined to continue choosing love and I challenge you to do the same.

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