I’ve been following the Michael Brown case, watching the news, discussing it with loved ones, reading comments section (and yes even responding to a few before realizing that my energy was best spent elsewhere)…and praying.
Lots and lots of praying.
I don’t believe that things just “happen”.
I believe everything has a purpose.
Although I can’t begin to grasp WHY the tragedy had to happen, I do understand that there are a plethora of factors (racism, socioeconomic status, police brutality, police militarization, access to education, lack of transparency, disregard for the value of human lives–the list goes on) that have slowly but surely ushered us into this moment that we now [horrifically] find ourselves living in.
There have been countless social media postings, radio commentary, news commentary, written articles and more, all urging people to make use their voice in light of this matter. And not to just make use of our voices, but to follow up with action that can bring about real change.
And I agree.
I’m a journalist, a writer, a mother, a black woman, the aunt of three young black boys, an American citizen and a human being.
I’m all of the above in addition to someone who wants to see peace and unity among all races in our country and around the world. Now, I realize that it is an ambitious vision but…I live for that vision.
I’m aware of the issues that my beloved race struggles with but I’m also cognizant of where those issues stem from and how they have been institutionally maintained by the agendas of elected officials and those who are ignorant to their privilege; I’m also aware of the fact that every race has their own struggles because hey, we’re all human at the end of the day.
And the God honest truth is, as one woman with one voice: I don’t know how to solve all of our problems. Quite frankly it’s hard enough trying to ebb away at the mountains worth of problems that Philadelphia faces when it comes to youth, education, economic empowerment, gentrification and violence. And that’s just to name a few.
Everything within me wants to help fix it all–you know, “peace and love man, peace and love”–but the problems we’re facing, the ones that have been growing under history’s carpet which we’ve continuously tried to sweep and keep them under, can’t be so easily fixed. Every problem is so grossly complicated…and yet the day to day steps towards solving them are so simple.
I say “simple” not in ignorance but with specific purpose because a change in mindset starts with the daily decision to act differently. What does that look like given the problems we face? That looks like us valuing every human life–whether we tote a law enforcement badge or not–and to view every encounter with some one of the same or different race as an opportunity to “close the divide” by opening our minds, hearts and mouths with the purpose of understanding, healing, enlightening and loving.
As I mentioned early on, I’ve been in the comments sections of some of these articles on Ferguson and I can admit first hand, it isn’t easy to stay “calm, cool and collected” when facing ignorance. One gentleman that I got into a lively conversation with, insisted that if he’d seen video footage of his son behaving the way that Brown did in that convenience store, and later found out that the police killed him in an unrelated incident, he wouldn’t be able to bring himself to go after the cop through the legal system. I had to gracefully end the conversation thereafter.
Sometimes, it’s hard to stay “calm, cool and collected” in those kinds of moments–whether it’s on the computer or in person. Your body temperature starts to rise, your heart starts to beat fast, your mind races to retrieve all of the facts and experiences that you can recall in T-30 seconds, and before you know it, your blood is boiling and your fingers (or mouth)break the chain of self restraint and runs wildly loose.
I’ve been beat up mercilessly by a security officer three times my size (I’m 5’2); in a separate incident officers surround my car with guns drawn while my then two-year-old daughter was in the back seat (my windows were tinted and when they pulled me over to find out where the vehicle was headed, they expressed that they car couldn’t have been mine but instead had to be my “drug dealing boyfriends'”. It was mine and there was no “drug dealing boyfriend”); and I’ve certainly been racially profiled more times than I care to remember.
It’s hard to stay “calm, cool and collected” in the face of ignorance when you’ve experienced what I have…what black men have…what black people have…what people of all races who’ve ever been discriminated against for any reason, have.
And so I’ve grappled within myself trying to figure out how I am to use my voice in this moment.
One thing that I learned from Dr. Maya Angelou is that it is dangerous to become silent; however, much like her…when I’m shaken to my core, my first reaction is to stop speaking, stop writing. I become locked within myself and maintain silence until I’ve made some sense in my heart and head of whats happened and where I, and the world, stand in regards to it.
A large part of my prayers have been requests for instruction as to how to use my voice, my heart and mind, and my platform to be a light in this darkness– not just for black people, but for people of all races especially as it relates to basic human rights, citizens rights, and race relations.
I came across Sybrina Fulton’s open letter, written exclusively for TIME, to Lesley McSpadden when I was doing some research last night. Of course I was compelled to read and couldn’t stop once I started.
The op-ed piece was titled:
Her words quoted in the title struck me. Deeply.
I won’t preface the letter with any of my own personal thoughts about it; I simply encourage you to take a moment to read what one mother had to say to another who has now found herself in similar circumstances.
To The Brown Family,
I wish I had a word of automatic comfort but I don’t. I wish I could say that it will be alright on a certain or specific day but I can’t. I wish that all of the pain that I have endured could possibly ease some of yours but it won’t. What I can do for you is what has been done for me: pray for you then share my continuing journey as you begin yours.
I hate that you and your family must join this exclusive yet growing group of parents and relatives who have lost loved ones to senseless gun violence. Of particular concern is that so many of these gun violence cases involve children far too young. But Michael is much more than a police/gun violence case; Michael is your son. A son that barely had a chance to live. Our children are our future so whenever any of our children – black, white, brown, yellow, or red – are taken from us unnecessarily, it causes a never-ending pain that is unlike anything I could have imagined experiencing.
Further complicating the pain and loss in this tragedy is the fact that the killer of your son is alive, known, and currently free. In fact, he is on paid administrative leave. Your own feelings will bounce between sorrow and anger. Even when you don’t want to think about it because it is so much to bear, you will be forced to by merely turning on your television or answering your cell phone. You may find yourselves pulled in many different directions by strangers who may be well-wishers or detractors. Your circle will necessarily close tighter because the trust you once, if ever, you had in “the system” and their agents are forever changed. Your lives are forever changed.
However with those changes come new challenges and opportunities. You will experience a swell of support from all corners of the world. Many will express their sympathies and encourage you to keep fighting for Michael. You will also, unfortunately, hear character assassinations about Michael which I am certain you already have. This will incense and insult you. All of this will happen before and continue long after you have had the chance to lay your son to rest.
I know this because I lived and continue to live this. I have devoted my life to the comprehensive missions of The Trayvon Martin Foundation – including providing support to families that have lost a young child to senseless gun violence regardless of race, ethnicity or gender. I will support you and your efforts to seek justice for your Michael and the countless other Michaels & Trayvons of our country. The 20 Sandy Hook children. Jordan Davis. Oscar Grant. Kendrick Johnson. Sean Bell. Hadya Pendleton. The Aurora shooting victims. The list is too numerous to adequately mention them all. According to The Children’s Defense Fund, gun violence is the second leading cause of death for children ages 1-19. That is a horrible fact.
I don’t know how you’re feeling about all of this, or what you believe to be right or wrong, but I’m going to part with the following:
Humble yourself. Be informed. Find the fight within you. Discover and use your most proactive and empowering voice. Strive for peace and understanding by all means.
Be the light in a sea of darkness.
And for goodness sake, never lose hope or faith.
– Sincerely Syreeta
Banner Photo Credit: The Baltimore Sun