Hear Their Voices. Hear Their Stories.

-Steps to Becoming Anti-Racist

Sparked by the callous murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police, hundreds of thousands of citizens have taken to the streets daily over the past two weeks, protesting the systemic racism in America. The problem of racial injustice has been constructed and woven into the fabric of our government, our economy, and our culture for the past 400 years, and will require massive, sustained, and focused efforts to dismantle.

One of the first steps I can take, as a citizen who has benefited from this system, is to reject my defensive impulses, and listen to the voices of people of color. Hear their stories.

Yesterday, at a protest held in our local community, a score of people courageously came up to share their personal experiences of being oppressed or harassed due to the color of their skin. I was impressed by their willingness to share their stories, when their lifelong experience has been one of living in a society that treated them as unequals.

One after another, they came to the microphone, nervous but resolved, and lifted their voices. Each poignant story uniquely touched hearts, and I requested permission to share this specific story from a woman named Julia.

“I keep my head down.

I keep my mouth shut.

I am a sociable person. I am a friendly person. I will chat with anyone and everyone. I am pleasant and I smile and I participate. I have grown to love you and your kids. But I keep my head down and my mouth shut when something you “innocently” say offends me. I don’t want to rock the boat. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable. I, myself, don’t want to be uncomfortable. I pick and choose my words. I don’t want to ruin our friendship. I don’t want our relationship to become strained. I live here. We are friends. I need you. I can’t mess this up by treading on your toes.

So I keep my head down. I keep my mouth shut.

I don’t tell you about the conversations that I have with my girls before they leave the house. I won’t tell you that they have been prepped to KNOW that in a group of their peers, they will stand out to a cop. They KNOW that even if they are doing the same thing as everyone else, THEY will be seen as the “troublesome” one. They KNOW that they will be suspected first. They KNOW that in a group of their peers, their friends will let them take the blame (because teenagers are teenagers) and they KNOW that cops and teachers will believe others over them.

They also know that their mother would tell them, “keep your head down. Keep your mouth shut. Smile. Don’t take offense. These are good people. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Don’t rock the boat”.

When I feel unheard,

When you tell me that this cause is not worth fighting for,

When you dismiss my pain and concerns,

When I tell you my life matters,

When I tell you that my kids lives matter,

When I tell you that Black lives matter, and you reply with “all lives matter”…

You are telling me to keep my head down.

You are telling me to keep my mouth shut.

You are telling me to remain invisible.

So the situations here, in Mount Prospect, may not be as extreme as in other places, but the root cause is the same: SYSTEMIC RACISM. A systemic problem that has taken root in our community. A systemic problem that touches our personal relationships as well as our schools and our police force. A systemic problem that we ALL should be held accountable for and that we ALL should actively seek to change.

And I’m starting. I’m starting with MYSELF. I’m asking you to stand in the gap for me, my kids and people who look like me. Speak up for us. Help us be heard. Confront your friends and family when you hear something that is racist, or judgmental, or unfair. Talk with your children about racism. Correct them when they make a mistake (we all do). I will do my part. I will hold my head up. I will make my voice heard. I will stand up for what is right. And I’m starting NOW…WITH YOU. We are learning and growing together.”

Julia’s story held the seeds of our path to becoming anti-racist. “Help us be heard. Speak up for us. Stand up for what is right.” Let’s give the people who’ve been oppressed by racial injustice a safe space to lift their voices. Let’s give them an ally who encourages them to no longer live “head down, mouth shut” but heads up, voices lifted. As we work together as one, with our heads, our voices, and our spirits lifted.