While the previous president failed to build that wall, he and his followers have built many walls in our communities and cities all over the country. Walls that divide us. Walls that separate us, by loyalty to parties or principles. And we are the ones who are paying for it. Brick after brick, continuously piled on by misinformation, hatred, fear-mongering, economic disparity, racism, xenophobia and misogyny. The thing is, you cannot reason with bricks. You cannot talk to walls. They aren’t there to bridge divides, but to further them. Bricks are more focused on hardened uniformity rather than personal unity. When your discussing issues that can divide a community, it is quickly apparent if your talking to just another brick in the wall, or a person genuinely interested in building bridges. And if you want to bridge the communal gap, toss the bricks aside. They aren’t useful to community building.
Who is Your Kamala?
The signs tell us “in case of emergency, break glass”. The truth is, installing the glass created the damn emergency.
Glass ceilings. Barriers built to exclude women, minorities, or people deemed to be “different” than those that hold the positions of power have historically stifled our nation. We have watched women, Blacks, Latinas, Asians, indigenous peoples or those who are LGBTQ be marginalized by our society and power structures. They been fed the bread-crumb promises of eventual equity, as if their deserved status and share will gradually roll in on the wheels of inevitability. But bread crumbs don’t nourish the soul. They only breed discontent.
These glass ceilings have suffocated the vast majorities of our society. So much talent has been hidden, or silenced. Strength has been sapped. Purposes have been undermined. Dreams have been crushed. Promise after promise after promise has been delayed, betrayed and broken.
And truth be told, that doesn’t even begin to describe the damage. As a white man, I haven’t felt the pain of being marginalized. I’ve been socialized in privilege and masked from my own unearned advantages. I’ve been blissfully unaware of the incalculable burdens borne by the people around me who have different gender, preferences, language or pigmentation.
But I’m a father of daughters. I’m a friend and colleague of people who come from different experiences, and cultures. I’m a teacher of precious young hearts and minds, that eat different foods, have different sounding names, celebrate different holidays, and pray to different gods, or to none at all.
And they have carried incessant, overwhelming, relentless oppression. They been hounded, and haunted. They have been mistrusted, and mistreated. They have been used and abused. Yet they show up and show out.
Who is your Kamala?
Who is the person in your life waiting to break through that damn glass ceiling? There are many if you just look. And listen. And intentionally engage them in authentic conversations about how they experience injustice and inequity in their daily life interactions.
One of the first Kamala’s in my life was Shabnum. She sat across from me in sixth grade. Bright, cute, hard working, kind, and possessing a wonderful mixture of dignity and ferocity, she was one to behold.
Many of the most important life lessons that I learned during those formative years were from her.
In a predominantly white school, she was an outlier. Her words and actions were more scrutinized than other classmates. She was not as popular, or welcome, as her peers, even though she merited a place that many of them occupied free of expectation. Yet she carried herself with a grace and dignity that was uncommon and admirable.
Though she far excelled me in all ways academically, Shabnum always made me feel equal and my ideas respected. She welcomed me into her home and introduced me to delectable Indian cuisine that expanded my taste buds far beyond the mac-n-cheese and hot dogs I was more accustomed to at home. And somewhere in one of those playful conversations I recall her telling me that she would one day be the first female US President.
She was my first Kamala. The first person I realized had a glass ceiling over her that didn’t similarly encumber me.
There have been countless other Kamalas. Hundreds of classmates and colleagues. Too many acquaintances than I could count. My dear students, who hail from Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Hispanic or African bloodlines. Classrooms of girls who exude the kindness, brilliance, ingenuity, strength and creativity that our nation craves and desperately needs. And my two beautiful daughters. My heart that lives outside of my chest, and now outside of my home. Raised and released into a society that has systematically constructed glass ceilings telling them their advancement is limited. Trying to tell them to mind their place.
A society that suffocates its people is in a state of emergency. No justice, no peace.
May we all help them break that damn glass.
Black Lives Matter.
That was the message boldly emblazoned on the flag I was waving at a rally a few nights ago. I was joining other citizens in our community in the northwest Chicago suburbs, standing along side of a busy intersection during rush hour, waving flags and holding signs to promote justice, equality, and science. I’m usually the tallest in the crowd, waving a large flag that simply states “Black Lives Matter”.
As you may expect, many cars either honk their horns in approval, or ignore our rally and continue quietly on their way. Of course there are some vocal objectors, who feel the need to shout “Trump 2020” from their vehicles, or wave “the bird” in our direction.
Every once in a while someone feels the need to pull over, roll down their window, and spew their racist venom. Tuesday night was an example, as a white 30-something male decided to pull up next to me in traffic, roll down his window, and call out…
“Do you even know anyone who is black”?
I was taken aback by this question. We live in a metro area with a population nearing 10 million people, and nearly 1.4 million of those people are black. Even though we are in a white suburb where blacks comprise less than 2 percent of the population, most suburban residents enjoy enough mobility to live, work, socialize and interact beyond these suburban boundaries. A better question for me to ask him would have been…
“Don’t YOU know anyone who is black?”
I could have told him about the first black friends I had as a kid when my south-side neighborhood experienced white flight in the late 1970’s. I could have shared about Randy, a bright, strong, courageous student that befriended me in grade school. Or the grace of Ruth. Or the dignity of Sonja.
I could have told him about Debbie, a high school sweetheart with a killer smile, unforgettable beauty and a heart of gold. Or resplendent souls like Kenny, Yolanda, Demetria or the hundreds of students of color that befriended me at Morgan Park High School.
I would have been able to tell him about audacity of Daryl, my college roommate or the jubilant aura of his brother Larry, who was not only my roommate but also the best man at my wedding. I could have mentioned the spirituality of Vince, a friend of mine for the past 20 years, or Marilyn a vivacious and fierce family friend who had a tremendous impact on my daughters when they were younger.
Or Julia or Joann, two friends who’ve shown radiant courage and compassion throughout this turbulent summer, while voices in our nation have tried to tell them that their lives don’t matter.
Or countless other friends of color. But my immediate answer to his inquiry about whether I even knew anyone of color was simple.
She is black. And white. And mixed. And strong, resilient, and beautiful. She is my heart and my world. And I will stand on any street corner proudly waving a “Black Lives Matter” flag for her. Or Randy. Or Debbie. Or Larry.
Because, yes, I know black people. Many of them. And resoundingly I can attest that their lives matter.
But even if you have somehow lived a sheltered life among such a great sea of humanity, do you really need to know a person of a specific race in order to fight for justice on their behalf? Is justice or equality only important if it pertains to you or “your kind”?
Unless you have deliberately segregated yourself.
If you have intentionally drawn the boundary lines of your life to only include people who look, speak, and think like you, then you might be perplexed why others take up the cause of racial equality. In the small existence you’ve created, you might indeed conclude that only you and your near mirror-images matter. You might be so willfully ignorant to believe that you can toss out the “N-word” waving your middle finger as you drive away, as this man chose to do.
You’ll go through life missing out on the beautiful lessons learned when we step beyond our narrow boundaries of race, politics or religion. There is an abundance of life to be experienced beyond the narrow circles we were born into. You can build bridges of invitation that lead into that world, or walls of exclusion that bar you from it.
What you build, whether bridges or walls, determines your perspective. What you build determines who you know. What you wave, whether a flag or a finger, displays the message of your character.
Black Lives Matter.
The Lives That Matter
(A good friend of mine has posted several articles and comments warning against the movement and organization called Black Lives Matter. I offered a different perspective.)
First, I believe this to be your third post since George Floyd’s murder that you’ve specifically come out against Black Lives Matter, as an organization (not the sentiment). I’ve read their website top to bottom, and do not see the extreme statements anywhere that you have mentioned. I do see references to disrupting the nuclear family, but in my understanding, the context is not at all similar to how you have portrayed it. Likewise I see the openness to, and support of queer relationships, and that they have chosen to center marginalized people in their movement. While you may have some biblical issues with the sexuality-identities, perhaps you can appreciate that they are working hard to look out for the citizens who have been most marginalized by our society. I believe kindness and love towards societies “castoffs” is central to Jesus’ theology.
Secondly, and I think more “big picture” of the two points I’m trying to offer you, is your focus seems to be on what is wrong with the movement, rather than what is right. While I’ve seen several of your posts strongly attacking the movement, I’ve seen no posts strongly, and solely, attacking the issue of systemic racism that sparked the movement. Now obviously, merely posting items on social media is not the “be all-end all” of our actions as citizens, to whatever our causes may be. I know you to be a person of substance, conviction, and good will. So please understand this is not a character attack because I know the story of your life is one of kindness, faith, loyalty and spirituality, to name a few of the many fruits of the spirit you embody and employ.
But good Christian men and women have historically been some of the greatest impediments to the cause of social justice. Whether the spiritual leaders of Jesus’ day, or the faith leaders during the Civil Rights Movement, many “strained a gnat and swallowed a camel”. Jesus’ methods were scrutinized, and in so doing, spiritual people missed the heart of his message. Dr. Martin Luther King was criticized because he was a philanderer, (a broken man like all the rest of us), or because he was “an agitator”, and men and women of otherwise good will missed the chance to address the much larger societal sins of bigotry, hatred, and misogyny that were and are pervasive in society.
So, even if the BLM movement has some core items in their mission statement (that I have not yet found), I still will ardently support their goal, of showing that the lives that were fearfully and wonderfully made by our Creator, do indeed matter. I will march with them, I will sit with them, I will pray with them, I will eat with them, I will host them in my home, and visit their home. Because while the great doctrines of our nation profess “all men to be created equal”, the actions of our nation historically split our citizens into “we” and “them”. People who are ascribed inherent “superiority”, and people who are not. But I don’t think our Creator made “we” and “them”. I don’t think our national ideals split us into “we” and “them”. God made “us”. Our nation declared “out of many, one”. E Pluribus Unum.
The struggle of BLM is a struggle of all people, as people. It is the struggle of identifying us all, as one. It is not “their” struggle. It is all of ours.
A good friend of mine recently reflected on the president’s 4th of July speech. A speech some people claimed was the greatest speech Ever made by this president. Others who heard it felt it was dark. This was my reply to him.
Sam, I believe you to be a person of faith and good will. Normally, I would choose to avoid engaging in discussion on this post because it usually devolves into anything but discussion. But one of the great freedoms we have in our nation is to speak freely, and hopefully respectfully, even when we differ in opinion.
So with that I can tell you I came away from that speech with a very different feeling. First off, you asked us to not focus on the speaker, but instead focus on the words. Unfortunately, you cannot discount the speaker, because it is HIS message. While he likely didn’t pen much of it, these are his authorized sentiments. He has chosen to be such a polarizing force both in our nation and around the globe, so not only the words matter, but the speaker. When you hear words from a trusted source, you can focus more on the words, but when you hear words from a source who has consistently proven untrustworthy, and divisive, you have a hard time hearing the words alone. You have a context of past abuses of trust. You have a context mistreatment and ill will.
I’d be happy to go through line by line of the speech, highlighting both what was true and exemplary, and what was projection and purposeful disinformation. But since your comments did not parse each line of the speech, but instead summed your takeaways, I’ll address some of those.
While it may be scary for some citizens to see protests and the tearing down of statues, for other citizens that is an expression that brings hope. America is not a finished product, but a wonderful, ongoing experiment. Protests are meant to demand further progress towards our stated ideals, outlined in the speech, that all men are created equal. We live in a nation that professes that, but has historically resisted its’ reality or manifestation. Women didn’t get the right to vote for 140 years. People of color didn’t get their right to vote for nearly 200 years, and that vote is still widely suppressed.
Statues are meant to honor people or events of historical accomplishment that align with our nation’s values. But when people see statues erected of people who perpetuated hatred, dominance and enslavement that were in direct contradiction to our national ideals, you can understand their disgust, and their distrust of their government, that is supposed to be “of the people, by the people, and for the people”.
But statues are not history. And none of our history is being “erased”. That is hyperbole designed to scare people. Our history always has been one of change, and resistance to that change. Granted, sometimes that change is scary, and does not always prove to be for the better. But much of our national story of change has been the relentless march towards our nations stated vision. We are not erasing history. We are making it.
You mentioned attacking businesses and people of faith. We can agree that those are destructive behaviors and do not forward our nation. Yet there is a greater attacking of people going on, not just of faith, but of all backgrounds. Especially our non-white brothers and sisters. This administration has heralded and dog-whistled all kinds of hatred for Asians, Blacks, and Spanish-speaking people. Of all faiths. As an educator who has a diverse classroom of children, it is heartbreaking to hear the personal stories of kids and their families being harassed simply for being who God created them to be – fearfully and wonderfully made.
A cancel culture refers to shaming people that we disagree with, and demanding that they change to our view or standards. I agree with you that this practice can be toxic. Again, you cannot take the speech away from the context of the speaker. Sadly, this president, more than any before him, has used his bully pulpit to harass and bully political rivals, private citizens, or businesses that don’t agree with him. If he feels the least bit slighted, he goes out of his way to drag his perceived foes through the mud. He foments a “cancel culture” at every opportunity, but decries it when it doesn’t serve his purpose.
China. What is happening there is frightening and despicable. There is religious genocide, that has been given the tacit approval by our president. The government has become more and more authoritarian, just as Russia, Turkey, and Syria continue to do. All without any real pushback from our president, who seems to have quite the admiration for autocrats. Much of his leadership style seems to resemble theirs.
You ask us to pay attention, because protests won’t be allowed if we stay on this path. But isn’t that exactly what our current president has attempted to do? The vast majority of our protests have been peaceful, and the vast majority of participants have been people seeking genuine change from their government, but Trump has tried to portray citizens exercising their first amendment rights through the lens of “looters and thugs”. He wants to “dominate them” with tear gas and overwhelming force. We’re worrying about the tightening grip of China because it has already been happening here in America under this very administration!
So back to the speech. Back to the words. Trump fills the airwaves and the internet with words daily. There is typically not much substance, but tons of bluster. His words often contradict themselves from one day to the next. But taken as a whole, his words and actions have left imprints and patterns. Tweets, conferences, interviews and speeches together tell a story. That story is interpreted by three distinct portions of our country. Some believe they hear a story of making America great again. Some hear a story of that is destroying America by tearing apart our citizens. Some have not yet decided what to make of this president and his words.
I do not see America being made great by this divisive administration, but I do see Americans trying to move America towards its promises and stated ideals. I see hope in the people filling the streets in peaceful protests. I see hope in the citizens willing to embrace the talents, ideas, and perspectives of people who have different races and cultures than they do. I see hope in the people who are willing to beat their swords of hate and resentment, into plowshares of cooperation and collaboration, working together to build the nation our builders envisioned.
Written by Kelsey Armamentos
Quarantine has been difficult, I miss you a lot. Having this abundance of quiet time has thrown me into a period of reflection. Looking back on what used to be and looking forward at what is to come. Much of the end of my childhood was foolishly spent longing and wishing I was older, more independent, more confident. All things that seemed so close, yet so far. As I moved through my younger years and onto a scary new phase of life: Young Adulthood.
The beginning of my young adult life has been a whirlwind. I’m coming into my own. Discovering an independence and a tenacity I was previously unaware I possessed. This season of my life has brought along so many new experiences and emotions that I am so grateful to have you by my side to be a sounding board and confidant.
Recently I’ve spent a lot of time organizing photos and checking things off of my never ending to do list. Thanks to your email that has been flagged in my inbox for weeks, tonight I began my very very VERY late inquiry to the Chicago Marathon Staff about the photos I purchased. So I scoured my email for any trace of the link to get to my photos and I was lucky enough to find what I needed.
When I logged into the website and was presented with the photos, I was moved to tears. I was quite taken aback by my emotional response but once I sat and thought about it, my reaction didn’t seem so outlandish. The craziness that swirls around my head on a daily basis can sometimes glaze over important things, not giving the time to process and appreciate a moment. As embarrassed as I am to say it, right in this very moment I am finally processing the race I was able to win (in my own world, we both won), with you holding my hand each step of the way.
I know you’re going to tell me that I could have done it no matter what; But I’m here to tell you that on that cold October morning, as I squinted through my tears, pulling every ounce of strength I could find, I would have without a doubt quit without your support. My mantra I repeated in my head over and over again as each mile passed was, “this race we run, will be run together.”
I may not be smiling in all of the photos, in fact I remember quite vividly the excruciating pain I felt in the lower half of my body. I will never forget that feeling. But I will also never forget the sense of accomplishment. The sense of pride I felt seeing you cry as we crossed the finish line surpassed any emotion I’ve ever experienced.
I’m interested in hearing about the memories you have of when the shutter clicked.
For me, It was almost as if time stood still. Each moment that passed felt like a lifetime. As each mile passed I convinced myself more and more that it was to my detriment being able to feel each tendon seize as I attempted a stride. But looking back I’m able to appreciate experiencing those moments again through a beautiful collection of photos. Of course I hope that I’ll have these photos forever, but things happen and there is a chance someday I’ll have no tangible proof of these special moments. This moment in time doesn’t need tangible proof because it’s a milestone in my life I will remember forever. The moment I realized that my father hadn’t given me his strength to cross the finish line, he showed me how to find the strength within myself. That is a gift you’ve given me that as much as I’d like to, will never be able to repay you for.
Since that very day I have attacked life with a different tenacity.
I am stubborn, messy, and a bit silly sometimes, but by the grace of God i was placed with the two perfect parents who crafted me into the perfect mix of lady and warrior. You are my first, favorite, and forever partner in crime. No matter how many years go by or how many memories fade you will be my #1.
My teenaged daughter once made a cake to commemorate a friend’s 50th birthday. The theme was Texas Hold ‘Em, so the cake was adorned with playing cards and poker chips, all made from fondant. The partygoers happily consumed that cake, but still it is a cherished memory. The honoree indeed turned 50, the party indeed took place, and the cake indeed was made.
But it was consumed. Devoured. Erased.
Does that mean it didn’t happen?
When I was a youth, I once broke my right arm, earning a plaster cast and the scribbled signatures of friends and siblings. After weeks of running around in a sling and questionable odors emanating from within that cast, it was removed, and the signatures lost.
Does that mean the injury didn’t happen?
There is a lot of polarizing hyperbole in our national discourse regarding the removal of statues, the changing of flags or logos, or the renaming of prominent locations. The outcry is that such changes “erase history”. These moves supposedly “steal heritage”.
I’ve taught history in school for many years and never required a statue to do so. I’ve adapted lessons about Chicago and architecture to include the “Willis Tower”, even though for most of my lifetime I knew it, and visited it, as the “Sears Tower”. I’ve cheered on my favorite sports teams, despite many logo transformations or alterations. Despite their changes, even the garish designs, I’ve remained a fan.
If you’ve lost a letter jacket, a wedding ring, or a handmade work of art from a loved one, it may feel like a terrible loss, but it didn’t erase the accomplishments, or relationships, or memories. It didn’t overthrow your history or your heritage. It just hurt.
And history itself has subjective elements. The writers of history have historically glorified their national narratives, while omitting or downplaying their collective sins. Certain events or persons are deified, while others are demonized or marginalized.
In fact, isn’t human history reflective of the human will to grow, change, and mature? Along that maturation process, if society decides that certain persons or events should no longer be honored with statues or emblems because their inextricable contributions or connections to the disenfranchisement or destruction of members of the society, that decision is further evidence of human progress.
Those people and events that divided or demeaned us in the past are not worthy of honor or celebration. Their stories and histories will still be remembered, much like the fractures or diseases we have eventually overcome. We didn’t celebrate the injury, we celebrated the recovery, and the renewal. As we remove societal casts, slings, and other structures that have hindered our collective movement, we can proceed forward towards an equitable society worthy of celebration.
I grew up
a few homes from the tracks.
Tracks loud with hustle
Tracks that delineated
Here from there
Us from them.
Kickin’ up dirt
Racing and marching
Screaming and screeching
Striving to move forward
While I barely noticed.
Unfazed on this side
Among my own
So much the same.
From the same
The tracks rumbled on
Loud with movement
Most of my life
Spent on this side
Defaulting to sameness
When we had need
to venture over
Lacking the safety
I was on alert
Eager to hurry back
To the safety
Of our side
To the comfort
Of being unfazed
Year after year
Generation after generation
Those noisy tracks
And I grew
Unfazed by the noise
Unaware of inequity
Unburdened by race
Those in-between moments
When the train wasn’t marching
And the tracks weren’t rumbling
The noise from the other side
Sometimes filled with laughter
Sometimes filled with song
Sometimes loud and angry
Shouts and cries
Bouncing off the walls
All the noise
Rather than responsibility
Just the way things were
You learned to accept it
To not name it
To not rock it
Lest you lose it
And the comfort of sameness
Fills with suspicion
Corroded with judgment
And fear of mixing
That was the bubble
I grew up in
Like many of us
In the good old days
But I’ve grown to realize
That I hadn’t grown at all
And those good ol’ days
Weren’t so great
I’ve grown to see
Those tracks were designed
To deliver cargo
To one side
And to deliver freight
And mislabeled inferiority
To the other.
The tracks were designed
As an intricate system
According the deliberate will
of the builders
To build more wealth
And more tracks
And more walls.
I’m learning to question
Rather than remain
Inured to their injury.
I’m learning to listen
Rather than remain
Inured to the injustice.
I’m learning to look
Rather than remain
Inured to institutionalized privilege.
They want what I have,
But why do I have it
Why do they have to ask for it?
Beg for it?
Kneel for it?
March for it?
Cry for it?
Die for it?
The train is in motion
from both sides
Together for justice
The tracks have been overrun
by a movement
Moving beyond monuments
Creating a new system
That delivers on the ideals
We professed long ago
A system of liberty
Some of the greatest moments of my life were the ones spent together with you. I remember your faces, your smiles, your independent projects, your Wordmasters hats, making tie-dye shirts, cleaning our desks with shaving cream, and your emergent handwriting that at times required advanced deciphering skills. I remember your playful comments, your amazing insights into classroom read alouds, and your kindness and generosity displayed to the world around you. Teaching is not a lucrative endeavor in terms of financial compensation, but you made me wealthy beyond measure.
When you left my doors for the last time, I tried to equip you with many lessons. Sure we covered the state-mandated curriculum, but there were the life lessons that we explored in the stories, experiences and moments that we shared. You learned equivalent fractions, but you also learned the equivalence of human dignity. You learned synonyms and antonyms, but you also discovered nuance, and how to compose and articulate meaning. You learned about the courage of Ruby Bridges, Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks, and the Little Rock Nine, as well as those that would oppose them like Bull Connor or Orval Faubus. You learned about the uniqueness and diversity of our national regions, but also the uniqueness and diversity of our people, and how all people deserve to be honored, respected and celebrated.
When you left my doors for the last time, I gave you a letter, and reminded you that life itself is a classroom. It is an open, mysterious, wonderful daily adventure in learning. I reminded you of some of the lessons we learned from Eben McCallister (The Seven Wonders of Sassafrass Springs), The Potter Children (The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles), Edward Tulane (The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane), or Jeremy Fink & Lizzy Muldoun (Jeremy Fink & the Meaning of Life). These characters learned much from the world around them, but most importantly, they learned about themselves. They learned to cherish the people in their lives.
When you left, I signed your letter “Always your teacher; always your friend” because you are indeed my friends. Over the past few years, many of you have returned to the classroom to say hello and visit my current students who occupy the very desks you sat in not long ago. Many of you have also connected with me through social media, whether on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. And I’ve crossed paths with many of you in the community. You are in high school, college, graduate school, or have already begun your careers. I couldn’t be more proud of you.
Wherever you are in your personal journey, I still have hopes and dreams for you. And I still want to remind you that life is indeed a wonderful classroom. It is filled with characters and stories that populate the your school’s seats and hallways; your places of work; and your communities, as well as the homes that are located perhaps a few towns away from yours. As humans, we tend to default to the known, the similar, and the comfortable when it comes to our social interactions. We understand the richness that comes from traveling to new and unique destinations, and we’ve experienced the growth that comes from tackling goals or challenges that stretch our boundaries, but when it comes to our social circles, we often default to comfort.
So one of my hopes and dreams for you is to reach out and stretch yourselves to experience the richness that comes from developing diverse social experiences. Try cuisines that are unfamiliar. Go into the homes of people that have a different culture than your own. Deliberately discover the stories and experiences of people that are dissimilar to you. Older. Younger. Darker. Lighter. Different religions. Different partner preferences. Different personal pronouns. Different perspectives.
I know it sounds cliche to say that you are the future, but let’s face it, the reins are being passed. The torch is changing hands. The phrase ‘2020 vision’ typically refers to normal visual acuity. But I hope the future that you build is not the normal one that you inherited. I hope you remember to ‘dare greatly’ as you construct it. I hope it is one that reflects your kindness, your dreams, your principles and your creativity. I hope it is inclusive, equitable, and just.
We’re still together in this classroom called life, but you are now beginning to write the lessons. You are beginning to lead the conversations. You are writing the next chapters. I couldn’t be more proud of each of you.
Always your teacher, always your friend,
-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.