While I consider my work to be a contribution to society, I can see now it is not enough. I thought teaching my children to accept people regardless of race, religion, gender, or income was enough, I can see now it isn’t.
I can see now that I’ve been sitting quietly on the sidelines for too long. And I am sorry it took so much pain to wake me from my complacency.
If you are still benched on the sidelines waiting for discrimination to go away, if you are like me and able to live your life in relative safety, and if you are tired of seeing innocent people murdered, then I invite you to join me in taking action. Feeling heartbroken, just like being sorry, doesn’t help anyone. We must build a stable and human-oriented foundation. A desperate person will commit desperate acts. It’s very easy to denounce the lifestyle of others while sitting healthy, well fed, and safe. There are many systems in the United States that are designed as pits with eight-foot walls and two-foot ladders, and those stuck in the pits are blamed for not being able to climb out.
While it's of utmost importance to re-examine the structures, fallacies, and cracks in these systems, the greatest difference will come when our citizens can see with fresh eyes the individuals stuck in them.
The most inspiring person I’ve come across in this realm is Judge Victoria Pratt. I’ve watched this awesome interview three times and it never fails to move me. (Please take the time to watch!) Her words have stuck with me these past two years, “Failure is just an event. It is not a characteristic. And people can’t be failures.” Yes, yes, and yes!
The difficult conversations must be had, but they must be based in understanding and hope. There are millions of peaceful protestors showing us the way right now — thank you!
Most people spend their time with those who already think the way they do. I know I’ve avoided people with radically different ideas so I can dodge awkward conversations. But some conversations, like the ones about treating people with dignity and respect, and ditching harmful stereotypes, must be had.
However, these conversations never go well from a place of anger or hate. How many times has someone said to you, “You’re wrong!” and you stop and say, “Oh, that’s right, I am wrong. Thank you for pointing out the error of my ways.” Yeah, me neither.
Daryl Davis, a black musician, understands this at the deepest level. He’s been befriending Klan members and helping them to see the holes in their beliefs. He's a hero, because honestly, in his shoes, I think I'd be too scared.
We must look towards our shared humanity. This does not mean we must ignore differences. Differences should be celebrated and respected. What a boring world it would be if we all looked the same, acted the same, believed the same. Heck no.
Anyone can look at two people and tell you how they are different. It takes heart and compassion to look deeper and appreciate the similarities that connect us. It is when we lose sight of this human connection that we think differences give us permission to hate, fear, and act abominably.
I keep three well-worn poetry books in my nightstand, one of them is Bicycles by Nikki Giovanni. In case you don’t know her, she is a black poet, writer, professor, and celebrated activist. She’s also 77 today — Happy Birthday!
I, on the other hand, am a white, 42 year old suburban wife, who has worked as an engineer and scientist, but when I read her lines:
I appreciate my sleep In sleep my conversation is witty My home is dusted My office work is up to date The dog is even well behaved And food is on the table on time
I can't help but think to myself, “me too!” And then I flip to another page:
A good day… someone pointed out… however… to be black… or a woman… and not be hunted… and not have to hold your head down… and not have to quiver… when you pass a man… police… or professional… yet still knowing… at any given moment… you are a target…
I feel her words in the pit of my stomach. She is an artist who relates, who connects, who affects, and teaches. She understands we share a foundation of humanity and we must make changes.
So yes, please, please, please take the actions you’ve seen everywhere: vote for leaders who understand that care and compassion are signs of greatness not weakness. Vote with your dollars and support those working to change policies, mentor our youth, and help others make a fresh start. Make conscious choices when deciding which companies, creators, video games and artists to support.
Black people in the United States of America should not in this day and age have any reason to be afraid to go for a jog, wear a hoodie, or fall asleep at night in their own homes — and yet they do. Nothing about that is okay.
I teach that the future is an incomplete equation because it's impossible to predict. But right here, right now, you have a choice about what you're going to do to help fill it in.