“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world would do this…it would change the earth.” William Faulkner
The emotionally exhaustive pandemic has taken a step back as we ricochet to the streets of America.
Breathless, I watched in horror as active-duty police, in heavily protective garb, without warning, discharged rubber bullets containing traces of tear gas….shoved to the ground, manhandled, and whacked with bats peacefully protesting American citizens with hands raised, walking backward.
I shouted obscenities at the thugs on my television screen.
Enraged and distraught to the point of tears, I helplessly observed the brutal behavior abhorred in the streets of vicious dictatorships happening in real-time across from the House of the people, staged to provide a passageway for a blasphemous photo op.
Thousands of peaceful protesters marched by our home two nights ago. The photos in this blog were from that evening. The writing in chalk from the sidewalk outside our condo building.
We stood on our street corner as the protestors passed. Determined, energized, carrying signs, shouting slogans….were religious leaders wearing vestments in accordance with their beliefs, a multitude of young men and women, black and white, a few gray-haired seniors…the majority wearing masks, dressed in black as a display of unity.
We spoke with several marchers who were engaging, extremely friendly. One offered us hand sanitizing lotion.
I noted a tall, handsome black man carrying his young son on broad shoulders. Three college-age white women directed traffic along with a few young black women, in that moment sharing a sisterhood of support. One came near us to put her empty cup in the trash and said ‘hello’ through her mask with smiling eyes.
In my heart, I marched in solidarity with them.
There was a time when I was not attuned to my white privilege.
I was young. It was easy to shelter in a bubble of ignorance and disinterest. If it wasn’t personal, didn’t impact me, it wasn’t important.
My awareness evolved over time with exposure to and then embracing difference.
My first job of any import was as assistant to the Director of the Center for Human Relations at Holy Cross College. My boss….a kind and gentle African American man from Indianapolis, well-liked and respected by the population we served… welcomed twenty new scholastic additions, brilliant young men of color, to the all-male, nearly all-white Catholic college in the fall of 1968.
Following the murder of Martin Luther King, a professor of theology at Holy Cross, Reverend John Brooks, recruited these exceptional students, based on their potential to succeed if given the opportunity, graduates of high schools up and down the east coast, some from the most underprivileged sectors of our country.
As noted in the book, “Fraternity”, by Diane Brady, a book I highly recommend you read, she notes, “Father Brooks had been aware of racism all of his life, and yet, he realized, for too long he hadn’t done enough to address it. He felt talk was meaningless if nothing changed, and once a person was aware of a problem, it was his or her moral and spiritual responsibility to solve it.”
I became closely connected to many of these young men, most near to my age at that time, several later attending my wedding, some of whom went on to become well-known leaders and iconic individuals: a Pulitzer Prize winner for literature, a star receiver for the undefeated Miami Dolphins, one of the nation’s most successful defense attorneys, a Supreme Court Justice, and as Brady points out in her book, “others that went on to become stars in their fields as well,”….doctors, lawyers, dentists, corporate executives, business owners, etc. The vision of Father Brooks made possible what would have been impossible for these exceptional young men. An opportunity still not afforded many young, black students who reside in poor districts lacking funds for education.
It was 1970. During this period of time, the College experienced unrest. The Black Student Union was formed to express a range of demands for improving conditions on campus. My first experience with protest happened as the BSU occupied several buildings on campus, including the Administration building housing the top officials, remaining until they felt heard and promised appropriate changes on campus.
At one point in the conflict, I was the “voice” and conduit between the students of color and the local and national media who were following this protest. A role I felt honored to fulfill as these were my friends, I believed their requests were just, and I supported them wholeheartedly. In the thick of this peaceful demand for change, I learned the importance and effectiveness of protest and gained a better understanding of what it means to be Black in this country.
After leaving Holy Cross, I worked with a Black woman at Worcester State College. Louise and I became close friends as well as colleagues. When I moved to Maine, we retained that relationship through letters, and while cleaning out a closet recently and reading them again, I was reminded of the conversations we had about race, inequality, the hope for change.
That was almost 50 years ago.
And here we are again.
Prior to my work at Holy Cross and Worcester State, I had little to no exposure to difference.
I grew up in a small, blue-collar town, a population of about 2,000 in west-central Massachusetts. There were only two young persons in town who were persons of color….Ron, a biracial boy who was in my class, and his younger sister. Their father, a Black man, was the local photographer who took portraits of my then-infant son, John. Their Mom was white.
I wonder now what life was like for Ron and his sister…no one in the entire town looked like them. Being young myself, I never thought to ask. It must not have been easy.
My eight-year-old, biracial great-niece, Jaedyn, who I adore to the depths of my soul….bright, beautiful, with a delicate heart recently penetrated with sorrow by a television ad soliciting money to save the polar bears….lives and goes to school in my hometown. I know, she too is in the minority like Ron and his sister were. I ache, worry, deeply concerned, wondering if she will be included by her peers, will she be subject to racial slurs…or worse. I cannot bear the thought.
My best friend is married to a man of color…they have a biracial son, Nick, and granddaughter, Kyra. Our families are totally entwined. Leslie and I have mothered each other’s sons. I know Greg has given him the “talk”. I want to protect Nick and his new family and have them never live in fear. I will do all I can to make it so.
It is personal for me, this movement for change. I marched for LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, and were there not a pandemic, I would again be in the streets…for Nick, for Jaedyn, and every single child of color in our great country.
I implore you to join me.
Write to your city or town manager or mayor, your Congressmen and women, your local police chief, your President. Join the political campaign of someone who shares your values and beliefs. If you are white, educate yourself on privilege. Speak out whenever you can in support of change and diversity. Make donations to organizations like Black Lives Matter. March in the streets. VOTE!
Every cell in my body is screaming for change….is crying out for equality and justice…is begging to live in peace and harmony.
Will you join me? Please.