“ Revealing the truth is like lighting a match, it can bring light or it can set your world on fire.” Wiz Khalifa
The loss of an ideal, for me, is more devastating than the loss of a physical object. Ideals are created, grown and nurtured by our belief systems. For many, our belief systems are who we are.
As an African American the idea of community has always been essential to me. Growing up my mom taught us the importance of giving back and taking care of those who are unable to care for themselves. Well known quotes like, “It Takes a Village” and “Do to others as you would have them do to you”, reverberated through my growing up years. I am literally the person who has great joy imagining myself sitting around a campfire with a diverse group of people holding hands and singing, Kumbaya. As a Christian, reading and studying the footsteps of Jesus solidified that mindset.
During the past year I imagine myself as the blind man in the book of John. The man had come to Jesus for healing. Jesus spit on the ground, made a paste of mud with His saliva and put it on the man’s eyes. (John 9:6) A rather gross image, I know, but one that sums up 2020 for me. I have seen people and groups with a clarity that I almost regret. The dirty mess of who we are as Americans, even worse American’s who profess to be Christians, has left a barrenness in my soul and the soul of our country. My ideal of community and American Christianity was obliterated within the course of a few months.
It started with the Coronavirus pandemic sweeping across our county and causing confusion, mayhem and conspiracy theories to run rampant in what many began to realize a very fragile country. The scientific community struggled to figure out how to contain the virus, the medical community fought to respond to the alarmingly high amounts of people being infected, while the conservative community took up arms in a fight for their right to gather and not wear mask. America was divided, in chaos, with no light on the horizon.
Soon after came the deaths of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. As an African American woman, their needless deaths were particularly horrifying. Our personal family history is littered with traumatic racially motivated instances, many involving the police. My oldest son had been having nightmares on the subject of police brutality for the past few years. The deaths of these two men caused a volcanic type eruption in America of the likes we have not seen since the 1991 brutal beating of Rodney King. One thing each of these cases had in common was they were all caught on video. Over the course of months following the deaths of Floyd and Arbery, I seen people posting on social platforms, blaming media for dramatizing the events and making race issues look worse than what they were. First, it’s always interesting to me when white people try to be the experts on race issues. It’s like asking for Pharaoh’s historical account on the Israelites bondage, instead of listening to the Israelites. Second, those individuals had to be oblivious to the racial tension that has been building in this country since before I was born.
The African American community was not surprised by the moments of police brutality that were caught on video in 2020. Nor were we surprised by Conservative America’s response. Decades have been spent defending a system that both religiously and politically supports criminalizing black men. From the conservative choice to create their own agenda on the intentions of the Black Lives Matter movement (looking almost exactly like the words and imagery used during the 70’s with Martin Luther King), to the Evangelical Christian community’s refusal to acknowledge that not only does All Lives Matter, but Black lives matter too, there was an eerily unsurprising predictability to their responses. History just cycles itself in the ideas, agenda’s and mindsets at an appalling exactness from the church pews to the White House.
After the death of Ahmad my family participated in a peaceful protest in St. Petersburg, Florida. Hundreds of people gathered with signs noting; No Justice No Peace, Black Lives Matter, Say Their Names and I Can’t Breath. It was a beautiful time of solidarity as we marched in unity down the city blocks. A priest from a church in the neighborhood wheeled a cooler full of cold waters around, offering free refreshment to the protestors. There was a moment during the march when I became nervous because I could not find my seventeen- year- old daughter Natalie in the crowd. I eventually found her at the front of the marchers, loudly chanting and holding up her home- made sign. It startled me, watching my normally timid, non confrontational child standing so fiercely, demanding to be heard. I made my way to her and tried to get her to go back with the rest of the family. I placed my hand on her arm, she yanked it away. Her eyes were fierce and with an intensity she has never directed at me proclaimed, “I have to be here!”
I understood that HERE was standing in front of a crowd that was loudly and unanimously saying, “Black Lives Matter.”
I knew my daughter needed with everything within her to hear that crowd chant those words. They were not only saying Black Lives Matter… For her, they were saying: Your life matters. Your brothers lives matter. Your dad’s life matters. On the way back to the car she told me her chest hurt. It had been an emotional day. Then, out of nowhere, she began to weep. We stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and I held her until her body stopped shaking. Eventually when she was calm, I reminded her, “We are going to be okay. Your generation will do what mine has not. You will help change America.”
It broke my heart how many times Christians in our circle had an opportunity to speak into her, to show that black lives do matter. The silence told the greater story. The refusal of Evangelical Christians in America to speak to the racial inequalities and trauma being experienced by those in their congregations they call sister and brother was disheartening and sadly familiar. Tired does not begin to describe the feeling many African American families felt towards our communities of professing Jesus followers. Exhausted, fed up, done. The Evangelical community’s tolerance of racial disparities has proven to be much higher than what we could abide with. Then again, historically speaking, they come from a legacy that rationalized slavery. Silence and tolerance of injustice has been the learned response from their ancestors, and it will take reformation and the fire of heaven to dismantle that narrative.
It took a pandemic and race crisis to open my eyes to the reality of the community I embraced and much heartache in realizing I never belonged to it. The loss was like a punch to the gut. I left pieces of myself with the unveiling of the truths of my unraveling ideology. Truth hurts but growth is impossible while living in an illusion. The beautiful thing about an ideal is that it ebbs and flows with our growth and maturity. My ideal of community has changed and evolved with my understanding of myself and the people I choose to share space with. No longer attempting to fit myself into spaces that were not created for me has been at times isolating but at the same time liberating. I survived the truths of 2020. I have great hope that America and the American church will not only survive but thrive as well.