I first learned the story of Ruby Bridges as a young child sitting on my grandmother’s lap, while she turned the pages of a picture book for me. She described a small girl with great courage, who had to stare down hate in the face at the age of six years old. As a child, I could hardly comprehend the fact that verbal death threats and physical violence were hurled towards a Kindergartener. Yet, my grandmother knew it was important for me to learn the history of racism in the United States at an early age. She was teaching me Black Lives Matter before it was a movement making headlines. Along with reading books like The Story of Ruby Bridges, my grandmother introduced me to conversations about diversity through her global travels to places like Brazil and China with the United Methodist Church. One moment that deeply impacted me was a visit to the town Nicodemus for a gospel choir concert. Nicodemus is a National Historic Site, a mere ten miles from my hometown, which was founded as one of the first African American communities west of the Mississippi during the Reconstruction Period. While I listened and learned from the stories, art, and music of BIPOC, I didn’t quite understand the path that was being laid before me. My grandmother understood that a commitment to diversity is a lifelong commitment. It is our responsibility to learn about the history that has brought us to where our country is today, for only then can we lead our country into an anti-racist future.
As an adult, I can reflect and lament my privilege, bias, and weakness. In my small community in rural America, our high school history class never learned about a period beyond WWII. Those formative years were lost to me, and it took pushing myself to learn about those missing milestones. With the names of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd running through my head — my heart felt heavy because I remembered. My personal history includes times of inflicting pain and racial hurt. Times of inaction in the face of blatant racism, feelings of superiority, and voting for bad policy continue to haunt me. Yet, I know it is important to be accountable, settle into these hard places, heavy with tension. Because when we remember, we can make space to listen. We can learn.
Our Saturday mornings have been slow and steady the past few weeks. We run a mile along a trail, marveling at tall trees and bursting flowers. Afterwards we pick up some coffee and breakfast, settling in for a picnic, and take time to breathe together. We’ve been watching our baby grow to a toddler, the to-do lists that continue to get longer, and the wildness of this world. My heart is burning to see our society heal. Something feels so right about just taking time to watch this boy walk barefoot in the green grass. Part of me just wants to stay in my little corner. These are the simple, pure moments that I want to cling on to.
But I need to keep growing. Keep learning. About justice, privilege, forgiveness, and grace. About seeking the face of God everywhere, in everyone. The fact that I would have the option to stay in my corner is because of my privilege as a white woman, and that is not okay. One day I know we will talk about this time together, all three of us. Because our family can go run together without the risk of being shot down. We can pick up coffee & breakfast without fear of a corrupt police officer targeting us. We can have a picnic on the grass without suspicious eyes watching. We can BREATHE. And it is astounding, frightening, and unfathomable that our country continues to steal humanity and life based on color. America does this with our bias, with our justice system, with our words, with our pocketbooks, and especially with our votes.
With all the expectations for change heavy in my mind, I want to make Black Lives Matter a lasting conversation. I listened to the podcast Unlocking Us by Brene Brown recently, and she featured author and activist Austin Channing Brown. Austin reminded us that these protests and conversations are not merely part of the news cycle. “[This is] a reminder that systematic racism is more than just headlines on the news. Is the work you are doing (on social media, in your home, in your community) just for self, or is it for others?” I write these words because I want this moment in 2020 to be a catalyst for sustainable change, not just a time for virtue signaling.
This weekend, we retreated down a wooded path for a new place to explore. Nature gave us life as we headed deeper into the forest. A wall of green grew up around us, towering above my head. If you’ve been on the prairie, you know that congregating trees are a rarity. While we continued the worn path, a bright flash of color caught my eye slightly off trail. I noticed a small path diverging, and I stepped off for a moment. I wanted to satisfy my curiosity, and I assured Jonathan I would catch up. As I made my way forward, I saw a tall structure that looked almost like a treehouse standing in the middle of an overgrown clearing. There was a ladder and space for someone to stand at the top. The colors grew brighter when I walked forward. A mural stared back at me with stains of graffiti from different moments in time — a collection of voices asking to be heard. It was a combination of urban and rural, city streets and lush forest, bright color and untamed nature.
My breath caught in my throat when I read the word “Love” scrawled under a person, with brown and gold lighting up their skin. And certainly, isn’t that what this journey is all about? The disparity and pain of inequality has been laid before us. And it is time to respond and make a commitment. We are called to move towards love. In moving down this path, I will remember, listen, and learn from voices other than my own. I will not be silent and I will teach my family. We will show love with our words, our actions, and our hearts.
While there are plenty of recommendations floating around the internet from individuals more qualified than myself, here are some things helping me learn lately. I hope you’ll commit to remembering, listening, and learning.
- Stamped from the Beginning: A Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
- Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
- Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
- I’m Still Here: Black Dignity In A World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
- Becoming by Michelle Obama
- @hereweeread account by Charnaie Gordon, Diversity and Inclusion Expert, inspiring me to diversify my family’s bookshelves
- Morgan Harper Nichols poetry, art, and Instagram account (@morganharpernichols)
- Be the Bridge Podcast with Latasha Morrison
- Brown vs. Board of Education National Historic Site where you can take a virtual tour of this historic location which put an end to legal segregation in schools
- Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research using policy research and advocacy to understand, explain, and solve racial inequality
- Equal Justice Initiative which uses data science, the human story, and activism to fight injustice in the United States