Reflections on my trip to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, Part 1

“Thank you,” she said as she took her phone back after the picture. I just nodded at her, afraid that if I opened my mouth, the sobs rising from deep wells somewhere inside of me would come tumbling out and never stop.

She had asked me to take her picture with one of the monuments at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, bearing her family’s name. I can’t describe the moment adequately – how it felt to turn when a voice said “excuse me,” and to see a mid 40’s looking woman asking me to take her picture.

“Sure,” I said. I took her iPhone and she took determined steps to one specific monument. Pointing to the last name on the right column, she said “that was my family.”

Thanks to technology and iPhones, I didn’t have to look through a viewfinder to take the picture, which would have resulted in tears spilling onto the camera, belying a sorrow that I’m not sure I can claim a stake in.

I can stand in solidarity, and I can feel deep sorrow which morphed into anger as I read not only name after name of humans lynched by a mob of thousands, but also by the petty and ridiculous reasons white people found within themselves to put another person whose skin color didn’t match theirs to death; but I can’t possibly fathom what it means to carry that generational trauma in the bones and in the collective cultural memory.

I sit with that reality tonight, and will continue in the coming days with further reflections on my experience at the lynching memorial today. It is a powerful reminder of the evils of white supremacy and racism that continue to pervade our society.

There’s a lot of language out there. Words like white privilege, racial reconciliation, post racial, centering can get confusing and discussions about them heated.

I’m inviting myself to offer A path forward. Not prescriptive, not definitive. Just a suggestion in hopes to encourage all of us to grapple with this very real and present evil in our country.

First, I invite us all to recognize that we do not live in a post racial era, and also that we live on stolen land.

Jim Crow laws by other names in these days exist as mass incarceration, lack of accountability for police officers who shoot unarmed people of color, the inability of many people of color to vote because they are in prison, “three strikes and you’re out,” discrepancies in education, housing and healthcare and discrepancies in job opportunities just to name a few.

A pastor friend of mine recently said in his podcast that he was approached by someone who said he should stop talking about racism because we are past that and it no longer exists. I applaud him for not yielding.

Second, if you are able, take the example of my longtime friend and high school campus minister, Matt Eliot, who recently took his son on a civil rights tour of the south. Learn from documented history, see how far we’ve come and be empowered and emboldened by how much farther we have to go.

Third, bulk up your vocabulary. Research the differences between equality and equity; educate yourself in and practice centering – be involved in helping to create opportunities for the stories of people of color to be heard.

Fourth, read. Read authors of color, histories written by the oppressed and not the victors. Read native authors and native histories. Listen for what the experience of being an “other” might be able to teach us.

Thank you for reading this post. These are hard conversations to have; important conversations to engage.

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