I wish that I had something profound to say; some deep wisdom or insight to share. But I feel like I have nothing to offer. The truth is that I am raw in a process of seeking to reconcile the divide between ways that I have failed to act and the values that I claim.
I don’t watch TV, and certainly not the news. I listen to the radio only when I am feeling strong and can bear the pain of what I might hear. I avoid my Facebook feed for days on end. I don’t need any of these media outlets to tell me what my gut tells me. Times are tough and getting tougher. The helicopters are flying overhead for hours again. The grand jury announcement is pending, and I live pretty much exactly halfway between Michael Brown’s murder site and the Ferguson Police Station.
Why am I here? This is no coincidence, me having made my home here two years ago. My soul tells me that I am right where I need to be. What am I supposed to do? That’s a harder question…
I have long self-identified as “color blind” and certainly never considered myself to be racist.* The public school in my predominantly white middle class neighborhood desegregated when I was in the fourth grade and I became good friends with some of my new black classmates. As a home health provider I chose to work for many years in north St. Louis City and County. I felt a real sense of affinity and deep mutual respect with many black families that I served. And I raised a son who is biracial/“black”. He is 25 now and I don’t get to see him more than once every year or two. But I often see him in the faces of young black men and gaze at them with smiling eyes and a loving heart. Now I live in Ferguson, making that choice in part because it is known as a racially and socio-economically diverse, integrated community. All these years I thought that my actions made a difference somehow.
But with the explosion of information about racial profiling and police brutality of young black men following the death of Michael Brown, I realize that I have been complacent. I have insulated myself, failed to understand the complex dynamics of the culture here in Ferguson, failed to reach out to interact with the diversity of my neighbors in a meaningful way. I have felt heart sick as I consider the deeper truth of my privilege as a white person. I can’t really imagine the experience of being black in this, or any, community in our country at this time.
These past couple of months have been a wake up call, for me and for members of my community. We are reaching out to each other in shared pain, with a growing desire for reconciliation and real change. This is happening in a multitude of existing and new religious, civic and community organizations and through a great deal of dialogue with governing officials and community leaders. Perhaps most importantly we are reaching out to each other at the “grass roots” level. In random encounters on the sidewalks and in grocery stores, we are recognizing the humanity in each other. Acts of kindness are flourishing everywhere I go. I have given and received countless hugs in the past two months as I engage with people I have never met in refreshing and supportive dialogue. I release tears of pain and shame on gracious, loving shoulders of community mates, black and white. We all seem to understand. Things are changing; I am just so sorry that it took such a drastic moment in history to bring it about.
I may not be able to stay in my home for some days after the grand jury decision is announced. It may not be safe for me here, and at least seems probable that getting into and out of my neighborhood could be a challenge for a while. Friends and family have offered us places to stay, but we are reluctant to be very far away from our beloved community. During his weekly sermon last Sunday, Pastor Johnson at Wellspring Church talked about the importance of having a safe house, a place of respite and peace in times of violence and chaos. We are creating that space for each other during this time of turmoil in our community.
I plan to participate in holding safe space for others but, more importantly perhaps, I am developing and nurturing that place within me. When I am in touch with the safe place inside, the place where my true strength lies, then I am better able to face what is before me. I am driven daily to improve my physical and spiritual fitness. I don’t know what will happen when the grand jury findings are finally released. But I plan to be present with myself; listening deeply, following where I am called, praying to respond with wisdom and strength.
Now more than ever, I truly love this community. People are drawing together, committing to come out of this situation far better than before, and vowing that Michael Brown will not have died in vain. Let his legacy be the tipping point that brought much needed awareness and lasting change to Ferguson and to our entire nation.
*For many years I have not used the terms “black” and “white” to refer to people, perceiving those terms to be divisive and unnecessary, and preferring to experience people as unique beings as opposed to classifying them by skin color. For the purposes of this post I used those terms for clarification sake and because they are constantly being used in the media to explain this situation.
This post was written by Lucinda Sohn