I would love someday to wake up and see a Facebook feed where black lives aren’t devalued. Where black kids, teenagers and adults feel safe doing normal things like going to a pool party, walking home from the store or sitting and talking in a hotel lobby.
I recently preached at a predominantly black church here in Cleveland- I was on a panel of people celebrating Youth Sunday. It included me- a campus minister, a motivational speaker for teens, a police officer and a juvenile corrections facility manager. Though it was supposed to be a brief presentation and Q&A it wasn’t entirely clear how the morning was supposed to go. There were very few questions for me and for the juvenile corrections manager, but when the police officer got up to share- the questions were specific, personal and things that you should probably never have to ask in church.
Things like- “how can I protect my son or daughter from a police officer who is disrespecting them?”
“what should I do if I get pulled over to make sure I’ll be safe and unharmed?”
“what do you think happened in the situation with the shooting of Tamir Rice?”
I sat there looking at the parents in the congregation, the older black men who nodded their heads in agreement when the officer explained always to keep your hands on the wheel when you’re pulled over, and the teenage boys who had fallen asleep during my portion, but were now alert and listening to every word the officer said.
I felt sad for the parents who live in real fear every day of their kids making it home safely from school.
I felt grateful for this officer who is trying to protect his city and be an advocate for the black community.
I felt appalled that this was even a conversation that clearly needed to be had for this church.
I couldn’t picture this happening in any white congregation in any part of America, or that any white churches would need to have a presentation like this on “how to be safe when the police pulls you over or talks to you.”
I follow Kristen Howerton’s blog Rage Against the Minivan and I’m always shocked by the number of ignorant comments she receives saying that she is part of the problem by writing about white privilege and that black lives matter. It shouldn’t be a brave thing for someone to write that the lives of black teenagers matter, but it is. Because while many would like to say that race doesn’t matter, it clearly does. It does for the people who can choose to ignore it because of the privilege afforded to them not to feel threatened because they happen to be white. And it matters for people of color who get singled out because they simply exist.
Don’t ignore the pain of people around you- even if you don’t know them. Don’t dismiss the experiences of others simply because you haven’t experienced the same thing. Times like this are meant to stop, pray, and cry out together to ask God to do something new in our hearts and cities.