“To accept passively an unjust system is to cooperate with that system; thereby the oppressed becomes as evil as the oppressor. Noncooperation with evil is as much as moral obligation as is cooperation with good.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.
On this day last year, we were holding our third annual Freedom Arts Expo. The sun was out, my people showed up, and we put on a great block party style art fair for our scholars. Yesterday we did it again and it was another successful, significant event. And yet someone I never met before was on my mind.
On this day last year, 18 year old Michael Brown was dying on Canfield Drive in Ferguson, just a bit north of where we were. He was shot and he died and then he laid in the street for four hours. And all I could think about was what if that was one of my scholars? What if that was one of my friends? Somebody I know and love?
The death of this young man that I never knew changed me. It changed me for the better. I’m thankful for that.
Yes, there have been different accounts and opinions of what happened on August 9, 2014. I’m not even going to get into that. What has remained true in all the accounts is that Michael Brown was killed by Darren Wilson who said he saw no other alternative than to take an 18 year old’s life. A trained, weapon wielding, experienced law enforcement officer saw no other alternative than to kill that young man.
Do we not see the problem? Forget all the rhetoric, agendas, and distractions. Do we not see the many problems?
It’s a problem that we aren’t overflowing with compassion and action. It’s a problem that white America struggles in grieving this young man. It’s a problem that to some it’s as simple as “well, he shouldn’t have been _____.” It’s a problem that we can’t have more compassion for someone who doesn’t look like us. It’s a problem that some of us believe he earned his death that day.
When we hurt or kill someone else, we are actually hurting ourselves too. We are striking down our own humanity.
Far too often, that someone else is somebody who doesn’t look like us. Even more often, that someone else is somebody who doesn’t look like me. That someone else is darker than me.
We need to quit arguing about what’s going on. We all need to step back and take a look at the reality of the world in which we live.
We need to accept the reality that people of color are mistreated due to systemic ethnic inequality. People of color are treated as less. As inferior. Or expendable. This is a lie that is pure evil. Have you ever felt inferior? Have you ever felt useless? Have you ever felt mistreated? Then have some compassion. Don’t argue about it.
We need to accept the reality that people of color are being killed every day and this has been our country’s history. We all know this inconvenient truth. We all know about this country’s historical attitude and treatment of people of color. What we don’t all seem to know is that it’s not over. Racism still lives, and it lives here, in our city. Racism lives in St. Louis, the city I love. That’s reality. Let’s face it. So we can change it. Let’s change this reality by realizing, accepting, and actively living the truth.
The truth is that we are all made in God’s image, and Black Lives Matter. That truth CAN define our reality if we put that truth into action. That’s the truth and I’ll say it until I don’t have to anymore. We are ALL made in God’s image. So, Black Lives Matter. The human race is a fallen, sinful one, but a perfect God created us in His perfect image. We bear that image, ALL OF US. I’ve seen that truth in action over the past year and it has been beautiful. I’ve seen people wake up and show up. I’ve witnessed artists, educators, and mentors become activists for this truth. I’ve seen God at work in St. Louis.
We are all made in God’s image, and Black Lives Matter. Realize this truth. Then get out there and put it into action.
Meanwhile, expect the nonviolent direct actions and civil disobedience to continue as long as the killing and abuse of authority continue. Expect your comfort and convenience to be put on the back burner while many of us fight to change the status quo.
I’ll keep speaking the truth and putting it into action. I’ll keep asking God to guide my steps, for He is the only one capable of reconciling power with love. I’ll grieve with those who grieve and stand with my people of all ethnicities and backgrounds. I’ll work to help people understand their God-given value. I’ll encourage all people in this struggle. I’ll fight for this city that I love so deeply. I’ll keep proclaiming the truth: We are all made in God’s image, and Black Lives Matter.
(Executive Director, Music Coordinator, Music/Academic/Visual Arts Mentor)