A Hopeless Election in a Kingdom of Hope

On foot you will find that the earth is still satisfyingly large, and full of beguiling nooks and crannies.
-Wendell Berry

Are you all tired yet? Of the election, I mean. What a silly question. Of course you are. We are all feeling the political fatigue of 2016. It has been a long, gruelling, and exhausting road to election day. More so than I’ve ever experienced in my short history of voting. And since we’re only 3 weeks away from November 8th, the political tenor has reached a feverish pitch. I don’t know if you’re like me at all, but I love politics and I love even more to talk about politics. Researching, commenting, and keeping up to date on our nation and it’s leaders is exciting and stimulating for me. And I love a good debate. But not this time. There is nothing exciting or fun about this election or any of the discourses surrounding it. The world seems to have closed in and it feels so very small. Suffocating. Hopeless.

I hope that I have built a strong enough of a rapport and a relationship with you, my readers, that I might share with you the hope that sustains me when I’m suffering and struggling most. At the risk of being an insufferable evangelical, may I breathe a moment of hope and peace into your mind today?

God is a god of love, peace, and justice, and no nation, political party, or leader can ever fully capture the social, moral, and ethical concerns of the Lord. Neither conservative, liberal or independent can ever care for the poor, the widowed, the orphaned, the alien, or the oppressed to the extent to which God has called us. That is to say, there is no one way to vote as a Christian. There is no candidate or party that fully embodies the concerns and commandments of God. He is far too big for any political agenda or national identity. And what a relief that is for us because there is no morally right or ethical vote this election. I believe that there is only one candidate this cycle who has shown herself to be qualified, and fit to serve as our president. And as a Christian, this means that I must be very critical of her and our nation as to how we address education, poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, sex, crime, etc. To be a Christian involved in politics is to not sell your soul to a political party or a national agenda, but to love what the Lord loves, and hate what the Lord hates. And there is no one issue that the Lord hates more than another, including the hot button conservative issues of abortion and gay marriage.  For, to love the Lord and do as he commands is to have a heart for those in the margins of our cultures:

“If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs…You shall surely give to him, and your heart should not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your works and in all to which you put your hand. For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.”
-Deuteronomy 15:7-8, 10-11

This is our hope: that the Lord, in our great need and depravity, came to earth and died for our sins so that we might have eternal life with him. And through his life, death, and resurrection, he has equipped us  with every good thing that we may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever (Hebrews 13:20-21). This is the hope and calling of the Christian, that we engage courageously, thoughtfully, and critically in politics and culture with our eyes focused on Jesus. There is no nation in the history of the world that has lasted the entirety of existence. Every nation rises and falls, but it is the Lord and his kingdom who lasts forever. And this should give us great hope. Who are you to believe that any president can thwart the will of God? That his sovereignty and goodness for us and his world is not big enough to right the wrongs of evil dictators and corruption? Neither Hillary or Trump can usurp the Lord’s throne and upset his divine will. Rather, it is the job of the Christian to speak truth and life into all areas of our politics and cultures and to be critical of how we engage with the commandment to act justly and love mercy (Micah 6:8).

For those of you who aren’t Christians reading this, thank you. I am honored to share with you what it is I believe and that you would listen. I’m sure that there are areas of my faith that I need to sharpen my understanding and that you don’t agree with. But, even so, I hope that my faith in Jesus may bless you and give you hope in some way today; that we don’t have to put our trust and hope in any political leader or nation, but rather in a God who has always been and who always will be.

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Colin Kaepernick takes his place in a long line of oppressed American patriots

Okay, class! I think it’s time for a history lesson. With our country having emerged upon a very important and timely intersection of blackness, Americanness, and football, I think that it’s high time for us to uncover some of the truths and unfortunate historical contexts that have brought us to this very poignant moment. I’m taking my cue from the 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, who has been silently kneeling on the sidelines during the national anthem at his games in protest for the unjust treatment and oppression of black people at the hands of police officers. He has recently inspired many athletes across our country, professional and amateur, all the way to elementary students during the morning pledge of allegiance, to kneel in silent protest. A noble cause.

What we cannot ignore but rather must confront is our country’s history of racism, misogyny, and oppression. It has infected every area of our nation, from the first boots of colonialism that stepped onto marshy banks to knees that are bent on football fields. To ignore and to insist that this history has either been left behind or that this history is over exaggerated is to see history from a blind and ignorant lens of privilege. But the reality is that you don’t have to look far to find it.

Let’s go to 1781 when Thomas Jefferson, one of our country’s most honored founding fathers, wrote Notes on the State of Virginia only five years after he wrote the declaration of independence. In this text, Jefferson gives breath taking overtures on the separation of church and state, individual liberty, the richness of America’s natural resources, and the inferiority of “the blacks.” After describing black people as having no mind to write or learn, having a foul smell, being designed as an animal for hard labor and little sleep, being incapable of loving their women and only desiring their bodies, he concludes “I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.” It should be no surprise then that when we look at the the creation of the constitution in 1787, our other founding fathers decided that black slaves were considered to be only 3/5ths of a whole person. Property to be haggled over for taxes and representation, more seats in congress.

Though we are two centuries away from these inaugural decisions at the birth of our nation and many if not most of the institutionalized systems of racism have been dismantled, the remnants of these systems ring in our ears and in the lives of black people if you choose listen and look around. From the war on drugs, to the repeal of the voting rights act, the mass incarceration of black youth, the labeling of “super predators,” the new Jim Crow, antagonism against the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality, and on and on, this system of racism was bred and incubated in our country’s revered historical documents and founding fathers. This festering racism that is found in most of our founding documents has interwoven into the American consciousness. And how couldn’t it? The same documents and historical figures who we revere as the ancestors of our freedoms and patriotism are the very inscribers of racism and misogyny into our systems of governance, legislation and culture.

Recently, Boami Jones wrote an article in the Undefeated titled “Kaepernick is asking for justice not peace,” where he poignantly suggests that “While the major party candidates for president spent the week pointing at each other with charges of who is or isn’t the real racist, Kaepernick pointed at the flag and, by extension, every person who takes pride in the American flag.” This suggestion naturally ruffled quite a few feathers. But if we consider for a moment that you lived in a country where your founding fathers considered you to be 3/5ths of a person, a smelly, unintelligent, lustful person, property, that perhaps you would have a difficult time revering it as much as your white countrymen.  Especially when you witness firsthand the racist imagination that your fellow countrymen have inherited from our founders. It may often be much subtler and undetectable to some, but it is also very obvious when videos of murdered black citizens scroll across our screens every day.

To deny the very obvious historical racism that Kaepernick is protesting is not just ignorant, it is wrong. The work that he is doing is only un-patriotic to those who hold our country up to an infallible esteem and who ignore the very problematic and hurtful history of racism that many of our brothers and sisters in America experience daily. There is nothing noble about forgetting and ignoring that history and present reality.

That is why critiquing our country is important. It’s what moves our country forward and away from its dark beginnings of slavery and genocide, and towards a hope of more equality, freedom, and liberty. This is a freedom that has not solely been fought for by soldiers. It has been fought for by generations of oppressed people. People whose backs were striped with whips and held by chains. Necks that have hung from trees. Women who sat on bus seats. Children who first integrated into schools. Indigenous people who stand at Standing Rock. Football players kneeling on the side lines. Those are the patriots who demand that their country respect them and move us towards a greater freedom. A greater equality. A greater happiness. Kaepernick is actively participating in the National Anthem not by standing, but by kneeling in remembrance, reverence and in protest against the legacy of racism that has and continues to affect him and his ancestors. God bless America and the patriots who demand better.

In defense of Norfolk Public Schools: The truth is, they are fantastic

There’s something that I need to tell you that’s rather important. Something you may not expect and may initially scoff at, but just hang in there with me:

Norfolk has amazing public schools.

Phew. I’m so glad to get that off of my chest. I’ve been dying to tell you for weeks now. I know that you’re surprised; you’ve heard so many terrible things, so many rumors, from so many people. I’ve heard them all, too. And it wasn’t too long ago that I was nervous about sending my kids to NPS too, but here we are loving it. There has been quite a lot of noise and many heated conversations in our community this summer about Norfolk’s new school budget, most of which lack any type of data or understanding about funding and distribution of resources, but fear not. I’m here to set a few things straight for you and provide a little bit on context to show you just how great our schools are.

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First, let’s just get it out of the way. The budget increased this year by 3.6% from around $315 million to $326 million. But, that increase just doesn’t go very far in a district where there are so many varying needs. 10 teaching specialist positions had to be removed, leaving a few schools without any reading and math specialists all together, a few schools having to share, and the rest with either a full or part time specialists. If you’ve been paying attention to this discussion in our local newspaper, you’ve seen how hot people are about this reduction in teaching specialists. Mostly the complaints are coming from some of our most successful schools, which were pointed out in the Virginia Pilot this week as being some of our most “affluent.” What first needs to be analyzed is the use of the term affluent; it is a very subjective term that is not easily defined. While Ghent School is in a more affluent part of town, it is a lottery school and has a mix of students from middle class and lower income neighborhoods. However, it performs well. It shouldn’t be a surprise that when positions need to be shifted and redistributed that schools that are doing well don’t have as big of a need as schools that are struggling. And yet, people are still surprised.

Parents at Larchmont, Ghent, and Taylor wrote dozens of letters to school officials complaining about the injustice of their children losing reading and math specialists; that their children are doing well because those specialists are there. How dare they penalize the most successful and redistribute based on need? This is where we need a bit of context and understanding about these positions: how they are funding and how they are placed. Last year, Norfolk had 68 city wide teaching specialists. Once the new budget was approved they removed 10 of those positions leaving 58 city wide specialists. This was back in June and there was nary a peep from any parents in west Norfolk. After that decision was made in June, it was then time for officials in the division to place the specialists. Once it was discovered that Ghent, Taylor, Larchmont, Tarallton, Mary Calcott, Willoughby, Ocean View, and Sewells Elementary Schools would be now sharing specialists, the letters streamed downtown in droves mostly from parents with students in Ghent, Larchmont, and Taylor. Where were these letters when the school board was making their budgeting decisions in the Spring? And importantly, why did they assume that their schools would not be considered when reductions needed to be made?

Many parents are concerned that the decisions of placement were made based on affluence. However, it needs to be pointed out that only 3 of the aforementioned schools are not Title I schools. The other 5 are. So, affluence was not a factor. The decisions of placement were based on the number of students at each school, achievement (or accreditation), and need. Affluence may be a resulting factor in which schools had their specialists reduced or removed, but it was not a variable in deciding. What I would like to ask the parents complaining about this decision is if they would ever consider moving to a neighborhood that is zoned for the schools that receive full time teaching specialists or ask to have their child sent out of zone so that their children who are struggling in math and reading can receive that assistance. No? Why not? My sense is that they believe those schools are not good enough for their children, for whatever mythic reason, and choose to send their children to schools that are fully accredited and lacking teaching specialists.

The second piece in this discussion is how teaching specialists are funded. There is no state wide mandate for reading specialists at our public schools and Norfolk is the only school division in Hampton Roads that pays for city wide teaching specialists out of their own local operating budget; our school district actually pays $5 million for all 58 of our teaching specialists, both math and reading. While Virginia Beach provides reading specialists to all of its elementary schools, both full time and shared, they rely on state funding and do not provide math specialists to any school that is not Title I. While it is up for interpretation concerning statewide priorities in terms of how and which type of specialists are provided to each of our schools statewide, it is important for us to acknowledge that Norfolk has done a very good job of prioritizing both reading and math specialists for our students.

While many scoff at the $122,076 that the board will be spend on traveling for professional development workshops this year, which is quite a lot of dough, if not too much, there is more to see in this budgeting picture. While our district has one of the smaller school budgets in Hampton Roads, it spends more per student than any other, which includes its commitment to providing 58 city wide math and reading specialists.

Images from Norfolk.gov

While money spent is not a complete and accurate metric with which to measure how well a school division prioritizes its students, Norfolk does offer a budget that attempts to manage the various needs found across our district. While it is not perfect and there is a need for better fiscal and budgeting decisions from our board and administrators, the numbers tell a picture of how our city leaders actually to value and prioritize our students. We must work at looking at facts instead of reading sensational local news articles that disregard the actual numbers and instead rely on insidious rumors and myths about our schools. If you have never visited a Norfolk public school, let me invite you to do so. Go take a tour. Talk to the principals. You could even go to a school board meeting. Or even better, send your children to our public schools. It’s important for us to get a more realistic understanding of our schools and our neighborhoods when we enter into these debates and conversations. Because Norfolk is a great city that has great schools. We just have to make a conscious cognitive shift away from what we hear and what actually exists.

Accepting the Risk of a Trump Presidency

We have to talk about liberating minds as well as liberating society– Angela Davis

I’ve been spending my time these few weeks immersed in reading; poetry, essays, books, articles, mostly written by black women. This is the process of liberating my mind. Expanding my borders. Everywhere we look our world is on fire and I don’t want my mind to go up in a blaze with it. So I read. And I read what isn’t instant. Online writing has become largely a space of immediate gratification and self aggrandizement, not often a space for contemplation or intellectual exercise. And I do realize that my writing on this blog places itself in that discourse. Though, I hope in some small way that it contributes to deeper thought and contemplations. To read words that have been carefully crafted, thought over, and critically created in the context of other similarly thoughtful writing is the work of actively liberating your mind. The distress that I see over the Presidential election has naturally captured my attention and I can’t help but wonder if we are enslaving ourselves with continual, non-stop streams of immediate information. In the furor of news articles, cable news programs, live streams, blog entries, memes, and tweets filling our consciousnesses, the discipline of being still and contemplating our own thoughts, reactions, and understandings become chained to what flashes in front of us. We then begin filtering buzz words through value systems that aren’t actually our own, but rather through what is new and current. Voices get lost. And they are usually the ones that have sat and read and thought critically, having not yet moved on to the most current news cycle. I’m also considering how I contribute to and participate in this cycle of enslavement on social media and on this blog. How do I latch onto what is inflammatory and immediate? Or how do I reinforce binaries of liberal/conservative, democrat/republican, racist/anti-racist, christian/non-christian,  American/non-American? That’s what I find that online writing and information sharing typically works to do and how it enslaves: it works to reinforce binaries. Having spent some time reading Angela Davis, I am considering her philosophy of not endorsing politicians, but rather engaging in independent politics that places pressure on candidates by engaging them in difficult conversations, pressing them on their weaknesses, flaws, voting records, and platforms, and is not interested in electing specific parties. I want to be much more intentional and conscious of how I help to dismantle a political system of binaries instead of reinforcing it. And I am aware of how this sentiment is scoffed at. The current political system that we have constructed and reinforce is a binary that I am constantly uncomfortable with. As Davis suggests, there is no party that is rooted in labor or has the vocabulary or the desire to effectively address sexism, homophobia, transphobia, or racism. The current system works by pandering to those issues in return for votes; eventually progressive work does slowly get done, but only as a result of political pandering, not active resistance. What I find most disturbing in this election cycle is the broad dismissal of cries for a third party candidate (who are not the ineffective Green Party or Libertarian party), specifically the dismissal of women and people of color who are not satisfied with the current parties or candidates. We must remember that this current binary political system works to organize people into systems of oppression. Nowhere in this system is there an adequate place for issues that concern the labor class, people of color, women, queer, trans, or the disabled and dismissing those who are dissatisfied with the current system and how it oppresses is not only harmful but an oppressive act itself. I find that the same people who get uncomfortable when black feminists begin to organize and suggest that white feminism has worked to oppress them for decades, are the same people who get uncomfortable when liberals and democrats are also criticized for oppressing women and people of color.  When a black woman expresses her concern for both a Trump and a Clinton presidency, we cannot dismiss that concern. Her mind and body has been oppressed by both political parties and it is not a simple matter of choosing the worse of two candidates. Arguing that she choose between two candidates in a system that has actively worked against her for generations is itself an oppressive act. We must realize that the experiences and voices of those who have suffered most need to be considered and we must work to create a political system, from the local to the national, that rejects binaries and encourages independent politics. Because what I have seen a lot of on the internet, that immediate and quick information stream, are white, middle class people who are scared of a Trump presidency deriding women and people of color for not accepting Hillary Clinton. These people who are not willing to support Clinton are then assigned the responsibility of avoiding a Trump presidency. That is not anti-oppression. That is not liberation. That is not anti-sexism or anti-racism. That is oppressive and enslaved politics. We must recognize how our democracy and two party system is oppressive in that way and reject it. Even at the risk of a Trump presidency. What is most striking is that for the first time in a long time, we see white people scared of an oppressive power from above. We are scared of how a Trump presidency will not only hurt minorities, but us as well. We then turn to those who have been systematically oppressed by our government for generations and tell them to choose someone else who they are equally afraid of and tell them that it’s the lesser oppressor. That’s privilege and arrogance if I ever saw it. And it’s what I’m concerned that I’ve engaged in and am reinforcing. That’s what I’m trying to liberate myself from and research how to support and implement governing systems that reject systems of oppression. However, that’s a slow process and it is a process that may risk a Trump presidency and that scares the crap out of liberal white people. Including me.

The Silent Mile: The Privilege Of Choosing To Be Silent

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Am I too cynical? Disillusioned? Unbelieving? Hopeless?  That when I march with a crowd of hundreds for the shared belief and desire for peace I can’t but not roll my eyes? What is wrong with me?

I’m wondering if this is a safe space for me to process an event that I participated in yesterday in my city. How can I explore my own beliefs and experiences in a way that is both honest, healing, and works to dismantle the minds and beliefs of those like me who also marched?  Because the work that I am MOST interested in doing is confronting and dismantling systematic oppression, misogyny, and white privilege. And I’ll tell ya, that pisses a lot of people off. It means that those of us in positions of power and privilege have to take a good, long, difficult look at ourselves and our work and confront how we support and benefit from these systems. Even when we march. No, especially when we march. Solidarity, unity, allyship is more than a held sign, a shared Facebook post, an identity. It is a process of rejecting our privilege and giving it away without receiving approval, praise or acknowledgement for our work. It is the work of humility and confession, putting others before ourselves. We become lower so that others can become higher. Isn’t unity and equality supposed to put us all on the same level? I’ll go ahead and answer that question for you: No. No it’s not. We should be putting those who have been made less than in our system on top at the expense to ourselves. So, yeah. It pisses people off.

What I am going to do here is explore and examine my own experience at The Silent Mile NFK march that I participated in yesterday afternoon. These are my thoughts, my observations, my experiences, my confessions and they do not represent anyone else who attended. I don’t want to take away from the good work that was done yesterday and I do not want to disparage anyone that attended. But instead, what I do want to do is point out that the racially and class privileged people at the event were not confronted with their complicity in systematic racism and oppression; a message that is vital to dismantling it.


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I stood on the Hague walking bridge yesterday with hundreds of people waiting to walk single file down Brambleton Avenue, one of the busiest streets in Norfolk, during rush hour and block it for about 20 minutes while we crossed. Most of the people who stood around me appeared to be from Ghent and ODU; they’re not very difficult to recognize. I didn’t feel in the least out of place. I felt like I belonged, though slightly less tattooed than most. I felt safe, comfortable, almost good about myself for being there. Before we marched, each of us were given the name of a black person who has been fatally shot by police in the last year and we were instructed to Google them before the walk began. This is when I first started to feel uncomfortable. Let me digitally introduce you to Kevin Hicks, the man that was put on my shirt and who I was walking in silence for. I don’t know any more about him than what that link produces. What I do know is that he was shot and killed by a police officer after he assaulted his wife in their car while their kid was in the back seat. While he was assaulting her, she called 911 and approached police at a gas station for help. Video surveillance shows him assaulting the officer who initially attempted to use a taser to subdue him, but it escalated to the use of deadly force after the officer’s hand was broken and bitten by Kevin Hicks. I was marching in a funeral procession for him. I will have to be honest with you and say that it took everything inside of me to keep his name on my shirt. I wanted to throw it off. He was a misogynist. A wife beater. He physically assaulted and harmed the officer who was trying to protect his wife and child. I felt ill just looking at his name, let alone wear it. My experience at the event never recovered from that moment.

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In that moment I was immediately confronted with the complex layers and intersections of this very important issue and I was uncomfortable with continuing. As I was internally grappling with Kevin Hicks we began filing in and silently marching. I held up a sign that was provided to me by organizers that said “Break The Silence. #BlackLivesMatter,” as I walked past dozens and dozens of police officers that stood by and blocked off streets for us, directed traffic, and boiled in the sun. I couldn’t help but to feel deeply ashamed of myself, ashamed of Kevin Hicks, ashamed of this broken system, and ashamed for feeling ashamed. But still I marched. Each step troubled me and I longed to reach the end where organizers were waiting for us with a planned demonstration. I hoped for some consolation at the end, something, anything, to assuage my grief. But it never came. We packed and filed into rows on the empty lawn while organizers called out the 144 names of black people who have been fatally shot by police officers this year. There were some people who placed the piece of tape with their person’s name on it over their mouths. Silence. Reverence. A life lost. My piece of tape seared through my shirt, into my skin and boiled me into shame.
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There I was. Standing with a large group of people, most of whom were very similar to myself in both class, race, and privilege, and I was alone. When I look at racialized and classist police brutality from the outside I can’t understand it. I’ve never experienced it. I don’t fear it. I struggle to believe that it exists. If there weren’t videos of it and if my black friends didn’t keep reminding me of it’s pervasive existence and affect on their own psyches I would go about my days unaware and unchanged. Hell, I see and hear it in the news and online and I’m still barely changed. I’m still grappling with what it means to support someone who has made criminal decision, like Kevin Hicks, and then ended up dead at the hands of the police. These aren’t isolated incidents in people’s lives. These aren’t isolated “racist” cops gunning down minorities.This is a system of oppression. One in which we’re are all interwoven and complicit in. And this wasn’t addressed at the demonstration. The group of people who marched and demonstrated were not confronted with our place in this system of oppression, racism, misogyny, and police brutality. The organizers of the silent mile said that one of the things they want is accountability of police officers. Do you know what I want? I want accountability from our community and the people that marched yesterday. We all identify as allies. The good guys. The anti-racist people against other bigoted, racist people. And that is a false dichotomy. We all make choices in this system that benefit ourselves and harm others. We choose where to hang out, live, get coffee, send our children to school, who we vote for, if/when/where to volunteer, to be silent or to speak, and to protest or not, in a system that works for some and against others. And if we don’t locate ourselves on the spectrum of that system, if we don’t confront the choices that we make and the privileges that we have, then we are not allies. Because the truth is that we had a choice to be silent. If we don’t recognize that there are others who do not have that choice, that there are others who are silenced, then we are going nowhere. The Black Lives Matter activists are often silenced. The Silent Mile activists chose to be silent. There is a difference. A very important difference that needed to be recognized and confronted.

Only 4,000 feet away from where the march ended yesterday is a public housing community, Young Terrace, where crime, violence, poverty, and fear exists in an incubator. Those of us on that were on that lawn barely know that it exists and are complicit in the system that put the people in that community and works to keep them there. It’s the work of our local laws, regulations, policies, policing systems, social systems, education systems, voting systems, business systems, on and on and on, that work to benefit a few and oppress others. The ones reaping from and collecting those benefits stood in solidarity on the lawn, a stones throw from the people to whom we stood in solidarity with.

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I will end with reinforcing that this was a very good and needed protest. It drew attention to a very important and deadly issue. I’m thankful to those who organized it and showed up. But there is so much more to do. We need to collectively confront our privilege and the systems to which we benefit from and work to shift the power. That means marching with and lifting up Black Lives Matter activists. It means demanding that our local officials and representatives focus their time, money, and resources on our most desperate neighbors and neighborhoods and not just the light rail lines, shopping malls, trendy grocery stores, art districts, coffee shops, and schools for our most privileged students. It means putting our time, energy, and money where our mouth is. You want to end systematic oppression and racism? Then we need to own our place in the system of racism and privilege and displace it. Spend time in these neighborhoods. Spend your money at black owned businesses. Demand that grocery stores are put in our food deserts. Grow a community garden in a dangerous community and then DON’T COMPLAIN when the people in that neighborhood reject you and trample on your plants. Keep working. Keep loving. Keep dismantling. Form relationships. And keep marching.

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Longing For Home

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If you drive the long stretch of route 58 west from the low marshes of Virginia, the ground begins to plump and swell towards the the old and bushy Appalachian mountains and the water slowly shifts and drains down into the Mississippi River basin as a spout into the gulf. When the briars become more tangled and lichen spatters across bark and rocks as wrinkled age spots, you have come to the imagined Virginia/Tennessee line. There are no valleys here, only hollows and slanted front porches that overlook gardens grown in brown clay and cows that meander through crooked wooded trails.

We arrived there in our mini-van and always stick out as the city folk among Jason’s extended family. Every year we visit and ever year we become more and more removed from life that is there’s. It’s a natural generational shift when a family moves away from their land and marries outsiders. We come back as observers. Visitors. We wander around the fields. Sit on the porches. Hug and chat and are amazed out how much the children have grown and the elders have weakened. But we aren’t there when the fields need to be plowed and medicine needs to be administered. We aren’t there during the daily moments of meals and bills, seeds and watering. So we soak in as much of each other as we can in sweltering air and cool breezes and we try to make up for lost time by talking for long hours, throw water balloons, build fires, make new memories, help to clean dishes and trim bushes. The compressed time does fill the empty spaces of a separated family, at least for a moment.

We make this journey every year to visit Jason’s aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, but this trip, for me, was long and difficult. The hotel room was dark and lonely. And you can only eat so many continental breakfasts before you begin to stare at your bagel wondering when the Lord is going to return. My spirit longed to be home. The people who I’m with daily, who see my children slowly creep up through their jeans, they were all home hurting. Being away from home and from my people isolated me to the point of extreme grief. All I wanted to do was talk about it, to pray and grieve with human bodies and hearts. Suppressing my trouble and grief over the deaths of the innocent made me feel less human. Our screens have created a sort of dual reality; what we read and type into digital space is not what we communicate in our physical space. But it’s always right under the surface. We’re all thinking about what the person next to us said or shared on Facebook but we don’t mention it to them while we’re sitting in the grass watching our children fly paper airplanes. We’re too busy filling our empty spaces with each other to talk about grief and pain and murder. That eats at my mind. It makes my spirit weary. And I wanted to go home.

What was it about Alton Sterling’s, Philando Castile’s, and the five police officer’s deaths last week that shattered our collective hearts? What is different this time? Have you noticed the air shift? The ground tilt? When we drove back home into our driveway yesterday evening we rushed inside and ate a quick dinner, changed our clothes, combed our hair, piled back into our van, and drove to church for a special service of lament, confession, and worship. When I sat in the pew, immediately the broken chasm between the digital, the physical and the spiritual broke wide open and I wept with my people. We prayed, we sang, and we cried out to the Lord in our grief and our fear. We individually stood up and confessed our racism, our indifference, our pride, our arrogance, and our retreat from humility and grace. Our pastor, through his own tears and anguish, offered the filled sanctuary words of our Lord’s grace. And our hearts lifted in joy and hope through our grief and sorrow. It’s what my heart needed. I needed to be home with my people, my church, my community, and I needed to grieve with them. I needed to go to the Lord with them. I needed my heart to be healed with them.

While I love my husband’s extended family, their homes, and their land, I’m just so glad to be home. I belong here. The people know me. I know them. We grieve, look towards hope, and march together towards justice. All to the glory of our Lord.

Numbers Kill Our Stories

Sometimes I believe that there is no such thing as data. Numbers don’t exist. They’re nothing but concepts created to order, place, control, manipulate, skew, draw upon, organize, separate, divide, multiply, add, subtract, genocide, rape, mutilate. My blood is quantifiably, identifiably, numerically, divisibly, historically worth more than black blood. At least 2/5 more at one time according to our constitution. And saying that makes me a denier of numbers, someone who doesn’t understand variables and controls, who skews statistics.

And I would say that statistics wring out the blood of our history. The stories are washed out. How do legal definitions that contribute to chart and statistical adjustments of police involved shootings tell the story of systematic real estate racial steering, job discrimination, historical segregation, the trauma of historically being considered 3/5 of a person? It doesn’t. It can’t. Numbers cut out and incise the stories of injustice that can’t be seen on charts and graphs. They are told to our children through stories. Stories that came out in songs of lament from hunching over cotton and tobacco. Stories and songs that are clapped and danced in the church. Numbers and data can’t touch the songs of ancestors.

This is the story that numbers can’t tell:


But they try:

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(Images and data from Cop In The Hood.)

What are the controls? The adjustments? Where is the skewing? What are the variables?

And the story is lost. The history is gone. Where is the blood? Where is the story?

And so. It’s unpopular. Ignorant. Unintelligent. It’s anti-colonial and anti-western but I don’t believe in or trust numbers.

I believe in stories. The stories of our people. I listen to and believe them before all else. In order to understand the tears, the anger, the fear, the mothers who have to tell their sons to be wary of the police we have to stop and listen to the stories. If they aren’t your stories then please, please stop talking. Drop the numbers. Stop trying to impose your white, western logic on people where the logic denies them their humanity. The logic that has worked to take their humanity away. At one time, science and data and numbers said that blackness likened people to animals and beasts. Your logic has historically worked to oppress and suppress and strip away dignity. So stop and listen to the stories. You’ll learn more than you ever could with incomplete data.