I wrote this piece in August of 2014 after Michael Brown was shot. The town of Ferguson was in a state of shock and confusion. Peaceful protests eventually turned violent. It lasted for days. That was two years ago. Last week Alton Sterling was shot dead by a police officer on July 5, 2016 in Baton Rouge. In Minnesota, one day later on July 6, 2016, Philando Castile was shot by another police officer at a routine traffic stop. Both men were black. Both situations involved police personnel who resorted to excessive violence without due process. In Castile’s case he was complying with the officers request for documentation when he was shot. Minnesota Governor, Mark Dayton, clearly grieved, admitted in a press conference that he was sure a white man in a similar situation would not have been shot.
On July 7, Micah Xavier Johnson, an Afghan war veteran, opened fire on police officers who were actively protecting protesters in Dallas. The protesters had been peacefully responding, at a Black Lives Matter organized event, to the two shootings earlier that week. Five police officers were killed, nine more were injured. Johnson stated that he wanted to kill white people, particularly white police men and women.
It’s been difficult to know how to respond and yet I firmly believe that we must respond. We have to keep having this conversation. We have to continue to talk about these things. My friend Kimmery was over at our house for dinner this week. I watched her son, little man K, now nearly four, tease our college age son, Connor.
It seemed a good idea to dust this piece off again and re-post it–
I just spent a couple of hours catching up with my friend Kimmery. Because of the nature of the summers we’ve both had we haven’t seen each other in forever. It was fabulous to visit her in her new place, see boxes mostly unpacked, pictures already hung on the walls. She is settling in.
Kimmery is my friend. I love her deeply. She’s actually famous in our town for wearing the #4 K-State Wildcats basketball jersey when the Lady Cats were in their prime (2000-2004). Recruited from a high school in Nashville, she left her mama, her younger siblings, her community to move all the way to Kansas to play basketball.
A year ago she earned her PhD from Kansas State University in Family Studies. She’s one of the most determined, hard working women I know. And she has heart. Dr. Newsom cares deeply: for her clients, her family and her friends. She’s loyal and long-lasting.
More importantly, Kimmery, is the mother of nearly 2 Little K. If she’s determined as a professional, she’s also devoted as a mother. She loves well, sacrificially, completely. Little K is disciplined and bright. He knows right from wrong. He can count to ten forwards and backwards. The little stinker already knows many of his ABCs.
Kimmery made coffee and gave me a tour of her place before it brewed. She offered me breakfast. She hadn’t slept well the night before and she was exhausted. It was a slow going morning for her. She was late getting to eat. I chatted away as she fixed herself an omelet and washed a bowl of grapes for Little K. I told her about our move, how the kids were settling, what I was working through in my attitude. After she sat down she shared some of the struggles she was facing with finding child care. Her daycare provider was suspended. It’s a tough story with complications and human complexities. We spoke of her mom, who’s been working hard to get her GED, but who recently found a job.
And then I asked Kimmery what she thought about what’s going on in Ferguson. She bristled some, sat up straighter, and asked me if I really wanted to know. I told her I did. I thought I did.
What followed was nearly forty-five minutes of her sharing her responses to what happened in the past ten days in Ferguson, Missouri. She nearly cried when she described what upset her the most. After Michael Brown was shot six times, two of those times in the head, he lay there in the street, uncovered, on display. His own mother a mere yard away was prevented from coming near the body of her dead baby for “investigative purposes”. Kimmery passionately pleaded with me, “Where was the ambulance? Why wasn’t he covered? Why didn’t someone call 911?” She said all she could see was pictures of dead black men and women hanging from trees, lynched and left on display, while white people stood around and watched. She told me story after story of similar things where black men and women were immediately assumed to be guilty and were mistreated simply because they were black.
Connor and I were chatting yesterday evening. He wants to go to Ferguson to join the protesters. He wants to skip school and go. In his mind this is history in the making. One person can make a difference he told me with the passion of youth. It’s an issue of civil rights. It’s not right what’s happened there.
With tears in his eyes he prophetically spoke a powerful truth, “Racism is still an issue mom. If anything it’s worse now than it’s ever been because people say it’s not an issue.”
At one point in the conversation she pointed over to Little K, who at the time was flinging his head back and forth on the couch. He was babbling jibberish and squealing at the educational program on the tv. Kimmery, pointing at Little K, said, “How am I supposed to raise him? Knowing he has a target on his back from the moment he’s born.” That’s when I could hardly contain my sobs. I’ve known that Little K man since he was born. When he was barely two months old I watched him once a week while his mom taught class. He’s been in and out of our home ever since. At church he reaches for me. I snuggle my head into his neck and he giggles. Tears ran down my face. How can Little K be the black man shot down? But that’s Kimmery’s greatest fear. Michael Brown’s mother in an early encounter with a television camera after her son was shot, railed at the reporter, “Do you people not know how hard it was to raise him? To keep him off the streets? To get him to graduate from high school? To get him enrolled in college”. Kimmery honestly can relate to that heart breaking mother’s lament. She gets it. She faces it. She fears it.
I drove away from Kimmery’s house with my heart stuck in grief. My spirit was in convulsions as I agonized with my friend. I didn’t know how to process Kimmery’s anguish. I didn’t know how to respond, what to do, where to take it. I cried so hard I should have put the windshield wipers on. I could barely see.
And I took my heart to Jesus. I took Kimmery there too. I scooped up Little K on to my shoulder and I marched him over to Jesus too. I had no place else to go. Deep inside, where there was a very small quiet spot, I heard the whisper of a tiny verse from the ancient old letter St Paul penned to the pockets of the faithful in the community of Galatia.“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus…” There is great gospel truth in that tiny line of scripture. This is what life is supposed to be like. This is why Jesus came: to eliminate the lines, to erase the boundaries. This motivates me to work toward those equalities. I take on civil justice issues. I take on the freedoms of women, I take on the immigrant’s story because these are the things Jesus took on. He intended that his message and his love would communicate across boundaries and slowly, slowly eliminate them.
I could drive away from Kimmery’s house. Kimmery cannot. She is beautifully black and she’s raising a black son to manhood. Somehow, and I have no idea how she’ll even begin, she has to learn to live above her fears. Somehow, and again this seems impossible to me, she has to find the space to shake off suspicion and truly live. But I don’t know how she possibly can but for the remarkable peace that comes from Jesus who delights in her colour. I commend her to his care.
For the love of my Little K we have to keep talking about this stuff. It may make us flinch inside. It may stir up anger or resentment or confusion. Those of us who are white need to own that there is privilege in that. We need to see what’s happening around us. No more denial. No more overstepping or abusing our freedoms. Let’s be honest. Let’s communicate across these boundaries as well. Please, for the love of Little K.