Born Afraid

This week I began a new chapter in my life. After 23 years I am officially unemployed. Before I jump back into the world of employment, I am going to take a couple of months to catch-up on sleep, read books slowly, and start the process of unpacking the past two decades.

Yesterday I read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehishi Coates. The book is written as a letter to the author’s son, a young African American boy. It is a work filled with advice, deep reflection, and personal revelation. It is Coates’ attempt to unpack the world and culture that his son was born into. To recommend it as a must read would be an understatement. Coates’ style of writing draws the reader in in and allows us to see, feel, and begin to experience the word through his eyes, an African American man.

Part way through Coates shares the story of a friend who was gunned down by a police officer. Coates reflects that “I knew Prince was not killed by a single officer so much as he was murdered by his country and all the fears that have marked it from birth.”

This statement shook me to the core. Not because it was a new thought, but because it was dragged off the back-burner of my life again.

One of my best friends came to Denver in 1965. He ended up on the Westside at the Denver Inner City Parish. His goal was to fix poverty in 2-3 years and then move on to some other city and fix poverty there. Three years turned into 50 years. There were changes, but it was also clear that after 50 years poverty was still a reality.

In my first week at DOOR I was confronted directly about being another white man coming to the city to save it. For 23 years I worked to overcome my stereotypes and those of staff and participants. Yet here I am in 2017 and persons of color, particularly my African American brother and sisters, still live in a world where their skin color is the primary thing that defines who they are and not the content of their character.

I am not aware of any simple or easy way to wrap this up. Part of the answer has something to do with confronting the racism in our individual souls. Change also has to happen at a system-wide level. This kind of change will not come easily. It means recognizing and confronting systems of power that value white lives more than black lives. It means moving beyond “All Lives Matter” to the real issue – “Black Lives Matter.”

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