I’ve been writing this post over and over and over, and yet I can’t publish it. It doesn’t feel like my voice, my true voice. My words come out in anger and despair. Of course that’s how I feel sometimes, but I have to remind myself to come back to the center. To breathe. I am one person, I can’t make a change in the world, but I cannot solve all the problems of the world. And there are many.
I’m in awe of people who can be poetic and contemplative in times of confusion or turmoil. They know just what to say to bring calm and love to a troubled heart. I’m not one of those gifted souls. I grasp for straws, so to speak. This is my first new draft of this post and final, unedited. My apologies now for any grammatical errors. I just need to get this announcement out.
We’re moving. In just about two months we will be unpacking our belongings and settling into a new home in Saint Louis, Missouri. We’ve slowly revealed the news to our employers and close friends in the last several weeks.
One friend recently asked me if we were still planning our move, considering the activities taking place in Ferguson, Missouri. I told her that, yes we are still moving and that sadly Michael Brown’s death was nothing new. I reminded her that Eric Garner had just been murdered in our own backyard by police brutality not a month before.
I’d lived in Saint Louis for almost seven years before New York City, and worked in the neighborhood where Brown attended high school. Michael Brown could have been one of my culinary students. He wasn’t, but he was just that young. Police harassment, specifically by white police officers toward black individuals was a common topic in my circle. In college I often heard the term “driving while black,” or “walking while black” tossed around. We knew which of us could speed through the neighborhood with no problem, and which of us were frequently stopped just to provide proof of car ownership. Because a person of color can’t possibly own a Porsche, right? Later, I learned that this is a common phrase and even kind of a joke in most cities across the US.
A year or two out of college I was teaching a class to teen moms. I’d been teaching nutritional health and cooking skills to low-income families for some time. I’d grow up in a low-income household and found this job as my ticket to give back. I was the first in my family to go to college. I wanted to see the same for the kids of these families, and hoped that by sharing some basic life skills that they could too. I thought it was just that simple. But this one particular class, I met a toddler boy who rocked my whole world. His mom yelled at him for something insignificant. She was young and impatient and so was he. Watching him cry was such a trigger for me. I knew it was wrong so see him as a statistic before his life had even begun, but right then it seemed like when his mom was against him, the whole world was. I knew full well the challenge it is to grow up without a father and with a teen parent. I’d been on that road. Unlike me, this baby boy was black. Having grown up in the south, with all the rampant racism there, and then attending college in a racially tense town, I was aware that my struggles didn’t compare with the challenges that he will face. Maybe I’m wrong. I don’t know.
I wasn’t in Ferguson on August 9.
I didn’t witness this tragedy.
I don’t know the truth of what happened in this particular shuffle.
I do know that racial tension is high in Saint Louis and surrounding areas.
I do know I am given a free pass from stop and frisk, general questioning or harassment because I’m not black or brown.
I know that while I grew up in a very turbulent home, very poor, I can be perceived differently and no one has yet questioned my background.
I know that I am one of few white people in my NYC neighborhood and yet I cannot go a whole day without seeing people who look just like me, they’re plastered all over the covers of magazines, and play the lead roles in almost every movie, play and TV show.
I know that the same cannot be said for people of other ethnicities. Where are they?!
I do know that a mother lost her only son.
I know that I still weep over that baby boy from my class every single time I think of him.
And I pray every day that he doesn’t become a statistic or a blood stain to a world that doesn’t care.
We’re still moving to Saint Louis. We’re not turned away from the outcry that is taking place. We’re proud of our community for marching in the streets and raising its voices.