The First Step

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It’s time. Enough is enough. Each time I’ve heard about a horrific killing of an African American, either at the hands of the police or of some vigilantes, I’ve wrung my hands and shaken my head and, except among close friends and relatives, I’ve stayed silent. And that was wrong.

My reticence to speak out in the past was because of my, perhaps misguided, belief that any commentary from me or anyone who looks like me, would be viewed with something between a shake of the head and complete disdain. Because who was I to be speaking on this issue? So, I figured it was best to just keep my mouth shut. And that was wrong.

Perhaps it’s the wisdom that comes with age. Perhaps it’s finally understanding that silence can be as bad as assent. But, I know for sure that it’s time. It’s past time. I stand with George Floyd. I stand with Ahmaud Arbery. I stand with Breonna Taylor. I stand with Eric Garner. And Michael Brown. And Freddie Gray. And Emmett Till. And every other African American killed for no other reason than the color of their skin. True, I will never know what it’s like to wake up Black in America and fear what might happen to me on my way to work or the coffee shop. But, that’s all the more reason for me to speak up. Silence is deadly.

Since George Floyd’s murder, I have freely shared my thoughts about a perverse reality. When we’ve witnessed other horrific, racially motivated killings in the past couple of decades, we’ve felt anger, but nothing eventually came of it. Demonstrations lasted a few days and then life went back to normal. Was part of the reason for that because in Obama and Bush we had leaders who were empathetic and understood how to calm the nation? And, if that’s the case, is the current opposite environment exactly what’s needed for real change to finally occur? Sometimes you have to tear something down to re-build it the right way. Maybe now, with a leadership so out of touch with reality that it’s painful to watch, we will see true change.

I’ve asked for guidance from trusted friends with respect to what I can do to get involved and help make this world a more equal and just place. I believe it’s incumbent upon each of us to do our part, whatever that is. One thing I know for sure is that it includes talking about the issue. With anyone who wants to share thoughts and ideas. I have started conversations over the last week or two that I would have shied away from in the past. Turns out, they haven’t been awkward at all. Every single person with whom I’ve spoken has welcomed the fact that I initiated the discussion. So, that’s it. That’s the first step. If we can all get the dialogue going. Really going. Then, and only then, can we begin to make progress.

It’s taken too long, but I believe I finally understand something fundamental. My job is not to fully comprehend what it’s like to be an African American man walking down the street in any city or town in America after dark. I never will no matter how empathetic I am nor how hard I try. Instead, my job is to help, in my own small way, to bring about change so that the next generation of African Americans feels something entirely different when they walk down the street. My job is not to experience their fear, it’s to help remove that fear. I can’t do it alone. But, together, we can start to accomplish this enormous task. Let’s all walk together.

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