Eight minutes and 46 seconds. That’s how long George Floyd cried, “I can’t breathe,” and begged for his mother, as a police officer knelt on his neck and crushed the life out of him, while others kept guard.
Five thousand steps; 2.2 miles. That’s how far Ahmaud Arbery jogged for the last time, before white men hunted, shot, and killed him, for the color of his skin.
Six hours. That’s how long a brown-skinned agitator named Jesus of Nazareth hung on a cross.
A lifetime. That’s how long black and brown parents have feared for their children, carrying the weight of 400 years of violence to body, mind, and soul. Not only George and Ahmaud but Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and every person whose skin has been disenfranchised, discriminated, redlined, impoverished, silenced, dehumanized, frisked, lynched, coded as dangerous, as criminal, as unwanted in this neighborhood.
Two thousand years. That’s how long Jesus Christ has said, “The Lord has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free” (Luke 4:18), and “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40).
Since the beginning. That’s how long God has asked, “What have you done? Listen. Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!” (Gen. 4:10).
It is time to say with Jesus: BLACK LIVES MATTER. We must say it with more than our words. We must say it with our actions, our bodies, our presence. We must say it right here in Auburn, where people of color are threatened and called the n-word, where positions of leadership are conspicuously white, where churches are generally silent, where children do not adequately learn the complex stories, literature, art, achievements, and power of non-white peoples.
I have seen that holy power for weeks now. I have been witness to black men and women—bone tired, hopeless, angry, hurt, dying from grief—stand up and speak, cry, tell their truth, shout “I can’t breathe!” For three weeks, panels of black and white men through Auburn Public Theater and the Harriet Tubman Troupe did just that, in conversations that will awaken the Spirit in you. For weeks, hundreds of Auburnians have come together in peaceful demonstration, as our own police officers knelt in solidarity. Local advocacy organizations have united in action, in ways unprecedented in recent years.
The first thing to remember is that there have been people working in this struggle for years, decades, centuries, long before our arrival. The best thing we can do is learn about their work and explore how we fit into it. It’s especially important, for those of us who are white, to take our lead from people of color; they live this fight every day. For those of us who are white, it’s our job to do the work of dismantling the system that was created by white people, is perpetuated by us (even if unconsciously), and still to this day benefits and privileges us. It’s our job to organize white people and work within our own spheres of influence. It’s our job to use our positional privilege to create change. But it’s not our job to take up space that pushes out black and brown voices; nor is it our privilege to determine the agenda of the movement. Often, the best thing we can do is listen—and believe.
Another first step is to join or support one of the many organizations working for local change. (Go to westminsterauburn.org/blog, and you’ll see a June 5th post listing and linking many of these organizations. You’ll also find links to action steps you can take.)
It’s time we become partners, co-conspirators, collaborators in the divine power that is coursing through us even now, working for the liberation of God’s children. The same power that resided in Moses, in Peter and Paul, in Harriet, Rosa, and Martin, even in Jesus, resides in you. It pulses beneath the surface of your skin, no less than blood. It beats as steadily as the heart. Give it voice, give it one chance to speak and act, to live in you, to be seen by the world and proclaim that Black Lives Matter, and God will walk the earth.
Eternity. That’s how long God has been preparing for this moment.