It was only a little over 2 months ago while attending one of the “Celebrate Your Life” tour events that had come to Houston that I met a lady whom I thought could possible be someone that I might develop a true and meaningful friendship. You see my friend circle is rather small. And although I am described as a very friendly and likeable person who is easy to approach and on most days, easy to get along with, I can count the number of my closest friends on a few fingers of one of my hands. I attribute having this small and intimate friend circle to both age and wisdom. I am 51 years here.
Considering this it was no surprise for me to have been attending the conference alone unlike many of the other women who were there in pairs or groups. Mary, I’ll call her, was also attending the conference alone. We, like all the other attendees, had come to this 2-Day event with the intent of being, inspired and motivated, challenged and changed and or, at minimum, positively impacted in some shape, form or fashion.
The lineup of top notch “New Thought” inspirational speakers included Michael Beckwith, Byrant McGill, Marianne Williams, Gay Hendricks, Jean Houston, Anita Moorjani, Sunny Johnston and the powerful weekend close out speaker, Iyanla Vanzant. On the first day, Michael Beckwith from the Agape International Spiritual Center was the speaker chosen to ignite the eagerly anticipating audience. He was then followed by Gay Hendricks and then Bryant McGill. All three speakers were dynamic and inspiring setting the tone for a weekend conference that was sure not to disappointment. After the first three speakers finished doing their part in sharing their particular messages of enlightenment and awareness, it was then time to break for lunch.
As most of the women gathered with their friends to enjoy lunch and talk with each other about what we’d all just heard, those of us who came by ourselves picked up our lunches and looked around for spots where we could sit and enjoy our food alone while letting the messages that had just inspired us sink into our consciousness a little more.This is when I met Mary. Both of us were holding our boxed lunches and looking around for a vacant space to sit when we bumped into each other. Mary smiled and seeing that I, like her was also alone, asked me if I’d like to join her for lunch. As I said before, I’m very approachable. I greeted her with a returned smile and said “sure.” We were both looking around for space when one of the event organizers seeing that many people were in the same boat as us began to pass out folding chairs. Mary and I grabbed chairs, juggling our lunches in one hand with our chairs in the other looking around to find a shaded area where we could sit and eat our lunch together.
After getting our chairs situated and our lunches on our laps, opened and ready to eat, Mary and I started down the path of the familiar “getting to know each other” conversation. It didn’t take very long for us to realize we had a lot in common. We were woman, we were wives, we were mothers, and it was apparent that we both had a pretty good sense of humor and liked to laugh and smile. We even felt comfortable enough to share a few below the surface type conversations. The kind that are usually not discussed at the beginning of a potentially budding friendship. But we were brave and we were celebrating life that weekend so it was all good. We shared our individual stories about how we both had arrived at a place in our spiritual experience that resulted in us having the courage to “believe” completely differently than how we were raised. We were similar in that both of our experiences had pushed us past religious boundaries and resulted in us stepping boldly outside of familiar traditional religious boxes to embrace God in new and different ways.
By the end of the lunch break Mary and I found ourselves smiling and laughing and talking in a way that lent itself to the idea that it was possible that we could really be friends. As a matter of fact, those paying any attention to us at all probably thought we were good friends who’d come to the event together. I cannot remember all the details of the conversation but at one point Mary, confided in me that she always thought that maybe she had a little “Black” in her. We may have been talking about music or rhythm or something of that nature. You see, as you may have guessed by now, the only significant difference apparent between us was that Mary is white and I am African American.
We swapped contact information and agreed that we would like to get together again.
While at home later that evening I decided to text Mary to let her know that I was glad that we’d had the opportunity to meet each other and asked if she was interested meeting again the next day for lunch. She responded that she too was glad and would love to meet for lunch the next day so we did. Mary and I ended up hanging out together for the duration of the conference. When the conference was over, which by the way was incredible, Mary and I agreed that we would continue our budding friendship and would get together for lunch the next month.
As providence would have it we were not able to get together the next month as planned. She had plans to travel after the conference and I, as both the mother of a graduating senior and a local school district employee, just wanted to focus on finishing the school year
and getting through graduation and all that experience entails. I finally sent Mary a text near the end of the month when things seems to be slowing down a bit and we tentatively planned to meet for lunch the next month in July. I shared with Mary that my daughter would be attending a Theater camp in downtown Houston close to where Mary worked so this seemed like a perfect opportunity for us to get together. She agreed.
At the time of this writing, it has been over 40 days since our last text when I was suppose to be confirming a July 6th,1 pm lunch date with Mary. However, after an exhausting week of our family managing a firework stand for 11 straight days 24/7, I knew it was imperative that I enjoy a couple of days of solitude before I would be ready to be around people again. Even if people was only one person other than my immediate family members. Knowing this, I decided to wait a couple of days before getting back in touch with Mary. But then came July 6th and things changed.
I remember sitting at home relaxing and recuperating from the exhausting firework stand experience when both television news and facebook pages started flooding with stories about the shooting and killing of Alton Sterling. Alton Sterling was an African American man who was shot and killed by police officers during an altercation outside of a convenience store in Baton Rouge where he was selling cd’s.
At the time I like so many others became obsessed with this latest shooting of another African American man. However, this single obsession with the Alton Sterling shooting was not to be our only obsession. On the very next day I happened to be on Facebook when somebody shared the murder of Phileo Castile recorded by who we know now was his girlfriend on Facebook live.
I can remember that as I watched the video I first questioned the validity of it. My husband and I were preparing for bed and were checking our social media accounts before giving our cell phones a rest for the night. I had actually just finished reading another story online about Alton Sterling when I scrolled through and clicked the link to a video of a woman who was calmly talking on facebook while a man riding along side her appeared to have been shot and was close to falling unconscious or dying while a police officer with a drawn gun was bawling out words at her through the rolled down window. As I watched the video I was initially in silence as I tried to make sense of what I was seeing. But as I continued to watch the video I starting asking questions out loud like “Is this real?” “Who is this?” “What’s going on here?” “Did this man really just get shot while riding in the car with this woman and is now slumped over in the seat?” “Is this man dead?” “Did this man just die right here in the car live on Facebook?”
I then showed the video to my husband to get his feedback on whether or not he thought it was “real”. Having worked over 14 years in the Criminal Justice system for the Department of Corrections with his final years working as an armed Special Enforcement Officer it didn’t take him long to confirm that what we had both just watched was a “real” situation. My heart dropped and it seemed like for a short period of time that I, like Michael Brown,could not breathe. I was having a hard time understanding what I had just witnessed. I mean, I know what I had saw with my own eyes but it didn’t seem to register in my brain. For me there was a gap. There was this cognitive dissonance in regards to the notion of protecting and serving. It was the killing of Alton Sterling the day before and now the killing of yet another African American whose name I did not yet know. This in addition to so many other unjustified shootings of African American men and women and boys and girls. How could this be happening live and in living color day in and day out?
I was faced with the truth that there was no way I could deny what was going on and had been going on for years. I was beginning to feel numb. I never did get around to contacting Mary about our lunch date.As an African American wife married to an African American man, and the mother of three African American children, 2 of whom happen to be young black men, all of this had suddenly seemed to be too much. It was so close to home.To close for comfort. During this time period I realized something about myself as I obsessively consumed news story after news story as well as posts after posts on the various social media outlets. I seemed to be experiencing a tug of war within myself between not wanting to read another story, or watch another video or have another gut wrenching conversation about systematic racism and the racial tensions that were bubbling up and spilling over all across the country. Yet on the other hand feeling the need to have to continue to read the stories, and watch the videos and have the gut wrenching conversations about systematic racism and the racial tensions that were bubbling up and spilling over all across the country. It was as if my very existence, or at least the lives of the black men in my life depended on me doing this things and staying engaged. I was beginning to feel angry.
This is when I realized that for a period of time I no longer had the energy to engage in conversations and activities with people who could not or would not understand my numbness and my anger. I realized I didn’t want to be around people who could not or who have chosen they would not acknowledge the elephant in the room of systematic racism in America. I realized I no longer had the energy to be concerned how my numbness and my anger might offend others who might perhaps believe it was an assault on their own comfort. I realized I no longer had the energy or the desire to “make nice” about these issues in efforts to be sure not to offend those who are uncomfortable with the truth of my daily experience. I realized that I no longer had the energy or the desire to move the elephant out of the room but rather I wanted to expose the the trunk, the tusks, the four legs, the enormous body, the wagging tail, the color and also and the natural stench of the odor from its presence.
I never did try to contact Mary again. As you may recall, Mary is white and I realized that I didn’t know her well enough to know where she stood regarding these matters. If my many white facebook friends (with the exception of two) where any indication where she stood, then I could only conclude that she like them would chose to remain completely silent. As a matter of fact I wouldn’t at all be surprised if most of them have actually hidden my posts. Tired of being reminded about systematic racism and its negative effect on the lives of black people as well as other marginalized segments of our population. I just didn’t know. But I did know for sure that I only have the energy to be unapologetically true to my own experience. Besides, it had been a while and Mary hadn’t tried contacted me either. So perhaps just like me, she didn’t have the energy either.
This challenge we are having here in America with the systematic racism that has permeated our society since its’ very inception is the elephant in the room of our nation that cannot any longer be ignored. For descendants of the transatlantic slave trade this elephant has trampled around us every since the first slaves stepped foot on American soil. The elephant already fully grown was right there front and center sent to welcome our ancestors to this foreign land. And every since then up until this present day America has continued to be summonsed to be courageous enough to acknowledge, confront and adequately deal with this issue. It has been America’s inability to do so that has resulted in where we are today. And at this time in our history, a continued denial is not in the best interest of any of the citizens in our country.
Fast forward to now, I am finally slowly emerging from my temporary state of chosen isolation. I know that it will require being fully engaged with others who by fate or choice have committed to join together to acknowledge, confront and adequately deal with systematic racism and all of its negative effects on our society. I know that this is work that cannot be done in a vacuum. I know that the task ahead will be difficult and challenging for all of us. But of course if we have learned anything from the history of this great American experiment, it is that difficulties and challenges are only bumps in the road of progress towards effecting positive change for the greater good of all.
And overall, I remain faithful. I believe we can do it.I believe we will do it. Or at least at minimum I believe there is enough of us that will commit our lives to doing all that we can towards affecting positive change.How about you? Are you up for the task? What are you doing? What are you saying? How are you helping? Maybe it’s time for me to reach out to Mary again and find out for sure where she stands regarding these matters. I might just find out that she too is up for the task.