Will You Let Your Child Die? MLK Day Tribute

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First Baptist Church of Portland, only location in city where Dr. King spoke

“Are any parents of the youth here?” our panelist asked, motioning towards Portland’s Pacific Youth Choir seated behind her. “Please stand.” A handful of adults stood.

“How many of you are ready to let your child die?” she asked.

A wiry woman in front of us shook her head “no” as she looked around and sat down, along with most of the other adults who had just stood.

The speaker was Kim Dixon, an African American woman who was one of twelve panelist at the Empowering the Dream event I attended yesterday.

“Many of us parents didn’t have that choice. My own son was a victim of homicide in 2013.”

Pouring from her personal experience, Kim founded a community-lead campaign called Enough is Enough to counter gun violence, gang violence and trafficking in the Portland area.

“Last year alone 285 were victims of homicide in Portland,” Kim said and then read several of their names, lives cut short.

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Gregory McKelvey speaking at “Empowering the Dream”

Kim’s challenge to parents of mostly white high school students in the choir highlighted the severity of racial disparity in our nation. Her challenge was a poignant reminder to me of the cost of dedication to the Civil Rights’ movement of our time, otherwise known as #BlackLivesMatter. Moments ago the youth in the choir had been among the first to rise in giving Oregon’s activist and leader in Portland’s Resistance movement, Gregory McKelvey, a standing ovation following his riveting six-minute speech. McKelvey himself understands what his participation in this movement could result in when he told The Portland Observer:

I will die for this. I think that Martin Luther King was willing to die for what he did, and he knew that he probably would. I think that it would be a miracle for me to live my entire life fighting the way that I’m fighting now, and not have something happen.

james-reebListening to the panelists, I asked myself what I’m willing to give for others to live and experience rights and freedoms like I do. My mind flashed back to photos I had seen at the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, displaying images of freedom riders such as the white ally Reverend James Reeb who was beaten and then died.

Another panelist had already challenged apathy that sometimes allures me. She said too many people when confronted by injustice either turn to hate or apathy. As a white person, my privilege allows me the opportunity to plug in as much or as little as I want. I can “go off the grid” and live comfortably or I can get involved with others’ plight for freedom. But for many, unplugging isn’t an option. Every day my neighbors of color experience injustice in ways I never have and probably never will. So when I set off my relatives’ house alarm and the police show up, they don’t so much as ask to see my ID or key to the house. The incident becomes a joke (yes, this really happened last week). For a friend of color, the situation would have likely played out far differently.

Yes, out-spoken leaders get targeted for death, like Dr. King did. Yet systems of oppression are simultaneously targeting our youth of color in the United States today. How much longer will we allow this?  To white readers of my blog, I repeat Kim’s question: “Will you let your child die?” Remember, many parents don’t get to have the option of being asked.

To everyone, leave a comment if you know of organizations like Enough is Enough that are making positive changes to end violence and bring justice in your community.

Coping and Confessions

 

Beep. Beep. Beep.

Road rage had struck me. When I’d pulled into an ARCO gas station about ten minutes prior, I had noticed an orange cone in front of my pump. I’d considered relocating to a different stand in case it was out of order, but figured ARCO’s attendants would have put an “Out of Order” sign on the pump if it wasn’t working. I parked and strolled inside to pay with cash so I could get a cheaper rate. I waited for several other customers to pay; when it was my turn at the front desk the attendant informed me that my pump was in fact out of order.

Walking back to my car I noticed that the pump directly in front of my car was now vacant, so I could simply roll forward to fill from it; as I inched my car forward, another vehicle began backing into that same space. I knew the driver assumed that I had just filled my tank and was leaving. However, I honked profusely until he pulled forward. Then I parked and got out.

“What was that all about?” an older, middle-aged man asked, emerging from the car in front of me.

“That pump is out of order so I was pulling forward,” I explained, pointing towards the tank my car had previously been parked in front of.

“Well you could have just told me that the pump was out of order and you were pulling forward,” the man replied. “I always defer to ladies. Ladies first.”

He’d called me out.

I reentered the station and pre-paid for my gas. When I returned outside, I saw a vehicle parked at the pump with the orange cone, directly behind my car. I was going to inform the driver that the pump was out of order, but then saw it was the man I had just honked at. He got out and came towards my car.

“Let me pump your gas for you.”

Now I was getting served an extra large slice of humble pie with a scrumptious dollop of conviction. I popped open the door for the gas compartment for him.

“They need an out-of-order sign on that pump,” I said.

“Yeah, this place is just falling apart,” the man replied. The thermometer on my car read 27 degrees and patches of snow had not yet melted on the ground around us, but the man was wearing shorts and a light jacket which was unzipped just enough to appear that he had no shirt on underneath.

“I tried to break up a fight two weeks ago but that just landed me with a messed up hand,” the man waved his left hand from his jacket’s pocket and showed off a swollen hand with stitches across it.

“Then my girlfriend of 15 months cheated on me and so we split. I’ve been living out of my car with nothing but the clothes on my back for the last two weeks.”

I wanted to offer to pray for him, but considering that our interaction began due to my road-rage I thought that might just make Christians look bad. Here this man who would likely be shunned in many churches was acting like Jesus towards me and right after I’d treated him like a total jerk!  And this in the same town just about a mile from where I’d experienced God work in a miraculous way at a gas station last summer.

So my confession number one is that I was a total jerk to a homeless guy with a bummed hand. My second confession is that after an intense few months leading up to and following the election, my coping mechanism during December mirrored many others:

I turned off Facebook.

Well, I didn’t get completely off the most-widely-used social media platform. But I logged on a LOT less. I also quit listening to NPR, watching news and scrolling Facebook and Twitter looking for juicy political pieces. Instead, I tromped around in snow-capped mountains, decorated a tree for wildlife, hosted a friend visiting from Los Angeles, bunny-sat for two adorable creatures and gave some attention to my personal life which lead to cupid striking hard in the form of a romantic relationship.

The experience at the ARCO station, however, reminded me of the project I had launched on this blog last November: attempting to build bridges among people who tend to dehumanize one another. It’s just as easy to forget that real people with unique stories are driving the vehicles that form annoying traffic as it is to forget the same of Republicans and Democrats, Socialists and Libertarians, immigrants and police. Whether it’s drivers of vehicles that create annoying traffic or the traffic on our social media, we would do well to pause and listen to the stories of individuals caught in traffic just as we are. And so my project of building bridges by listening and sharing stories continues into 2017.