Black Lives have always mattered

Every time I hear this interview, I am reminded of some of my own experiences related to Black Lives Matter.

This is a dream unrealized. MSNBC

Dr. Clarence Jones, former speechwriter and counsel to Martin Luther King, Jr., reflects on what Dr. King would think about the nation today.
Jonathan Capehart
What would Martin Luther King say about what’s going on in the United States today?
Dr. Clarence Jones
He would say Black lives have always mattered, always matter. The challenge has been for us to get the majority of society to recognize and to respect that.

These stories are about white Friends recognizing and respecting that Black Lives have always mattered.

2014

Racial justice, and Black Lives Matter, need vocal, visible and spiritual support from White Quakers now. How often has the Underground Railroad been invoked during discussions of Friends and enslavement and racial justice? Have you wondered what you would have done if you had been alive then? Twenty years from now what will you remember when you think back to this time and what you did, or did not do?

When I was living in Indianapolis, I attended the peace vigil every Friday afternoon in downtown Indianapolis. There were usually just three or four attending. We held signs about peace, including the Friends Committee on National Legislation’s ‘War is Not the Answer’.

I had been thinking a lot about peace building and feel that addressing economic, environmental and racial injustice is what constitutes peace building today in the United States.

After Michael Brown’s killing in 2014, and the ongoing killings of people of color, there were multiple demonstrations in Indianapolis.

I changed my message to Quakers Black Lives Matter. I made the sign below to take to our weekly peace vigil in front of the Federal Building in downtown Indianapolis. I was very unsure of how that sign would be received by people of any race, but felt called to do it

However, I had forgotten the first time I carried the sign to the vigil (I didn’t own a car) was the weekend of Indy Black Expo. As I was walking to the Federal Building and entered the downtown mall, I was suddenly in the middle of thousands of people of color. I was unsure of what the reaction would be. I was tempted to turn around and go home. But I mostly got looks of surprise and puzzlement. No one said anything then (there was music, food, etc.).

But during the hour of the peace vigil that day, there were a lot of interactions, both with people driving and those walking past our group of three, and they were all positive. Many people said “thanks” with smiles. Someone said, “that’s a good sign, a damn good sign”. “Our lives DO matter”, said another.

Carrying the sign on the way home after the peace vigil, I was surprised by the sound of an air horn, and looked up into the cab of the tractor trailer passing by, where two young black men were grinning and waving their arms.

Another day a young Black man stopped, got out of his car, and walked up to us. I wasn’t sure how that was going to go. But he said, “a white man holding a Black Lives Matter sign”. I said, “yes, a white man holding a Black Lives Matter Sign”. He started to go away, but returned and asked, “why are you doing it?” I told him about the Kheprw Institute (KI) that mentors Black youth that I had been involved with for several years now. And how those kids had become friends of mine. And I want a better life for them. He nodded, then said it was a brave thing to do. I only mention this to show how other people might see what you do in public. He went on to say he felt justice had to be grounded in faith.

Many times a car of people of color would honk, and people smile and cheer and wave their hands. Many times take photos with their phones.

Another day an energetic young Black man came and said “Quakers, Black Lives Matter”, and began to take a video of us, then had a friend take more video as he stood with his arms around our shoulders, narrating all the time–“Quakers”, “Black Lives Matter”.

Bear Creek Friend Jenny Cisar created this decal and made 100 copies, which people were eager to obtain.

JennyBLM

Kathy Hall, of Whittier meeting, made this sign. Pictured is the Peace and Social Concerns Committee of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative).

Peace and Social Concerns Committee of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative).

July 12, 2016

Friends, this is a pivotal moment.  Silence means supporting the status quo, which means supporting white privilege and racial injustice.  Black Lives Matter is a nonviolent movement seeking to correct these injustices.

We are all aware of Friends’ history of speaking out publicly to witness against injustice.  Many of us continue our weekly peace vigils and display our “War is Not the Answer” signs.  Peace making now means speaking out for racial justice.

Here is one graphic you can make a sign from.

Friends, our small and rural communities especially need to hear these messages

This is the time to stir up uncomfortable conversations.  My black friends wonder why white people are not helping them.  We need to show visible signs of support.   We need to attend the Black Lives Matter rallies.  We need to put Black Lives Matter signs on our meetinghouse and home lawns.

Dallas surgeon Brian Williams, who helped care for the police shot there, said “I understand the anger and the frustration and distrust of law enforcement. But they’re not the problem. The problem is the lack of open discussions about the impact of race relations in this country. . . . The killing, it has to stop.’’

Please move away from the sidelines and unite together — regardless of your faith or religious practice — to seek an end to hatred and violence . . . What happened to our family is part of a larger attack on Black and Brown bodies . . . We call on all people, public officials, faith leaders and Americans from all walks of life to help address the festering sores of racism as it spurs an unforgiving culture of violence.” -Rev. Waltrina Middleton, longtime organizer, whose cousin Rev. Depayne Middleton, was killed in the massacre at Emanuel AME Church

2016

I’ve often looked at, and thought about this photograph I took at a Black Lives Matter protest in Indianapolis in July, 2016.

It was a warm, sunny summer evening, around sunset.  I arrived about half an hour early and there weren’t many people gathered on the lawn of the Indiana Capitol, yet.

I almost walked past the trio above, but something made me stop.  I thought they created an excellent image of the Black Lives Matter Movement…poised, stressed and tired, respectful, determined, nonviolent, hurt, angry, but very, very intent and serious. 

It was important to me that I ask for their permission to take this photo, something I didn’t usually do then at public events. These days I no longer take photos that show people’s faces, because law enforcement uses such photos to bring charges.

They each considered my request for a moment, then each, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, indicated that would be permissible.  I knelt in front of them, framed and then shot the photo, and thanked them.  Silent nods, but also slight smiles.

I like each of the facial expressions, the story each person’s posture tells, and the raised fist salute.  I like the sense of support, leaning in toward each other.  I like the messages on the signs.

But the reason I keep coming back to this is because I also feel a real challenge from them to me/us.  I think they are saying “we’ve taken the time and effort (and I would say courage) to come out in public to support our community and each other, and demand that these injustices stop.”

And they seem to be asking me/us, “what are you going to do?  Do you have a little courage yourself?  Will you make yourself, and others uncomfortable by speaking the truth about these things?”

One thought on “Black Lives have always mattered

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