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Follow the Phoenix: Still They Rise

Photo by Josh Hild on Unsplash

Obviously, we are very white and have our own point of view. The black community itself is far from a monolith in its thinking. We encourage you to read, listen and think for yourself. Here are some good resources to get started…

From Docplay: 10 Documentaries to Watch About Race Instead of Asking a Person of Colour”

From The Root: These 28 Brilliant Books by Black Authors Are the Standouts in What Was a Stellar Year in Black Literature

From PBS: 10 Black Authors Everyone Should Read

From Forbes: First Listen, Then Learn: Anti-Racism Resources for White People

ERASE Racism: Founded on Long Island and now expanding regionally, Erase Racism’s mission is to expose forms of racial discrimination, advocate for laws and policies that eliminate racial disparities, increase understanding of how structural racism and segregation impact our communities and region, and engage the public in fostering equity and inclusion. Their vision is transformed, integrated communities in which no person’s access to opportunity is limited by race or ethnicity.

BTW…here is a good piece from WNYC’s “All of That” which gives guidance on protesting safely.

Here, for what it’s worth, is our offering...

Our hearts break and our minds race at what is happening in our Nation; to witness our longest simmering disease now raging in a fever that renders the viral pandemic that’s been all we could think about all but forgotten. We are mindful that this is THIS, singular in its twisted trauma. Still, we are also mindful that the plague of hate and contempt of fellow man is not limited to sanctioned targets; that this disease does not exist in isolation; that we are all in this together.

The call to heal is great.

It is our heartfelt prayer, our hope beyond hope, that maybe this fever is finally hot enough to burn out this Cancer and send it into miraculous remission; that together, we will somehow finally find a way to effect the change and deeper healing required to overcome the scourge of black slavery and racism, their overt and insidious ramifications, the deep wounds and outright killing that has plagued our nation since its inception.

In thinking about this, we are reminded of US News Beat, founded by Long Island publisher Jed Morey, which brings together gifted artists, journalists and insightful others together to examine social justice and civil liberties issues. From their first analysis of “Why We Riot,” an examination of the events of the late 60s that rocked black communities across the USA to their proposal of “Solutions,” which explores the centuries old concept of restorative justice, they have recently compiled a number of their thought provoking episodes to offer an Audio Guide to Civil Unrest in America: Where We Are, How We Got Here, How We Can Fix It.

This, in turn, reminds us of ”The Other America,” a speech by The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. where he explains that “riot is the language of the unheard” and endeavors to reconcile his philosophy of non-violence with his deep understanding of why it’s hard. He concludes fairly quickly that his approach is still the best answer and greatest hope; that “the time is always ripe to do right,” but that we must all understand that “the Negro cannot solve the problems himself.”

While those who have been so deeply harmed must first be deeply listened to; while their overcoming requires their empowerment and agency, we must all be part of the solution.

What King and so many others have patiently, persistently tried to explain matters. His words strike even deeper when we remember that this epitome of wisdom and grace was Martyred…as was the Christ he followed…over a half century ago; that while so much has happened since, so much remains the same, too often insidiously so…and too much lately seems headed backward.

We think of James Baldwin and his profound conversation in 1970 with Margaret Meade, of his I Am Not Your Negro from 1979, and of his imploring question in 1989 “How much time do you want for your progress?”

Here we are now, 31 years later faced with the horror that befell George Floyd. and the news that this was far from the first time that officer had raised concern. We didn’t need reminding that this isn’t the first time in more recent memory people have grieved a breathless, repeated unarmed plea. We still haven’t even begun to process what happened to Armaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. We know these are only those who have made headlines and fear something else worthy of our attention has slipped by…

And now, the riots. We do not condone violence. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Even more, we firmly believe Jesus, Buddah, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi and others really were on to something powerfully good. This is not just some placating, impotent way of making things comfortable. It’s the only thing we know of that really seems to work: Love and Truth hand in hand, delivered with humble grace and determined faith…It’s the only way we know to escape vicious cycles; the only way to overcome overwhelming force.

And yet, we are privileged. We have the luxury to muse and moralize, to indulge in lofty perspective, and to treat oppression as an intellectual puzzle. Even in that, we have little answer to the question — “What must folks do to be heard? How long must we wait for change?”

Howevermuch we endeavor to fully empathize, we will never be a black man. A black woman. A black child. We can only ever imagine the intense frustration; the heart, gut, and mind wrenching pain. We know how exhausted, excruciated, and enflamed we feel…We see how enraged some of the kindest most patient people we know are…and…in comparison we have hardly been tested…

If I’m ready to explode, what could I possibly ask of someone who is actually being set fire?

We don’t really know what to say or do. We are reminded that white folk like us have a history of either not saying enough or saying too much that’s wrong, and yet, who are we to feel so paralyzed? Damnit, we have to DO something!

Despite deep seated belief that violence is hardly a good solution and fear for all involved, especially now, it is beyond hard to condemn the frustrated, exhausted, excruciatingly pained, fearfully wronged. We do not want to stifle any potential progress, and yet are concerned by the numbers who empathize with the rage but maybe shouldn’t be doing quite so much to fan its flames. We realize that, while we’re all entwined, whatever comes of that will hit those already suffering the hardest. We see too many who seem so eager to exploit this moment and use the stoked rage to sow discord, muddy waters, establish dominance and convince themselves anew of their superiority. What do we do?

We watch and learn something profound: Despite our own sleepless consternation, in stark relief to all the provocation reinforced by would-be allies and smugly, systematically stoked by those of worse intent — despite and along with the honest outbreaks of utter anguish, base opportunism and foolish games – something remarkable endures:

A Patience and Grace, which so often has gone beyond being “undeserved” to being brutally punished and thus almost hard to understand as reasonable…endures…

We have long been inspired by the determined, transcending grace of Maya Angelou. We are reminded of how Colin Kaepernick getting down on his knee was actually decided after a conversation with a Green Beret in the autumn of 2016; how it was a thoughtful attempt to follow his conscience and still be respectful to those who cherish the flag and yet still got its message so coopted people hardly seemed to register that point at all.

We are amazed at how a bare few days ago, we saw Christian Cooper standing up for the woman who would have ruined his life. In image after image of these protests we are seeing incredible Patience and Grace in the face of incredible provocation…we are seeing black people sometimes desperately pleading against the actions of violent, vandalous provocateurs. We see black folks stand to protect officers from the crowd. More often we see those with the most reason to lose it advising fired up white folks to chill.

While others – often quite powerful others, and shadow armies of uncertain origins – are doing so much to fan the flames, with so few even daring to suggest that violence should not be an option; while so many otherwise peace-minded people are conceding, even, that perhaps violence is now THE option, we see the family of George Floyd appeal for peace.

While rumors swirl and local officials monitor threats,  much of which seem to come from outside agitators, protest and other community leaders have so far managed to keep things peaceful, even as they demand justice. They do this in the face of hatred not only from brutal strangers, but from people they had thought of as their neighbors. One local restaurant owner posted a video calling those protesting for positive change — including children —  “savages” and “animals” and threatened to throw watermelon at them, As that man boarded up his restaurant, community members came together to peacefully protest at his door. Many others dropped off donations of fruit emblazoned with messages of anti-racism that are now being donated to local food pantries. Several local officials joined them. Another restaurant dropped off pizza in their own way of showing solidarity.

We see Barack Obama advising that “if we want our criminal justice system, and American society at large to operate on a higher ethical code, then we have to model that code ourselves.” We hear the Rev. Dr. William Barber, who lives to carry forth the legacy of the Rev. Dr. King, who laments ills so much deeper and entwined than the graphic atrocities tell us that, “we are not screwed as long as we have the consciousness and humanity to know what is right and wrong…we can be wound healers. We don’t have to be arbitrarily destructive…we have learned there is a force more powerful.”

While we feel it in our hearts that the Black community should not be asked to somehow repair the ills pressed upon them alone, we remain humbled, grateful and awed by the leadership so many among them are offering. We are honored and privileged to stand behind them.

We recognize it as a gift of hope beyond hope that so many people who have been so tested by fire continue to somehow rise like a Phoenix from these tear stained ashes to be extraordinary forces for truth, love, forgiveness and faith.

It brings us to our knees in humbled awe and gratitude…and it happens more often than we think most people realize. We pray our own existence serves somehow to help more than to harm…

                                                                         ………………………………

As we reflect on all of this, we remember a Long Island Business News Op-Ed by Frederick Brewington that was published a million years ago on May 20th, five days before the most recent horrors hit the world stage, when we were only being traumatized by a global pandemic. In that piece he reminded us how deep the disparities are, and how rendered into stark relief they are by the virus.

A black civil rights attorney himself, Brewington did not focus exclusively on the plight of racism he must live every day. His hopes and heart are bigger than that.

One quote stands out: ”What these past 50 days have laid at our feet is the true opportunity to demonstrate our faith and compassion through our deeds and our commitment to help bring joy and security into the lives of those who continue to have the boot of oppression firmly pressed against their necks.”

Five days later, a knee pressed firmly against a pleading black man’s neck brought the weight of oppression down on all of us. Still, like the other leaders, while he resonates with the pain, Brewington remains committed to the idea that the winning battles will be peaceful and constructive.

As the whole world breaks quarantine, surging to respond, we echo Brewington’s hope and prayer that perhaps in response to the pandemic, and to this older, deeper plague, we will finally stand together to impact change; that we will “rededicate ourselves to acts that will tear down the walls of separation, fight the weapons of bias and reject the other barriers that have so concentrated pain and suffering on some, more than others.”

We will give it our best. We pray that he is right: “We can do this!”