Patience

handsMy radio spoke to me the other day. Actually, it was Alicia Garza, co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter, making a speech to a theatre full of people at the University of Southern Maine being broadcast on my local NPR station at Noon on a Monday. But it was like she was speaking to me and all who are experiencing, participating in, supporting, encouraging, watching, feeling, talking about and not talking about the many shifts occurring in our country—around race and so many things.

Normally, when there is an issue I believe is critical for society to see and act upon, where awareness and conversation can help, I am compelled to speak. Honesty, positively intentioned debate, listening, awareness, meditation, prayer, passion and community all lead to greater consciousness and ultimately positive change.

However, as I explained in my last blog, my own voice on the challenges the black community is experiencing, especially those illustrated so clearly within our system of law and order in recent years, has been hesitant and very quietly filled with a mixture of outrage, sadness and compassion for all who have felt the claw of injustice in both its raw and subtle forms. As a white person, for a long time I didn’t have certainty about what I can say that is helpful in the immediate situation or, more importantly, doesn’t cause unproductive conflict.

I told myself that I should only speak about the issues “other communities” are experiencing when I was ready to express myself in the clearest and most thoughtful ways, when it can have the greatest impact. It is my responsibility as a writer and as a human, I said. Fear of saying it “wrong” or saying too much or just not being able to make anyone listen no matter what I said kept me from saying or writing anything. So, I let other “more appropriate” voices speak. And I continued to draw attention to some of them, especially when their messages shone so brightly they lit a new path in the darkness.

In her speech, Ms. Garza told the story of how #BlackLivesMatter came to be in 2012, born from a love letter she wrote to the black community as the Trayvon Martin story unfolded. I hung on her every truthful, connected, peaceful word. She told us how her deep love for her community, exactly as it is, drives her passion. About how activists and organizers outside the largely heterosexual black male establishment—desperately needed feminine voices among the many masculine ones—struggle to be heard even within their own community. About how this movement isn’t about anger, or even just about oppression of and injustice toward the black community. It’s about what all civil rights movements are about: building a world that has unconditional love and acceptance of all people. Where all are treated with compassion, fairness and respect on an individual and institutional level. Where all people matter.

A link to the 30-minute broadcast is {here}, and everyone who’s made it this far into the blog, no matter your race or opinion on such things, should listen to the entire recording. But at 23:45 she speaks another universal truth I found particularly comforting and inspiring, a reminder that shifted my views on everything I’ve said so far. A student asks her how she can better convince her friends to care about the need for change. I waited to hear the response I expected about organizing more effectively or working smarter not harder or never letting up. Ms. Garza’s response:

Be patient…

…Consciousness raising and growth require a huge internal shift, a death of the old and willingness to move forward into an unknown filled with risk and change. It requires being able to look beyond your own survival—a difficult thing for those struggling daily to survive and thrive, for some in a society that behaves like it doesn’t want them to. The human reaction is fear that reveals itself as resistance or, more commonly, apathy. This can be infuriating for those who understand that the slower these individual evolutions happen the longer the societal evolution takes.

But Ms. Garza said that instead of responding with impatience, anger or more forceful strategies to make change happen faster, this student should respond with patience, love for her fellow human beings and understanding. She urged her to continue to speak up, to be persistent and passionate, but with acceptance that she won’t reach everyone and that those she does reach will change in their own time and in their own way. Always respond with love, she was essentially saying, because they are human, you are human and our collective ability to thrive is at stake.

A right and responsibility to speak out

In a few simple words, as an answer to one woman’s heartfelt question, Ms. Garza soothed and washed away any discomfort I still had about speaking my truth or writing about the controversial issues of the day. It doesn’t matter that I’m not black and don’t want to annoy my black friends or offend the many wonderful police officers I know. It doesn’t matter that I’m not gay and I want to share my support for same-sex marriage even when in potentially resistant company. No matter how it is received in the moment, the change will continue. The message expressed with love for all of humanity will be heard by whoever is ready. The growth and shift will continue within myself and others on a similar path, and over time everything around us will shift, too.

Most importantly, we all have a right and responsibility to speak for those being oppressed because we are speaking about our fellow humans. We should support these communities publicly and vehemently because our souls, and therefore our liberty, are connected.

When we speak harsh but loving truths about freedom and justice and give everyone room to accept it in their own time and in their own way, the effect is bigger and wider than just you. It reaches all the way to those who need it most.

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To find out more about #BlackLivesMatter, please go to blacklivesmatter.com. To watch videos of Alicia Garza’s talk at USM, click here and here.

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