In this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back……. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. – Toni Morrison, Beloved
Today, I received a text from one of my staff, saying that they were “coming to me with a troubled heart.” This individual went on to say that the city was going crazy. Indeed so was the entire country. A volunteer at the JC Nalle School, who delivered food to our children and their families during this pandemic, was seriously hurt at the White House yesterday protecting a female friend. A peaceful, educated Black man once again emasculated. This staff member said they “do so much in the community to change the narrative and this happens.”
I am writing this message to you, my dear colleague, and to all of us who are likely to be experiencing similar pain. Centuries of anger, frustration, destruction, weariness, fatigue, bloodshed, reckless shooting, brutality, and trauma. Bigotry, hatred, racism. As Maya Angelou wrote “The plague of racism is insidious, entering into our minds as smoothly and quietly and invisibly as floating airborne microbes enter into our bodies to find lifelong purchase in our bloodstreams.” This condition works no differently than COVID-19 which penetrates the cells in our lungs. It is wildly infectious, sickening, and can cause death. It challenges that belief that living is about loving, about embracing humanity, which we all possess, but do not all value for all people. Fearfully, and bravely, we people of color still seek a cure.
And so I am writing to share a personal perspective, and perhaps my hope that you are sharing yours in the safe places you have created for yourselves. You see, as professionals we come to NCCF and give of our life’s work; my staff are Good Samaritans. NCCF is not confined to social class and cultural, racial, political boundaries and conflicts or negligence. Routinely, my staff answers the call to service, and the question, who is my neighbor? with the answer, I AM YOUR NEIGHBOR. They respond predictably. They know well that any of us could be waylaid by betrayal, violence, chaos, disappointment, discrimination, and gross inequity. Some of us already have been. We too could find ourselves in need. And we know that any of us could be Mr. Floyd in Minneapolis or Ms. Taylor in Louisville or LGBTQ or an immigrant or a defenseless, maltreated child or a pushed out, rejected adolescent or a beat down, devalued spouse, or simply poor in this wealthy region.
I was born in rural, poor Black South Carolina, the great-granddaughter of a slave. My family came north desperately seeking a way to economically survive, even though my father had a medal for serving in the Navy during World War II. An uncle who served in the Korean War was lynched. They called it suicide. An aunt was put out of the hospital when they discovered she was Black. She died of tuberculosis. So, for me, this season is not a new one, and this certainly is not a new struggle by Blacks for dignity and safety, for the right just to live.
Yesterday, I heard a minister preach: Stand in the glory of your humanity. Do not spend your energy trying to prove yourself, especially to those who are hardened by their own self-projections, because you do not put your foot on anyone’s neck. Always show mercy. I trust that about each and every one of you. Samaritans, we will get through this madness, resiliently, and in the end, our very humanity will define our action and will speak the loudest.
Finally, to the Samaritan staff person who wrote me this afternoon, never forget that your humanity is so powerful and so apparent to me. Love your neck…and hold it up. Do not let the 400 years of this evil presence in our midst and the wide sweeping debacle happening right now, take away from your sheer goodness and love. Please know that as sad, angry or distraught as you may be, I see you still help the victimized, impoverished and hurt children and their families discovered on the side of these very treacherous urban roads and you wonderfully love them as yourself. You change lives every day. Theirs. Ours. The Community’s.
I urge all of those who are as disturbed by this ongoing moral tragedy, as both you and I are, to renew your commitment to NCCF’s mission and to increase our collective advocacy for those we serve, at every level. It matters because their lives matter, you matter, and because we must condemn these historical, racial injustices. We cannot be silent.
Thank you for texting me, and for sharing your feelings of disappointment and affront, as a responsible, contributing, positive Black man. Peace and Courage.
Shadows on the wall
Noises down the hall
Life doesn’t frighten me at all
– -Maya Angelou, Life Doesn’t Frighten Me, Courageous Children’s Verses