The last few days have been a whirlwind for me. On Sunday I watched Selma with my youth group from St. Luke’s Episcopal Church as well as my teen group from Joshua Station. After the movie we retreated to a local venue very acquainted with difficult conversations, the Issachar Center (A program of Mile High Ministries), to have a conversation about the film.
Then on Monday I joined arms with an incredibly beautiful community of leaders in Denver to march in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Marade.
Then after the Marade I got to stand alongside that beautiful community I mentioned above in presenting our first Black Lives Matter Conference in Denver. This community of leaders is known as the Denver Freedom Riders and they have utterly transformed the way I see and engage in topics of injustice. They shared their voices with conviction, passion, and power. Though I have heard from most of them before, they still managed to get me pretty fired up at the conference, and I think that is true for most of the 2,000 people that joined us after the Marade.
I have decided to process my journey into the Black Lives Matter movement out loud. I guess I have started to believe that this is the only way I can truly be authentic. I want to offer answers. I want to tell everyone what needs to happen for our communities to be places of peace and harmony, but I have learned that this desire to give the answer is a symptom of my own experience of Privilege. Instead I am pushing back against the need for answers and simply listening.
I am listening to my new friends at the Denver Freedom Riders who have deeply inspired me in a very short period of time. One of the pieces to the gatherings we have had is sharing why we are there. I have been brought to tears by the stories from my friends of color, many of whom have personally experienced some sort of racial profiling, police brutality, or wrongful arrest.
The stories are the most profound piece of this to me. For years I liked to think of these issues as just that–issues. Much like Immigration went from being an issue to a deeply personal experience after moving into Joshua Station, racial injustice within the black community has taken on flesh for me. I no longer hear only statistics, but I hear friends speaking through tears to tell their own story. These are poets, artists, musicians, pastors, youth leaders, etc. who have found themselves labeled as thugs and criminals for no obvious reason aside from the color of their skin.
I tried to publish an OpEd in the Denver Post before the Marade and Conference. Due to the limited time between my submission and MLK Day the piece wasn’t able to be considered. I will share it with you here as it best offers my own response to the question, “Why are you here?”
The name of this piece is Black Lives Matter and Martin Luther King Jr.
A central piece to my spirituality is the belief that we are all connected. Because of this I was rattled by what has happened in Ferguson, MO—from the shooting of Michael Brown to the decision to spare Officer Darren Wilson of an indictment. The night of the non-indictment I found myself repeating the phrase: If we are not all well then none of us are well. As I see the anger and pain in the eyes of my friends of color I am reminded of this central truth. As uncomfortable as that reminder is, it prevents me from locking myself in my house, protected by my privilege, and ignoring the cries of my brothers and sisters of color.
In many ways I feel that I have experienced an awakening. This awakening has led me to join arms with many other leaders in Denver to stand in solidarity with Ferguson and force the conversation around police brutality and racial inequality in Denver. Those other leaders have unquestionably transformed the lens through which I see these events.
All of this has led me to reread history—to study the Civil Rights Movement through a lens transformed by the Black Lives Matter Movement. As Martin Luther King Jr. Day approaches it seems that the opportunity is ripe for our city to remember this legendary man alongside those standing firm in his tradition of non-violent resistance to a system that continues to disproportionately oppress people of color. That is why I will be attending the Black Lives Matter Conference on January 19th from 1:00pm-4:00pm at the McNichols Building in Denver. The conference promises to be a time of education, inspiration, and action.
A cry I have heard over and again during the past few months is, “Don’t be on the wrong side of history.” It is my hope that Denver will be a city that finds itself responding to that cry with an emphatic, “Black Lives Matter!”