Today, June 19th, is the holiday referred to as Juneteenth. It marks the day when news of the emancipation of slaves finally reached the most remote slave state. Texas. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in January of 1863, it wasn’t until this day in 1865 that the news had reached everywhere. Juneteenth is a celebration of the last remaining slaves gaining their freedom.
We’ve come a long way in the last 155 years, but recent events show us we still have a long way to go, not just in America but globally. In nations where we work, there’s histories of colonialism and apartheid that still have lingering effects of racial tension. The fight for equality is everywhere. Below is a piece written by Phoebe Giffey-Brohaugh, a former staff member at our White River location. She shares about the recent events in her town of Minneapolis and her reflections on race, equality, and action.
I was sitting in my parents house in the woods staring at my phone screen, watching the live feed of George Floyd’s memorial. Speakers and relatives of Floyd would come to the stage to stand in front of a backdrop as Gospel music played. The backdrop was a photo of a mural of Big George. The bottom of the painting read, “I can breathe now.”
That mural is painted right outside of Cup Foods. The outside of the corner store and its intersection has become a memorial for Floyd filled with flowers, paintings, and letters. George Floyd died outside of this store on May 25th in Minneapolis, MN in police custody (read what led to his death here).
Growing up I would spend parts of my summer vacation visiting my family and biking around Minneapolis. I have lived in this specific neighborhood from time to time as an adult. I also know this date well; it is my twin nieces’ birthday. Both the time and place stick out to me.
When I first read about George’s death, I couldn’t comprehend it. I’ve heard stories of racial injustice resulting in death and seen repercussions of police brutality firsthand, but this time it seemed more real to me. I became angry, because for the first time, this narrative became personal. And then I began to wonder how many other times this has happened, but the world didn’t know about it? I was angry at myself that it took such vivid documentation, a date I will always remember, and a place I knew well for me to be upset enough to do something.
Interestingly, I feel another reason this story hurt more was because of my experience of living in South Africa for five plus years. Both South Africa and the United States have a history which cannot ignore racial injustice. Both countries and their existence in the modern world have been built off of the idea of inequality between races. It seems that some Africans are better able to empathize with this story more than Americans can, and even have been protesting. By being in a foreign place where I saw people fighting with all their might to escape a broken system, my eyes were opened to that same exact thing happening in my home culture. I believe my experience in both countries are interconnected; I cannot be passionate about and speak up about one country’s struggle while not doing the same thing for the other.
Floyd’s memorial service was heavy with paradox; while it grieved this lost life, there was also hope. Hope is the only thing which encourages us to keep living and moving forward. Without hope no one would be a part of a Revolution. Without hope we could not grieve properly. People would not protest if they didn’t believe a change could come. Hope is the oil in the engine, so to speak. And hope is not easy to come by. I think there are two levels to it. First, there is the naive hope that runs out during your coming-of-age experience. That type of hope doesn’t change anything. Then, there is a deeper one. I believe this hope only happens if you stick through those times of revelations, doubt, and pain. To gain this type of grounding hope, you must first go through the uncomfortable process of waking up and realizing the world is filled with injustice.
The end of the memorial was marked by having everyone stand for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time that Floyd was pinned to the ground before he passed away. I stood on my parent’s porch looking into the woods for those few minutes. It felt like eternity. Eight minutes was long enough to choose to keep this man alive. George Floyd should still be alive. I started crying when I wondered how many other black men and women and children should still be alive. Tears are not enough. They are only the starting point of beginning to gain empathy. Before we can help transform society, we must first go through a transformation and revolution within, in our minds and hearts.
I’m not going to lie. I almost didn’t stand still for those eight minutes. It felt strange to do it. But it was an act of solidarity, and I knew it would help me better understand.
As both a person of privilege and someone who believes in personal and redemptive relationship with God, it is my duty to practice compassion. While I may not fully comprehend the injustice and struggle of another race, I will only be able to help if I make choices with compassion.
Compassion leads to action and asking “What can I do?” This is motivated by both a sense of hope and knowledge of the urgency of the situation.
I see three types of action that are important if we are to overcome racial inequality and injustice:
- Reflection: take time to grieve and kindle compassion. Watch George Floyd’s memorial service. Learn the names of others who have lost their lives because of racial inequality. Write songs and create art about it.
- Personal Investment: the direct outcome will not be able to be measured, but will make the most change in the future through a snowball effect. I believe the most important difference we will make is the way we live our daily lives when the rest of the world isn’t watching. Am I living in a way that opens space for People of Color to speak up and lead? Am I helping to raise this next generation of children to care for others no matter what they look like? Do I have mentors and close friends who are not white? Am I holding my counterparts accountable for their words and actions? Do I respect other peoples’ cultures? Am I taking time to educate myself about the complicated systems and circumstances which led to this? Am I listening well?
- Direct Change: there are a lot of things to do in the now. Sign petitions, peacefully protest, talk with local government, use your voice for those who are voiceless. Learn about the needs of your community in areas of nutrition and shelter. Look for ways to be a part of creating a healthy education system. Use your resources to support and empower the less fortunate. Volunteer. Donate money, time, and talent.
It’s unfortunate and ridiculous that we have to still talk and teach about systemic injustice. The fight against this has been happening for far too long. It’s disheartening to know that it takes graphic and fatal situations for many of us to realize there is a problem. But there is hope. And it’s that deep, culture-shifting hope that’s gained in the fire and in coming together in grieving. Reverend and activist, Al Sharpton, spoke about it at Floyds’ memorial. We should not have to still be fighting for equality. But we are. We have a long way to go, but we have also come a long way. Rev. Sharpton has been protesting and advocating for a long time and can remember when he protested alongside Martin Luther King Jr. He remembers when there were hardly any white people in those marches. What we see today is drastically different. People of all ethnicities and beliefs are linking arms. Change is coming. What I’ve seen in Minneapolis is just that. People have been peacefully protesting even when others have tried to weaponize them or take advantage of the opportunity at hand. I have seen every imaginable age, gender, and belief system in this city link arms with one another and say they will no longer put up with violence against people just because they look a certain way. There is a season for all things. Old systems are being torn down and replaced with new ones. People are painting over broken windows with words of hope. We are saying the names of those we know who have lost their lives to this brutality. We are grieving together. We are starting the long process of rebuilding. Change is coming.
Ten Thousand Homes seeks to provide hope and home to the world’s most vulnerable. It’s through nutrition, shelter, and education that we are able to give opportunities to those who might not have opportunity otherwise. Through our feeding programs, we are fighting for justice and equality and building brighter futures for the most vulnerable. As we link arms with you, friends and donors of Ten Thousand Homes, together we are able to bring change and cut through the racial tension that brings division. We are able to show the George Floyd’s all over the world that their lives are valuable and that they have something good to offer the world. Thank you for being catalysts of change and hope.
To link arms in the cause for bringing hope and home to the world’s most vulnerable, visit us on the web.