How Sweet the Sound
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me…
Andrea Jenkins, Vice Chair of the Minneapolis, Minnesota, City Council, began her remarks singing those words today in a press conference as she addressed the racial tensions and violence that were fomented by the death of George Floyd, an African American man, on the evening of Memorial Day.
Declaring racism a “public health issue,” Ms. Jenkins implored the city’s leaders to call it what it is, saying that until we name it, it can’t be fully addressed or eradicated:
Until we name this virus, this disease that has infected America for the past 400 years, we will never, ever resolve this issue. To those who say bringing up racism is racist in and of itself, I say to you, if you don’t call cancer what it is, you can never cure that disease. And so, in an effort to try and cure this disease, I am stating exactly what everyone else has witnessed, and that is racism.
Today is a sad day for Minneapolis. It’s a sad day for America. It’s a sad day for the world. I want to remind all of the people that are in the streets protesting, you have every absolute right to be angry, to be upset, to be mad, to express your anger. However, you have no right to perpetrate violence and harm on the very communities that you say that you are standing up for. We need peace and calm in our streets, and I am begging you for that calm.
Councilwoman Jenkins was preceded in her remarks by Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, who declared,
“We need to offer radical love in this city.”
Radical love. Someone To Tell It To’s mission is about radical love. Our values shouldn’t be seen as radical. They should simply be seen as basic, a matter of course, the foundation of how we treat and relate to one another. Consistently. Invariably. At all times. But they aren’t.
Values that declare everyone — regardless of race or gender or nationality or orientation or age or ability or disability or religion or no religion or economic status or title or occupation or any other description that defines us — is a person of sacred worth and deserving of respect, being valued and loved.
It’s as simple as that. But this has been a tough week for those values.
The same day that George Floyd was murdered, Christian Cooper, while watching birds in New York City’s Central Park, had the police called on him by a woman whom he asked to leash her dog in an area that required dogs to be leashed. In calling the police, the woman used the dark color of Cooper’s skin to accentuate her accusation against him. That he was threatening to harm her, when he really wasn’t. She made the issue a racial one when race did not pertain to the issue at all. It demeaned Mr. Cooper and it exposed her biases, alarming so many across this nation. The values that Someone To Tell It To holds high were not hers.
On Tuesday, a 14-year old African American teenager, Tyrone Gibson, was shot in an alley just around the corner from his home, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania — the city where Someone To Tell It To is headquartered. Tyrone died. He had gone to the store with some of his friends. He never made it back home. We don’t know why he was shot, just yet. But his life, the life of a boy on the cusp of growing into a man, of a big brother who loved and helped care for his younger sisters and brothers, was taken away in senseless violence. His dreams died with him. His life’s promise, extinguished. His family, heartbroken and torn.
We know Tyrone’s father’s godmother. He and her grandson were friends. She is beside herself with incredulity at his tragic death. Living near his home, she watched him walk by with his friends on their way to the store, moments before he died. He wasn’t wearing a mask, which is required in our county when meeting others in public and going into stores during the COVID-19 pandemic. So, she gave him one, and told him to put it on, admonishing him to be safe. He died with it on. In the days since, we’ve listened to her recount that evening again and again. Her shock. Her fear. She is African American, and she knows the threats and racial animus that she and her children and grandchildren — especially the males — live with. Threats that we who are white do not.
Our recent history tells too many stories such as these. Ahmaud Arbery, of Georgia. Eric Garner, of New York. Breonna Taylor, of Kentucky. Walter Scott, of South Carolina. Michael Brown, of Missouri. There are far too many more. Each had their lives cut tragically, violently short. The color of their skin played a major factor in each of their deaths.
We have a profound problem with race in our midst. Our history, all 400 years of it, has been marked by violent racial overtones and undertones. That history belies the values of “liberty and justice for all” that we say we hold so dear.
There is needless trauma perpetrated on those who are perceived as “less than,” as not good enough, as different from those who don’t hold the same characteristics or backgrounds or life circumstances as we do. Someone To Tell It To aims to diminish that trauma. Our goal is for it to be recognized, respected, and to end.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found.
Was blind, but now I see.
When will that day be? That day when we will finally see the sacredness of every person’s life? We cannot stop proclaiming and living out our values.
Not until that day comes. How sweet that day will be.
Featured Photo: Kerem Yucel, AFP Via Getty Images