I have a vivid memory from the second grade.
With my hands clasped behind my back I bounced down the hall to the bathroom. One of my classmates was there, washing her hands. She wore a lavender dress, pigtails, and her bangs were curled to perfection. Each week I enviously admired her different curly, braided hairdos.
“How do you get your bangs to look like that?” I asked as I walked up to her.
“With my pencil,” she replied.
She took a yellow wooden pencil out of her pocket and rolled her bangs around it like a curling iron. She carefully slid the pencil out and looked at me proudly. It was as simple as that. When she handed her pencil to me to try, my thin hair slid hopelessly around it. We were perplexed. Why could her hair stay in the pencil while mine couldn’t?
After a few tries we giggled and shrugged our shoulders, and accepted the fact that my hair would not cooperate with the pencil.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized we were different. She was black and I was white, but neither of us seemed to notice. It never occurred to us that our hair couldn’t do the same things. Blind to our differences, we were two innocent kids trying to curl hair with pencils in the bathroom.
Over the last few years, and in recent months as horrific events of injustice have unfolded– hate crimes, police brutality, brutality against police and ongoing racial inequality — I have felt confused, heartbroken and angry. It’s felt like a loss of innocence, or perhaps my awakening to the absence of innocence in our culture.
I’ve gone to racial reconciliation meetings and prayer nights, and cried out to God for answers in rooms so diverse that there was neither majority nor minority. I’ve sought to understand what all of this has felt like, and been mystified as I’ve heard first-hand accounts of times when my black and Hispanic friends experienced prejudices because of the color of their skin or the neighborhood in which they grew up.
I’ve wondered what could I — a white woman — contribute to the ongoing conversation about these issues? Although I have had my own tragedies and experienced injustice, I’ve never gone through anything that compares to this. I have no idea what feels like to be followed by police due to racial profiling when I have done nothing wrong.
I have no solution, or anything profound to say. But life, death, and injustice are worth acknowledging.
Even though words can never adequately express my heart, I want to say I see you, I hear you, and I am devastated that innocent lives are being lost. It is unfair. It is unjust, and cruel. My heart is broken. I weep at the lives lost, and the families and friends left to pick up the pieces. Although words can do little to offer any sort of consolation I offer my heart, love, and prayers.
These words of Martin Luther King resonate deeply with me: I have a dream that one day my children will be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. I still believe in this dream.
In the same speech he also talked about his faith, and said, With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.
Despair has felt like an unwanted visitor in our nation’s house. Though our country has experienced progress and freedom, there is much more healing, restoration, and redemption to be had. I reject despair and say that I have hope.
My classmate and I were just two children with carefree, open hearts, and I believe that same innocence is still alive and worth fighting for.
I have hope that these mountains of despair and division can crumble. I believe with the Apostle Paul when he says that hope does not put us to shame. And love will always triumph over hate.
Black lives matter.