This is from a member of our congregation telling her own story about what it means to be a Black mother of a Black son when so many African-American males are being shot and killed by police officers. At the end, I will post the remarks I made before Edyie told her story, plus some brief closing thoughts I had at the end of the service. The morning service was originally planned to be a report from the BPFNA-Bautistas por la Paz recent Peace Camp. Interestingly enough, what I was going to say about the importance of stories at Peace Camp was so very clearly illustrated by Edyie’s story.
Good morning. I am Edyie Wood. This has been a gut wrenching few days for me so thank you Steve and Mary for allowing me to speak this morning.
Let me give you a little of my history. My mother’s Grandfather was a White slave owner and my father was African-American and Native-American. I lived in Los Angeles during the Watts riot and the Rodney King riots. I am a spiritual care giver at the hospital.
I have some pictures of my son Michael here. Just look at them, make a mental picture of Michael and his kids and pass them on. I will ask you something about them at the end.
Shortly after I saw the video of Philando Castile dying, I took a walk to try to get some air and just breathe. As I was walking I saw Steve coming towards me and he was jogging. I was so glad to see him because I knew Steve would have some comforting words to snap me out of my hysteria. He said hi and kept jogging but I grabbed his arm nd said “no, no, I need to talk to you”. I was a babbling mess. Steve said “tell your story, you need to tell your story” so here is my story.
When I saw the video of Philando Castile it impacted me like no other. An officer with a gun drawn at a human being who is bleeding, moaning, dying while his fiance sat in the seat next to him, pleading for him not to be dead. The officer pointed the gun at Mr. Castile’s fiance and warned her not to move. So as Mr. Castile lay dying no one could touch him, comfort him or pray with him.
Mr. Castile’s fiancé had her four year old daughter in the back seat. I can not imagine the fear and confusion that four year old little baby must have felt as she watched Mr. Castile get shot, then bleeding and moaning. The video shows Mr. Castile gasping for his last breath. All I could say was Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Please help us all.
When our [the church’s] book club was reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book [Between the Woirld and Me] which was a letter to his son about being Black in America, several people were surprised to hear that I had never had “The Conversation” with my son about what to do when approached by a White police officer. To me Coates’ anger had taken his breath away along with his ability to be a loving and compassionate father.
No one in my family had ever gone to jail or had an encounter with a White police officer so I saw no need for that kind of conversation. We taught our children to be respectful of all people and to “Be a self sustaining, productive part of society and always give back”, and they have done just that. Abundantly well. But when I saw the video of Philando Castile all bets were off. My head hurt, I felt like my heart was ripped out, I wanted to get in bed in the fetal position and just shut out the world.
I cried for Mr. Castile, for his mother, for his fiance, for the little four year old daughter who watched it all and tried to comfort her mother who was in hand cuffs saying “it’s okay Mommie, I’m right here with you”. I cried for the community who lost a Black man who was trying to live the American dream. I cried for the officer who for a split second was able to objectify another human being just long enough to shoot him and watch his life slip away.
For the first time in my life I saw the prospect of my Michael leeding, moaning, dying just because he is Black. His children could have been with him and helpless to do anything. How would they go on without their Pop whom hey idolize? How could I continue to live if I lost my only son in such a senseless way?
I started to think I had been very arrogant and naive to think that Michael would be protected if he was self sustaining, a productive part of society and always gave back. I saw Mr. Castile’s mother being interviewed and she talked about how she taught her son to find a job with good benefits and retirement plan. But that didn’t save him. Was I really being realistic thinking Michael’s world could be color blind? Should I start living my life preparing for Michael to be killed by a White police officer and there’s nothing I can do about it? Should Michael tell his son, as Coates told his son, “be suspicious of White people, keep your guard up at all times”? Should my family live under seige with fear and terror on both sides?
I received this text from my 18 year old granddaughter:
“It’s been heavy on my mind that Pop could be in Alton Sterling and Philando Castile’s shoes in the blink of an eye and that’s a very scary thought. For me, this last week has been very hard to get through and I want to say that I’ve embraced the people around me but I have been very angry.
These last few days remind me how far we have to go. But what it does bring up is compassion and love for you and my Pop and all the people who have come before us. It reminds me how strong we are as a people and how much struggle and pain we have overcome to live and to thrive. In the spaces that we do. It reminds me how lucky I am to have you as a Grammy who is so loving and knowledgeable and how lucky I am to have a Dad who cares about me and would walk to the end of the world and back for me. But, my heart breaks when people from our community are senselessly killed and there is nothing I can do about it but show love and support to the people around me who understand the struggle.
I don’t know if this is helpful but I’m so glad that you texted me. it’s been really hard for me to be the outspoken person in a group, the only one who talks about race unapologetically and it’s scary sometimes and nerve wracking to speak up but when I do, I know where I get that strength. It is genetic, handed down directly from you and my Pop. I love you so much.”
This is what I know. African-Americans are not monolithic. We fight for justice in different ways and that’s okay. I know we raised our children the right way for our world view. Our world view was to expose our children and not handicap their ability to think freely. Should my son be vigilant, yes of course. But not consumed with fear and suspicion to the extent it impairs his vision and his ability to move thru the world and with the world. I know that racism is real but I refuse to let it drive my life or to be tormented by its presence.
I don’t know the amount of damage done to the mind of that little four year old girl. But because of her, I know I will look at four year olds who look like her and are acting out with much more compassion. I know that I will not let fear or evil paralyze me. I know that I will always be a safe place, mentally and physically, for my children and grandchildren to fall.
Let me finish with a passage from 1 Corinthians 13:13. This is what sustains me and gives me joy. Three things will last forever and the greatest of these is love.
One last thing. Please hold hands with someone and promise that you will do everything you can to ensure that my Michael does not become a statistic.
Peace Camp Reflections–Stories
July 10, 2016
One of the things that stood out for me at Peace Camp this year was the importance of stories. Now that’s not a new thought for me. But the Baptist Peace Fellowship has been working to bring greater diversity of people to Peace Camp. And when you do that you begin to understand how different people’s stories are. You also start realizing that we have a history and a culture in this country that assumes that some people’s stories are more important than other people’s stories. And you learn that because you are suddenly with people who are sick and tired of their stories not being the ones that are regarded as important. The people who are used to their stories being told and heard don’t tend to point out the disparity in who gets to tell their stories.
It is interesting, of course, that most of the Bible is stories. And when Jesus came along, not only did he do most of his teaching and revealing of God with stories, but he welcomed the stories of people who weren’t used to anybody wanting to hear their stories. Think about that woman at the well. The woman who touched his garment. The men and woman whose stories weren’t heard because they were gentiles, or they lived outside the understanding of the religious establishment of who was clean and who wasn’t, who belonged and who didn’t. That Jesus wanted to hear their stories was a big part of the story that we call the gospel.
It’s not easy for lots of us who are normally used to our stories being privileged because of the color of our skin, or our gender and gender expression, or simply because of our cultural position, to get the fact that there are lots of stories we aren’t hearing. Nor do we realize how crucial it is that we hear those stories.
I am also beginning to realize something about stories that Jesus obviously knew so many centuries ago. We talked about this a bit in one of the study groups we did when we looked at the book, The Righteous Mind—Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Most of us get frustrated because people don’t understand the validity and correctness of our arguments. Maybe you have seen the study about how the more evidence your present to a person about the invalidity of their argument, the stronger they hold on to their argument. Jesus knew long before the author of this book that it’s way more than just “give me the facts.”
While we are Peace Camp, for example, one of Donald Trump ‘s Senior Campaign Officials made the statement that “fact checking is the obsession of the elite.” And the phrase ‘post-truth world’ came up at Peace Camp. Stories get to another place within us than the facts do.
What this all has to do with the conference theme of the social and structural injustice of mass incarceration in this country is that there is a story behind why so many people of color are being incarcerated in our country. It’s no secret that when the Civil Rights Acts were passed and African-Americans were gaining more of the freedom that this country has promised all of its people, that the rate of imprisonment of Black people, especially young men, skyrocketed. It’s all in the statistics. But the visible signs of that injustice hasn’t changed the situation. The stories behind all of that are stories of racism. And until we start hearing the stories of how racism impacts those who are victims of it, this is never going to start to sink in.
Related to that aspect of what some at Peace Camp called the criminal injustice system, is what we have seen in the seemingly unending string of killings of so many Blacks by police officers. I could give you a bunch of facts, but you are just about to hear a story that we all need to hear.
I saw Edyie Wood earlier this week on my morning run. I will let her take the story from here. But I want to let you know that when she is done, we aren’t going to have any immediate discussion. I just want us to hear her story and not give the opportunity that so often happens when people of color do get to tell their stories. White folk walk all over those stories. We want to offer our wisdom and offer the solutions. We want to defend ourselves. We want to show our solidarity. We can’t imagine that our stories aren’t what’s really needed. But what we need to do is listen. And then, maybe, when we have heard enough stories like Edyie’s it will become more important to us that those stories are heard rather than ours.
It’s important for us to realize that not all stories are equal. When Jesus invited stories, he wasn’t so interested in the stories of the establishment and the exploiters. They always get to tell their stories anyway. And there are plenty of stories out there that are designed appeal to our lesser angels. This current political campaign being a primary example of that.
Peacemaking, Jesus taught us, is calling out the stories that offer us something better, something that helps us seek God’s Realm. A good story is not just entertaining; a good story is a story that leads us to do more good.