I know what it’s like to be an angry protester. I understand feeling so frustrated, hurt, grieved, and overwhelmed. I understand wanting to shout, “WHY DOES THIS KEEP ON HAPPENING?” I understand walking around feeling like I had to explain to people why I mattered based on the amount of melanin in my skin. I know what it’s like to an angry, militant, and deeply saddened protestor.
I remember when I participated in a “hoodie march” to make a statement about the stigma that can be associated with someone wearing a hood. I marched alongside over a hundred college students dressed in hoodies in the middle of a blazing hot Texas summer to both honor Trayvon Martin and speak to the injustice that caused him his life. I felt the unity and solidarity in our peaceful protest. I felt empowered by being a part of something bigger than myself. I believed that somehow my part in that protest could make an impact in the world. That was my first taste of protesting and I had no idea there would be more opportunities in the near future to protest again against the same system.
Two years later, Michael Brown was killed. The news was on in the lobby of the dorm I was living in. There was a video of people angry in the streets playing loudly as other residents watched both in shock and in awe of what was happening. I remember walking out of the building with a friend to get away from all the noise. I wondered if my first protest had even mattered. My mind was swarming with questions: How could I have been so naive to believe that our country’s “justice” system wouldn’t have any more victims? Why didn’t people learn from Trayvon Martin’s story? Why should I even have to repeat the words “hand up don’t shoot” knowing that those words could be my reality? My friend and I had so much we wanted to talk about but we were both speechless. Instead of talking, I sang Blackbird by Nina Simone as loud as I could, in the middle of the parking lot, from my deeply broken heart.
“Why you wanna fly blackbird?
You ain’t ever gonna fly
You ain’t got no one to hold you
You ain’t got no one to care
If you’d only understand dear
Nobody wants you anywhere
So why you wanna fly blackbird?
You ain’t ever gonna fly.”
I sang those lyrics from a place of sadness that slowly turned to anger over time. It was hard to face that history was repeating itself.
A few months later, I showed up to a protest against police brutality in downtown Dallas. I wore an all black outfit and had that same friend at my side. Blue and red lights helped guide our way in the darkness as the police helped block off the streets, like we were marching in a parade, so we could protest against police brutality. It felt ironic at the time. People of all types of different races marched alongside us. Some chanted, some sang, some silently marched with signs of pictures of loved ones who were victims of police brutality.
Going into that protest, I felt different than the first one I participated in. I was angry in a way I hadn’t experienced anger before. It was deep and boiled inside me every time I thought about the injustice I was seeing around me. I was infuriated at white people and police. I had started to feel hate towards white people. I felt both hate and fear whenever I was around police. I originally showed up to that protest because I wanted to fight for justice. That desire to make change was mixed with the hate and anger I felt towards the ones I thought were responsible for the injustice.
As we continued to march, I overheard someone saying hateful things about white people. That person believed that white people were the problem. He even said that black people were the superior race. I believed what he was saying and that scared me.
That person who spoke the words of hate was a mirror for me to face the hate that had been brewing inside me. It took some time for me to see that I was no different than the person who had spoken the hate inside of him out loud.
I had become the very thing I was protesting against. I was trying to fight hate with hate and I was losing.
Hate is heavy and I carried it around with me like a backpack filled with bricks everywhere I went. When I saw a policeman, I wouldn’t look at them or greet them. I had white friends but there was a part of me that felt bitterness quietly towards them. It wasn’t something I could shake off. I didn’t want to truly face it.
Less than a year after the protest in downtown Dallas, I went to a New Way training during a college service trip. Being trained in nonviolence principals pushed me to take a long hard look at the injustice within myself.
I could carry around a protest sign against the system all day but I had to take a stand against the systems within me.
During the training, one of the speakers made a comment about not being able to fight the system when you’re a part of the system. I knew I had to speak up and tell my story. The New Way trainers listened to me share about the hate that was in me and they loved me anyway. Facing the truth that I had become a racist trying to fight against racism changed me. I knew I was going to have to let the hurt and judgement go that I had towards white people and police. That experience opened my eyes to see that the issue is not a “black thing” or a “white thing”. It is much deeper than a battle against someone in a blue uniform and a bullet proof vest or someone wearing a hood in a convenience store trying to buy skittles. There is simply hate in this world and love is the only way to overcome it. I needed to experience that kind of unconditional love before I could let go of the hate.
Today, when I see videos of the protests across the world, I say “I understand” to the ones in the photos as if they can hear me. When I see the, rioting and looting I also feel zero judgement. I feel compassion for the ones out there. People are hurting and they are tired of seeing the same stories of injustice with different names inserted in the news headlines. I understand that. I’m tired too.
I know what it feels like to want to cry, scream, throw something, and just give up all at the same time. I have learned that I can go through those feelings and then make a choice to do something from a place of love. I started to see that actions driven by anger are only adding fuel to a fire of hate that’s been burning longer than I’ve been alive.
Now I sing a different “Blackbird” song. I can hear the hope in the lyrics. I can sing from a place that believes that love can bring people freedom from the systems that are hurting them because it has done that for me.
“Blackbird singing in the dead of night.
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see.
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free.”
Times like this can really push all of us to unite and fight for love and freedom. It’s time to take a different type of action.
“Blackbird singing in the dead of night,
take these broken wings and learn to fly.
All your life.
You were only waiting for this moment to arise”.