Will We Choose to Do What Is Right?

Good morning from Westminster, MD.

As I write this I do so with a saddened heart for where we find ourselves today. The unnecessary and tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN is heartbreaking. What happened to George Floyd was wrong. There is no excuse for the actions taken by the arresting officer. While George Floyd may have deserved to be arrested, there is no justification for his death and the lethal force taken against him. To unnecessarily ignore a person’s plea for help demonstrates a disregard for the sanctity of life.

This should make all of us pay attention and ask ourselves some questions. Why did this happen? How did we get here? Where do we go from here? What responsibility do I have in the creation of a different future? These are not easy questions and the answers are more complex than we would like to admit.

I do not pretend to have these important answers. However, I do know finding them requires confronting the truth, no matter how uncomfortable, and having real and challenging conversations. The truth is systemic racism does exist and we are all impacted by it.

I do not know if the policer officer who killed George Floyd has racist leanings, I do not know the man, but I do know distrust between communities of color and the police has been fostered by the systemic racism that has existed in this country and around the world for generations. This certainly played a role in George Floyd’s death. Systemic racism through the suppression of opportunities for communities of color has created intergenerational poverty. Many people in these communities feel hopeless because we have not taken the steps necessary to correct the issues created by systemic racism.

I am impacted by systemic racism. I wish that was not true, but if I am going to be a part of the solution, I have to own my part in the problem. While I believe all people are created equal with a purpose and for a purpose, I cannot in good conscience say I never make assumptions about a person based on the color of their skin. I am most certainly still a work in progress.

In spite of these uncomfortable and ugly realities, all hope is not lost. In his I Have a Dream speech Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” The pain of today can be a catalyst for the change of tomorrow. However, this will require much of us.

In his book Strength to Love King wrote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Driving out the darkness and hate of current racial divide will require us to choose to be a light and to choose love over pride. We need to be willing to own our part, both individually and institutionally. Owning our part, no matter how uncomfortable, will put us in a better position to find a way forward.

We also need to be willing to put aside our preconceived notions about people and communities that are different from us and instead take the time to truly understand each other. Knowing someone and their story completely changes the narrative. This was my experience when living in Nicaragua. Instead of seeing people as a project, they became fellow creations of God, as worthy and capable as I was of living a life of meaning but without the same opportunities I have been afforded. Getting to know people and their story allows us to love and understand them. Through mutual love and understanding, a common solution can be found.

The tragic death of George Floyd can just be another step toward hatred and division, or it can be a turning point toward love and change. The choice is ours. Will we own our of part in the problem? Will we lay down our pride, walk across the line, and begin to understand each other? Will we work together toward a better future?

In a speech given at Oberlin College, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The time is always right to do what is right.” Will we choose to do what is right today?

– James Belt

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