I serve on the University of Michigan Alumni Association Board. It’s an independent organization committed to, obviously, the alums of this public university. While I love my alma mater, I joined because this group generously funds and distributes merit scholarships to admitted black, Latino and Native American high school students. THIS was something I would get on a plane for.
What I did not realize in joining this board is I would be given the opportunity to be in a sort of idealized world for every single board meeting. Why? Because this group of 24 is the only truly diverse group of which I am a member, personal life aside. While every board member has “slayed a bear” in their careers (we have had the President of United Airlines, a US congresswoman, the head of HR at Walgreens, for example) this group also looks like the America I want to live in: those titles I just shared all belong to people of color. As do more than half the seats on the board.
The conversations and decisions reflect a richness and energy that is priceless and all too rare. As such the board’s current dialogue about the state of racism in America is especially meaningful to me in my too homogeneous Boston world. One of my U of M colleagues, Tonya Allen, CEO of the Skillman Foundation, shared the below with the board and kindly gave me permission to share it more broadly.
I have been thinking a lot about the message I wanted to send to you regarding George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor’s murders. These three recent acts, in a long line of brutality against black men and women, had me personally overwhelmed with grief, anger, impatience, and urgency. I didn’t want to compose a statement—well constructed words won’t change anything. And I didn’t have the right words over the last few weeks, nor at the end of last week, or quite honestly, not even today. Then, I was inspired to write from the heart after reading Adrienne Maree Brown’s poem, for George Floyd; fire. One line, “you on your knees but we the ones praying,” helped unleash my thoughts in the form of a prayer for our people and for our country, for U.S.
Please let this time be the one in which the bough breaks. Let this be a point of no return for our country. Let George Floyd’s death not be in vain. Or Breonna’s. Or Ahmad’s. Or Trayvon’s. Or Michael’s. Or Eric’s. Or Botham’s. Or Sandra’s. Or the countless others over the generations that I cannot name, but who had names, families, hopes, dreams, and contributions to make in this world.
Thank you for finally allowing all people to see the violent, sadistic nature of anti-black racism. Thank you for providing undeniable evidence so that this can no longer be ignored. Thank you for the technology, which taped the bad intent of an officer, who leisurely kneeled for nine minutes on the neck of a dying man. And for the tape of two men who hunted down a jogger like he was prey. Thank you for revealing the bystanders, who are complicit through their silence, blind eyes, excuses and turned heads. Thank you for the frustrating video of Amy Cooper, who called the police with her white privilege on full display. She purposefully played the damsel in distress and used the erroneous stereotype of black men just so she could break a park rule. Thank you for exposing it all. Many moan that things are getting worse, but Lord—we know—things are simply getting revealed.
Thank you for the young people who chant, “Black Lives Matter” and “I can’t breathe.” Please protect the protestors. Those who are tired of being sick and tired. Those who love this country enough to change her. Those who congregate in streets to show their anger, disappointment, and pain in this country. Please help them release the pain they are feeling. And prevent pain from creating more pain. Rather, let the release of the pain be a cleansing moment.
Let us follow the young people, who are leading us. Young leaders like Stefan Perez, a 16-year-old from southwest Detroit, who led protests, de-escalated conflict and respectfully showed up for “his people and for his city.” Lord, I thank you for his innate leadership skills and the anointing on his life. Use him mightily, Lord. And let us remember that there are so many more Stefan’s in our city, who need us to believe in them. To create opportunities for them. To prepare them for their birthrights. To trust them as our successors. Lord, as adults, we need to follow them and so does our country.
Lord, please be with all who gather on the streets. Let them all see the humanity of each other. Just because it is a moment of change doesn’t mean it has to be a war. We don’t have to use bullets or tear gas. We don’t have to pull out militaristic measures. Protect our people. Protect our officers. Both can be done. And both are righteous.
Lord, let the police officers—who choose to carry signs, bend their knees in solidarity, and calm the people with their melodic words of unity and peace—be serious about this moment. Let them stand against police brutality and anti-black bias at this moment when the world is watching and in the quiet hours when no one is recording. Let their public acts show up in their professional duties. Let their blue code be forever destroyed because their consciouses will not allow them to ‘go along, to get along.’
Lord, thank you for slowing the world to a crawl so that we can face the undeniable evidence of these atrocities. Thank you for helping white people see our humanity. Thank you for the white friends who called to check on black friends. Thank you for allowing them to see our blackness, our experience, our pain, and the burden we must carry in this country. Thank you for awakening other people of color and convicting them to be stronger allies. Lord, let them all see us beyond these deaths and commit to justice. Let them see and stand against systemic, professional, and personal biases. Let them use their privilege to dismantle their privilege.
Let the many companies that have issued statements condemning police brutality and anti-black violence be truly committed. Let them mean it. Let them be prepared to work on this for the long haul, not just a season. Don’t let them become weary in well-doing.
Please let the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors change. Let them move beyond saying words of ‘racial equity’ for accolades. Let them do the hard work to change their institutions so this moment is not a phase, but an inflection point.
Most importantly, let us not forget our children. Help them process this daunting world in a way that affirms the possibility of a new reality. Help our children who are afraid, and who pray, “I don’t want to be black if this is what happens to you.” Lord, don’t let them lose love for their identity because others have. Don’t let their innocence be completely stripped from them. Don’t let their blackness becomes the seminal determinant of their destiny.
Help parents as they help their children navigate this trauma. And help them to navigate their own. Give parents the peace to no longer sleep on the floor of their children’s bedrooms, guarding against the boogeyman, who is dressed as racism.
Lord, I plead with you for better leaders. Stronger, more compassionate leaders in politics, civic organizations, police departments, businesses, and homes. Equip us all to step into our power so others can step into theirs. Equip us with words, actions, practices, and love to be the leaders our fellow man deserves. By simply changing our worlds, we can change the world.
Lord, the enemy of justice is hopelessness. Lord, let us be hopeful at this moment. Let us heal the grievous wounds and agony of our country. Let this be the moment when the bough breaks. When we accelerate this inflection. When the world changes. When the pain is so deep that it is transformational. When we can bend the long arc of justice.
Lord, help us. Lord, help U.S.