"Nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
Before I could address what is happening in our country with race relations, I wanted to look deep into my values. I reflected on my experiences as a person of color in this country; as someone whose father marched during the Civil Rights Movement; as someone whose grandfather fought in WWII, married a Frenchwoman and brought his mixed race family back to the U.S. during a time when his marriage would be illegal in most states. I reflected on how I stopped standing for the pledge of allegiance and stopped putting my hand over my heart during the national anthem since the 5th grade when I truly saw the hypocrisy and tragedies of the world, long before Colin Kaepernick took a knee. Before you say something about the military, my grandfather and great-unce served in the Army, my uncle was a Marine killed in Vietnam, and countless of others in my family have served in the Armed Forces and police departments. I support our troops, but I also know that serving this country didn't change how they were seen because of their skin color and we cannot overlook our military's own sordid history of racism.
When I was a child, I listened to Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, W.E.B Du Bois, especially his later works encouraging us to develop leaders beyond just the Talented 10th. I remember being taught that your mind could never be taken away and my father pushed education as being the most basic and important right we must pursue as a person of color. So, when I say I looked deep into my values, I looked at how I live every day as I was influenced by the leaders who had a dramatic social impact on this society.
I looked at how I protest everyday.
What does that look like?
1. Make a financial impact. I realize that Corporate America and big business run this country, so I look at ways to minimize by contribution. Yes, I recognize every time I tell people why I do not shop at certain stores that my lone protest may not have a dramatic affect, but hopefully if you are reading this you will join me. Know what stores practice No Urban Dictates, where they feel the minority dollar is not important so they do not spend money in urban broadcasting, yet I am sure many people of color still but their products.
Do not put your money in big banks. I have banked with Delta Community Credit Union since 2008. Credit unions care about the members and redistribute the money back to the members and the community, not shareholders. Delta Community CU is also invested in HBCU's and minority students. Find a local credit union and pull your money from the big banks.
Shop at locally-owned stores, shop at minority owned businesses, shop at places that have a history of uplifting the community as a whole. Know who is behind the products you purchase. Hair care is a billion-dollar industry and women of color are contributing to a good portion of that money. However, we need to realize that many "black" care products are not only not good for our hair (visit @iamblackgirlcurls), but these products are not owned, operated or developed by minorities.
Create financial freedom and generational wealth. There is a reason why when administrators challenged me to break privileged communication laws for mental health I was able to stand up against them. I had enough financial freedom that fear of losing that job could not dictate whether I choose the side of right or wrong. I also knew my rights and what they were doing was illegal and I had the leverage of a lawsuit to play in my hand. Most importantly, I knew that I have put myself in a position where I am marketable for other jobs, but I can also work for myself. They did not have power in my life. That comes from not buying the latest iPhone, not buying a home too soon, not trying to keep up with the Jones', and learning from my past and my parents' financial mistakes. It comes from knowing my worth, knowing my financial goals, and making sound decisions about my money.
2. Vote. Time and time again, I keep hearing "what is (this presidential candidate) going to do for the black community?" For the most part nothing. The impact you are seeking comes from voting in local and state elections. In Florida, the Governor selects the Police Commissioner. The Mayor selects the Police Chief. The Sheriff is elected by the people. If you want training of the police to change you need to change the people making those decisions. The way federal programs such as the Affordable Care Act, social benefit programs, etc. are applied is decide by the state government. The federal government says we are going to have these programs and provide funding, but the states make the rest of the rules. So if you feel as though the ACA did not provide you with adequate healthcare coverage, it is because your state refused to apply it and filed legal actions against it. Understand how the government works so we change the individuals in the system.
3. Improve the disparities in healthcare. Research time and time again shows that certain communities lack access to adequate / good healthcare and are treated differently by healthcare providers. Pursue healthcare as a career and change the system. We have a shortage of mental health providers, nurses and doctors in this country.
We can also change those disparities by taking control of our own health. Many of the health issues are a result of controllable factors. Eat healthy foods, exercise 3-4 times a week, and get adequate sleep. I have not ate at McDonalds, Burger King, Popeyes, Wendy's or any other fast food chain that does not serve what I call "real food." I do not drink soda. I have 3-4 glasses of wine a year, if that. I do not do drugs and have never smoke cigarettes. There are many more ways to manage our health so that we do not need to engage in a healthcare system that will not provide adequate services.
4. Develop a relationship with and invest in your community. Know your neighbors, no matter their backgrounds. We must be banding together, not acting in a way that creates a greater divide. Strength is in the numbers. Every city I have ever lived in I develop a relationship with police officers, just in case I have someone I trust to call. It was the European American Chief of Police in my hometown who walked me through what to do when I am stopped by a police officer when he was angered by the racial profiling incident I experienced in high school. That happened because I spent time getting to know him and he wanted a clean and respected department. The interactions I have with people of others races or religions or nationalities is what helps create compassion, understanding, and allies. We need each other in a world full of oppression.
Invest in your community by becoming a police officer, becoming a teacher, running for office, joining boards. Start a business in your community. The Small Business Development Center is a free resource to help entrepreneurs. Gentrification shouldn't be something we fear, it should be something we are doing. Buying property and keeping the cost of the property affordable so the people in those communities are not pushed out, but able to repurchase those homes. Volunteer. I remember volunteering to do a paint by number activity in Gainesville where a local artist created murals for volunteers to paint at a disenfranchised elementary school. I cannot change everything about the school system, but I can ensure that kids feel important when they come to a school that feels alive through murals and artwork. I have volunteered to help clean elderly homes and lawns in disenfranchised neighborhoods.
5. Develop leaders. Any student that comes to me for anything, I will always emphasize the importance of their education and challenge them to think big about their ability to make an impact. I did not have guidance for most of my education, but along the way there were mentors who gave me some direction. Mentorship is a lifetime commitment to changing the system. My aunt introduced me to INROADS when I began college and at some point I was point I was introduced to the Ronald E. McNair Scholars program that provided me with so many opportunities to help me earn my Ph.D. Every underrepresented, first-generation, and lower SES college student that I meet I point in the direction of these programs.
Develop leaders by thinking about the culture with which we create. I do not listen to music that promotes anger or violence, dealing drugs or substance use, getting money, degrading women, thug life, or anything else that is counter to enhancing the community in a positive way. I will not contribute to artists that are fabricated by the music industry to warp our minds and keep us from seeing our potential. As I said before, I have thought conscientiously about how to emulate, in my own way, the aforementioned leaders who defined social change.
In closing, I am not perfect by any means and every day I am learning how to continue to be socially conscious. With this, I wanted to show how, at a basic foundation, one can protest every day so when the anger and the emotions dissipate, because they will, we do not go back to blindly contributing to the very system you are trying to revolt.
Nonviolent protests are not just marching in the street, it is a lifestyle.
For many of my clients, dealing with trauma from our past and present requires the ability to forgive. How people define forgiveness and what they do to practice forgiveness can vary and it can be a difficult process to face. I talk with clients about learning to forgive in three stages.
First, we must understand the person that hurt us is in pain from whatever has happened in their life. They may intentionally, but usually unintentionally, be inflicting pain on other people as a result of their own hurt. We hold on to our anger because we feel that this person should be "punished" for what they have done. When we choose to forgive we have decided not to seek revenge, not to retaliate. We have decided to let go of the pain being placed upon us and to free ourselves of resentment. This is not a process that is done with the other person; it is an internal release to set us free, whether or not that person has acknowledged their wrongs. The Buddhist see forgiveness as a "gift" to both us and the person who has harmed us, as we have freed our energies from a cycle of pain.
Secondly, we must forgive the overall experience. We have gained wisdom and learned from what has happened. It has given us insight into the world, into humanity, into our own flaws or decision making. Rather than seeing this experience as having a negative impact over our lives, we learn to take back the power and define how this experience has made us stronger.
Lastly, we must forgive ourselves. For some time after this experience, we allowed it to have power over us, to influence how approached life or other people, and even how we treated ourselves. Maybe we blamed ourselves or we felt ashamed / embarrassed by what happened. These are judgments, negative judgments that we would not pass on to someone else, on a loved one. Yet, we did that to ourselves. So, we must forgive ourselves for the punishment and guilt we placed on ourselves for someone else's actions. This is the time we feel empowered to live our life fully again.
And what if I forgive, does that mean I have to be friends with this person? The Buddhist emphasize that Forgiveness and Reconciliation are two different words for a reason. Reconciliation is based on the premise that trust can be reestablished. It is not possible to reconcile with someone who maintains they did nothing wrong, that does not understand how their actions impacted you, and does present that trust can be reestablished. We have to be able to come to a mutual standard of how to be in the relationship to respect one another for trust to be reestablished and we both have to commit to the work.
So, for those who will not forgive out of fear of having to establish a relationship with someone you cannot trust, understand reconciliation is not necessarily a requirement of forgiveness. When forgiveness and the genuine healing through reconciliation is possible, allow it to happen to bring harmony and peace in your world. But know that we can forgive even when we cannot reconcile with that person. Forgiveness will still bring harmony and peace.