“I can’t breathe” are words that have reverberated around the world since the death of Mr. George Floyd on May 25, 2020 in Minneapolis, MI. Mr. Floyd’s words were spoken literally relative to the circumstances in which they were uttered. However, Mr. Floyd’s words are also a direct representation of the black community in the United States of America. For years, the black community has felt the weight of systematic racism solidify into oppression and inequality within their lives. As such, many have embraced this time to take a stand, and voice their concerns via protests and riots across the globe. One thing is for certain: progress is evident, but work still needs to be done.
I consider myself an optimistic realist who carries his life based on a grounded belief system and a code of conduct. To keep it simply, I do my best to live life by the Golden Rule most, if not all of us, learned in grade school: Treat others the way you want to be treated. My life experience has seen me grow up in urban/suburban environments, join the military, and work in the law enforcement industry. It’s a pleasure to say that I’ve been exposed to people of all races, colors, religions, creeds, sexual orientations, etc. I’m grateful for the exposure, because it not only piqued my curiosity to learn more about the backgrounds of all, but it also exposed me to racism and discrimination. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be an article describing my struggles with racism, it’s actually going to highlight why I haven’t struggled with it.
As an American, a colored man, and a law enforcement officer, there is nothing more humbling and fascinating to me, than to observe racism and discrimination unfold. American history and modern America are tainted by the blood, sweat, and tears caused by racism and discrimination. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t experienced the former or latter in my personal and professional life. One cannot ignore or dispute the facts. Interestingly enough, my conscious ignorance doesn’t allow me to personally give power to racism or discrimination. I have yet to understand what positive thing is to be gained from the former or the latter. Yet, they have actively contributed to the oppressed feeling the need to protest and riot, desperately seeking reform.
On Wednesday June 3, 2020, I had the honor of participating in a peaceful protest that took part in Spring Township, Berks County, PA. As a colored man who is also a law enforcement officer, I volunteered to walk within the protest alongside the protesters while in full police uniform. I’m pleased to say the protest was highly successful. Not only did the protesters actively police themselves, but they actively sought to positively engage with law enforcement, and allowed us to speak to them as well. One of the many news articles that covered the protest can be viewed here. If I’m being honest, the protest gave me a glimpse of what our future can look like, IF we proactively act in a way that sets us up for success in future generations.
My Take on Dr. King’s Dream
In his “I Have a Dream Speech”, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated that his dream was for his “four little children to one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” What strikes me about Dr. King’s quote is the word character. Merriam Webster defines character as “the complex of mental and ethical traits marking and often individualizing a person, group, or nation.” To me, character looks like the conglomerate of unity, peace, justice, love, humility, accountability, responsibility, respect, and spirituality. More importantly than the individual parts that form the conglomerate of character, is having the mental, moral, and ethical fortitude to ground yourself within the conglomerate in the face of adversity. It is in this breath that I say that I have never struggled with racism. I have actively chosen to focus on character over racism, as I feel it is more worthy of my attention. Which begs the questions: Does our nation have character? Does your community have character? Do you have character?
Call to Action
If our society is to ever heal, it needs to turn a new leaf. It fills me with pride to see so many people from all walks of life, standing up and against unjust, immoral, and unethical behavior in the public eye. It also saddens me to know that a vast majority of our society will not carry the momentum on into our personal lives, and our daily interactions with the people we encounter. The truth is that the change we are so desperately seeking in the world, is rooted in the former and the latter. Many of us have yet to truly open our spirits, hearts, and minds up for that conversation. We can’t heal the world, our nation, our communities, or our families, without first starting with the most foundational component: ourselves.
If you’re truly willing and dedicated to making a change in the world, start by changing yourself. I challenge you to become consciously ignorant of what is holding you back, in order to consciously focus on what is going to propel you forward. I challenge you to show character not only when it is convenient for you, but at all times and in every aspect of your life. I challenge you to ask yourself what you can do today, in order to make a positive impact in the life of another regardless of race, color, religion, creed, sexual orientation, profession, etc. There is no use in condemning another if you are not walking a path of righteousness. Hypocrisy only serves to sabotage the purpose of life: to live a life with purpose rooted in the above conglomerate of character. You’ll never be perfect, but if you focus on what matters, you’ll never have to suffocate under the pressure of what doesn’t.
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Seize the day, seize your life, and we will seize our communal tribe together!