Remarks I was prepared to say at the vigil in Gastonia Sunday night:
I can’t breathe, the last words of George Floyd and too many others who preceded him haunt my soul.
I wish this were a typical vigil or memorial where we remember a specific tragedy and move forward after singing some songs and praying some prayers…But there is nothing typical about this vigil and as we remember George Floyd we must also remember Travonne Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor and so many more who still cry out for justice.
Recently a constituent messaged me and said how do we get over this. I thought about it for a few minutes and replied, We don’t get over it, we go through it.
And the going through it part is the part we are most uncomfortable with. It hurts, it forces us to look at ourselves and our communities and our nation and ask some very tough questions. It forces us to face inequity and injustice face to face and it demands action instead of a band aid.
Systemic racism did not happen in America overnight…It has grown and evolved and changed shape…But it has never changed its tactics. It seeks to alienate, to divide, to dehumanize, to compartmentalize and to demoralize. It is the same evil with a different face.
In the Old Testament and still in many cultures today mothers who lost their children to war or some form of brutality would wail.
Wailing is not the same as mourning. When one wails it comes from the depths of their soul and is cried out in an utterance that releases the hopes, dreams, fears, anguish, remorse and absolute devastation in an utterance that only God can clearly interpret.
But we know it when we hear it and we know it when we see it. Today in the midst of a nation caught in the grips of confronting our past, dealing with our present and praying for our future…We hear wailing, rising up from the ashes in our cities.
There is wailing in Los Angeles, there is wailing in Dallas. There is wailing in Salt Lake City. there is wailing in New York City. There is wailing in Atlanta. There is wailing in Charlotte and yes, there is wailing in Gastonia.
Before we heal we must wail. And before true unity and peace is restored to our cities and towns we must do more than remember. We must do more than pray. We must do more than eulogize the dead…We must remove the cancer of racism and systemic injustice from our midst or be cursed with eternal wailing.
Jeremiah Jeremiah 9:17-18 says:
Thus says the Lord of hosts,
“Consider and call for the mourning women, that they may come;
And send for the wailing women, that they may come!
“Let them make haste and take up a wailing for us,
That our eyes may shed tears
And our eyelids flow with water.
So tonight I ask where are the wailing men and women? Come forth and wail that we may truly be filled with remorse and repent. That we may seek a land that is truly filled with liberty and justice for all. That we might find ourselves united not just in word, but in action as well.
I do not believe in leaving people without hope. And that hope goes back to where I started, with the response I made to an individual who asked me how we get over this. My response was that we don’t, we go through it.
And if we are brave enough to go through it then what awaits us on the other side is a nation described by Martin Luther King where little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.
And a nation where black teenage boys are not afraid to go to the corner store or go for a walk in a different neighborhood. A nation where young black and brown men and women can live in their homes and be a part of their communities without fear that they will be profiled and wrongfully accused.
A nation where immigrants and people of different creeds and those with differing economic status and ZIP codes and men and women of all abilities and disabilities and those who are LGBT can all find safety and solace and refuge and love and peace and justice in this place we call America.
If we can wail then we also have this promise…Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.