As a Black attorney and law firm owner, I’ve grappled in recent days over what to say about the murder, the protests, the stench of the context. I’ve grappled partly because much, if not all, of what I would say has already been said. However, a larger part of my grappling involved how to process why Black people continue to be targeted by unjustified homicidal force, often, by those in authority; how to express the outrage professionally; and how to mourn for George Floyd without releasing a flood of emotions that would create a debilitating, long-lasting, outcry about the thousands of others murdered over the decades, over the centuries.
Like mothers, I’ve cried so often; like community leaders and citizens, I’ve protested and marched so frequently; and like most Black people, I was sadly not so surprised at the event or turn of events. But because I am human, I found myself grappling with how to, once again, process the inhumane, how to demonstrably shake my head without letting it adversely affect my family, my team, and my work. And for heaven’s sake, how to process all of this occurring during a global health pandemic that already has me counseling others about moving past the death of loved ones more than my work generally calls upon me to do.
“Congress shall make no law … prohibiting … the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress.”
As a Black person born during the apex of the Civil Rights Era, I have experienced what most of my Black peers, friends, and family members have experienced because of the ingrained and systemic racism that founded America. Admittedly, dealing with micro and macro- racial aggressions is a daily occurrence; there is not a single day that goes by when I am out of the house that the color of my skin is not used as a judgment. However, as a child of the Civil Rights Era, I also feel beholden to those who kept pushing me and my fellow children of the Era – and the country as a whole – forward, toward an improved democracy. That feeling of beholden is fashioned by personal humility and duty I feel toward those celebrated and unsung – parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, garbage men, and janitors who scrimped, scrounged, pinched, and pushed us, their children, toward something that they could not achieve because, despite what was meant by “all men” at the time it was said, those unsung folks, speaking our village wisdom implored us to believe that all human beings are created equal. And in our hearts and souls, we know that to be an incontrovertible truth.
Consequently, the duty I feel is stronger than the racism that is foisted, hurled, slimed, slid, winked, nudged, shouted, or blown my way and, thus, why sometimes I remain silent. Most of my peers, friends, and family have always known that Black Lives Matter and we have always known that many in American society disagree with that premise. Indeed, most cornerstone institutions of American society were constructed in a way to foster the delusion of the worthlessness of Black lives. Nevertheless, our eyesight is clear, we persist, and remain resilient.
Resilience is a key lesson of the Civil Rights Era and embracing that lesson often leaves me to just “keep on pushing,” as my late grandmother would state recalling a popular refrain from Curtis Mayfield’s song.
Yet, when one’s community is continually targeted, injured, and murdered, economically stripped, and treated like feces under a shoe, resilience is a hard pill to swallow, let alone digest.
Why be resilient? Why not fight back by any means necessary as Malcolm X once said, especially if nonviolent, civil disobedience doesn’t work? Why not blow the roof off the building if the legislature and courts seemingly create remarkable machinations to withhold relief? Why be resilient and not do these things?
We have no other choice if we want to remain civil and honor the path that was laid before us by our ancestors. Our resilience and striving toward a more equal, more just American society is not about power or wealth. Our resilience is based on the fact that America is our country, too, and, regardless of the factual intention of the Framers, we believe in the Human Rights of freedom, safety, and the pursuit of happiness as long as it doesn’t infringe upon the rights of others causing them harm. Indeed, we know those rights are our rights, not because of what a group of famous white, treasonists wrote in the 18th century but because we are humans with knowing, feeling, sensing human souls.
Still, here we are again and what, if anything, should I say or do? As I observed seas of Blacks and whites navigating streets and bridges together, masked, stopping to kneel, and raising their voices peacefully, I hearken back to the lessons from my formative years, grounded in Civil Rights. I grieve in respectful silence for all those lives torn from their earthly existence, wholeheartedly support those who are protesting, fiercely condemn those who are looting and committing violence during the protest, and consistently attempt to work and be present on higher ground.
My law firm will, as it has always done, support genuine, diversity initiatives of the profession and I will use the trauma that I experience as a Black person to continually honor those who lost their lives and to be more understanding, compassionate, and deliberate as I move forward as a Counselor-At-Law.