From The First Lady
This afternoon, I watched protestors from a window at work as they walked near the El Cajon Police Department. I wanted to join them after work so I drove around looking for them. Unfortunately, instead of peaceful protestors, I saw police SUVs parked in the middle of busy avenues, patrol cars driving around the community, and a young Black man in handcuffs sitting on the ground. A few people on cell phones stood around him filming his encounter with police. As I was driving, I felt the oppressive weight of surveillance and indignation because I know that even with cell phone evidence it is difficult for Black men to avoid the systemic mechanisms that reinforce the notion they are dangerous and death-worthy. Today’s protests were for Alfred Olongo, who was fatally shot by a police officer. The case is under investigation and the only details I am aware of are that Mr. Olongo’s sister stated he struggled with mental health issues and police reported they believed he was pointing a gun at them.
So, if the case is still under investigation, why would I want to join protestors? I certainly appreciate the sacrifices many police officers and their families make to promote public safety. I also know the police response today was influenced by the aggressive behavior of some protestors. However, there are three reasons why I was compelled to participate in the demonstration. First, I wanted to peacefully walk alongside others, who like myself, want to increase awareness of the disparities in the amount of deadly police encounters with Black males in comparison to males of other races. Second, I am personally affected by this issue. There is a possibility my 6ft tall, Black, 17-year-old son may draw unwarranted fear or negative attention from police who don’t see the gentle giant I know and deem him death-worthy during a random encounter. My final reason for wanting to participate is because there were reports Mr. Olongo was mentally ill. This reminded of a news article I read for an assignment in graduate school about Natasha McKenna. Here is the link to the article: http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2015/05/when_will_we_demand_justice_for_natasha_mckenna/
Ms. McKenna’s story made a lasting impact on me because I have worked providing services to people with severe mental illnesses and have seen first-hand the multiple issues that affect their life outcomes. Ms. McKenna was in the midst of a psychotic episode when she was Tasered to death by a law enforcement officer. When she was Tasered, she was wearing a facial mask, shackled at her ankles, and wearing handcuffs. She only weighed 130 lbs. As I attempted to analyze her experience using theoretical frameworks my professor asked us to use, I saw that Ms. McKenna occupied various intersecting categories that influence social interactions. She was Black, a female, had a severe mental illness, and I suspect if we knew more about her we could look at other factors that determine status in our society, which is structured to perpetuate disadvantage for certain groups. I am trying to make sense of recent events using this framework and others because I know the problems we are facing are very complex. I am also recognizing how critical it is that we have buffers in place to build resiliency in today’s trying times.
A primary buffer is God’s word. Psalms Chapter 4 is very encouraging. We are admonished to “trust in the Lord,” and although we may be angry, “not to sin,” but to “ponder in our own hearts,” and offer Godly sacrifices. If we call on God in prayer OFTEN and have a scriptural arsenal full of scriptures like Psalms Chapter 4, or Chapter 9 where we learn that God is a “stronghold for the oppressed,” we can be resilient. Another scripture to add to the arsenal is Psalm 56 because it is very fitting for this subject. In this scripture we learn that God is interested and responsive to our petitions for justice and again, we are reminded we can Trust God to answer our prayers according to His will and in his perfect time. Other buffers that can help are, building a good support network, gathering to share in worship with others, and praying. One more thing, I have been doing to feel like I am doing something about the problem is opening the door to conversations about race with people who struggle to recognize racism exists. In fact, I have started asking them to go online and look for a checklist created by Peggy McIntosh that may help them realize the aspects of everyday life that perpetuate inequality. Here’s a link with an article and checklist: http://www.nationalseedproject.org/images/documents/Knapsack_plus_Notes-Peggy_McIntosh.pdf . Well, I hope what I have written on this blog is well-received and if anything, just shows that I am grappling with making sense of the senseless. I suspect others attending Amos may be, too. I just want to ask everyone to please continue praying for each other, our church, and communities. Love you all.
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
There’s a small wooden sign over my kitchen sink that is empowering. It says, “Pray hardest when it’s hardest to pray.” Prayer is an action step that is empowering because it can reduce the impact adversity and negative emotions have on our ability to function and pursue valued goals. The moment my heart turns to God in prayer I start feeling relief and begin to cultivate hope of a resolution. This is my #1 coping method that not only helps me function, but draws me closer to God.
Recently, I experienced a mini existential crisis - if there is such a thing. I began questioning whether social work was the best career for me and doubting I could keep tempo in a very demanding field while balancing life outside of work. During this time I was physically and emotionally spent and relied heavily on God, constantly petitioning God to reveal to me God’s plans for my life. Needless to say God listened and continued molding me by allowing me to go through this period where I complained and fought against my calling. I even began looking for employment outside of the field. Thankfully God did not let me walk off this path.
A few days ago I was looking through some papers and found a note I wrote to myself on the back of a work schedule in 2011, before I decided to pursue an MSW. The note included a bucket list as well as hopes and aspirations. One of these aspirations was to transition into a career in social work. There it was - God couldn’t speak to me more clearly than by reminding me of what had been in my heart for years. I shared this list with my husband and we both read through it identifying things God has allowed me to experience since we have been married. All I can say is I am amazed and thankful God loves us so much that God has an open line 24/7 we can use to share our hearts and concerns in prayer. Prayer certainly helps us find comfort and peace so we may keep functioning in our various roles and attain goals despite obstacles. Please continue praying fervently when “it’s hardest to pray,” and include in these prayers friends, the not so friendly :), our church, and communities. I thank you all for your continued love and support. Love you all.