Get Uncomfortable: Black Lives Depend On It

I have rewritten this message several times over the past two weeks, as I processed seemingly-constant headlines that were relayed through traumatizing videos. 

My first draft was about Derek Chauvin’s trial, and how one might think that George Floyd was on trial given the heavy criminalization of his character in a case about his murder that was witnessed by the world. Then I rewrote the message after hearing the palpable terror in Afro-Latinx Lieutenant Caron Nazario’s voice in the recently released video of his highly escalated traffic stop in Windsor, VA. I updated the message again after Daunte Wright’s tragic death by police last week in Brooklyn Center, MN. I then revisited the message days later when the video was released last week of 13-year-old Adam Toledo being killed by police in Chicago, after raising his hands in apparent compliance.

Then Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all three charges of murder. 

After spending weeks preparing myself for various possible outcomes, I felt deep and complicated emotions after the conviction. The legal system had recognized that George Floyd was murdered. It had acknowledged what the world had already watched and knew for close to a year. Derek Chauvin was being held accountable for his actions, but this was not justice. Justice would be George Floyd still breathing, and never having lost his life to systemic racism. 

Still, I wanted to acknowledge progress in a system that rarely holds police officers accountable in circumstances such as these. This is one of the first times in my short lifetime that I have witnessed a guilty verdict for a law enforcement officer, and I know that the mass outrage and organizing played a role in that shift. Amidst relief from many, I found myself wondering, “What about the others? And what about the next time?”

I was devastated to learn of the “next time” only a few hours after the verdict, when news came of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant dying at the hands of police officers in Columbus, Ohio after being involved in an altercation with other girls a mere 30 minutes before Chauvin’s verdict came in. While there may be disagreement about the details, the fact of the matter is that there have to be better ways to de-escalate conflict, and this is another child who should not have been killed. Period. 

I thought I could not take anymore after Ma’khia Bryant’s death, only to learn of Andrew Brown Jr. being killed in Elizabeth City, NC while being served an arrest warrant. The timing of these back-to-back deaths emphasize that the work is still ahead, and it is urgent. Too many lives are being lost. This is not a matter of evaluating what deaths were warranted based on context. My ideal world is not one where the murder of Black people is regularly excused based on circumstances. My ideal world is not one where people must be held accountable for killing Black people. My ideal world is one where Black people are not being killed. 

My emotions have gotten the best of me many times throughout the course of the past few weeks between all of the horrific videos and headlines. What may have moved me most unexpectedly was a moment last week watching George Floyd’s family comforting Daunte Wright’s parents in Minneapolis, where both of their loved ones were killed within a year. The Floyds’ condolences and hugs demonstrated a deep understanding of the Wrights’ fresh anguish. They have a shared connection of pain and loss that too many loved ones know. It is a demonstrable truth about the systemic racism that criminalizes Black and Brown people, and is embedded in all institutions. Human beings are impacted by these systemic ills. With every life lost, loved ones and entire communities experience the agonizing impacts, and it is a pain that I wish people did not have to share so deeply due to its regularity. 

I am tired of this being our reality. I am tired of living in constant fear of harm for my life, my loved ones’ lives, and my community’s lives. I am tired of preparing for the next video and headline of someone else’s life jeopardized or taken too soon. I am tired of a narrative that seeks to absolve perpetrators and institutions of responsibility. I am tired of our very existence being criminalized. I am tired of the trauma. 

It is time to get uncomfortable. It is time that people recognize difficult truths about systemic racism, and actively pursue justice. Most of our listserv members have taken our Allyship training. Hence, many readers know that Allyship requires truth-telling and action. We emphasize that Allyship requires risk, which means that, by default, the work requires discomfort. 

Have the uncomfortable conversations about systemic racism in all of its forms. Have the uncomfortable conversations about anti-Blackness. Have the uncomfortable conversations about the criminalization of Black and Brown bodies. Have the uncomfortable conversations about policing. Lean into the discomfort as much as you can because, as we say in the training, discomfort comes with the territory of Allyship.

Allyship requires action beyond solely conversations, but I also know that conversations often ignite action in others. And we need all of the work that we can get. We need change that has been long overdue. While I will acknowledge that progress has been made in some areas over the arc of history, I never want to settle for less than what society should be. Liberation should be the default, and any injustice should be unacceptable. At Service Never Sleeps, we continue to be committed to justice work by telling difficult truths and equipping allies to join us in this movement. So let’s get uncomfortable, and continue the work. 

Pressing on,

Whitney Parnell
CEO & Founder

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