Publications

Author of: The Notes They Played - a lyrical collection of short stories & The Impossible - a what-if story of the triumph over fear

Friday, May 29, 2020

Ahmaud Arbery 2.23

On May 8, 2020 I set out to run 6.69 miles in honor of a life despicably cut short. Ahmaud Arbery was gunned down by a murderous, racist father/son duo as he ran through the streets of his neighborhood. It was his regular daily run. Some people have characterized his killing as a modern day lynching. There was no “mob action,” in the death of Ahmaud, but there is no doubt he was put to death without legal authority.

May 8, 2020 would have been Ahmaud’s twenty-sixth birthday. I am a runner, so the call to run 2.23 miles (because he died on February 23, 2020), on his birthday, in his memory, appealed to me. I have four Ahmauds – children born with beautiful mahogany skin and kinky-curly hair; children that you only have to look at to know they are descendants of Africans brought to this country to build it for free; to be raped, tortured, lynched, and maimed. To be owned. Four hundred and one years after the first Africans were brought to this country, African-Americans are still being put to death for being brown. An entire country that brutalized and destroyed generations of people - Native Americans and then Africans - has now disguised itself as the victim (google the name Amy Cooper for one recent example), and created the image of African-Americans as predatory and criminal. My children are Ahmaud.

So I set out to run 6.69 miles alone, knowing that later I would run the final 2.23 with my four children. 2.23 times 4. In honor of Ahmaud, someone else’s baby, and in recognition that I have four just like him. Only I could not stop at 6.69, so I ran an even 7. It was one of my strongest runs in quite some time. But, it was one of my most mentally painful. I ran and I prayed. I ran and I sang along to my praise music. I ran and I fumed. I ran and I cried. Tears spilling onto Georgia asphalt as I wondered how much blood and sweat and tears of slaves and freedman was spilled on my route, and long forgotten. I grappled with the issues that brought on Ahmaud’s demise, and I wrestled with the sovereignty of God.

I only just learned Ahmaud’s name the day before. And, the more I learned, the angrier I got. I talked to both of my boys. They have been working hard to stay fit during the time of social distancing. They have been going out a lot, running for speed. Ahmaud was out running too. Minding his own business. Trying to stay fit. In his own neighborhood. It was not the first time I talked to my boys. I have been talking to them since they were little, about how to respond to police or angry strangers, if confronted.

I tell them to stay calm when confronted by police or regular citizens. Black men who raise their voices are perceived as threatening. I tell them to put their hands up in a surrender stance, even if they have nothing to surrender. “Your job is to come back home alive,” I tell them. I tell them to never, ever run. Black men who run away are seen as threatening, and often shot in the back. I tell them that if they ever find themselves with a group of friends and someone comes up with a stupid idea, they are not to follow the crowd. They are to come home, immediately! We live in a predominately white neighborhood. Most of their friends are white. I tell them that if they are out participating in some dimwitted prank, as teenagers have been known to do, and someone with a gun wants to teach them a lesson about mischief, in the sea of vanilla running away, the gunman will aim for the chocolate. I know this. I want them to know it. They need to know it. To survive. I tell them very simply, “You are not permitted to make the same idiotic choices that your white counterparts can. So, just come home.”

In my dismay, I confided in a very close friend about how sad I am about Ahmaud. This friend whom I love, who I know loves me, proceeded to tell me about another tragic case; a security guard that was shot in the head for insisting that a customer wear a face mask. As she told me the story, my mind immediately went to cynicism. Immediately. I wondered to myself, Is she telling me this story because it’s a tables turned kind of thing? Is she telling me this because a white security guard was killed by Blacks? Or, maybe it’s an all Black situation; another case of ‘them killing themselves.’ Why is she telling me this story? Is it to mitigate Ahmaud’s death in some way?

Understand, this is a beloved friend that I know, without a doubt, would put herself in between any one of my children and any harm that threatened them. She is also a minority, but you might not be able to tell that at a glance. And, her children have blond hair and blue eyes.  I will likely never have to protect them from danger.

I did look up the story she was talking about. The victim and the perpetrators are all Black. The perpetrators were arrested immediately and charged immediately. Ahmaud was killed on February 23, 2020, and until May 8, 2020, the two white men that murdered him were still living freely in their homes, with their families.

Dylan Roof, the white supremacist and mass murderer who perpetrated the Charleston church shooting in June, 2015 was arrested peacefully by law enforcement, and escorted to and from court appearances wearing a bullet proof vest for his protection. Dylan Roof is just one example of the differences in the way white suspects are treated and apprehended. According to the website mappingpoliceviolence.org, unarmed Black people were killed by police at five times the rate of whites in 2015. So, my children are five times more likely to be seen as threatening and shot by police than my friend’s children.

Except, Ahmaud Arbery was not killed by the police. He was killed by vigilante white men who thought he resembled a robbery suspect. Vigilante whites have been rounding up and killing my people for suspected crimes, for fabricated crimes, and for the purposes of intimidation for 401 years. According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, Georgia’s documented lynch toll is 458, exceeded only by Mississippi. This number is likely inaccurate, as there was no docket to officially record lynchings, and lynchings were often public events that racist white families attended in a celebratory fashion; bringing blankets to sit on while they ate their lunches and spectated, heckling the victims.
But, the evidence is there – white perpetrators of crimes are apprehended and tried for their crimes; and even protected from physical harm during the process. White lives have value and deserve fair proceedings. Even mass murdering whites are not as threatening as Black suspects. Black suspects are fair game for anyone with a weapon. They can be run down, gunned down, dragged through the streets, and beaten for looking like someone who may have committed a crime. Because, Black people are inherently threatening. 

I ended my talk with my boys with these four words, “So, just be careful.” But, as I turned to walk away, my youngest son, who is only thirteen and quick to question, quick to challenge, and quick to speak up, stopped me in my tracks. This child is not one to put his hands up in surrender when faced with injustice. God, please protect him!

“What do you mean, ‘be careful’? How will being careful help us? Ahmaud didn’t do anything reckless or careless. He was just out running.”
All I could say was, “You’re right. We have to just pray for protection.” I cannot promise my son that he will not be murdered while minding his own business, simply because his skin is brown. 

I do pray, obviously. And, I did. I prayed every time I thought of Ahmaud, for God to watch over and protect my children and all brown children as they go about their daily lives. I prayed and prayed and prayed and then God whispered. He brought Abraham and Isaac to mind. Abraham would have sacrificed his son - the one he had prayed for, the one God promised him, the one he received miraculously – at God’s command.

“But, God,” I argued. “This is different. I am asking you to protect my innocent children from unjust killing by evil enemies, not godly surrender and sacrifice.”

“Trust is an act of surrender. And, godly sacrifice.” He said. “I want you to trust me. I want you to say, ‘I trust you, Lord, no matter what happens with my children. I trust you.' Give them to me because they are mine. And, Joiya, your prayer should be, ‘Help them to love You, to dedicate themselves to You, to know You and surrender to You so that when they die, they will be released back into Your loving arms.’ Teach them that their lives should be like lighthouses, showing others the way to Me.”

Even as I struggle with Ahmaud’s story and keep track of his case, I have to be ever-mindful of the flesh in me that wants to hang on to bitterness and resentment. I have to remember that He did not create me to be anxious. I have to send my children off into this world with confidence, knowing that I have given them the tools to make a positive impact, and surrendering them into God’s will and plan for their lives. Even in my anger at the actions of racists, and my fury at a justice system that has two different sets of laws, depending on victim/perpetrator race, I have to trust God that justice will be served by His mighty hand. I cannot see beyond this mortal world into the eternal. The totality of existence has not been revealed to me. So, I must pray. I must trust. I must surrender. And, I must forgive.




Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Resistance and Resilience, Part 1

GUEST BLOGGER, NICOLE JOHNSON


Last month I was asked to speak to a group of students on the theme of resistance and resilience. Since then, I've reflected on the ways my resilience, defined as my ability to spring back into shape; my elasticity, has been strengthened through personal, professional and spiritual challenges.

I find peace in knowing, though trouble will come in my life, when I trust God and am obedient to His voice, trouble is not my demise. I am resilient, and I can endure in any situation. I will be the first to admit that, while the storm is brewing, it does not feel like I will make it. I hear the thunder roll and see the lightening flash, and my first instinct may be to HIDE and HIDE NOW! But, time and time again, the aftermath has shown me, nothing I thought would ruin me did. Or can. In fact, everything that could have ruined me made me better.

I've adapted Jeremiah 29:11 as my life verse, for the time being, as a reminder that God has a plan for me.

     For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

The context of this verse is important. The Israelites were carried into exile, away from the promised land Jerusalem by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. In Chapter 28, Prophet Hananiah tells the exiles they would be free from bondage in two years. He then dies, for preaching rebellion against the Lord. Now, here comes Jeremiah, whose prophecy (word from the Lord) says the Israelites will remain in exile for seventy years. Seventy years?! I am struggling with the COVID-19 shelter-in-place safeguards, and it's only day twenty-five of working from home.

Though God's promise of a plan and hope for the future is great, there is also an instruction to the Israelites to make the most of the exile experience. Though you are not in the place I promised for you, and you probably do not want to be here:


  • Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Jeremiah 29:5
  • Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Jeremiah 29:6
  • Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper. Jeremiah 29:7
During the pandemic and in everyday "normal" life, many things are not as I want them to be. But, I am encouraged that God continues to sit on the throne in heaven and wants what is best for me. God is not telling the Israelites to settle, but simply saying "Not yet. I am preparing the place for you and you for the place." 


My prayer:
In the places we are, on the journey to where we are going, Lord help us listen for Your voice and find contentment and peace; all the while knowing we serve a God who has plans for our future; plans to prosper and not harm up, giving us hope for the future.