An Elder in our Church, Peter Alexander, delivered a thought provoking message this morning centered on Psalm 67. Contained in his remarks was the question; “what can I do to save the world?” This timely question was birthed from the agony of the horrendous violence that has occurred over the past week. From Baton Rouge, Louisiana to St. Paul, Minnesota to Dallas Texas… there has been almost a daily terrible dose of tragedy and senseless killing.
Have you ever felt marginalized? Were you ever bullied in school? Did anyone ever treat you differently because of some obscure reason that they concocted in their “poor self esteem psyche?”
What can I do, perhaps not to save the world, but to begin healing the racial wounds of our society…that are so deep and gaping that the healing appears hopeless? What can I do to bridge the cultural chasm between the white race and the black race? What can I do that will demonstrate by deed and action that I want to know my African American brothers and sisters? How can I show the members of the Muslim Community that I value them and that I want to work…study…and live with them with the honor of them feeling that I am their equal and their friend?
My African American colleague Jewel Thompson had Christmas dinner on Campus many years ago that she graciously invited me to. She made me so welcome! The food was good and the fellowship was great! She played Nat King Cole Christmas Carols…and I felt like I was home! Of Christmas events during my over thirty-two year career…none made more of an indelible impression of me.
A few weeks ago my former supervisor and the Director of Plant and Service Operations retired and invited me to his retirement party. As Mary Jane and I and Jonathon, who now works for the Physical Plant, were eating…a few people greeted me…but many seemed not to recognize me or remember me. Suddenly Alfie a
Former student staff member in my office came up to me and greeted me and hugged me. Alfie is an African American of Muslim faith. I told those setting nearby that, “Alfie was my son…he just would not call me Daddy.” Alfie exclaimed, “That he would call me Daddy.”
My first supervisor who greeted me on October 10th, 1978 was Jim Walls. Jim was a nearly 70 year old African American gentleman who smoked the most delightfully scented cigars! No one knew me…but soon Jim began telling everyone how proud he was of the work that I was performing. It was not long that by Jim’s efforts, I had a good name throughout the department. A crew boss…as I was a janitor at that time…cursed me one night on an overtime shift…and I told him that if he did that again that I would leave the job. The next evening I mentioned the occurrence to Jim. The next time that I worked for the person that I had experienced the altercation with…I had no more that arrived for the beginning of the overtime shift and Joe and I had entered the first building that we were to clean…we heard an old van drive up…and in came my cigar smoking supervisor and friend. He entered the door and asked Joe, “Do you realize that Brooks is my son…he just won’t call me Daddy?”
I think that for everyone that desires healing and understanding of others…seek one person who is of a different race and begin communicating with them. Not with the noble idea that you will enrich them…but with the humble desire that they will accept you.
The last week has been an onslaught of tragedy for our country and our lives. Mr. Alton Sterling, an African American man was standing in a parking lot selling CD’s in Baton Rouge, Louisiana this past Tuesday night. A homeless man is reported to have called 911 stating that Sterling showed him a gun in response to him asking Sterling for money. A video taken of the incident appears to show that Mr. Sterling’s gun never left his pocket…yet police shot him to death. Police refused to comment whether Mr. Sterling had a gun.
Mr. Philando Castile was stopped by police outside St. Paul, Minnesota. Before Castile reached for his wallet to present his identification he told the officer that he had a gun and was licensed to carry it. Mr. Castile was shot dead by the officer.
Last night twelve police officers in Dallas, Texas were shot and five have died. These officers were assigned to ensure the safety of the protest regarding the two men who were killed by police on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The pain and hurt and lack of trust and fear by many members of the African Community is justified in light of what not only is the video evidence of these shootings but also what countless of them have experienced at the hands of bigoted police officers.
At one time in my life I was the manager of a large housekeeping organization at a major university. One night I was telephoned by one of my supervisors to please come to his building quickly as one of his crew was being questioned by the police regarding the theft of money from a professor’s office. When I arrived two white police officers were questioning the African American custodial employee. After observing one of the officers screaming at my employee…I asked how he was a prime suspect when he was entering offices at my request and with master keys that I provided him and the accusing professor had left her purse on her desk with the door open…and she was not present. The officers convinced my employee to subject himself to a strip search…where they found no money…and he was exonerated. One of the officers told me that I had hurt their interrogation of my staff member…who was and still is a respected member of our community…and that if I had not been there…he would have confessed.
Police are often wonderful people. The key word is what a friend told me many years ago…a policeman is a man. Also, a policewoman is a woman. For someone to shoot and kill police men and women to some how avenge wrongs done that the people being shot had nothing to do with…is insanity!
The next time you are in trouble…afraid…perhaps for you life…there will be a policeman or policewoman that you will call upon. They will come to your assistance…often at the risk of their own life. They deserve our thanks!
The bigoted racist culture of signaling out African Americans for additional traffic stops…shadowing in department stores…or the deadly irreversible assumption that lethal force is the first solution…is chilling and frightening!
There is a truth that is as old as humanity. We are all first human beings. We love our families…we want the best for our children…we want to succeed and create a decent life for our loved ones…and we want the respect of our common humanity.
We must begin now…to talk together and forget the color of our skin…but rather listen and listen and listen…and see the person who is communicating with us as Dr. Martin Luther King extolled us, “by the content of their character.”
On September 9, 1993 Mary Jane and I were privileged to attend An Evening with Elie Wiesel at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. According to Wikipedia, “Eliezer “Elie” Wiesel was a Romanian-born American Jewish writer, professor, political activist, Holocaust survivor, and Nobel Laureate. He was the author of 57 books, written mostly in French and English, including Night, a work based on his experiences as a prisoner in Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps. Along with writing he was a professor of the humanities at Boston University.”
Wiesel was fifteen years old when he and his family were placed in a confinement ghetto in his hometown of Sighetu. Mr. Wiesel lost his mother and father and sister in the camps.
Have you ever met a fellow human being that had such a magnetism about them…that you paused and reflected on the experience? Elie Wiesel had that affect on me. His face and his eyes were haunting.
Mary Jane recalls Elie Wiesel speaking from a passage from his first book, Night, and how she was moved by the painful honesty of the passage…and what it was like to be in the Camps. The passage is regarding a father and son running and the human, emotional, traumatic, challenge between them. “It happened on the road. We lost sight of one another during the journey. I stayed a little to the rear of the column. I hadn’t any strength left for running. And my son didn’t notice. Thats all I know. Where has he disappeared? Where can I find him? Perhaps you’e seen him? Perhaps you’ve seen him somewhere? ‘No Rabbi Eliahou, I haven’t seen him.’ He left then as he had come: like a wind-swept shadow. He had already passed through the door when I suddenly remembered seeing his son running by my side. I had forgotten that, and I didn’t tell Rabbi Eliahou! Then I remembered something else: his son had seen him loosing ground, limping, staggering back to the rear of the column. He had seen him. And he had continued to run on in front, letting the distance between them grow greater. A terrible thought loomed up in my mind: he had wanted to get rid of his father! He had felt that his father was growing weak, he had believed that the end was near and sought this separation in order to get rid of the burden, to free himself from the encumbrance which could lessen his own chances of survival” Night: pages 86 and 87.
Mr. Wiesel believed that he must keep the memory alive of the Holocaust…but struggled with the futility of explaining an event that, “defied reason and imagination.”
Upon Mr. Wiesel’s first post war visit to Germany he was moved by the German students that he met and their distressing search to understand Germany’s past. He urged reconciliation.
I would liken hearing Elie Wiesel speak and later meeting him as he signed our copy of Night…to meeting an Old Testament Prophet. A man who had witnessed more cruelty, fear, pain, and death…genocide…than most of us will ever experience…and yet sought to bring people together.
A lesson for our time.