Can you both protest and grieve during a pandemic? Yes.
#susanstrasser #amwriting #blacklivesmatter #georgefloyd
“What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Or fester like a sore–
Like a raisin in the sun?
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?”
– Langtson Hughes
The dream will not be deferred any longer.
Last Wednesday I heard that Frederick was going to have its own protest march for Black Lives Matter. I knew I had to go.
A man named George Floyd had been murdered by a cop in Minneapolis.
Racism has been a serious political issue for me since forever…Ms. Byrne telling us in 7th grade about Martin Luther King, Jr, and my having been intrigued with the Civil Rights movement and the idea of peaceful protest… my being judged for having black boyfriends in high school…my being a minority, bused into a high school to desegregate it…my being called a racist when I was a teacher…and every decade of my life, reading and hearing in the news how black people were murdered.
People were marching on the streets of major cities in America- Washington, D.C., New York, Minneapolis, Boston- by day, and rioting by night! It was completely beyond race riots that had happened in my lifetime such as Trayvon Martin and Rodney King.
Wednesday came and went, Thursday, too. I knew I had to make a decision as to whether to go to our Frederick march or not with a friend by lunch on Friday. I talked it through with my sponsor, and heard myself talk about the Covid risks. Initially I thought, okay, safe boundaries and self-care would mean that I would of course keep my mask on the entire time, leave if it got violent, and leave if people wouldn’t socially distance.
But what if someone around me takes their mask off even for a moment and then coughs or sneezes? Or if I bump into someone? Am I going to be able to relax and peacefully protest with Frederick’s like-minded folks?
As I talked to Betsy, my sponsor, I knew I couldn’t. Also, I’m a Mom. I can’t. George called out for his Mama in his dying breaths. And I’m a Mama. I could never be responsible for bringing home Corona to my babies!
So I decided not to go, even though it broke my heart.
I texted my friend at lunch. The rest of the day was fine.
But the whole weekend afterwards I was upset with myself for not going. I couldn’t believe it! I thought I was okay with this decision! Have you ever done anything like this? It’s a familiar pattern with me, some of my delayed feeling processing about myself that I’m not a fan of.
I could not forgive myself for not going.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that “a threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and it is true, and I did not show up to defend that!
And then, God showed up Tuesday morning and told me that there was a funeral on t.v. for George at 1:00 pm. I was so there!
Black lives matter, and George Floyd will be the last casualty!
On Sunday, we finally talked the basics with the kids (they’re 5 and 9):
WHO George Floyd was,
WHY people were protesting,
WHERE everyone was protesting,
HOW they were protesting, and how Mommy wanted to do it.
Someone on Facebook suggested a Sesame Street/CNN special where the information was made accessible to children, too. So that night, we watched that. It was a start!
Tuesday at lunchtime I brought up the topic of funerals, and my 5 year old asked what a funeral was again. So Harriet explained it to him, saying, “remember Grandpa’s?” Who knows if he does. He was 3.
Harriet and I had talked about George Floyd a little bit more, because at 9 ½ it’s appropriate, so she kind of understood.
When we turned the TV on at 1:01 p.m., the cameras were already on inside the Baptist megachurch. The congregants were beautifully dressed, almost all wearing head-to-toe black or white.
We saw footage of the memorials with flowers, notes and signs in Minneapolis, and the flower arrangements around the church stage. George’s golden coffin. I explained to my youngest, Liam, (the 5 yr. old), that people often put flowers around the coffins. So he proceeded to make a dozen Tinker Toy “flowers” or wheels! Later we decorated the dining room with them.
During the service, when George’s family went up to the pulpit and I lost it, or when Ne-yo sang “It’s so hard to say goodbye,” and I cried, he brought me his stuffed animals.
Overall, I could not believe that I sat on the couch for 2 hours straight for the first half of the funeral, but I did. My kids and I marvelled at the man painting the portrait while the other man sang. I was in awe of the two especially beautiful female speakers: the poet who read her piece about George and of his young niece. Both women were so eloquent, emotive, and powerful with their voices crying that enough was enough!
I continued to sit on the couch into a third hour, as the legendary Rev. William “Bill” Lawson, who was probably the age of my father when he passed- his 80s?- outdid all the loud preaching and dramatics by simply stating that George Lloyd’s death would transform this world, and “Praise God for George Lloyd!”
I always loved teaching that Langston Hughes poem at the beginning. Martin Luther King, Jr. and all Americans have a dream. Let’s “defer” it no longer for any American.