Justice or Else! Million Man March. Saturday, October 10, 2015. The march was over. I walked over to a T-shirt stand. “Only XL left”. “Fine,” I said. “I want that one.” It was black and in white letters it said “I Can’t Breathe.” I put it on and started walking toward the Capitol. Slowly walking, eyes squinting in the sun. It felt like forever walking. Silently walking. Swallowing hard. Many people were still around on the lawn, talking, cleaning, walking. A few people passed me and said aloud, “I can’t breathe.” I nodded in acknowledgement.
Finally I approached the water in front of the Capitol. Fumbling for my phone, I found the words of the Kaddish online. Slowly, I whispered it. For Sandra Bland. Tears ran down my face but I kept going, gasping the rest. Then the tears took over my body as I collapsed down on the step. I put my head in my lap and cried. For a fellow young woman. For a woman who said no one sworn to protect her should forcibly remove her from her car. Or force her to the ground. For every feeling in my body that I couldn’t express: sadness, powerlessness, anger, frustration, ambivalence, confusion, alienation, isolation, and aloneness.
I have tried to push myself out of that state of despair. I have tried to read every article I can about each racially-charged incident and stay on top of the evidence released to the public. But in that journey I still felt completely alone. I was your regular Law and Order detective, except I didn’t have a partner to help me find evidence or process the information I had collected. I kept hearing extreme voices in the media, which made it even harder to figure out what I thought. And the repeated images of both dead Black citizens and dead police officers, cut me so deep emotionally that I had trouble gaining enough emotional distance to even see the facts in front of me.
Despite feeling very alone in all of this, I have come to realize through some amazing conversations that others are feeling a lot of pain too. Maybe different pain, in different ways, from different perspectives. I want us to come together and start processing in an intellectually open and safe space that gives us a chance to find our voice. Having run the Minyan of Thinkers dialogue group for the past four years in DC, which brings together ten thoughtful young people to discuss challenging Jewish topics, I now have a model for how to bring young people together. I’m adapting it to form an interracial, interfaith race dialogue group.
Here’s the basic concept: we create a list of topics related to race that we think may be valuable to discuss, and then as a group decide which one we want to focus on. Maybe this year it will be racial profiling. Maybe we will want to focus on the history of residential segregation with a focus on redlining and restrictive covenants. Or maybe we will want to dive into the Supreme Court’s backing away from school integration despite the long road to the Brown v. Bd of Education decision. Once we pick a topic, we find a few scholarly texts that illuminate different perspectives on the issue. We meet once a month for two hours, for six months, and discuss the articles and also write some reflection pieces that flesh out our thinking on the topic.
If this resonates with you, I’d love to chat. Mostly listen to you. Because I want to hear your story, and what race-related issues you care about and why. And if you are seeking a community of thoughtful, reflective young people who are grappling with all of this too, and you’re really excited to jump in, then learn more details and apply by Friday, September 16th to be part of this dialogue group.
Cheryl Pruce is a socially conscious, continuously improving, bridge-builder who has been immersed in educational equity-related policy research in DC for over 6 years.