My people are from Alabama and my grand-mother worked cleaning white ladies' houses and looking after their children.
She also had her own home, and ten of her own children - Ruth, Dorothy, Pete, Evelyn, Sidney, Mary, Diane, Stephen, Conrad, and Laura. My grandparents were poor, but worked hard, tried to raise their children right. My grandfather - who died before I was born - bought some land near the water in Mobile, and my 93 year-old grandmother lives there today, in a house that her son, my uncle, Conrad built.
While my grandparents were building and sustaining a life for their family, all around them, the country was again in revolution, and the American South was the staging ground. My mother Mary and my father Lew were in their formative years in the 1950s and 60s when separate water fountains and the Back of the Bus was not just common practice, but law. My parents grew up in a world where lynchings were not just stories of how things used to be, they were real and they were the next town over - where one could not fathom going to school next to white children, where the sting of the hose and the bite of the dog were here and now, where they were "Sir" and you, a full -grown man - were "boy," where you hoped no one had planted a bomb in your church, and where a black boy minding his business could be cut down for an even lesser offense than seeming "threatening" and it would be no big deal. Maybe the killer would be afraid of that black boy. Maybe the killer would just hate him. Maybe both.
I feel so far removed from these realities that, in fact, are not so long gone. Sometimes they seem like old movies, like black-and-white pictures in a library book. I'm glad to say that I've never experienced racism to those extremes. Sure I've been subject to prejudice in the many smaller ways that any person of color in America has been; I doubt I know a single black person who hasn't the felt firey resentment that comes at being followed around a shop, passed over for a job or an apartment, or pulled over for DWB.
I have my grandparents to thank for their hard and humble work, and my own parents and their relentless sacrifice for the comfort and success I enjoy in my own life. I have to thank as well the steely spirit of so many whom I'll never know who Freedom Rode, who sat-in, who marched, and who faced the angry, spitting throngs with peace and courage, who faced and met death for my sake and for yours. I have to thank the kings and queens who crossed an entire ocean in a hold, those who were strong enough to survive so many lifetimes of dehumanization and enslavement, who were brave enough to run away, or to risk their lives to learn to read, who faced down so much unjustified fear and hatred, or who - with pride and anger - refused to back down from a lone menace seeking to put them in their place.
Our collective history has brought us to this moment, and the suffering endured and sacrifices rendered in the past were for the hope that this moment might be better than the ones that came before - for the sake of me not having to clean white ladies' houses for a living, for the sake of us all having a chance for a decent education, for the right to go where we want to go, dress how we want to dress, be black, and not have to answer to anyone for it. And to certainly not get shot through the heart because of it.
This is not what this moment is supposed to be. This is not the moment that they, our mothers and father's before us, worked for. This moment is not the moment that they, our mother's and father's before us, died for.
Doing better starts now - in careful self-examination, in the examination of legacies of privilege, in the examination of laws that uphold those legacies, in the examination of the true nature of fear and hatred, and the repudiation, person by person, of the atmosphere that inculcates that subconscious yet pervasive fear and hatred and gives rise to travesties such as these recent ones, and that, today, should be no more - that render all that those before worked and died for pointless and in vain. Doing better starts now.