As I reflect on this day of August 28th in history, the day that fourteen – year old Emmett Till was lynched in Money, Mississippi in 1955…the day in 1963 that the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. rendered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington and today as the Minister’s March for Justice took place in Washington, DC …I remember my own “moment at the march.”
I knew that this moment would come…the moment that I would have to speak my truth. First to myself…then to my community. The moment in the midst of the Women’s March on Washington that I had to make a conscientious choice whether to live or die. As I prepare to share my reflections from my article , “Marching from the Margins” in chapel tomorrow morning at Eastern Mennonite University , the dull ache of my wound reminds me that there is so much more to the story. That I am still here because I made a choice reminiscent of the days of Jim Crow and “stayed in my place.” I used my internalized survival skills and maneuvered between two worlds, one that has no respect for my mulatto body and one that thinks that I may feel that I am better off because of it. I am not..you see racism wounds the body whether it comes from the oppressor or internalized from the oppressed. But back to my moment of truth…
We all heard of how peaceful the Women’s March on Washington was, well yes perhaps on the surface it was. Yet my moment was skin deep. I learned personally that day that there is indeed a price for peace. We pay for it with the quenching of our spirits, we pay for it with the disempowerment of of emotions, we pay for it through the silencing of our souls. We pay the price for peace by the disregard of our bodies and we smile, move on and a false fiery sense of peace is achieved. But at what cost?
On the day of the march I joined my voice with other Anabaptist Women marchers who sang songs of love and hymns of hope. I raised my fist in unity with radical activist who spoke truth to power and I marched hand in hand and heart to heart with my family in a unique moment of celebration and diversity. All together from the center to the margin we boldly marched forward in faith and took deliberate steps closer to the White House as a form of peaceful protest. With each step tension was building yet peace was still present. With just a few more steps, we had reached our goal. There were barricades put in place that kept the marchers from crossing the boundaries of political power and privilege. Most marchers satisfied their 1st Amendment with a few last chants of protest and begin to head back in the other direction to neutral ground. We did as well…peacefully.
While marching back with my family in the opposite direction of the White House, I noticed a white male police officer walking quickly towards our direction. Immediately fear and anxiety begin to grip my heart. His fast pace and cold gaze reminded me of a time as a teenager in Harlem waiting by myself in the front of the 135th train station when a white male police officer begin to walk quickly towards me. Although you would have thought that I would have felt a sense of security and safety, I was overcome with such fear that I almost lost my breath. Suddenly the police officer raced right pass me down into the dark train tracks and I was left feeling foolish for feeling so vulnerable.
This time while watching the white male police officer approach my family and I…a prophetic moment from my teenage years came to pass. Suddenly the angry gaze of the police officer met my eyes and the brunt of his broad armored chest bumped my shoulder with a Brut force that shocked me back into the historical trauma of my African – American ancestry and the current reality of all of the brown and black bodies that have been brutalized and murdered by the abusive power of white police officers.
It was in this harsh moment that I found the empathetic eyes of my older sister, my caretaker of my childhood and my confident of my journey as a woman. Her knowing her fiery, outspoken and stubborn little sister, met me with eyes that in one glance, pleaded with me to make the choice to live.
I stood still and for one New York minute, everything seemed to freeze. It felt as if even the crowd was waiting to see how I would react. Would I confront the powers that be and demand justice? Would I raise my voice in protest? Would I show a strong resistance to the blatant disrespect of my being and disregard of my body?
A million and one questions flooded my clouded mind…would “speaking truth to power” at that intense moment incite a riot? Would my confrontation cause further abuse? What would happen to my family? How would they react if this crisis escalated? Who would help me if I chose to fight for my rights…to fight back and not submit to this power? After all, it was just a bump right? Who would help me? Even in those split seconds, I thought of all of the images of bodies of color…men and women…young and old being publicly abused by the hands of those that were sworn to protect and serve. Would I survive or be shot and killed for having a voice and resisting the status quo of our racist and sexist system of oppression? How would my story end as I sought to march from the margins?
In this surreal moment, I took one glance back towards the direction that the police officer had went in, slowly turned my head back around and felt the gentle tug of my sister’s hand on my arm. I remember putting my head down for a moment, perhaps in shame or sadness, perhaps I was mourning my reality and the reality of my people or perhaps I took a moment to say goodbye to a piece of me that was broken off. What did it just cost for my soul to live?
To march forth, my mind had to imagine that the moment never happen. I still had to maneuver my way though the crowds to safety. We still had to stay together as a family and remain peaceful protesters.
For weeks after the protest, many people asked me about my experience. I shared about all of the diversity, all of the amazing and creative posters and what a unifying, empowering and life changing event that I had experienced. We made history right? I honestly didn’t even remember the moment I was intentionally “bumped back into my place.” But my body did…
It wasn’t until a few weeks went by that I noticed a deep pain in my shoulder. I looked for a bruise. I saw nothing but felt everything. It hurt when I moved my shoulder forward, it hurt when I raised it high. It hurt when I lifted my arm up and it hurt when I didn’t even move it at all. They say that the body always remembers. Our experiences are carried deep beneath our skin.
It has been almost been two months since the March on Washington and even as I write these words and prepare to speak on “marching from the margins…” it hurts. The dull ache and sometimes sharp pain of my experience on that day reminds me that there is a price for peace and a danger in marching from the margins.
When I begin to share what truly was my most significant moment of the march with loved ones…they whole – heartily agree that I made the right decision in that moment of injustice. Some now recently hearing my experience may disagree and perhaps even feel that it was not a significant ordeal at all. However, it is my truth and my experience to wrestle with and wrestle I will. For to feel the need to decrease the very definition of who you are and suppress your soul in order to save your physical being is a psychologically dehumanizing encounter.
It is these countless moments that people of color have had to bear the burden for generations… whether life – threatening or not….for there are many ways for oppression to take its toll.
It is for this reason that I will continue to march, write, read, study, teach, mentor and preach. It is for this purpose that I will let my voice be known. And it is why I will remain unmoved and continue to resist this present political power in mind, body and spirit.
I will make my moment at the march matter.