This is the planned text of a speech I gave at the Millburn Rally for Black Lives on June 7, 2020. It was an honor to be asked to lift my voice alongside those who live the injustice everyday, not as an expert but as an ally striving to do better. If you’d like to hear the actual speech, slightly different as happens often when one speaks without notes, you may do so here.
I am here, not as an expert but as an ally, and an ally with a heart to learn how to be a bigger and better and more vocal ally.
My faith in Jesus is what grounds me. I believe in – I follow – a man who would not be welcomed in this country, who would be risking his life for no other reason than inhabiting his own body, living in his own skin. Jesus was not the blonde-haired blue-eyed guy we see on posters in churches in this country. Jesus was a man of color.
Jesus was executed by the state for proclaiming his radical message of who matters. And make no mistake – given who he was and where he lived, Jesus was talking about black and brown lives.
I have no idea and can’t even imagine what it is like to live as a person of color in this country:
- What it’s like to be seen one-dimensionally.
- What it’s like to be denied opportunities that I take for granted.
- What it’s like to be defined by others, rather than live my life on my own terms.
I come with some understand of this problem because for decades I have spent time in conversation with friends and colleagues who don’t have to imagine it because they live it EVERY.SINGLE.DAY.
- They live with the sideways glances.
- They live with strangers crossing streets to avoid them.
- They live with others thinking they know all about them because they see their skin.
- They live with the fear of what could happen to them or their children.
- They live knowing their fears are not unreasonable.
- They live a reality that people like me can never know.
- What is most astounding?
- They live with hope that this world can be a better place.
I come as an angry, frustrated, and still hopeful ally, not to talk to those who live this reality every day but to those who look like me.
Friends and neighbors who look like me – those who live in white skin by some accident of birth. We have got to do better! We have got to do better now – not tomorrow or someday. Now!
We have to use our voices and our privilege and our resources to speak loudly and clearly, as often and for as long as it takes to rid this country of the evil of racism that is the bedrock of the original sin, of the injustice in this country
We have to accept the responsibility for creatingthe systems and the ways of thinking that mean some live with danger and fear we will never know
We need to ask forgiveness from all who have been harmed and continue to be harmed and the we have to LISTEN to what is need for reconciliation as a FIRST STEP to achieving racial justice and equality for
We need to know that this is only a FIRST STEP and that OUR work is LONG OVERDUE and ONGOING:
- We need to stop looking for explanations to excuse our horrific behavior.
- We need to hold accountable those who engage in this kind of violence against other human beings, whether it is expressed in thoughts, words or in deeds.
We need to look long and hard at the choices we make each and every day, asking ourselves:
- How am I perpetuating this gross injustice?
- By my words and the way I live my life, am I moving this conversation along in a helpful, positive way?
- Am I complicit by my lack of action or because I remain silent?
We need to lift our voices NOW, we need to use our resources NOW, we need to live our lives – our full lives – now, in ways that show our black and brown neighbors that their hope of a better world is not unfounded and it is something they deserve, not something they have to earn
In the words of the Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry:
Let us work to “become the dream of god, rather than the nightmare of man.”
Copyright 2020 The Rev. Paula J. Toland