All posts by danamariposa

Birthday Reflections

I was recently asked what my biggest fear was. For me that’s an easy answer because it’s actually what drives me. My biggest fear is standing before God at the end of my life, having Him show me – in detail, like a movie reel – the life He had planned for me but wasn’t able to give me because I kept trying to do things my own way. I’ve seen it play out in my dreams and it’s what pushes me to keep going, to keep loving people even when they’re hard to love – including and primarily the person I see in the mirror. This vision for where God wants to take me is what motivates me to get up and pursue my purpose every day.

I’d like to say I’ve lived a lot in these last 3 decades. And I’d like to hope I’ve learned some things along the way. We live in a world where we try to show the beauty and hide the scars. But I like the scars. They are proof of my resilience, my strength & God’s hand through it all. It’s taken the growth & the setbacks, the opportunities & the challenges, the hope & the disappointment, the joy & heartbreak, the breakdown to the breakthrough… to become who I’ve become. And I know I still have so much more to learn, so much more fullness to grow into.

It took falling in love with someone who had the world in the palm of his hands – and still wasn’t satisfied, still wasn’t fulfilled – to realize that money, fame & power truly cannot fulfill you and can actually serve to drain you. That I’d rather build a life with someone who wants to build with me than step into the life someone else has already built. That you can always make more money, but you can never buy more time. It took hospital stays and brokenness, surgeries and recoveries to realize I don’t have to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders alone, and that what’s impossible to human beings is nothing to God.

Through the years, I’ve learned to say yes to living a full life because experiences and memories last longer than anything money can buy. That “boring” to some is peaceful to others and literally stopping to smell the roses is never a waste of time. I’ve come to believe that travel is one of the best educations you can get. That bridging the gap between people will require that we get outside of our comfort zones. That people who may not look like you or speak like you or live like you are really not so different from you, at the core of who they are. That the world is such a beautiful place if you choose to look for the beauty. And that no matter how exotic the destination, there is still nothing like coming home.

I’ve learned that sometimes the best solution to a problem is just a shoulder and an ear. That everyone has a God sized story that deserves to be heard. That admitting fault or flaws is an act of bravery, not of weakness. And that one of the most cowardly things a person can do is refuse to acknowledge someone else’s life experience as valid simply because it’s different from one’s own. I’ve learned that reciprocity is hard to come by, people are inherently selfish (myself included) & genuine friendship is something to treasure. I’ve learned that empathy and compassion are rare but not impossible to find. They’re just sometimes hidden where you least expect them. And that caring so deeply for humanity is a gift even when the weight of it can sometimes feel like a curse.

I’ve learned that the love of a mother is one of the strongest forces on earth & that forgiveness requries deeper roots than some people are ever forced to see. I’ve come to believe that God intentionally created fathers the way that He did so that we would search for HIM to fill the holes that human beings were never intended to fill. I’ve come to believe that we have to fervently protect our daughters. That in a world constantly trying to break them, to make them feel inadequate – too much of this and too little of that – we have to remind them of their power, their purpose, their value.

I’ve learned that selfless service and fear cannot coexist. That saying yes to one thing always means saying no to another. That we have so much more choice in this whole thing called life than we often care to admit… because admitting that we can choose requires admitting sometimes that those choices aren’t good ones. And that people who are not happy with themselves will always look for someone else to blame.

I’ve come to believe that you always have time for the things you prioritize. That people can only love you to the extent that they know how to love – how they’ve been loved and how they love themselves. And that broken people who have not taken the time to heal will often end up breaking every relationship they touch. I’ve learned that two people can be great people and still not be great for each other. That every chapter of every story doesn’t require a villain and a victim; Sometimes it’s just a journey of passing through.

I’ve learned that there is so much power in the words we choose, but words without action mean nothing. That faith without works is dead. And it’s easier to act your way into healthy thinking than the other way around. I’ve come to believe that love is more of a choice than a feeling. It’s a commitment, a covenant, a promise to protect, long after the rush of the feeling has faded. And that truly loving someone requires selflessness and grace.

I’ve learned that you can never outgive God. That His character is always consistent, His promises are always true… even when we don’t understand the timing of it all. That the lesson in something may not always seem to be there, but God always is. That sometimes what we want and what we need are on opposite ends of the spectrum. That the blessings that come TO you are meant to go THROUGH you. I’ve learned that human beings are not yours or mine to keep. That a higher calling requires a deeper commitment. That not everyone who came with you will stay with you. And that sometimes people will fall in love with the God in you because that’s what’s missing in them.

Perhaps more than anything, the more I ask to see with God shaped eyes, the more I see how truly broken this world really is… because it’s full of broken people. And the only hope that I can find to rest assuredly in is Him. That we are called in Him to love broken people back to life. God is for me. And with me. Every step of the way. The more I know Him, the more I recognize how very much I need Him. And the more I come to realize that my path has already been written. I just have to step into it… The only person who can keep me from the life God has for me is the woman in the mirror I’ve gone through fire to become.

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Dear Dr. King…

Sometimes I wonder, Dr. King,

Have we done enough?

If you were still alive today,

What would you say to us?

“The fight is far from over,”

I imagine you’d still say.

To keep fighting for the dream

‘Cause we have yet to reach “one day”.

I imagine you’d be proud

Of the progress that’s been made:

Of rainbow families and diverse friends,

Rooted in the foundation you laid.

But sometimes I imagine

That it would break your heart

To watch Jim Crow evolve into crowded prisons;

Families still torn apart.

I imagine you might celebrate

Just how far we’ve come

And tomorrow you’d be back on the picket lines

Because there’s still so much to be done.

How many people would still love you

If your legacy had yet to be written?

If your fight were still ongoing?

If you weren’t yet a historical figure?

I wonder how many people

Would be unpleasantly surprised

To see what you’d still be fighting for

If you were still alive.

Heavy is:

Telling someone you love – someone the color of coffee, someone whose smile lights up a room – the Walter Scott verdict… and hearing the wind get knocked out of his sails. Watching tears well up in his eyes. Seeing him speechless for the first time since you’ve known him. Watching his shoulders sink and his head drop. Listening to his voice crack as he says he’s feeling sick…

This is why we proclaim that Black Lives Matter.

…Because when he asked what happened and I broke the news, it sent a stark message to him that his life is less important than mine… It was a reminder that people who look like him are so often deemed unworthy of justice.

This is a grown man who’s seen more than his fair share of struggle, who has beaten every odd stacked against him, who grew up poor in blue collar America only to become one of the most sought after people in his field… A man who literally slept on couches while he was pursuing his dream, eventually rising to the top of his craft… A man who went from unknown to world renowned… The embodiment of the American Dream facing the reality of an unfulfilled MLK Dream… A man who could just as easily be targeted by someone who does not recognize him and questions why a man who looks like him is driving such an expensive car… A man who laughs at me when I remind him to make sure his tail lights are always working.

This is a man who purposely steers clear of politically charged conversations. He has no social media. He avoids controversy in his interviews. His art is his activism. A grown man who’s seen it all, just got shook by what went down yesterday. I’ve never heard him so defeated. “We’re just asking for our lives to matter. We’re not saying we matter more. We’re not saying we’re better. We just want to matter.”

I broke the news of Walter Scott, and a grown man broke down and wept.

Dear Brothers & Sisters…

Dear Brothers & Sisters,
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(Before you continue on, please understand my heart. This is not intended to be a personal attack on anyone. If you interpret it as such, please accept my apology in advance. It’s simply a call for us each to examine our own hearts. I pray the message I’ve intended is the message that you hear…)
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On the eve of quite possibly the most divisive election in our country’s history, I chose to spend the evening the best way I could imagine, considering the current climate – surrounded by my church family… Loving each other and reminding each other that regardless of political outcomes, our God still reigns. Reminding each other that He works ALL things to good and He will do so again… even if the only good to come of this is that we desperately turn back to Him. My church is centered on one message: Always only Jesus. It’s the most racially, socially, generationally, geographically diverse group of incredible, loving people I’ve ever been involved with. People who believe in the mission to be the hands and feet of Jesus. People who believe in the message of love over any and everything else. People who know we’re all broken and flawed and so we try to show each other empathy because we’re all fighting individual battles. So while I sat in a room with a group of beautiful people, none of whom look like me, and we talked about healing, what we just couldn’t wrap our minds around – the thing that so deeply hurt us – is the massive gap between the Jesus we know and love and the actions of so many people around our country who say they know and love Him.
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This gap I’ve seen widen over the last several months has left me confused, saddened, heart-broken, and with questions for people who say they believe in the same Jesus I believe in. Is my Jesus the same as yours? Would He want us criticizing and condemning each other for our differences and choices? Or would He want us living out love the best way we know how? Would He want us treating people poorly because they have different ideologies? Or would He want us to be vessels of His love to draw more people to Him? Would He want us making globally impactful decisions motivated by fear? Or would He want us to pay attention to the 100+ times that the Bible says NOT to fear? Would he want our words to be negative and divisive, critical and demoralizing? Or would He want us to speak life, love, hope and possibility into friends and strangers alike? If we’re in the business of winning souls, is there any other way to do that than by loving people? If love and fearlessness are His language, why does it look like so many people who say they love Jesus have voted for hate and fear? Do you and I even know the same guy?
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The whole entire point of Jesus is that we mess up. We can’t do this life thing on our own. We ALL fall short of the glory of God and need holy flawless righteousness in order to be in His presence. Isn’t the entire message of Christianity that we’re all sinners in need of a Savior? The Bible says whoever should believe in Him will not perish but will have everlasting life. PERIOD. (John 3:15) His Word didn’t go on to say you have to earn your way through works. It didn’t go on to say if you don’t change your ways immediately, your ticket to Heaven is null and void. No, it went on to say that He loved you and me and everyone who ever has or will live on this planet so much that sent His Son to die for us, to take our due punishment. He loved us so much that He stood in our place just so we could have the opportunity to stand with Him.
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The beauty of His unending mercy and grace is that once you’re His, you’re never not His. It doesn’t matter how many times you stumble, how many mistakes you make, what your past looks like, nor the sins you’re sure to make in the future. He still forgives you, loves you, welcomes you, and guarantees you a seat in the throne room of God. His mercies are new every single day. What a beautiful, undeserved gift! But here’s the kicker. Here’s the message it feels like so many people who call themselves Christians seem to be missing… That truth is true for EVERY believer. Your salvation can’t be revoked with a sin, a crime, a stumble, nor a vote. AND NEITHER CAN ANYONE ELSE’S.
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Jesus said the single most important lesson for us to learn is LOVE. (Matt 22:38) In fact, He didn’t teach us to love. He COMMANDED us to love. Love God above all and people over everything. People over money. People over profit. People over politics. People over personal gain.
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Paul even went on to define LOVE for us: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres... (1 Corinth 13) I believe EMPATHY is what He asks of us.
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With all of that in mind, here is a list of all the people Jesus loves:
ALL. PEOPLE. PERIOD.
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That includes but is not limited to the following:
Gay people
Gay people who want to get married
Gay people who want to adopt children
Poor people
Poor people on government assistance
Rich people
Corrupt rich people who pimp the system for personal gain
Imperfect pastors
Corrupt clergy
Hypocritical church people
Corrupt politicians
Immigrants
Undocumented immigrants
Black people
White people
Asian people
Latino people
Native people
Men who cheat on their pregnant wives
Men who beat women
Men who abandon their children
Womanizers
Women who have children out of wedlock
Women who have abortions
Women who use their children as pawns
Mothers who abuse their children
Spiteful women
Educated people
Uneducated people
Passive aggressive people
Abusive people
Racists
People who post annoying things on Facebook
Conspiracy theorists
Muslims (yes, Muslims)
Atheists (yep, He loves them even if they don’t love Him)
“Spiritual” people
Democrats
Republicans
Criminals
Disabled people
Depressed people
Happy people
Successful people
Good people
Bad people
Liars
Cheaters
Mentally ill people
Manipulative people
People who take advantage of the elderly and disabled
Pedophiles
Cannibals
Murderers
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ALL. OF. THE. PEOPLE.
(Luckily for a lot of us, even judgmental people make the list)
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A list of people Jesus chose to specify as having a special place in His heart:
Outcasts
Criminals
Prostitutes
The poor
The downtrodden
The broken
Widows
Children
The religiously uneducated or undereducated
The people that the church rejected
And those who seek Him first.
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And He specifically condemned the religious elite – Those who use religion as an excuse to elevate themselves above others. He warned against using God as an excuse to do anything other than love people. (Matt 23)
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You or I may not love all of these people, but God does. He loves you with all your baggage & He loves them with theirs. He loves us with all of our flaws and faults and then loves us too much to leave us that way. What if we started seeing people the way Jesus sees them? What if we started loving people the way Jesus loves them? What if we just focused on getting the plank out of our own eye before pointing out the splinter in someone else’s? What if we were more concerned with humanitarian interests than economic interests?What if we started to love others the way Jesus loves us? Isn’t that what we’re called to do?Do you know Him? Do you really know His character? What if He’s calling you to stop pointing out the flaws in others and let Him do a work in you?
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We don’t win people over with religiosity or judgment. We win souls with LOVE. LOVE PEOPLE. And when you don’t feel like you have any love to give, pray and let God do the heavy lifting. Maybe ask Him to do a work on your heart if you’re having a hard time loving people. It’s not our job to try to change people into versions of themselves that are easier for us to digest. It’s not our job to decide for anyone else how they should be living their lives. Just love people. And let God do the work that only He is qualified to do. I do believe He will make good out of what may seem bleak and disheartening. And I still believe and will always believe that love trumps hate.
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In Love,
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Dear White People…

I get it. It’s hard for you to understand where they’re coming from. You think they’re overreacting. You’re tired of them assuming everything is about race. You see authority as mostly good, rules as mostly good, the status quo as mostly good… because for you, they’ve been mostly good. Your life experience validates your beliefs (or vice versa). Perception is reality. Our experience shapes our world view. So I get it. You don’t understand why they’re still so angry. You don’t understand it because you haven’t lived it. And if you haven’t lived it, you assume other people haven’t either. But your assumption is wrong.

You assume that it’s just as easy for someone with an “ethnic” sounding name to be called in for a job interview. It doesn’t seem fair to admit that there could be deep-seated bias in people who don’t even recognize it within themselves, so you justify their behavior by thinking those job candidates just must not be as qualified, even though countless blind studies prove otherwise. You assume it’s just as easy for a person of color to get a home loan, get an apartment application approved, find a decent, safe neighborhood for their kids to grow up in. It’s too shocking to think that someone could be denied a place to live solely because of their race, so you decide it must be that their credit isn’t that great or their references must have not pulled through for them. You see upwardly mobile Black families in your community, and so you think these issues don’t exist, not realizing that even your Harvard professor neighbor, in your upper middle class neighborhood is not immune to racial profiling.

You assume that if someone is approached by police it must be because they’re doing something wrong because police have never approached, harassed or interrogated you unjustifiably. And so you justify the disproportionate numbers of interactions between police and people of color by attributing fault to the citizen, even though crime statistics categorized by race tell a different story. You hear ghastly statistics of the demographics of our prison population and can’t bear the thought that something could be devastatingly broken with our judicial system, that sentencing is subjective, that black juveniles are significantly more likely than whites to be tried as adults with harsher punishments for the exact same crimes. And so, to make yourself feel better, you justify these numbers with the argument that their culture celebrates violence, their history dictates their criminality, and every problem would go away if they’d just stop breaking the law.

The problem, white people, is not that Black people are overreacting. The problem is that our experience is not the same as the experience of those who don’t look like us and you’re failing to recognize this truth: Our reality is not the same as theirs. You think, “How could that be? How could someone treat them any differently than they treat me?” And the answer is just that – you see “them” as different from you. We tend to give more grace to our family than to strangers. We fear what we don’t know. And most of us don’t truly know enough people who don’t look like us. The reality is we will never fully understand the Black experience because we haven’t lived it. The good news is, we don’t have to understand to empathize. The good news is, we don’t have to understand to empathize. THE GOOD NEWS IS, WE DON’T HAVE TO UNDERSTAND TO EMPATHIZE. Empathize. Empathize. Empathize. Don’t try to understand. You and I never will. Just. Try. To. EMPATHIZE.

What you’re missing here, white people, and why you’re seeing messages of disdain, hurt, anger & resentment splayed all over your timelines is that the very benefit of the doubt you want to give these officers should actually be given to the people they’re killing. Our laws say we are to be treated as “innocent until proven guilty“. Until we change the laws, citizens are supposed to be presumed innocent regardless of color, gender, class, background, beliefs, or what we assume they have or have not done. It’s what our Constitution was built on. And yet, it’s not the truth for much of our population. Since the birth of our nation, the people we forced here were not even considered fully human (Literally, they were labeled as property and 3/5 of a human being in the Constitution). 200 years later, and Black people are still approached and treated with less dignity and more fear than people with different skin. (The officers who killed Alton Sterling called him “boy” before they took his life. If you don’t understand why that matters, pleaser refer back to MLK.) The reason that we are seeing a new civil rights movement unfold before our eyes is not just because sworn public servants have harassed, abused, and killed Black citizens at disproportionate rates. It’s because too often, no one is held accountable or responsible for doing so. That is why Black people are asking for their lives to matter.

“Well what about the Black cops?” This situation isn’t about good cop, bad cop, Black cop, white cop. It’s systemic. It’s about the institution they’re a part of. Plenty of cops have spoken out about the problems within their forces. Our prisons are privatized money making operations. There is a vested interest to keep them full. Law enforcement often dehumanizes civilians, and time and time again we see people of color on the short end of that stick. Why? Separation, detachment, FEAR. Police officers have a hard job. It’s easier to do when you don’t see other people as people. It’s a biological response of “us vs. them”. And just like biology creates dichotomies, fear triggers an automatic fight or flight response. The police are faced with a choice to fight or flee in the face of fear, and our judicial system has given them the green light to fight.  The ratio of Blacks to whites in our country is 1:5. The ratio of Black people to white people killed by police is 2:1. And unarmed white people are less likely to be killed than unarmed Black people. Why do white people walk away from these situations with their lives still intact? Sorry to break it to you, white people, but it’s not because we’re just more upstanding citizens. It’s because more often than not, law enforcement walks into interactions with people of color with the presumption of criminality, while they primarily walk into interactions with white people with the presumption of innocence, even when they don’t realize they’re doing so. The interaction is different before the first word is even spoken. How do we know that? Because almost all of us do it. 

“Well what about Black on Black crime?” That argument is a moot point. What about white on white crime? 84% of white people are killed by other white people. It can be assumed then that violent crime amongst a given race has more to do with environment and access than race… and has zero to do with paid public servants treating different groups of people differently. We all know that violent crime is more prevalent in the inner city than it is in the suburbs. But to jump to this argument as a means of justifying cops killing Black people is apathetic at best and shamefully racist at worst. The question you should ask yourself the next time you’re tempted to use the “Black on Black crime” argument to justify law enforcement’s excessive use of force is, “Did the people responsible for the crime receive punishment? Was there even a charge brought against the perpetrators?” Find the answers to those questions and then maybe you’ll start to understand the purpose of the Black Lives Matter movement. By the way, if you’re so concerned about Black on Black crime, what are YOU doing to help make a difference? Nothing? Then stop bringing it up as justification for your apathy.

“Martin Luther King would be rolling in his grave if he saw the Black Lives Matter movement”. You’re wrong. Just plain wrong. Learn some history outside of what our 8th grade whitewashed textbooks taught us. This comment is so ridiculous, I won’t even explain all the reasons you’re wrong because it’s already been written. Educate yourself.

“Well why don’t Black people work on bettering their own community and take ‘personal responsibility’?” Another moot point. While all of us bettering our communities is indeed important, it also has nothing to do with paid public servants treating people of color differently. It’s irrelevant to the topic at hand, and bringing it up when we’re talking about disproportionate numbers of Black people killed at the hands of law enforcement is an attempt to minimize the real issue. But if we want some facts, the Black community IS working to better their own community just as much if not more than other communities. In fact, the Black community is the most charitable racial community in the country. There are THIRTY organizations in Chicago alone, most of which were started by people within the community who are directly affected by the issues they’re facing, trying to make a difference and address inner city violence. Countless resources and organizations are out there. They just don’t make the five o’clock news.

And personal responsibility? Really? Every human being I’ve ever encountered in life (of every race) has at one point or another blamed someone else for something they should’ve taken personal responsibility for, myself included. That’s why programs like Landmark and MITT exist. It’s why the “self-help” industry is a billion dollar industry. It’s why I have a job – coaching people to take personal responsibility for their lives and their successes and their failures. We ALL lack personal accountability. This isn’t a disease unique to the Black community. Blame is a universally human response. But let’s just play along for the sake of argument. All the Black people I know do take personal responsibility for their own lives. It’s a common practice in the Black community to educate their kids about how to interact in police encounters, including being overly respectful so that they come back home alive. It’s so common in fact it has a name: “The talk“. It’s a common saying in the Black community that, “You have to work twice as hard to get half as far.” In other words, they literally teach their children to outwork everyone else.

Now to the more important question: Why is it every Black person’s responsibility to speak and act on behalf of an entire race of people? Do you take personal responsibility for the nineteen million white people on long-term government assistance? Did you even know that nineteen million white people were on government assistance? Do you take personal responsibility for all the white people in our country who’ve committed atrocious acts of violence? If not, why do you expect all Black people to take personal responsibility for all other Black people? I’m sure they would LOVE if they all could be treated by the content of their individual character, by their personal achievements. But, in general, we treat them as one homogenous group. Why do we expect to be judged by our personal character and achievements, but don’t grant the same grace to other people?

We have to stop criminalizing victims, white people. I know it makes us uncomfortable to think an innocent person could be gunned down with less regard than the gorilla in the Cincinnati zoo, but it’s the ugly truth. We have to stop with the immediate assumptions that these people did anything you or I wouldn’t have done in a similar situation. We have to stop looking for reasons to blame people for their own deaths. He had a past criminal record (Totally irrelevant. You smoked weed in college and that was illegal too. You just didn’t get a record for it. Or maybe you did. You’re still alive). He had a weapon on him (A week ago you were screaming about protecting “our” second amendment rights. Exactly who is the “our” you were talking about?). He shouldn’t have been resisting arrest (Legally we are supposed to have rights. You can’t just be arrested to be arrested. All arrests are supposed to have probable cause. And have you ever been tackled? Your body doesn’t go limp. It tightens up. It’s science). He should have just complied (Philando Castile tried that so what else you got?). Becoming a police officer should not make you immune to the laws of this country. You should not get to use a position you are entrusted with as a means to intimidate, harass, bully, attack, threaten or in any other way treat citizens as if they’re servants, slaves or animals.

Imagine a scenario with me for a moment, white people… What if for the last couple centuries, a disproportionate number of white college frat boys were killed by police for legitimate criminal behavior (smoking weed, selling their mom’s prescription pills, public intoxication, minors in possession of alcohol, sexual assault, etc). We wouldn’t say, “Oh well those boys were drunk and rowdy and breaking the law. They should have behaved and they’d still be alive.” We’d be outraged. We’d say the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. We’d demand justice. Now imagine even more of these college frat boys were killed because it was assumed they were partaking in the drug activity even though they’d never been involved in that. Would we write off their lives as “guilty by association”? Would we blame them for their own deaths because they were hanging out with the wrong people? Or would we be appalled at the police? Seriously, if you know a white guy who was in a fraternity, imagine it was him. That guy. The one with a name and a face and a family and a story. The human being you know and love.

Now let’s take it a step further and imagine the officers killing these “upstanding citizens” received no punishment because they “felt their lives were in danger” every time they walked into those frat houses. We’d think that was ridiculous. We’d see that as a huge miscarriage of justice. We certainly wouldn’t allow it to keep happening. Now imagine how you would perceive police in the face of all of this if you were a white college frat boy. You probably wouldn’t feel safe when they were around. Multiply that feeling by a few thousand and you’ll start to have some understanding of what all these Black people are talking about and why they’re so angry. The biggest difference here: the white boy chooses the fraternity. A Black man doesn’t choose his skin color.

I get that you don’t get it, white people. Because I used to not get it either. I work in the “self-improvement” industry. I coach clients every day on taking personal accountability for their lives. I’m a firm believer that your words precede your thoughts and your thoughts dictate your actions and that hard work trumps talent when talent doesn’t work hard. I firmly believe that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you choose to react to it. I used to think that personal responsibility was the problem and answer to everyone’s struggles. I didn’t get it until I took it upon myself to learn. I didn’t get it until I studied real American history (not just what they teach us in K-12) and uncovered that the reality is, the playing field between us and them is not the same to begin with. I didn’t get it until I recognized that while I can absolutely take accountability for my choices now, they have nothing to do with the privilege I was born into. The “privilege” part of White Privilege is not solely referring to monetary privilege.  The whole point of white privilege is referring to the privileges we don’t realize we have. It’s about the fact that we actually have to research this stuff to know what’s going on because we don’t personally experience it. It’s about the fact that we actually have a choice to tune it out or ignore it or turn it off. We’re talking about things like the fact that “nude” is a color that describes a variation of white skin and “flesh toned” bandaids are the color of white flesh, and what kind of impact visual messages like that have.

Take some time to study The Willie Lynch letter and then read some books on psychology and sociology to understand the lasting damaging ramifications of that sentiment. Slavery wasn’t just 400 years ago when the mindset and systems that created it are perpetuated, and the effects are lasting to this day. Jim Crow was in place only 50 years ago. Our parents and grandparents lived through it. And policy doesn’t change people’s minds. Just because the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts were passed didn’t mean that overnight people’s biases that forced the need for that legislation in the first place, just disappeared. Learn about the history behind drugs and perpetual drug culture in poor (primarily minority) communities and where it came from. Do some research on the historical prevalence of planted evidence and you may start to understand why so many people of color distrust the police. Spend some time learning about all the work The Innocence Project has done to find out how prevalent it is for wrongful convictions to be against people of color. Read the Moynihan report to understand how the welfare system is a trap that perpetuates single parent households. Read up on where pubic school funding comes from to understand that the education gap is not because poor Black kids can’t or don’t want to learn or that they’re intellectually inferior. Access is not the same. Learn about Reagan’s War on Drugs and Iran-Contra and then ask yourself about how altruistic the administration’s intentions really could have been with eradicating drugs. This wasn’t 400 years ago. This was in the 80s and 90s. Learn about mandatory minimums, which crimes are targeted and who the perpetrators of those crimes are likely to be. It’s all over Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. The information is out there, white people. It should outrage all of us. The only excuse at this point not to know our history is at best apathy and at worst, racism & denial.

But ok, white people… You don’t want to make it about race? Make it about policy then. Make it about protocol. Make it about training. Make it about SOMETHING because this is unacceptable. These are paid public servants. They are paid to protect and serve. Nothing about protecting and serving implies intimidating and escalatingOur police forces spend FIVE TIMES more time on firearms and self-defense training than conflict management, deescalation, and ethics & integrity training COMBINED. It’s not just a Black and Brown issue, it’s an issue about excessive use of force and the lack of accountability in such cases. There are countless examples of excessive use of force against every race. There’s a problem if you don’t see a problem.

The police don’t get the “benefit of the doubt” until they stop reaching for their guns when they’re interacting with Black, Brown & Native people. You don’t get to CHOOSE a career that includes putting your life in danger as part of the job description, and then kill people with the justification that you felt that your life was in danger… especially not in an open carry state. If you are afraid of the people paying you to protect them, FIND ANOTHER JOB. Why don’t we give the man on the ground the benefit of the doubt? What if history has proven to him that law enforcement is something to fear? What if in the face of HIS fear, he too was forced to choose fight or flight? So far this year, nearly 600 civilians have been killed by law enforcement, and we’re only halfway through 2016. The number of officers killed in the line of duty so far this year? Fifty-nine… (And that includes traffic accidents and heart attacks while on the job.) In other words, an officer is 10 times more likely to kill a civilian than the other way around. So who are the ones who should really be fearing for their lives? Last year over 1,000 people were killed by police; ZERO police officers were convicted. This isn’t just a policing issue. This is a human rights issue.

I get that you’re not quick to jump to conclusions about race. The fact of the matter is, you’ve never had to. The fact that you want to “wait for an investigation” is actually not your fault. It’s a product of your experience. Your experience with law enforcement has probably been mostly cordial because there is mutual respect between you and them. But the truth is, white people: That doesn’t mean that all police officers are super humans who do no wrong. I think it’s safe to assume that most people think that most police officers have good intentions. But if someone in any other line of work acted with gross misconduct, we’d say they weren’t good at their job. They would be fired. Why can’t we admit when law enforcement is making mistakes? What is so scary about that? Why can’t we see that a badge and a uniform does not make someone superman? Why is it so hard to utter the words, “Not all cops are bad people, (in fact most probably aren’t) but clearly something is wrong”?  We can love our children and still recognize when they’re misbehaving; We can love our country and still recognize there is something egregiously wrong. While it’s natural for you to feel the way you feel because of your life experience, what the Black community is desperately asking the rest of us to have empathy for and open our eyes to is that their experience is different. It’s not your fault you were born with the skin you were born with. It IS your responsibility to seek understanding. 

As white people, we have to stop giving advice to Black people on how they should be navigating their blackness. Until we have put on Black skin, we don’t get to tell Black people how they should feel or respond to the injustices they perceive and experience.  Nobody wants to hear about how you would act in the presence of law enforcement if you were Black. You’re not Black. Your words are not helping. They’re hurting. Our opinions on how they can “save themselves” in police encounters are irrelevant. If the only words you have are to criticize or downplay their feelings, please white people, just don’t say anything. If you are more prepared to defend the good cops than you are to condemn the bad ones or the problems woven into the institution they’re a part of, please white people, keep your mouths closed. If you are more concerned with talking about the crime in the Black community than you are with the systematic oppression of their people, please look in the mirror and work on fixing yourself first. If your first response is going to be anything other than empathy, concern, love & anger on their behalf, please just keep it to yourself. They’ve been hurt enough. They don’t need a layer of our apathy to be added to the pain. If you are at a loss for words and don’t know what to say, just say this: “I can’t possibly understand, but I am sorry you are hurting. I am with you.” Period.

Just to be clear: Being pro-Black or supporting Black Lives Matter does not equate to being anti-white, anti-authority or anti-police. Being FOR anything doesn’t automatically make you AGAINST anything else. Being FOR my family doesn’t mean I’m against yours. It means I love my family. Asking for equal treatment and respect does not imply that Black people believe their lives are MORE important than ours. (Key word: EQUAL). If you see no problem with Irish Americans celebrating St. Patricks Day, but you are uncomfortable with Black people celebrating their blackness, you have a problem. If you see no problem with Italians having restaurants in Little Italy and Chinese people having shops in Chinatown, but you see a problem with Black people celebrating Black community, you have a problem. If you march with the LGBT community for gay pride, but Black pride threatens you, you have a problem. If you don’t even blink when employees protest and picket for higher wages but you see a problem with Black people protesting for respect of life, you have a problem. If you think the Confederate flag is a perfectly acceptable symbol of Southern “pride” but dashikis and afros and kente cloth are “militant”, you have a problem. If any of this makes you uncomfortable, the problem is not them, it’s you.

#BlackLivesMatter is not divisive. You know what is? The rest of us saying it is. What’s divisive is our silence, our blatant apathy. What’s divisive is the fact that our Black “friends” and colleagues see us vocally opposing the shooting deaths of lions in Africa and gorillas in Cincinnati but not other human beings. What’s divisive is our support of attack victims in Paris and Germany and Turkey, but our silence regarding the attacks on our own neighbors. What’s divisive is that we are outraged when a civilian walks into a nightclub and murders innocent people but we justify when someone we pay to protect us murders innocent people in a traffic stop. Why are we ok with saying they were targeted because they were gay but we’re so hesitant to say they were targeted because they were Black?

What’s divisive is the rest of us refusing to acknowledge that Black lives matter, the rest of us who can’t wait to discount this movement by screaming, “All lives matter!” Yes, all lives matter. We’re not talking about that right now. We’re making a distinction about the Black ones because the actions of our law enforcement agencies and judicial system and white apathy keep telling us they don’t. Imagine how you would feel if you were venting to your significant other about having a bad day and their response was, “Well I had a bad day today too. Everyone has bad days.” You probably wouldn’t keep them around for long. You’d probably think they were totally clueless, lacked empathy and were completely self-absorbed. What if you went to the doctor with a broken leg and, without acknowledging your leg, he started to give you a lecture on nutrition and diabetes and talk to you about your cholesterol and heart health. Wouldn’t you think, “Yeah I know my whole body is important but let’s fix the broken part right now because I can’t walk!”? I’ve never seen October roll around and heard any kind of outrage because it’s BREAST cancer awareness month instead of ALL cancer awareness month. It doesn’t mean we forgot about all the other cancers. Yes, all cancers matter. Does it upset you that the NFL wears pink shoes for a month?

“But I don’t mean it that way”. It doesn’t matter what your intentions are when they’re telling you it’s insensitive. They’re telling you how it’s perceived. So stop. When your kid misbehaves or makes a mistake and says to you, “But I didn’t mean to do it,” do you just take his explanation and let him continue to misbehave? No, you course correct and expect him to learn and expect that he won’t do it again. How many cartoons and explanations and analogies and examples do you need before you realize it doesn’t matter that you don’t mean it that way? It’s insensitive. It’s a slap in the face. It misses the point. It is the exact reason the Black lives needed to be specified in the first place. It’s not about us for once. You’ve been informed. So stop acting like a whiny child who feels like he didn’t get invited to the party. Just stop.

Here’s where I’m about to shock you, white people. Get ready for it… We should not just be tolerating the Black Lives Matter movement, we should be supporting it, encouraging it, applauding it, on the front lines with it. Because BLM is not about targeting white police or hating white people. #BlackLivesMatter is simply calling, asking, peacefully protesting for a better, more compassionate, less aggressive, less reactionary police force. Period. We all aim to benefit from more compassionate public servants. We all aim to benefit if police treat us with less presumption of criminality and more willingness to listen. We all benefit from demilitarizing our police force. We all aim to benefit if police don’t see themselves as members of a military gestapo on the front lines of a war. Storm troopers are unnecessary outside of Star Wars and war zones. We all aim to benefit if the police stop the culture of “us vs them”. Take a moment and do a Google search. The videos are everywhere. There are unarmed people of all races harassed, beaten, handcuffed without probable cause, and killed at the hands of an overly aggressive police force. There are children… CHILDREN… who have been maimed and killed by overly aggressive law enforcement agencies who “accidentally” targeted the wrong people. Now there are also examples of police forces who have taken a good look at themselves, admitted there’s a problem, and are working to try to fix it with better training. And in those cities, it’s working. Now if some of the police forces across the country can admit they have a problem, enough to start to try to fix it, how in the world are you still in denial? The first step is admitting there’s a problem. The next is doing everything in our power to help support change. When BLM succeeds, we ALL benefit. We should be thanking them for taking the charge. Fifty years from now, I believe we will.

If the rest of us stood in solidarity with hurting people, realized “they” are not so different from us after all, recognized that they were celebrating our country’s independence on July 4th with cookouts and family and fireworks, just like us… If we weren’t so threatened by “Black Lives Matter” because we put an invisible “ONLY” in front of the statement instead of the assumed “ALSO” at the end, we’d be starting to get somewhere. If the rest of us said, “Yes, Black lives DO matter. I stand in solidarity with you. I’m with you. I, too, oppose systemic institutionalized racist discrimination. I, too, want to see this changed…” If the rest of us joined the movement instead of so vehemently opposing it, we’d come to unity in an instant. If we looked deep at our own hypocrisy, if we were willing to swallow our own pride, if we would choose to humanize victims instead of detach from them, we would start to bridge the gap. We have the CHOICE to stand up or be silent. They have no choice. We know we matter. Our history tells us so. Why can’t we let them matter too? We did not choose our skin color any more than they chose theirs. We did not choose the socio-economic environments we were born into any more than anyone else chose theirs. Stop taking credit and assigning blame for something none of us had any part in.

It’s our responsibility to have empathy & to seek understanding, white people. It’s our responsibility to use our positions of privilege to respond with more love and less criticism. If millions of our fellow citizens are telling us they’re having similar experiences, maybe we should listen. No part of listening requires giving our opinions. Just. Listen. Maybe, just maybe, we should respond with empathy and open hearts, instead of blame and disbelief. Recognizing the validity of someone else’s message should not threaten the integrity of your own. Your light does not diminish by letting someone else’s light shine. On the contrary, we shine brighter together. Our light has been shining for 400+ years. It’s ok to let someone else shine too.

The Answer

Daddy, we need You.

Our police departments are broken. Our law enforcement agencies are broken. Our judicial system is broken. Our prison system is broken. Our country is broken. Our people are broken…  Our capacity for empathy is broken. Our willingness to listen and understand is broken. Our humility is broken. Our pride blinds us, our fear of being wrong suffocates us, our ignorance stifles us, and our complacency is killing us. Where is our humanity? Where is our humility? Where is our love? Where is our respect for human life? Another name added to the list of people whose country has turned its back on the people who broke their backs to build it. The list is too long. There are too many hashtags.

I realized I’ve been waiting for this. Since Freddie Gray, I’ve been waiting for this. Who will be next? It was only a matter of time. I’ve been angry, sad, disgusted, outraged, and every time, after I’ve exhausted every emotion, I fall to my knees and weep. I weep for every mother who has buried a child, I weep for every child who has buried a parent, I weep for every human being – no different than I except for varying levels of melanin in their skin. A variation in melanin intended by its Creator to be a work of art. A variation that we’ve turned into a means to demonize anything that is different from ourselves, as if appreciating the beauty in someone else somehow subtracts from our own. A variation in melanin that dictates everything from access to opportunity to how we are perceived by people who do not know our character but choose to judge us in ways they wouldn’t dream of being judged. I weep for each and every one of them. Humans. People. Brothers. Sisters. Mothers. Fathers. Friends. I weep for the feeling and thoughts they must have had in their last breaths – fear mixed with peaceful acceptance of their fate. “So this is what is to become of me. I’ve watched it happen to countless others, now it is my turn.” I fall to my knees and weep. And every time I ask God, “Why?”

Why do so many people who look like me have such a hard time seeing the truth? Why aren’t more people who look like me shaking in rage? Why can’t more people who look like me accept that there can be good people wrapped up in a bad institution? Why can’t more people who look like me acknowledge that one can identify a problem without assuming that he will be blamed for it? Why don’t more people who look like me seek to understand before being understood? Why don’t more people who look like me accept that history runs deep, and if we tell the broken-hearted that for every year spent with a lover it will take 2 to heal, it is foolish to expect 300 year old wounds to be forgotten in half the time? Why can’t more people who look like me be appalled at slavery, injustice, Jim Crow and his son the Prison Industrial Complex, without thinking it means they’re taking responsibility for it? Why don’t more people choose self-reflection? Why are we so fearful of change? Why do so many leaders choose pride over principle?

And every time I ask Him Why, He reminds me that asking Why is not my place and asking Why will not solve injustice. Asking Why will not bring anyone back from the grave & asking Why will not fix a broken system that was never intended to be fixed. The answer to Why is because we live in a fallen world full of fallen people. Bernie Sanders can’t fix it. Hillary can’t fix it. Chris Christie can’t fix it. Obama couldn’t fix it. Vibes and crystals and karma can’t fix it. Our obsession with self love and slacktivism can’t fix it. Only Jesus can fix it. He is crying for His children to return to Him.

The problem is always sin. The answer is always Him.

Valentine’s Day is Only Corny if You Are

Seven years ago, I started dating myself on Valentine’s Day…

In other words, seven years ago, I vowed to never be bitter toward love. Like so many women who were dateless every time February 14th rolled around, that day was always bittersweet. The idea of couples pouring affection on each other and people expressing love warmed my heart… And at the same time, the lack of that in my own life always left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. All over the country there would be people expressing their love toward one another, and I would be home – alone, and loveless.

So starting in 2008, I made a choice NOT to be home, alone, and loveless. I reminded myself that I have a God who loves me beyond my wildest imagination – so much so that he paints the sky for me every morning and shines the moon for me every night. He wraps me in acceptance and showers me with grace. He loves me so much He died for me… and would do it again every day if He had to… just to let me know how much He loves me.

I began taking trips every February. I would fly somewhere new and date the city for the day. I’d wander the streets and explore the museums. I’d taste the food and breathe the air. I’d embrace every drop of goodness a city had to offer. I’ve always seen cities as people – each with their own distinct personalities… Each with their own quirks and flaws, but with so many things to love. It was a joy to watch happy couples walk hand-in-hand down Michigan Avenue as I basked in the beauty of snowflakes in Chicago. I partied with Miami and danced with Vegas. I had dinner with the Dominican Republic and dessert with Houston. I soaked up the sun with Hawaii and had the time of my life with Bali. I turned something that was a ping of pain into an abundance of joy.

I CHOSE to enjoy Valentine’s Day because I didn’t like the alternative. I CHOSE to date myself because in all my years of living and dating, I’d never had a Valentine’s date. I attribute this to 3 reasons:

Number one, I’ve only been in relationships on two February 14th’s… Both times with guys who used the “Valentine’s Day is corny” excuse to avoid having to celebrate it. “Yeah, totally corny. Pshhh!” I lied. (insert side eye emoji here).

Number two, I’ve dated some real class acts who picked fights riiiiiight around February 12th so that they could get out of Valentine’s Day duties. (In case you missed it, “class act” is code for the exact opposite of that.)

Number three, and worst of all, men tend to assume that women have experienced everything there is to experience with someone else already.

So let me speak on behalf of women around the world when I say, Gentlemen, please stop assuming. Expressing that you care about someone shouldn’t change just because you think everyone else is doing it on the same day. If anything, it should be even more reason to do it! Don’t assume that she’s had 100 Valentine dates, so one more with you won’t mean much. Stop letting your assumptions that she’s been sent flowers a thousand times keep you from sending her flowers. I don’t know a single woman on the face of the Earth who wouldn’t be tickled pink to have flowers delivered to her doorstep. (Yes I said “tickled pink”. I’ve been hanging out with Grandma a lot lately.)

The point is, even if she’s had 100 roses sent to her job a thousand times, and even if she’s been taken around the world by someone who came before you, doing something nice for her will never go out of style. Make her feel loved. Make her feel appreciated. You’d be surprised at how often she’s had a man do that for her… Most likely, it hasn’t been very often. There is nothing corny about love and appreciation. It’s a beautiful thing. At the end of the day, all anyone wants is to know that someone they care about cares about them… Even on Valentine’s Day.