Hope Is Required
This past week I came close to giving up. Why do we keep doing this? Nothing is going to change it seems. People ask why do you continue to seek “Justice for Andy” when two years have gone by, and still no public inquest, still no police accountability, still no meaningful change?
And that my friends, is why we must carry on until we do get change. We know that once we give up, there can be no change. Hope is required. Otherwise, the oppressors win.
I recall that when I first heard that Martin Luther King, Jr., was killed on April 4, 1968. I was a young community organizer in Cincinnati, Ohio and eating dinner seated at one of several round tables at an event sponsored by the “The Mayor’s Friendly Relations Committee” where we were addressing racism. We had hope. We met in response to riots the summer before where the National Guard had been called in to restore order. Whether the meeting was to prevent riots or to end racism, we were there Black and White together.
Seated at my table were people from agencies and politicians. One was a Black member of City Council. We must have had hope, or we would not have been there. It was announced that King had been killed. We were advised that a curfew was going into effect, and we needed to get home as quickly as possible. A Black man who was blind and had a German Shepherd service dog had come with me, so I drove them to their home. Another person followed me in his car to make sure that I made it to my apartment safely.
That night, riots and looting began. That night a White professor from the University of Cincinnati was shot and killed who had gone out to face the rioters to ask them to stop. The one who shot him was a young Black man. I did not know the White professor, but I did know the young Black man who pulled the trigger. He had been in a program where I worked as an organizer. Along with me, he had helped to deliver Christmas baskets a few months earlier to families in the neighborhood where I worked. I remembered him because he had questioned how the recipients of the Christmas baskets had been chosen because he knew that they were not the neediest families.
But the next day, even though the riots were far from over, I went to a prayer vigil led by an Episcopal priest at a park across the street from where the White professor had been shot. At a discussion at work later that day with a co-worker named Mary X, we talked about what had happened. Mary X was skeptical of me, this White do-gooder from rural Ohio who had been hired because I had a degree but no other qualifications for organizing in a rapidly changing neighborhood that had been White only a few years earlier. What kept it partially White were Christ Hospital, God’s Bible School, and two churches: a historic Episopal Church and a Methodist Church, both with White congregations who now commuted from where they had fled. There were a few Appalachian families living in pockets of the neighborhood whom I was to work with. The kids liked me, but their parents just wanted to make enough money so they could move on to White neighborhoods, considering themselves in transition from Kentucky or West Virginia rural communities to “better neighborhoods” as soon as they could.
The ACLU contacted me and asked that I be present at a predominantly Black high school for a planned walkout they had in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. My role was as an observer to help keep the students safe. It’s sad to think that still today that White presence is needed to help keep people of color safe, a minor role we White people can provide.
Yes, we are in trying times. But this is not the first trying time, nor will it be the last. But we must never give up. We must practice hope each day. The alternative is unthinkable. Thanks to the Creator for allowing us to hope and the courage not to give up.
Fear not. Be bold. Build relationships. Be humble. Do justice.
Chesie Lee, Chair
Riverton Peace Mission
PO Box 255
Riverton WY 82501