I cried last Friday to watch racism tearing my hometown apart…again.
On May 27, 1968, I attended a friend’s high school graduation in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. It was early evening when we left the ceremony. We headed to our car. We discussed where friends were gathering to celebrate. As we walked toward Fourth Street, the main thoroughfare of our town, burglar alarms began piercing the air. We could hear shouts coming from up ahead. The crunch under my shoes was shattered glass. Windows were broken out of a shop on my left. There was a scent of smoke in the air and we could hear sirens approaching from all directions. That night in May of 1968 was the start of three days that were later called the Louisville Race Riot of 1968.
While we were safely tucked into the convention center the world had turned upside down.
There were no smart phones to tell us what was happening – no social media to check – no texts to alert us. But we sensed what was going on. Just a few weeks before that night, a black man was punched, slapped and then arrested by a white police officer during a traffic stop. Word had circulated that the officer’s suspension was ending – that he was being reinstated. The man he had arrested though, was going to stand trial for assault. The news was too much to bear for a community with a long history of racial tension. Something snapped that night. And we were standing in the midst of it.
Now, fifty-two years later, as I watched people rising up again – fed up with another five decades of broken promises – new generations being told to be patient – that change takes time…. I cried.
I cried because Breonna Taylor should be alive. I cried because George Floyd should be alive. I cried because Ahmaud Arberry should be alive. The list of names goes on. It is a hideously and horribly long list.
It’s not that cities and towns are being torn apart again – they have been apart for years. The very fabric of our communities is flawed. Racism has embedded itself in our systems and has been nurtured by some and ignored by others. There are different rules based on the color of your skin. My white skin is a protective shield that is granted to me by a system rife with inequities.
I will probably cry again over this. But I will not demand patience. I will not question the anger and the frustration I see in protesters’ faces. I will work to listen, to understand, to learn and to grow as a human being – and to do what I can to try to make a difference. And I will work to become a better version of myself, so my grandson’s generation does not have to rise up. So, he is not walking on shattered glass in an upside-down world.