“We’ve got to be as clear-headed about human beings as possible, because we are still each other’s only hope.” — James Baldwin
It has been quite a while since I written here. This wasn’t what I intended to write for this blog post. The recent killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breona Taylor and the subsequent protests have overshadowed my thoughts. I am a white male who has never worried about being stopped or worse by police because of the color of my skin. This is not lost on me. One evening not long ago, I was dining with friends in Cincinnati, on The Banks. As we were walking back to our car after leaving the restaurant, there were two Cincinnati Police Officers on duty. As we walked past them and said friendly hello’s, I remember being acutely aware if I was black, that interaction might have looked and surely felt differently. What was a feeling of safety for me as a white (late) middle aged male would have felt much different if I was black.
It’s not that I don’t know racism exists, is evil and condemn it. I do. My complicity comes with not doing enough about it. Almost 12 years ago my first non profit job was fundraising for a soup kitchen in the Over the Rhine neighborhood of Cincinnati called Our Daily Bread. Back then Over the Rhine wasn’t the OTR of today. At the time, it was classified as the most dangerous neighborhood in the country. The people served by Our Daily Bread were all poor, predominately black. After the first couple weeks getting to know the neighborhood and the people who lived there, I never felt threatened or afraid.
There was a black woman, Carmen, who lived in a second floor apartment near Our Daily Bread. Every day she would come to the kitchen for a meal. And every day she would walk into the office and give me a hug. My daily walk from the parking lot to the kitchen would take me past her apartment. If she happened to see me walking, she would lean out the window to say hello and tell me she was watching out for me, just one example of many of how I felt part of the neighborhood.
If you made it this far you might be wondering about the point to this. I loved my job at Our Daily Bread. I loved the people I worked with, the people I was serving, the feeling it gave me helping others. I now realize I wasn’t seeing the whole picture. Greg Boyle, a Jesuit Priest, started an organization in Los Angeles called Homeboy Industries to assist individuals and families affected by the cycle of poverty, drugs and gangs. He writes:
“Kinship is what happens to us when we [remember we all belong to each other]. With kinship as the goal, other essential things fall into place; without it, no justice, no peace. I suspect that were kinship our goal, we would no longer be promoting justice—we would be celebrating it.
Often we strike the high moral distance that separates “us” from “them,” and yet it is God’s dream come true when we recognize that there exists no daylight between us. Serving others is good. It’s a start. But it’s just the hallway that leads to the Grand Ballroom.
Kinship—not serving the other, but being one with the other. Jesus was not “a man for others”; he was one with them. There is a world of difference in that. . . .No daylight to separate us.”
Kinship. This is a missing piece for me. It connects some dots. This is where I can do better. I don’t know where or how this goes from here. It is hard work. I do know I have to start walking down that hallway. Walk with me?
“And so I urge you, go after experience rather than knowledge. On account of pride, knowledge may often deceive you. But this gentle, loving affection will not deceive you. Knowledge tends to breed conceit, but love builds. Knowledge is full of labor but Love, full of rest.” - The Cloud of the Unknowing