The waves of the Indian Ocean in Maasai Mara, Kenya are growing further and further away. Tears of grief that wash upon the shore, only to recede quickly back into the vast waters. Deep calls out to deep, and my heart is swelling up into a balloon sized vessel, reaching up to my throat. I’m afraid that when I open my mouth, only groaning will come out. This is the day when my husband and I knew that returning to Kenya was not happening this year due to the high rates of infections from COVID-19, and the unlikely prospect of receiving a vaccine until late Spring or late Summer of 2021.
The pandemic is calling me to remember. Do you remember March 13th of 2020? It seems like forever ago. It still amazes me to this day that it has already been 11 months since the schools closed quickly. The pandemic cancelled vacations, graduations, and baby showers. It reminds me of the movie Groundhog’s Day, where every day is the same. The news continues to share record-breaking deaths compared to the week before. Charts seem to only grow higher in the number of people being infected. My world is getting smaller as I read about the number of shootings and uprisings in cities where people of color are being killed. George Floyd, Breoanna Taylor, and Treyvon Martin, just to name a few.
George Floyd’s murder happened in Wisconsin’s neighboring state, Minnesota. Madison, Wisconsin is where I grew up, and not where I expected to end up living with a small family. The shooting of George Floyd was close enough to me that it caused me to stop and reflect on where I live and what racial justice movements – if any – are happening here. There are a lot of people involved and interested, but to my surprise, Madison has one of the highest racial gaps in education in the nation. Black and Brown kids are way behind their white peers. True, there are people who are striving to change the educational system in Madison. As I take a year off of teaching, I’ve reflected on my friends and the people around me. Although I can say not all my friends are white, most of them are, and that is a big change from what it looked like while growing up in Madison. When I was little, Madison felt big, like New York City. There were people of all colors in my neighborhood and the public schools I attended. Or maybe, when I was small it just seemed big, and in reality, Madison is small. Now, thirty years later, I live on the opposite side of where I grew up, and there are hardly any people of color in the neighborhood.
A giant rift lies between people of color and myself – particularly in the stage of life that I am in. This rift is as deep as the San Andreas Fault line in California. Heck, let’s call it like it is: racism. Racism is everywhere, but mainly lined up with inequitable practices and systems of oppression.
Initially, I read everything I could in order to help or do something! Actually, my reaction is pretty common for white people who realize that the American History that was taught in school is not the real history of America. To some extent, I felt guilty for simply being white! Yet, after much study, my guilt was associated with a lack of cultural identity and overlooking the fact that I am a racist (remember, racism is in systems, not people. White people can take advantage of these systems, but not Black and Brown people). Accepting that I have benefited from the very same systems that oppress Black and Brown people is just the beginning. So many of my Black and Brown friends are no longer in sight. What can I do? With prayer and investing in the African American Ministry is how to begin racial reconciliation, justification, and reparations.
Traveling to Kenya may have sub-consciously driven me to study race even though I only had a small taste of what Black and Brown people experience daily during my stay at Beacon of Hope as a minority. The kids empowered me to teach them with respect as I expected the same. How could I show respect and empower my brothers and sisters of color? This is my journey, and it’s not a short one.