A month ago today, our nation was in the thick of witnessing political unrest on the basis of racist systems, sparked by the horrific death of George Floyd. Our news was filled with arguments from either side throwing around words like,
accusing and speculating without a lot of concrete evidence. The uniqueness of this time was that there was no generalization of the experiences people were having at these events. It is argued that nearly 26 million Americans participated in Black Lives Matter protests in the month of June, meaning no two people had the same experience. Before attending, I let the news inform my opinion on the perceived nastiness and impulsivity of the protests that took place in those early days; however, I was so sorely wrong.
After much debate on the pros and cons of putting ourselves in group settings in a pandemic, as well as checking our intentions as white women to show up to this, on day 6 after the death of George Floyd, my best friend and I decided to go to Capitol Hill in Denver on a Saturday afternoon to a marketed peaceful protest.
The experience of that day was unlike that of any political activism I have participated in until that point. Although I had been to women’s marches and a walk out for gun safety in our high schools, the palpable energy of that Saturday afternoon put us all on high alert.
Thousands stood outside a boarded-up capitol building and walked the streets of a city I couldn’t recognize because of the damage and graffiti. We marched 11 miles that day amidst people of every skin tone and past cars blaring their horns and raising their fists in support. We talked to strangers and chanted with the crowds amidst crowded streets. You looked up and saw snipers on high rises, and police officers blocking off traffic. The energy was angry yet united. The nuances and reality of that day are still beyond me.
When we got to 16th Street, the tone shifted to threat as a group amassed around 6 police officers defending store fronts. In a matter of seconds, at 4 p.m. in the afternoon, rubber bullets and tear gas were being thrown, and my friend and I ran a couple blocks east. That is an experience that I will never forget. That experience was the one I was seeing on TV, the “us” against “them” and what my friend and I had prepared for, but didn’t really perceive having to experience. We left there shortly after as things continued to escalate.
The next day I had to work and could not take my mind off of the experience from the day prior. The energy, the people, the need…even after a perceivably scary incident, it felt strange to be anywhere but downtown. For the next week after that day, we showed up to the marches that took place every single evening and the subsequent experiences surpassed the initial one.
I battled with myself on what I believed to be smart, safe, and effective in terms of what some of the individuals downtown intended to do. While I didn’t agree with all of it, the heart of the issue remains true that the value of human life is undeniable. As the week progressed, people began scrubbing off buildings, the protest signs slowly began to lose the “F” word and the hatred against authority, but rather declared the names of young individuals who were taken too soon. The marchers walked for longer, people began coming out of their balconies and joining the protestors, the 8 minutes of silence that happened each day increasingly kept getting more silent despite the growing crowds. The unity of those subsequent days made me hopeful for the change that was coming and made me proud to live in Denver and be proud to be an American who doesn’t fully have to agree with the system.
The moments captured during that week still hold so much hope in my heart. The hand of the refugee from Jordan helping me scale the wall in Civic Center so we could hear the speakers. Ten thousand people dancing in the streets when it was dark as a 6-man brass band brought joy to the movement, the pain that complete strangers held for each other as they walked shoulder to shoulder. (And maybe most impressive was the fact that out of thousands of people, I saw no one without a mask.)
Here we are a month later, still upset, but maybe a little less active. Still believing in the idea of equality, but maybe just a little less emotional on the subject. As a community of predominantly white individuals, that is our privilege to slowly step back into what was. What I am hoping is to come is the reality that we can no longer can turn away from the reality that is our nation. Our communities are ones of social justice. Our Christian community should be one of social justice.
Jesus, at his core was an activist. He called out injustice, he ate with the marginalized, healed the “untouchables,” adored the underdogs, and called out the majority. He spoke out against oppressive systems and called for kingdom on earth, and the deep belief that “as it always has been” isn’t enough, that we were created and capable of doing better.
Isaiah 1 says: “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, and please the widow’s cause.” I am learning a new relationship with Jesus, but the Jesus in my heart would be disappointed if we remained silent. Jesus didn’t participate in performative allyship, Jesus was an ally.
So I challenge you all to commit to a movement that walks in the footsteps of a leader to claims justice for his people. A challenge to not only be a part of a moment in history, but rather be the group of people who chooses to change it.
My questions for you tonight are:
- Why is change hard?
- How will you commit to change in the coming weeks and months?
The Table is our Tuesday evening worship service that–in non-pandemic times–meets at the FoCo Cafe. Each time we gathering, we remember Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. We tell stories about his life and about our own. Thanks to Whitney Buckendorf for sharing this story. Whitney is an International Studies / Social Work student at the University of Denver. She’s grateful for being welcomed by a community of individuals who allow her to find new meaning in faith and community.