From an African American perspective: Do Black Lives Matter to me?

Courageously I have to cut beneath the wounds to see the real source of the pain!

I recently viewed the documentary, #BlackLivesMatter. I sat quietly with my shoulders tensely raised, suddenly feeling a need to be incognito in the audience of several African Americans, a few Mexican Americans, and a handful of Caucasians.

Throughout the film my mind recited the statement Black Lives Matter while entertaining the questions, "Do Black lives matter? Do Black lives matter to me?"

The facilitator, a middle-aged man often advocating for justice, told us that the film was long and that violence and profanity had not been edited from the documentary. "Viewer discretion was advised."

The atmosphere fell around me like a heavy woolen cloak. The intensity of the film drew me into its core. Blue and red lights flashing, police yelling, children screaming, adults cursing, chaos and riotous behaviors jumped forth from the screen. I was held captive! describes it like this:

From the murder of Treyvon Martin in Florida to the shooting of an unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, all Americans have been forced to recognize this deep-seated cancer which continues to exist in the marrow of the nation. The film shows that real change has only been made possible by the efforts of everyday citizens who exert peaceful and persuasive pressure on those in power.

Black Lives Matter! Do they? Do black lives matter to me?

Since seeing the film and in midst of the raucous political atmosphere of 2016, I have felt a need to ask questions and consider the answers that are imperative to humanity at this time. Day after day Russian roulette is being played with race. Martin Luther King's beautiful dream has collapsed beneath the weight of anger, the misunderstanding of the Constitution, the miseducation of humanity, and the birthing of a frail civilization.

Being an African American woman who is Catholic in a predominantly white religious order, who is in ministry at a predominantly white parish, living in a predominantly white neighborhood, I have had to cut courageously beneath the wounds to see the real source of pain. If I want to stand in solidarity with other People of Color, I have to ask questions and seek answers.

I learned years ago to walk with my eyes open to face what lies ahead, to do so with dignity and confidence. I know, however, that to live bi-culturally in the midst of the majority, one relinquishes some self-confidence. It takes a waking up of sorts to "come home again." #BlackLivesMatter has been a point of waking up.

Black lives matter! Do Black lives matter?

Top Documentary Films:

The film begins in Baltimore, a city burdened by a lack of opportunity and support for the poor. Over one -third of black men from the area will spend some portion of their lives in the penal system. As in most cities residents view law enforcement as an oppressive force rather than a supportive one.

California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Ohio....
Forever family, friends, and strangers will cry for . . .
Tamir Rice, 12
Cameron Tillman, 14
VonDerrit Myers, Jr., 18
Laquan McDonald, 17
Carey Smith Viramontes, 18
Miquel Beton, 19
Karen Cifuentes, 19
And . . .

BlackLivesMatter! Do Black Lives Matter?

Ballistic scenes and shouts fill the room . . .
Get out of the car! Get down on the ground.
Stop! You are hurting!
Thrown to the ground; silver handcuffs;
What did I do?
Stay still? I said stay still?
Don't shoot! Don't shoot!

Shots fired! One . . . two . . . three . . .
Dead at 19.
Domestic Violence
Police opens the door . . .
Police yells, "Get back!"
"Put the knife down."

Sammy holds knife . . .
He should not have moved.
"I said, "Get back," Shots one, two, three . . . four, five, six . . .
When someone is fearful, yelled at, mentally ill and in distress . . .
Where does common sense flee?
Behind a door?
Behind the badge?
Behind a taser?
Behind the gun?
Too late!

A young African American woman sitting behind me becomes emotional. I take her young son from her arms. Two women rush to console her. The small child is frightened by his mother's moaning; he is taken from my arms to follow her. Whispers of fear and anguish crisscross the room.

My heart is beating fast. I realize I am removed from the day-to-day experiences of most people in the room. My wake-up call! I am waking up to the realization that Martin's Dream is fading; perhaps it never fully materialized. I took my ID to vote this year. Fifty years beyond Selma, Montgomery, and Greensboro cries for justice still scream from Charleston, Ferguson, and Chicago.

I am waking up to realize it will no longer be enough for me to read a book; enough for me to participate on a panel; enough to question and not seek answers; enough to write a proposal and fail to act; enough to only write about my feelings; enough to wonder and not question "why?"

If there is injustice, I cannot remain silent when alone in the midst of the majority. I cannot be silent when a voice needs to be heard. It will no longer be acceptable to keep my eyes cast down and not look with confidence into the eyes of one with power; acceptable to look "the norm" in society and not empathize or befriend others who do not.

When the young woman and her child return she is stronger and composed.

Black women, no matter the amount of education or wealth, always survive! Faith and courage keep us strong! We innately stand unshaken on ancestral shoulders. We stand on the "you have to" of yesterday, the "you will" of today and the "you must" of tomorrow. In our resilient souls, we have prayed defeat into victory, we have found God's peace in deep grief, and from grips of oppression we have risen to the summits of freedom.

People say, BlackLivesMatter!
But, do they mean it?

I look different from the people I minister to, but I sit at their tables. I possibly look different from you, but I can sleep in your house. What about my black brothers and my sisters? Where will they eat? Where will they sleep?

Courageously I have to cut beneath the visible wounds to see the real source of pain.
Consciously, curiously, and courageously I have to, I will, I must ask . . .

Do black lives matter?
Do black lives matter to me?

[Larretta Rivera-Williams, RSM, is originally from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where she is coordinator of pastoral care at St. Leo the Great Catholic Church. Since entering the Sisters of Mercy in 1982, she has ministered as an elementary, secondary, and divinity school educator. She has written and produced plays as well as directed and choreographed.]