By Marilyn M. Williams, PhD
At October’s Equity Summit in Los Angeles, people from all over the U.S. came together to talk about health, racism, education and criminal justice issues. Throughout the summit, dancing, poetry and music helped uplift the soul while panelists delivered complex and difficult messages.
I was particularly moved by a passionate conversation among a panel of national organizers on the Black Lives Matter movement—about history, slavery, institutional racism and violence; about how as a people, we have progressed, and how we continue to be held back.
Racism and violence take a toll on health, resulting not only in mental anguish but poor health outcomes, such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. The panelists called on the audience to stand up, be present and openly fight to end this injustice.
“We have nothing to lose but our chains,” one of them said.
As a person who is active in fighting to end oppression, inequity and institutional racism, I often feel that I am engaged in a prolonged and exhausting war. It was discouraging—yet uplifting—to know that I am not alone. I returned to Denver contemplative and yet encouraged, and filled with fire and determination.
Then, a few days later, a splash of red paint was splayed upon a Black Lives Matter poster on the side of a Denver church. Again, my heart ached as I was reminded that someone sees black lives as less important. Yet we must go on, with our heads held high and our souls bruised but still intact.
I spend a lot of time talking to my daughters, teaching them that there are bad things in this world, but that you must live your life with confidence and love. I teach the lessons that my family taught me. I am a child of parents who grew up in the segregated South, who boycotted restaurants and pharmacies; these were the stories of my childhood. And now here we are, these many years later, fighting the same battles.
I can tell you all the statistics about why so many black men are missing in America. But they are not just numbers, and we are flesh and blood.
So why do black lives matter? Because our children matter. Because they must go on when we’re no longer here. It is my hope that their children’s children will have a better understanding and appreciation of each other, and not fear but embrace each other’s differences. It is my hope that the battles of equality are smaller and that people remain passionate about doing what’s right. It is my hope.