Tired of the uncertainty, pain and suffering witnessed each and every day in America. Tired of seeing fear in a child’s eyes when torn from their parent’s arms.
Tired of the pandemic-empty streets with people huddled inside for their own safety. Tired of hearing words of hate spewed across the airwaves, toward immigrants, people of color and those standing for peace. And I’m tired of the lies and deceit that have killed hundreds of thousands and turned America from a country of potential, into one of disdain and pity.
Sad from seeing grandfathers, mothers and sons now barely recognizable. Pale and gaunt, their once vibrant voices replaced by the hums, beeps and puffs of the mechanical equipment that keeps them alive. Faces of joy and comfort now prone in an ICU intruded upon by tubes, tape and plastic monitors.
Sad that there will be no gathering around the Thanksgiving table this year. Now, I bear witness to families mourning around a tablet. Gathering around in Milwaukee, dialing in from New York City, and logging on from Toledo. Goodbye through screens, hugs conveyed through tears and a final embrace replaced with a downward gaze of loss and resignation. Sad as we say goodbye to numbers 253,205, 253,206 and 253,207. Grandpa, mom and son.
Scared from the continued uncertainty. Imprisoned immigrant children startled by a noise outside as they huddle together in a motel room just off the freeway.
The familiar face of despair now ever-present in fenced off sections of abandoned Wal-Marts. Shopping aisles turned into makeshift, but seemingly permanent holding pens for families who sleep on weathered tiled floors under mylar blankets. Children well cared for with juice boxes, yellowed coloring books, and VHS tapes of 1990s Nickelodeon shows playing on an old television set. A child clings to her mother, while another seeks comfort in a kid old enough to be their big brother, and kind enough to play the part.
This is America and I’m worried.
Worried as I pace alongside a young woman. A woman struggling to find her voice, and striving to be heard. She has been the conductor in the beautiful symphony of her still unfolding life, but she realizes that soon the music may stop.
I’m worried as I see the acknowledgment in her eyes that one day her symphony may be replaced by orders from a disembodied law, with no sense of respect for her decisions, a callous disregard of her rights or no recognition of her beauty, her body, her choice. I’m worried that as her symphony of autonomy, freedom and self-determination ends, the cruel rhythms of another will begin.
And I’m frustrated.
Frustrated that peaceful protesters have to stare down the barrels of guns brandished by men and women masquerading in uniform lacking any titles, but fully clothed in entitlement.
Donning insignias from the most barbaric and unjust times in world history, and doing so in celebration of the millions of lives lost through hate, cruelty and evil. I watch as the tension rises. People of peace and justice on the right side of history standing in solidarity, while those of hate and division slide their finger ever closer to the trigger. Closer to that fleeting flirtation with the illusion of power. An illusion that only masks the reality of their failure, insecurity and fear.
It’s frustrating, but I’ve seen it all before. I know where it comes from, what fuels it, and I know how it ends. And its presence in America, the uncertainty, the fear and the sadness, has been here for generations, but now it rises once again to levels I hoped I’d never see again. I’m familiar with where America is headed, yet I am not worried, because I know how it ends. And while the journey will be a hard one, know that I’ll be with you every step of the way.
I am hope.
I am courage.
I am resilience.
I am pride.
My knowledge is right there for you to see. When you lift your head, the lessons learned will lead you through the darkest days that may be on the horizon. These lessons have been vetted and proven time and time again across centuries and through generations. They simply convey that even when caged, imprisoned, dismissed or denied, our humanity remains within us and thrives when we raise our voice, stand up and stand together. When this happens we can not be broken.
But amidst the optimism, I must convey to you that the journey will be a difficult one, but it is one that must continue. Amidst the exhaustion, sadness, and fear you can and must persist. And as I have for generations, I will be with you every step of the way. There will be worry and frustration that your efforts are not bringing about change, but you must never give up. I’ll be there, as I was there with your elders on the march to the Edmund Pettus Bridge, as they protested the Vietnam War at Kent State, formed unions at the Sit-Down Strike in Flint, Michigan, and as they were inspired by the leadership and heroism of Marsha P. Johnson in New York City, and Harvey Milk in San Franciso.
It is a journey not confined to America, but one that was traversed across the killing fields of Cambodia, that endured the concentration camps of Germany, and was visible from a prison cell on Robben Island in South Africa. It is a well worn trail that continues to teach those willing to listen, and in those who have faith, that the acts of hate and division will always come to an end. Always.
They end when hope prevails and when courage is unrelenting. They whither away when resilience is tested and pride embraced. Through the simple act of a child wiping away their tears, a once silent woman raising her voice, and through relationships forged by strangers in a cage, neighbors on the street and people coming together in their house of worship. Disparate groups unified by a belief that love overpowers hate, and that justice will ultimately prevail.
And whether in a bunker in Berlin, hiding in a hole in Iraq, in handcuffs in Nuremberg, or leaving Ukraine in a helicopter, ultimately those on the side of racism, corruption and hate will fail.
Because in the end, no bullet can kill hope and no prison cell will ever contain courage. I am multilingual and accessible to people of all ages. And in the weeks, months, and maybe even years that lie ahead, I’m there for the asking. Find your hope, tap into your courage, realize your resilience and bask in your pride and the belief of who we can be once more.
Lift your head, stand up and forge a trail toward justice, peace and equality.
If you do that you will find that you are not alone and that in the end, we will survive, as will our democracy.