I’ve been experiencing much grief following the death of George Floyd and the looting and rioting that has plagued cities across this country. I could only find one way to express that grief through my writing. I wrote this poem as a reflection piece to help me articulate what I was seeing and feeling.
Two black boys playing with the trash thrown out of the house
Taking apart a broken chair saying, “Hulk Smash!”
Young black boy playing on the porch with his dogs
While music in the car next to him blasts Nipsey Hussle
Three black children on the playground across the town
Running and screaming not fearing anything or anyone around
One black man on the ground telling his captors I can’t breathe
barely making a sound
More black men gathering around enjoying life in quarantine’s vault
Fearing nothing now until cops roll up and everything comes to a halt.
One elderly black man tending the garden in the yard of the home he’s lived in for years
Raised his children in community without fear
Now seeing scorned earth for blocks where life was once good
Hope all gone has deflated the neighborhood
Streets torn apart not by cops but by black brothers and sisters with ricocheting gun shots
One black man walking his dog in the neighborhood
Vexing less melanated citizens fearing he’s up to no good
His presence evokes fear and threats to others simply
Though he makes no noise or scene he is simply being seen
They avoid him like the flu desperately trying to get away
But he resolves that for his children’s future, it’s a price he’s willing to pay
Yes, people say Black Lives Matter
but we’re seeing in real time how quickly that black life can shatter
Into a million pieces of brokenness and breaking hope of generations past
Black man forced to be silent
Because he knows if he speaks too loud or too bold he’ll incite a riot
Too many black men and women caged in a cell
Cause a systemically unjust society condemned them to hell
With the same blindness of justice refusing them bail
Let them rot cause they’re better safe where they are
which makes us safe from them
The existential quarantine against the man whose blackness forces him to shelter in place
To stay in his lane and not run the race of freedom..don’t breathe just lie in state
Breathe or not its their own fault some say
The pain he sees and feels replacing the pleasure of a life promised to be lived
Being a black man in a fair-weather world
Trying to make a dollar every day makes you wanna holler
Rage against the machine as its raging against you
Copyright June 2, 2020 Lorenzo T. Neal
Like many across this country I’ll joining the voices and libations celebrating Black Heritage Month acknowledging those ancestors and my contemporaries who have and are contributing to our heritage. That heritage doesn’t begin post Civil War or the Civil Rights era. It begins before many Africans from various tribes across the continent of Africa were chained and sailed across the waters to Europe, the Caribbean, and the US. It is the celebration of those black men and women who were strong enough to stand chattle slavery, family separations, and rebellions that ended in the deaths of many for the cause of freedom and liberty.
I take this moment for the celebration of my personal history. My paternal and maternal families have a wonderfully diverse history rooted in the oppression that they endured that empowered them to build families in the midst of it. My maternal and paternal family history is a combination of former slaves and sharecroppers and biracial freedmen. I am a reflection of their beautifully unique relationships. They created the legacy upon which I am standing and building on. My ancestors were not the best educated but they were masters of the world around them which empowered them to build entire communities that continue to this day.
Black Heritage needs to be more than a few popular talking heads that the majority approves of. It needs to reflect the authentic reality of our history and people who made it. This includes those unsung heros who will never have schools, streets, buildings, or anything else named for them. It is these who bore the burdens of oppression that gave hope and power to the eventual liberation and freedoms we now have and don’t fully appreciate. I choose to speak and honor that history that is the present and future.
And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper? And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground. Genesis 4:9-10
On October 19, 2016, my 18-year-old nephew was shot and killed in another senseless act of gun violence. My nephew was a charming, intelligent, and talented young man who had a lot going for him. Like many teens his age in urban areas, he felt the need to belong. He got with his click, they did typical things people in the hood do. What no one expected was that the hood would be the one to take him out. In only moments, his life was taken and he became another statistic. He became another young brother taken away from us violently. He became another young brother taken by one of his own.
I preached my nephew’s funeral and I wrestled with what to say and how to say it. I knew there would be plenty of young people there. I knew they needed to hear a message of hope and comfort. I knew they needed to hear stories about my nephew’s outgoing personality, big smile, and musical talent. I knew they needed to hear all the good things about my nephew. I also knew something else they needed to hear: I knew they needed to hear the truth.
I wrestled with preaching what they needed to hear. I knew the message would not be one of heaven and angels, and the glorious life of the hereafter. It would be the truth of our silence and passivity leading to so many of our sons and daughters dying needless deaths. It would be the truth of our negligence, passiveness, and silence leading to so many of our sons and daughters are losing their lives to a penal system that treats them as subhuman caged animals.
The truth hurts but it heals. I understand the angst so many young blacks feel. I understand this sense of inalienable rights to claim turf and clicks and amass a rep within the hood. No person wants to seem unappreciated, unnecessary, and unsung. The church and other community and spiritual leaders must address angst. It is the fear of being lost forever that we must combat. It is the distrust of a system that is supposed to protect and serve them that we must address. It is the soul that needs to be actualized and mobilized to see better and greater things not just in the future but in the present.
WE ARE OUR BROTHER’S KEEPER!
We are accountable for the life and death of those we care. We can contribute to their empowerment and liberation from a deep anxiety of over-hood exposure. The story says that Cain spoke with Abel before killing him. It does not say what they discussed or what emotions Cain felt, but whatever it was led to him committing a crime that has affected humanity every since. When God confronts Cain, his response is chilling. It reeks of insensitivity to the divine community. It speaks loudly of how easy it is to brush off another black man’s life and meaningless. In spite of this, Abel’s blood cried out from the ground to God. It spoke of his tragedy as no language could. It lamented his relationship and his death, but it also gave hope. It gave hope because it cried to the Creator. It cried to the Eternal. It spoke with enough authority to cause God to hear and act.
We should learn from Abel’s blood. We should learn to cry out to God against all violence. We should learn that death does not silence the voice of the slain. We should demand accountability in our communities from one another. We should allow the blood voices of the slain to resonate within our communities until we stand and cry No More! Their blood is crying out to us and to God. Are we listening or are like Cain, continuing the passivity of life only asking, “Are we our brother’s keeper?”