On June 19th of last year, I stood at Kelly Ingram Park for a Juneteenth celebration, a day “commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, and has been celebrated by African-Americans since the late 1800s.” We stood on the same land where civil rights demonstrations and rallies happened 60 years ago. At the beginning of the celebration there was lots of line dancing, good music filling the air, and people of different races at this celebration. There came a moment during the event when individuals had the opportunity to express themselves—through song, spoken word, speeches, performances. There is one particular moment that will forever be etched on my soul. A 50-60 year-old black man took the stage. He wore a black shirt and jeans. Nothing really stood out at first, but when he opened his mouth the park fell silent. He had everyone’s attention.
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self‐evident, that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!…”
I, like everyone else in the park, was captivated by the authority in his voice and the close resemblance to Martin Luther King Jr’s voice. It was a moment when chills covered my entire body.
As I listened to him, tears filled my eyes as the reality of this celebration set in. How incredibly exciting, the joy this day brought. Only moments ago we were laughing and dancing and doing the Cupid Shuffle. For me, this was the shift. I became so disheartened of how this echoed the same cry for equal justice 67 years ago and also in 2020. I was reminded of why we were there. It was more than a celebration. It was a call to action. We had recently watched headline after headline and video after video of the tragic killing of George Floyd. Some of us watched the video, some couldn’t stomach the footage, and others tried to pretend it didn’t happen and justice was served. For so many of us, “I can’t breathe” made its way to our Instagram stories, it started conversations with friends that had never happened before. Collectively, the cry, “never again” attached itself to our conversations and our thoughts. We watched with horror as a cop kneeled his knee into George Floyd’s neck as he uttered the words, “I can’t breathe”.
Welcome to The Brave Space, Sawyerville’s new blog series on race. I’m Breanna Mitchell, and I serve as the Summer Learning Coordinator on Sawyerville’s year-round staff. I’ll be your guide in this Brave Space.
I wanted to start this series with that story of my experience at a Juneteenth celebration, because there is urgency in the air. There are some people who have let the fire die down, if that’s you, this series is for you. There are others who are still educating themselves and leaning into uncomfortable conversations, if that’s you, this series is for you. There are even some who, despite all the tragedies in 2020, fail to see the systemic racism that is etched into every part of our county, if that’s you, this series is also for you.
I don’t know the impact this blog—the book recommendations, my internal dialogue on paper for others to read—will have. I hope this space is one of healing. A place of love. A place of deeper understanding. A space of learning what life is like for others across racial lines.
“In order to empathize with someone’s experience you must be willing to believe them as they see it and not how you imagine their experience to be.”Brené Brown
History is being written, and I want to be on the side of learning and loving, even when it’s hard and I’m uncomfortable. I want to be on the side of history where love prevails, and compassion reigns supreme.
I can promise my personal commitment to do the work. Even as a black woman, I’m learning and unlearning. I’m leaning into the uncomfortable spaces. I’m reflecting on my own experiences with racial injustices. I’m doing this work because like many of us, I was taught a history that doesn’t give the full story of the United States of America.
So, I invite you to this Brave Space.
“Together we will create a brave space because there is no such thing as a ‘safe space’ — We exist in the real world. We all carry scars and we all have caused wounds. In this space we seek to turn down the volume of the outside world, we amplify voices that fight to be heard elsewhere, we call each other to more truth and love. We have the right to start somewhere and continue to grow. We have the responsibility to examine what we think we know. We will not be perfect. This space will not be perfect. It will not always be what we wish it to be but it will be our brave space together, and we will work on it side by side.”Mickey ScottBey Jones
Sawyerville is a beautiful community, and I’m excited to grow and learn and unlearn together. There are many things I want to leave in 2020 and not really think or deal with again, but the fight to improve race relations in Alabama isn’t one of them.
Welcome to The Brave Space.