What does it mean to be aware of racial injustice? In recent years I’ve had an emerging awareness of the racial injustices that exist in our country. I have listened to and read the many stories of people of color who have been misrepresented or underrepresented in courts, falsely accused of crimes, and disproportionately incarcerated. The disadvantages to people of color are vast and systemic and I know that.
However, I never saw myself as contributing to these injustices. As a stay-at-home mom doing what I thought was my best, I couldn’t see my contribution to the inequities or even further ways to work against it. The most I could do was listen. I didn’t give more thought to it than that and I certainly wasn’t seeking out more to do.
When the pandemic hit, the country already seemed to be in a place of upheaval. Demonstrations and peaceful protests were a regular occurrence. Confederate statues were being taken down. Stories about past crimes against people of color like Emmit Till, Dick Rowland and the Central Park Five were being given new attention. Locally, the story of the murder of Bianca Roberson had a new perspective of a hate crime, a label the courts would not give the crime when it happened.
After months of quarantining and living without knowing what was happening next with the pandemic, the horrific murder of George Floyd took place. I couldn’t bring myself to watch it. The descriptions and news reports were almost too much to stomach. What I did hear was the cry for help from a son to his mother. I immediately thought of my own children and how I have never feared for their lives at the hands of police officers. I have never questioned them riding bikes in the street, playing basketball outside or playing on a playground. I thought of this mother who is living every mother’s worst nightmare. I thought of the pain and torture of watching your son die in front of a crowd. I thought of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and how she lived this same pain. It was in the days following his death that I felt overwhelming grief for George Floyd’s family, for our country, and for all the ways we’ve hurt one another in the name of fear.
I started reading and joining local racial justice Facebook groups. I started to see the history of injustices both long ago and recently in our very own town. And one day I saw a post from the director of the Melton Center, a community center located in the middle of the West Chester Borough. The post was looking for volunteers for a revitalization project. I knew the Melton Center had a long history of being a staple in the Black community. That’s when I felt a little nudge to contact the director and offer to help. So I did.
We set up a time to do a tour and he would explain the idea and vision for the space. I have no previous handyperson skills but trusted that God would make a way. I decided to commit to the garden and paint the wall behind it. I called my husband and told him what the plan was and he was on board. As a family, we made plans to sand and spackle the wall and rip out the existing bushes in the garden. Then we made plans for garden beds for each of the spaces.
Even though it didn’t seem like much, every step we took with the project eased the unrest I was feeling. Doing something was better than nothing. This project helped me make connections to a part of our community that I had not previously seen. I talked to people that I otherwise would not have talked to. I then reached out to Pastor Caroline Cupp for suggestions and sought to get some ideas from congregation members. I also wanted to find some people who knew more about gardening than I did. She gave me a couple of names as well as the idea to get the youth group involved as a service project. WHY HAD I NOT THOUGHT ABOUT THAT?! I am one of the elders on the Youth Committee. I was part of the Matthew 25 task force to brainstorm ideas of ways to help and not just give in our community. This was an obvious way to not only make connections but also bring more people together. This was a great way to create a broader sense of community.
The youth group and leaders did get involved and dove into the project with enthusiasm and excitement. It was something positive we could invest our time and energy into. It was a way to take the next steps in becoming more aware of our community at large and not just our immediate neighbors. There is a vibrant, cultural community that exists in West Chester that has experienced many many obstacles and it is our job to take an interest, to listen to the gentle nudges of God, to see our brothers and sisters and do something, big or small, to cultivate the body of Christ that Jesus has called us to be.