Our thanks to Joanne Dingus for these testimonials of the impact of Moral Mondays participation!
For the past few weeks, I’ve made a point of going to the Moral Mondays Witness events at the Fellowship. They have become a spiritual practice for me. I show up early to water the community garden and pick anything that’s ripe. Without our Sunday morning services in person, Monday night becomes a time when I can distribute fresh veggies to our congregants.
Then, I open up the office building and get the signs out for people to hold up during the event.
It has been well attended. We’ve had 12 – 15 people spaced out along the sidewalk on Warwick. Some go across the street so cars can see us in both directions. All are wearing masks, holding signs like "Black Lives Matter," "Honk for Justice," "Stop Police Brutality," and "I Can’t Breathe."
We hear honks of appreciation and cheers of thanks. We see thumbs up, peace signs and raised fists pumping in solidarity. We hear folks shout, “We love you!” Of course, there are also people who shake their heads in disapproval and the occasional display of the middle finger, generally less than three per hour.
It has been hot, and standing out there with your mask on with cars rushing past is not the most comfortable thing to be doing, but seeing the smiles on people’s faces makes it worth it. This little act of standing by the side of the road with a sign is so meaningful for the people who pass by, and in turn, it is so meaningful for all of us.
Will it make a big difference? Will we change people’s understanding of the words Black Lives Matter (BLM)? We don’t know, but what we do know is that it changes us a little bit each week. And for that I am grateful.
A couple of weeks ago something happened that reminded me of what this is really about.
Two men pulled into our parking lot. They got out of their cars with big smiles on their faces, and the younger one wanted to give us all a hug. “Thank you so much,” the older one said, “this is great. We really appreciate you.” One of our white male members, happened to be heading to the parking lot just as the two were heading to the sidewalk to greet us. The younger man reached his arms out to embrace the congregant when the congregant instinctively held is hand out. “Stay back!” he said. The young man’s face fell, obviously confused to receive this kind of reception from people sporting Black Lives Matter signs.
The reason the white man held his hand up to stop the two men had nothing to do with them being black. Instead, it was because of the pandemic and their lack of masks. The congregant was looking out for everyone’s safety and quickly explained that we were social distancing. With the long history of racial division in our country, these times make communication and understanding even more difficult. I wonder how or if it’s even possible to build new relationships during a pandemic. What does trust-building look like when you’re masked, afraid and six feet apart?
I’m a member of Nextdoor, a networking site, for the neighborhoods around the church. This summer a neighbor posted that she saw our witness event one Monday morning when she was driving by. She wondered if this was a regular event. I responded that we were doing this weekly on Mondays for an hour, that we would be wearing masks and social distancing and that all were welcome to join us. Her post got quite a few comments. Some were supportive, but many were not.
There was a strong feeling that Black Lives Matter is associated with Marxism.
“The BLM Organization has come out as a Marxist Organization that is run by three women that are avowed Marxist and want to do away with our Capitalist form of government.”
There was a strong belief that the BLM Organization is responsible for the violence, looting and destruction that has happened this summer. Some people made a distinction between the BLM movement and organization. People spoke up for the police and against police brutality. Some messages tried to connect abortion rights to the conversation. Some messages shared quotes from the Bible. The messages that triggered my own feelings the most were the ones that suggested that BLM protests were responsible for the deaths of children.
I have read several articles to try to educate myself on this subject. Yes, children have been shot and killed this summer. There has certainly been an increase in violence when peaceful protests turned into riots often at the hands of far-right extremist groups. I cannot find anything saying that any of these children were at or participating in a BLM protest. I cannot find anything saying that BLM protestors have been arrested and charged with their murders. I hope investigations into their cases will give us the answers. BLM does ask us to say the names of those who have died, so I will add these names here:
Secoriea Turner, 8, Atlanta,
Davon McNeal, 11, Washington, D.C.,
4-year-old boy, St. Louis County, MO
Royta Giles Jr., 8, Hoover AL
Natalia Wallace, 7, Chicago, IL
Sincere Gaston, 20 months, Chicago, IL
Mekhi James, 3, Chicago, IL
Two girls, both aged 3. Chicago, IL
14-year-old boy, Chicago, IL
7-year-old girl, Chicago, IL
Last night, I attended the witness once again. We had many of our usual group in attendance. It’s always nice when our children and youth participate, so I was pleased to see two of our youth join in. I usually hold up one of the signs I made, but one of our members has made several different signs. As I had just voted a couple hours earlier, I chose to hold up a sign that read “Vote Like Our Democracy Depends On It,” which given the state of things in our country, I believe more and more that it does.
We were nearing the end of our time, when a woman pulled into our parking lot and came over to talk with us. We have had people show up and thank us, ask to take pictures with us, and offer us bottles of water. But you could tell immediately that this woman was not happy to see us there. She spoke to two of our white male members at length. She, a black woman, told them how BLM is harming black people and killing their children. She told us how much she supported Trump and all that he has done for our country. She asked over and over again, “What has Trump ever done that was racist?” She made disparaging remarks about Obama and Democrats. She told us how each one of the black people killed by police were criminals who were breaking the law and that the police were justified in what they did. She challenged us to check autopsy reports. She talked about her support for the police, support for the military and support for guns, making sure to let us know that her husband carries a concealed weapon. She was outraged and wanted us to stop what we were doing. The two congregants that met with her did a remarkable job of staying calm, listening to her with compassion and not responding in any way that would escalate the situation further. She yelled her truth for about fifteen minutes before deciding to leave. The congregants thanked her for sharing her opinions and both sides ended with, “God bless you.”
It is hard to stand in witness each week during a pandemic. It is hard to stand there each week, knowing that many of our neighbors disapprove. It is hard to stand there knowing that holding up your own truth might ignite profound anger in others. But standing there with my UUFP community makes it easier. Standing there with my UUFP community makes it worth it and keeps me committed to coming back.
“Vote Like Our Democracy Depends On It”...a message I believe more and more [!].