St. Louis is boiling over with anger again. After Ferguson and Michael Brown, there is Jason Stockley and Anthony Lamar Smith. Or rather, Anthony Smith was . . . Our black people here–and all across the nation–are fed up and angry that their stories are being ignored. Michael Brown and Anthony Smith are not exactly the best poster-men for this–they are not “babies” who were “murdered” for no reason by “those racist police”–those are some of the emotionally-charged words people have used. But, their stories are symptoms of a way bigger story going on, and we are so slow to change that story.
The reason a bad story is slow to change is likely because it is not the story of the majority of people in power–in this case, meaning that in the U.S. it is not a white people’s story. Not even a poor white people’s story. And so the majority finds it easy to ignore that story and even to make surface judgments that “those people” deserve what they get, that it’s their fault they have that story. When it is not your story, it is easy to make judgments based only on the first sentence, skipping the middle due to lack of interest and dismissing the summary ending as “garbage.” I like to learn the whole stories.
I read memoirs to learn about others’ lives. To step into their shoes and experience their environment, what they felt, why they did what they did. Taking the time to learn in depth about others teaches empathy and understanding. Our political leaders ought to read memoirs of everyday people, especially of people who are struggling. If you are angry at protesters, you should listen to their stories–the entire stories. Our particular protesters in St. Louis have many reasons to be angry and fed up, and our police have good reasons to be nervous around black men in crime-ridden neighborhoods, as in our country full of guns they have reason to be nervous at any traffic stop. There is an intersection of these stories nobody is seeing as everyone is too busy shouting at each other about the “garbage” last lines.
So I have signed up to do my part to address part of this bigger story. My church is making this easy for me. Yes, not all Christians and churches are bad! I will join others at an after-school program at our church to tutor youngsters from the struggling black neighborhood in our town. After a terrible tragedy, our police and townspeople began to listen to the stories from this neighborhood and have since been trying to build bridges, to build stories of hope and togetherness.
Let’s not shut people out. Listen to their stories, and then be the change you want to see.