Years ago and in one of the hardest transitions of my life, I read a quote that gave me courage, “No one has permission to step aside.” At the time, it was attributed to JFK, but I wrestle with finding a primary source supporting that. I do have a similar JFK quote from his May 25, 1961, special message to congress where he says,
“These are extraordinary times. And we face an extraordinary challenge … We stand for freedom. We are not against any man … except that it is hostile to freedom … we cannot stand aside.”
In a few minutes, I’m going to throw on some running shorts, a tee and a mask and head out to a peaceful protest because I am pro-life – from inception to grave – and because I know how it feels to have people turn away from a profound injustice. I am also very pasty and do not know what it means to grow up and navigate the world as a person of color or raise children of color.
But my friends do.
I am not against anyone. I am for people. I am for people over profit or the profiteers of power.
I know how it is to be overlooked for fear that doing the right thing – in this case, protecting me and my siblings from every kind of vile abuse – would inhibit career opportunities and social standing. It is devastating – with the potential of being generationally traumatizing to little girls and little boys who grow up alternating between fear, fight, flight and freeze. Who learn far too late that our radar for predators is wonky and no one, but ourselves is coming to rescue us.
I cannot rescue, but I can stand with the people who have shown me kindness and love and strength. People of so many backgrounds and colors and ideas and politics and faiths and hopes and stories and ability to walk, stand or speak.
It is for them, I will race to the start of the peaceful protest. For me, too. Because though no one stepped up for me and my siblings, I can step up for all who long for and work for and risk for a community and America and world where we are not judged nor elected by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character.
It is a risk worth taking.
And I am shaking in fear of the established profiteers of power who may look askance at my determination to take heart of a president and a leader who once said, “we cannot stand aside” and another leader who said, “when they go low, we go high.”
Please understand that one of the people I care most about in this world wears a blue uniform and another – one of my brother’s favorite friends – did for a very long time. I love these people. And it is also for them that I will walk.
If you are not convinced, let me ask you, “what would it take to move you if you knew that your family, your loved ones, your story and your friends were in peril from generations of deception, abuse, violence and gerrymandering? What would you do if your favorite people were consistently misrepresented and misunderstood and marginalized to the point of death and poverty and profiling – vilified – so that the ease of another group of people could continue? Your brightest and best friends having to work AT LEAST three times as hard as the most mediocre palest male?
We cannot afford step aside and look the other way.
Ask me, and I’ll tell you why – what I know of people looking the other way when four tiny lives were damn nearly destroyed.