“We live in a world that has narrowed into a neighborhood before it has broadened into a brotherhood.”
—President Lyndon Baines Johnson
Remember being twelve, thirteen? An almost teenager! One moment feeling like you want to be mommy and daddy’s baby forever. And the next moment wanting to be in make-up, cool clothes and cars.
Momma would make me go to church. Daddy didn’t go much. But always backed up momma when she said I had to go. And dutifully I did go. Partly because I didn’t want to get my butt beat. The other part because I wanted to see who of my friends would be there. Sunday school was the meet-up. The only place we could be without our parents watching our every move. A precious hour and a half before you went into lockdown wrapped in pews flanked by parents and other adults.
One Sunday, in September, the girls were looking real cute. Though no boy would dare to say so. Especially not to one of their faces. School had just started. And most of us, by the sacrifice of most of our parents, had new school and church clothes to show off. Penny loafers and suits on the boys. Mary Janes worn by girls in bright colored dresses with ruffled sleeves. Their hair in braids, plaits, and bows. Or freshly pressed by hot irons just that morning. Giggles and whispers all colliding in between adults’ pleas for us to pay attention, answer a question, or pray.
It was a good time to be confused. The outside world stayed put. Our lives in bubbles fiercely protected by most parents. All you have to do is go to school and learn” my mom used to say. Dad, echoing, “And do it well enough to be a credit to your race.”
Yes, we knew there were places we could not go. Places where if caught by white people no one could save you. Things we could not say (to white people). We knew of Emmitt Till. Some adults had let their children see his open casket funeral on TV. And how the jury found those white men not guilty. We’d heard of Medgar Evers shot down in the street. This was church though. A place, our place, where we were with our friends, and life was good. God’s house after all.
On September 15th 1963, the Ku Klux Klan bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Denise McNair (11), Carole Robertson (14), Cynthia Wesley (14), and Addie Mae Collins (14), all were killed. Four little girls readying themselves for church. Readying themselves for life.
Yes, we should never forget the horrors visited upon us as payment for our free labor with the need to be free of abuse, rape, plunder, and murder. Chattel for a society that declared us as less than human with no right of inclusion. Identified by the only commonality most of us possess: the color of our skin.
The question this day is, or should be, when do remembrances stop being painful reminders of a past that can’t be changed? When do the memories of children torn from mothers’ breasts, fathers’ protection, a community’s legacy stop haunting us? When does healing begin?
Most any therapist will advise, you have to find a place to put pain. Then move on to reconstruct experiences that become fertile ground for healthy relationships and exchanges to occur. With time, effort, and consciousness, balance can be restored and healing can happen.
Yet, we remain in neighborhoods praying for brotherhood. While knowing that healing will never come to pass until that which brought the need for healing ceases.