Wow. As I sit here at my keyboard tonight, reflecting on the events of the day, I find myself uncertain as to where to begin. For the first time in Minnesota history, a white police officer has been held accountable for killing a man, a black man to be exact. And I’ve had front row seats to all of it—from the day George Floyd died, through the protests and riots that followed literally surrounding my hospital, through the tension leading up to Derek Chauvin’s trial, scared to death we’d be reliving last summer’s violence, and now with this verdict in place. Sure, it’s not really over yet. We all know that. There’ll be all sorts of appeals and such, we’ve seen that coming for a while now. But still, this is huge. I drive downtown to work and it’s almost like a war zone. Everything is boarded up, concertina wire everywhere, military vehicles and M-16’s everywhere. And there are so many thoughts and emotions swirling around in my head and in my heart; things I feel compelled to write about but am uncertain of the words.
There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to write this, doesn’t want to share it with the world because it’s not really my voice that matters in this moment. And, yet, I know to stay silent is to contribute to all that is wrong with what’s happening here and now. So, I think there is one thing I can share here and now that might be helpful to all my friends and neighbors in communities of color.
It’s time to listen, to truly listen, to each other. Don’t listen just to prepare your arguments about why that person is wrong. Listen to hear. Listen to understand. Listen to imagine yourself walking in that person’s shoes.
And, as we listen, love each other. Love each other as every faith in the world has taught us. Love our neighbors as ourselves. Right now, I strongly believe that to show that love is to listen. I know I can never truly understand the struggles and pain people and communities of color have gone through for years and decades and centuries. But I can imagine how I would feel if I feared for my son’s safety every time he left my sight simply because of the color of his skin. It is a torment I wish on no mother, and yet it is the reality for too many.
I know some say if George wouldn’t have been using maybe he would have survived. As an advocate for people who battle addictions, I call bullshit on that one. Bullshit because for starters that’s not listening. There are reasons why people use that boil down to substance use is the one guaranteed way to not feel what they’re feeling in that moment. So, what was George’s pain? What was George’s trauma? What was going on that it was better for George to go through life high than face reality? And just because he was high doesn’t mean he deserved to die. Yes, dealing with people who are high is a challenge. Trust me, I know. I’ve done it for 11 years now. And it can be done. It starts with listening.
So, as we move forward in this new era of Civil Rights, please take the time to listen. Listen to the voices sharing their truths. Listen to the experiences of those who are different than you. Imagine yourself living that life instead of the one you have. Listen so that together we can change things. Listen so that we can end the violence and death we’ve witnessed, we’ve experienced for too long. Listen so that the reforms we so desperately need can happen. Because they have to start with us. Not the politicians and talking heads on TV. They’re not going to get it done for us. We need to do this. We need to do the work. And we need to do it now.
I’m not sure where things will go from here. And I’m scared, living in the epicenter of the new Civil Right movement. I’m terrified more people will die before we get it right. I’m glad that at least in this moment, we’ve done the right thing. I’m exhausted from the work my team has put in trying to support our patients through such turbulent times, many of whom are people of color. It could so easily have been one of my patients under Derek Chauvin’s knee. Please, listen, learn, and most importantly love, so we can break this cycle.