Amani Lazarus, a student of Shannon Bassett at Palmetto Scholars Academy in North Charleston, South Carolina, read and responded to the YES! Magazine article “I Can’t Breathe Until Everyone Can Breathe,” by Gerald Mitchell. In this story, author and entrepreneur Gerald Mitchell wrestles with the enormity of the situation in Ferguson and the unjust deaths of so many unarmed Black Americans by police. He takes an honest look at himself to see how he’s part of the problem, and commits to joining others in building a better world of justice for all.
Writing Prompt: Like Gerald Mitchell, dig deep to identify and explain how you personally can treat people more justly. Describe what treating people fairly and humanely looks like to you. How might your actions make a difference where you live (school and community)? In greater society?
A Deafening Silence
I walked into my parents’ room, and then I heard screams. I let out a sigh of relief when I realized the screams were coming from the phone in my father’s hand. My parents were both so captivated by the action on the small screen that my dad didn’t notice me crawl up behind his shoulder and peek in on the action. On the screen I saw a large black male being held down by two white policemen. While the races of the people didn’t matter at the time, the gunshot that followed did. The policemen had killed the black man, even though they had full control of the situation.
I walked out of the room and thought nothing of it until three days later, when the same thing happened to a different man. Then again. And again. And again. And I realized that race was beginning to matter. In each case it was a black man on the bottom and a white man on the top. Then it was a black woman under a white man. Then it was a black boy under a white man. And that was when I realized, this would not stop. Not until we, as a nation, learned to treat people with respect, no matter the race.
In the essay, “I Can’t Breathe Until Everyone Can Breathe,” Gerald Mitchell claims we need to “turn things up” to stop these injustices. I agree. We have been silent too long. We need to increase the volume. We need to treat all people, regardless of race, with respect—and respect requires voice.
When I thought of treating others with respect, I thought it simply meant to follow the golden rule— treat others as you would like to be treated—when in reality, it was so much more than that. It also meant addressing the moments where I did not act. It meant addressing the bullying that I walked past as I bit my lip, the homeless man that I distrusted and shied away from with a grimace, the toy that I just couldn’t find within myself to share with my little sister, Sanaia. Every act of unkindness—big and small—was an injustice. That is when I realized that the second we pass off these everyday acts of injustice as no big deal, it becomes much easier to pass off the bigger ones. Thinking “this is okay” is embedded within us. It is the cause of our deafening silence. And in these times, our voices matter most.
While the news stories I’d seen involved police officers, I realized injustice is much larger than a police problem. It’s a human problem. It’s all of us. It is our innate, petty prejudice. The problem is rooted in our minds from the time we first learned to comprehend the world around us. We need to realize that we have reached the climax of the situation. As with any story, after the climax, there must come a resolution.
The dead are already silent, but their voices, through their stories, can still be heard. I want to be their voice, and give them the justice they deserved. The rights that they deserved. The peace that they deserved. But I am one. And I simply can’t do it alone. If the problem rests within us all, then the solution must rest there too.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “In the end, we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” We can’t stand by and be silent while others scream in pain. We all must learn to be empathetic. Sympathetic. Compassionate. Loving. Kind. As the words get shorter, so does the distance between us and them. It starts in our everyday lives. Down to the way we treat our siblings within our house to the way we treat our friends, and strangers, outside of it. And until I am older and my platform is bigger that is where I will start.