The Death That Birthed A National Conversation
A Call For Brave Action Steps, With Love, For Justice (Part 1)
Heather Heyer was killed. Chances are if you are reading this, you are keenly aware of who she was – an activist, a passionate woman committed to equality, a woman who tragically lost her life on the front lines.
Heather Hayer was only a year younger than me. From what I’ve read, her racial justice awakening process was very similar to mine.
In her story, I see mine. In her heart, I see my heart. Both sharing a deep concern for peace, justice, and love.
Like me, Heather was a daughter and community member who actively spoke up and out against hate. She was a white woman committed to racial equality. She showed solidarity with and for communities that have been marginalized and oppressed.
Heather’s Facebook cover photo at the time of her death said,“If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”
I am outraged. Heather was outraged.
In Heather’s death, a national conversation was birthed.
As I continue to grapple with what it means to be me in the world right now (a queer white woman in an interracial relationship), I have experienced all the stages of grief tenfold.
With each tragedy and senseless death, I think about the life I want my future children to have, and I feel a whirlwind of emotion.
Time and time again, I’ve asked myself:
- What do I do to change, inspire, motivate, and heal the wounds?
- What is my responsibility?
- What does it really mean to stand on the frontlines against hatred and bigotry?
Heather risked everything to stand up against hate, racism, and bigotry.
When I’m really honest with myself, I wonder if I would have been as brave.
If I would have been there, would I have stood so close to such hatred – without backing down or letting fear take over –in service of love and justice?
I want to believe that I would have. But because I am questioning now, however, I don’t know. That’s scary for me to even admit.
I speak up, facilitate, coach, write, and teach about racial justice for a living; and yet, at the end of the day, this situation forced me to question: Am I as brave as Heather was?
Will I be as brave this weekend?
I grapple with her death knowing that I could lose my life standing up for my beliefs.
That’s where we’re at, and I know I have the capacity to be brave. Day after day. I do. And I will continue to be brave, because the next generation needs my bravery. They need OUR bravery.
Which then makes me wonder, what will it take for all of us us to really amplify Heather’s courage and fight hate with love?
Heather’s death has pushed me to really reflect on my choices as a daughter, sister, partner, and teacher. To consider what it means to take a stand.
The deeper question in all of this is, how do we truly connect with one another across differences and listen to each other’s differing perspectives?
Elvia Diaz was amongst the protestors in Phoenix, AZ on Tuesday, August 22. She shares in her column, “…Some folks came to the protest stiffly carrying all sorts of weapons. Why? I unsuccessfully tried to talk to some fully-armed folks to understand their rationale for such a display. They just stared directly into my eyes, turned around a few times – almost like mannequins.”
This is where we’re at.
So how do we peacefully, respectfully engage in conversation with people who won’t speak?
This is really close to my heart because so many protests are coming to the place I call home this weekend.
Last night my partner, Lia, who’s African American, and I talked about the countless notifications and invitations for peaceful marches and counter-protests that showed up in our news feeds (these are just the tip of the iceberg) in different ways. We looked at each other and exhaled, after both having long days working in schools. Our eyes gazed into one another, and I felt the depths of our differences as I wondered: how can we stay united and honor our unique experiences because of our racial identities? How can we embrace our differences, while taking brave action steps in the most impactful way?
The truth is, it will look and feel different for each of us, and that’s okay.
If none of us put ourselves out there, however, we will not be exposed to multiple perspectives, which can ultimately mean we cultivate more blind-spots. If we only stay within our comfortable community and don’t truly listen to people with differing experiences, it can be all too easy to point fingers, blame others, and judge people when we don’t agree with their perspective.
Bryan Stevenson, a brilliant scholar, author, and Founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, offers some insightful reflections on the importance of being proximate to differing perspectives, stepping out of our comfort zone, and changing the narrative in this video here.
Bottom line: it takes courage to pause, to listen fearlessly, to reflect, and share your feelings without the expectation that it will change someone else’s mind.
I believe we must be willing to step into the uncomfortable places and hold space with love, grounded in our values and beliefs, while staying open to learning about values and beliefs different from ours, even if we do not agree with them.
One thing I know for sure: This crisis will not be solved fighting in the ditch, screaming at one another, and debating who is right and who is wrong.
This crisis will only be resolved when we can pierce the armor of mental constructs of “not enough” and self-loathing and rewrite the narratives that are more aligned with love, acceptance, and peace.
And I certainly don’t have all the answers. But I’m committed to living and working every day so our next generation has more hope for a peaceful, more just future.
I’ll leave you with an invitation to choose a few brave action steps with me:
- Will you connect with someone who has a radically different worldview?
- Will you love more fiercely?
- Protest peacefully?
- Be vulnerable enough to have the uncomfortable conversations?
- Listen fearlessly?
- Birth love in memoriam of people like Heather?
ALSO, will you take concrete action for Charlottesville today? Here are 6 ways you can directly support.
1. Provide financial support for mental health care, counseling, and expenses for Black organizers in Charlottesville
2. Call the office of Judge Richard Moore of the Charlottesville Circuit Court (434-970-3766) to urge him to dismiss an upcoming court case for which there is an August 30 hearing, disputing the ability of the City Council to remove the Robert E. Lee statue that white supremacists are defending. Here’s a sample script:
I’m leaving a message for Judge Moore regarding the upcoming Monument Fund hearing, scheduled for August 30. As someone concerned about community safety, I strongly urge you to join the City of Charlottesville in dismissing this case, which will continue to sow violence in the community. Thank you.
3. Petition the administration at the University of Virginia to publicly denounce white supremacist alumni Richard Spencer and Jason Kessler, revoke their diplomas, and commit to ejecting them from UVA grounds if they ever show their faces there again.
4. Petition Mayor Mike Signer and Councilwoman Kathy Galvin to change their votes against removing the Robert E. Lee statue and to also remove all other confederate monuments, as a sign that they support community safety and reconciliation here. Failing that, local activists will ask for their resignations and for Police Chief Al Thomas to step down.
5. Remove all confederate monuments from public space. Organize locally; apply pressure nationally!
6. Help pay the medical bills of the Charlottesville victims here
Now, I’d love to hear from you. What reactions do you have? What did this post spark for you?
In Part 2 next week I’ll share some reflections on racial equity and make some direct connections to the role of educators in fighting white supremacy…so stay tuned.
In the meantime: What reactions or reflections might you share with me or a loved one upon reading this?
With love for justice,
S.P.A.R.K. was founded in 2016 by Rachel Rosen, a seasoned facilitator, racial equity leadership coach, and LGBTQ advocate. S.P.A.R.K. offerings sit at the nexus of Rachel’s personal and professional passions, and she is on a mission to bring more empathy to the world, one conversation at a time. With a Masters from Stanford, and extensive training in leadership, coaching, team and organizational development, S.P.A.R.K. experiences are grounded in theory and practice. S.P.A.R.K. offers experiences that support leaders and teams to unleash their potential to facilitate powerful experiences, collaborate, and build trust.
PS- The Oatmeal posted a fantastic visual representation that’s so aligned with my message today. Check it out and let me know what you think!