Philando Castile. Michael Brown. Ezell Ford. Dylan Noble. Tamir Rice. Alton Sterling. Delrawn Small. Sandra Bland. And so many, many more.
Say their names. Say it again. Say it in mourning for the loss of a meaningful life full of people who loved and depended on them. Say it in outrage over a broken system that systematically fails so many of our fellow citizens who have so often already lived lives full of injustice, prejudice, and lack of opportunities. Say it in admiration of the strength, courage, forbearance, and long suffering of their families who not only have suffered oppression for generations yet continue to find ways to express joy, laughter, and hope, but also somehow manage to bring the same positive feelings to the lives of others. Say it in humility, acknowledging that so many of us will never fully understand the pain of systematic injustice, much less the fortitude it takes to rise up from its oppressive weight again and again and again and again and again. And try to learn from it. Say it with love. Because they are our brothers and sisters. Our daughters and sons. Our mothers and fathers. And though many of us didn’t know them personally, I guarantee that we are, all of us, worse off without them.
Every time this happens, I think about my friends. My brothers. My family. I want to say their names to celebrate all the wonderful things they have, can, and will accomplish. Not because they suffered at the hands of cruel injustice.
I think about the black people who have enriched my life. My brother in law from Cameroon. My amazing niece and nephew. My little cousin from Ethiopia. Bundles of pure joy and love who bring so much happiness to those around them. I think about my friends Ian, Louis, Wynton, Gabe, and so many others. Brothers-in-arms with whom I’ve tread the path of service. I want to say their names in celebration of all the wonderful things they’ve accomplished. In anticipation of the incredible things they will accomplish. In celebration of their innumerable admirable qualities. For their shining examples. But every time another person of color is killed, my heart skips a beat whenever I think of them. Because I know that the odds are stacked against them. That the chances of me having to say their names in mourning are much too high. That they keep increasing. So instead I’ll say their names now. So they know. So the world knows how much I love them. How much the world is better off with them in it. How much the world needs them. How much their families need them. How much I need them. I know the same can be said for every single one of the names of those who’ve been taken from their families because of systemic racism. Because of ignorance. Because of the inability to understand the inherent and irrefutable worth and value of every. single. life.
My heart is torn apart whenever I see a black family together. I can’t even imagine what it’s like. To lose someone so close to you. To know you can’t do anything about it. To know that the chances are probably higher that they’ve already lost someone to a gunshot wound than not. To know that society’s ignorance will put their children at a disadvantage at nearly every turn. To know that my two white-looking sons will be given the benefit of the doubt when theirs will not. To know that this prejudice could happen to my nephew. To know that millions of people have already felt that loss first-hand and don’t need to simply imagine it. It is their reality.
Every fiber of my being wants to grab every young black boy I see. Kiss him. Tell him that I love him. That he’s beautiful. That he is not alone. That his life matters. That he can contribute to the betterment of this world. That I’m sorry so many forces of inequity are stacked against him. That he inherently deserves every single happiness and comfort in life. That even though I don’t know him, he is my brother. He is my son. That I would give my life for him. That I wish I could do more. That it sounds like a cliche, but I truly believe things will get better. That every tragedy brings more and more supportive voices who can no longer deny the injustices hiding in plain sight. That education will beat out ignorance.
So say their names.
And remember them.