When the student is ready, the master will appear.
Until my early forties, I struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction. Like a yoyo, I was in and out of rehab and twelve-step programs. I had lost almost everything. I was divorced, estranged from my kids, my friends were gone, I was unemployable. I frustrated even the most understanding of souls.
One evening, after returning to the rooms again, an old-timer shared something with me. Let’s call him “Sam.” Sam got in my face, put a finger in my chest then said “I have never seen an alcoholic get sober who continues to drink.” I chuckled, thinking what an absurd statement, duh of course. He repeated it emphatically. “I HAVE NEVER SEEN AN ALCOHOLIC GET SOBER WHO CONTINUES TO DRINK!” No chuckle the second time, he nailed me. Sam stared me down, just for a moment, then walked away. Such a simple and direct message. He saw me for what I was and let me know.
I was not particularly friendly with this man before or after our encounter. He walked into my life for a moment, said what he needed to say and left. He managed to touch a part of me that I had protected my whole life. He pointed out something obvious to everyone around me but I denied. I was at a crossroads.
I heeded his words. I have been sober since that night. What I had lost was restored. Sam’s words have rolled through my consciousness for 24 years.
America, like the alcoholic, has faced an insidious and destructive disease. For four-hundred years, racism has infected our collective soul. It is present in our schools, in business, and most evidently on the streets, it is everywhere. Much of the world is confused by our behavior as they watch African-American men gunned down regularly.
When Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in 2012 and his assailant acquitted in 2013, our country got a simple and direct message. It came in the form of a hashtag “#Black Lives Matter.”
Not ready to get well, still in denial, we continued. Some cried “All Lives Matter” or “Blue Lives Matter.” All the while, Black Men continue to die in the streets. Eric Garner, Walter Scott, and Tamir Rice are all dead at the hand of racism. Tamir was only 12 years old. There were many more Danroy Henry, Philando Castile and on and on.
Systemic racism also extends into the criminal justice system. An excellent look at this is the 2019 film Just Mercy. It tells the story of Harvard lawyer Bryan Stevenson’s successful crusade to free innocent men on Alabama’s death row and the circumstances of their wrongful convictions. The majority of whom are Black. The movie is free on Netflix and Amazon Prime.
In 2020, the carnage continued. Ahmaud Arbery and a Black Woman Breonna Taylor were both senselessly killed. Then came the murder of George Floyd. His killing was heartless, it was gruesome, and it was on video for the world to see. Americans were outraged, screaming emphatically “BLACK LIVES MATTER!” The screams came in the form of civil unrest and protests not seen since the sixties. America was at a crossroads.
Sadly, there is still denial in some quarters. Presidential advisor Larry Kudlow, said recently “I don’t believe there is systemic racism in the U.S.” despite overwhelming evidence. There is much work to be done.
George Floyd entered the American consciousness behind a patrol vehicle, on a street in Minneapolis, a blue knee, and four hundred years of racism pressed against his neck. Then he was gone. His tragic death once more exposed the ills of society, but seemed to have reached a spot in the American consciousness that we have been protecting.
White America at large may be taking the inequities of racism more seriously, Black America always has. There is evidence that change is possible. According to Pew Research Center, public support for the Black Lives Matter movement has doubled since 2016. The dialogue seems different, I may be dreaming, I may be naïve, but I have hope.
As with a newly sober alcoholic, early recovery will be fragile. The primary threat to healing, if there is to be any, will be complacency. We will need leaders who recognize the need for change and commitment at all levels of society.
It has been a long walk into the darkness of racism, so too will it be a long walk out. My Thoughts are simplistic and idealistic to be sure, but where else do we begin? I pray that all Americans heed this clarion call of “Black Lives Matter” and take the first steps towards the light of equality.
What can I do as a White Man to help? How can I contribute to the solution besides speaking out? I would like to hear suggestions. I will incorporate them into future posts. The time for change has come, I am willing to do my part.