The week after the murder of George Floyd, Karen Rose and I, as Minneapolitans, were too shocked to post, write, or even think about our blog. In a place we both love dearly and call home, something so tragic happened that the sadness was overwhelming. Because I am in Minneapolis, I mostly responded by following the news 24/7, putting aside worries about the pandemic for a bigger concern. Karen Rose, who’s been away from our city because of how the pandemic unfolded, said she kept thinking of Langston Hugh’s poem Dreams.
Langston Hughes – 1902-1967
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
While the George Floyd tragedy unfolded, I remembered two African American students I encountered in my preservice teaching education. The first was Kenny, at the time a fourth grader at Irving Elementary School in Minneapolis. As young as he was, Kenny had charisma. Kids and adults wanted to be around him. He exuded friendliness and confidence in himself, even though he couldn’t read. When he learned that my husband had attended Irving and that his parents still lived in the neighborhood, Kenny started visiting my in-laws who were quite taken with him. Evelyn, my mother-in-law, would have him in for a piece of cake or cookies, whatever she was baking, and Kenny became a regular at her house.
The other boy was fittingly named George, and I worked with him at Willard Elementary where I was doing my student teaching under the supervision of an incredible Black woman who ran a disciplined classroom with warm caring. She assigned George to me. George had tested below average at the start of the year and was about to be labeled educable mentally retarded (the term at the time), but she saw a spark in George’s eyes and did not want this to be his fate. George responded because Mrs. Hendrieth believed in him, and she assigned me to give him the attention he so sorely needed but hadn’t been given. By the end of the school year, he was reading on grade level and tested a 106 IQ, well within normal range. (IQ testing was the fashion of the time).
As I thought about justice and opportunity and as Al Sharpton put it, “keeping a knee on Blacks’ necks” I remembered those two boys and wondered what happened to them. That’s when I realized how big hope can be, because I always hoped that they had the opportunities and lives they deserved, that all people deserve.
So what is hope? It’s not just the opposite of despair, but it’s what keeps dreams alive. In early May, when it seemed things couldn’t get much worse than the pandemic, Karen Rose wrote about hope. How prescient that blog is for where we find ourselves today. She noted, hope rests on our capacity to change, even with an incomplete vision of what will be asked of us. I believe that George Floyd’s death has reminded all Americans of the dreams we hold for this country. But it also screams at us that not everyone has had a fair chance at these dreams.
The relentless protesting, as jarring and frightening it has been at times, made us start looking for what is hopeful in our current mess of a country. Here’s our list of what gives us hope about our capacity to change.
Our Top Ten Reasons for Hope
1. Youth are energized and leading the movement for justice. A few days into the protests, Minneapolis St. Paul high school students arranged their own protest on the grounds of the state capitol. Young artists are speaking out.
2. People of all ages, ethnicity, race, income are standing together for justice, even in these polarizing times. Maybe we have found our unifying cause.
3. Some police and National Guard personnel crossed lines in support of justice.
4. Reforms in policing are already beginning.
5. Small town newspapers, from Brainerd, Minnesota
https://www.brainerddispatch.com/news/crime-and-courts/6522127-George-Floyd-memorial-raises-hope-of-change to Marshfield,Massachusetts
https://www.marshfieldnewsherald.com/story/news/2020/06/04/george-floyd-protest-police-attendees-hope-rally-marshfield-brings-unity/3137900001/ report hope and a chance for unity in response to George Floyd’s death.
6. Confederate statues, symbols of those who fought to preserve slavery, are finally being taken down.
https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/virginia-has-most-confederate-memorials-country-might-change-n1227756 and https://myfox8.com/news/residents-react-to-confederate-monument-removal-overnight-in-alabama/
7. Faith groups are coming together to work for justice.
8. Support and calls for justice are worldwide.
9. Businesses are speaking up for justice.
10. Individuals are asking what they can do and how they need to change.
And now for a story that always reminds me that I can make a difference. When my second husband, Gary Stout, was dying, he felt regret that he had been nominated to be secretary of HUD, but was not given the position. He felt that he could have had a real impact on housing and urban development. In the last weeks of his life, he received many calls and letters from people he had worked with on small projects throughout the United States, including Anoka, MN. These people thanked him for the work he had done in revitalizing their communities. He was astounded by these heartfelt expressions of gratitude. He told me that he never realized the impact small projects can make in individual lives and locally. He said that for the first time he realized he had not failed even though he hadn’t made it to the pinnacle in urban development. His work had made a difference after all.
I remind myself of this often, because it’s easy to dismiss the impact of our small lives, day-by-day, person-by-person, and in our small circles. As for the lessons of George Floyd, real justice can only come when each of us commits to small changes in how we individually work for justice. I urge us all to be part of the change.
TO BE CONTINUED