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A Voice of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, so pure in its celebration of family and love. But, this year, the irony of its roots of racism and violence struck me even more. While most of the country stuffed our bellies with turkey, stuffing, and pie, other families marked the loss of loved ones, like the family of Tamir Rice. My heart breaks for his mother, and for any parent who has had their child ripped from their lives. It doesn’t seem possible that it has been three years since the 12-year-old boy was gunned down by police. They shot him within seconds of driving up to the park where he was playing.

Then they let him lay there to die without getting him any help. According to FBI data, black people account for 31% of police shootings, even though they only make up only 13% of the population. Another study found that black teens are 21 times more likely to be shot and killed than their white counterparts between 2010 and 2012. No matter how many ways I’ve played the situations in my head, there is simply no way to justify these murders; especially Tamir’s. Maybe he shouldn’t have been playing with the toy gun, but he definitely didn’t deserve to die. It is even harder to imagine his killing if he had been white and sitting on a park bench in an affluent neighborhood park. Such an obviously tragic and violent loss of life made me think that all of my pro-life, all lives matter friends would be nodding along and “Amen-ing” here.

Sadly, the silence was deafening.

What would happen if we all used our voices, our positions of power and privilege, to elevate those who are marginalized and forgotten?

Tragedies like these must not be in vain. If we are open to learning and improving our nation, these moments can illuminate the dark underbelly of prejudice that perpetuates fear and division. In many ways, our subconscious biases create a more complicated web to untangle than overt racism. It creates fear and erodes trust in communities at best, and causes more violent and deadly reactions at worst.

Here we are three years later, and there is barely a mention of Tamir. Few meaningful conversations are addressing the ongoing struggles of communities of color and the increasing number of other lives lost. Every time a conversation starts to develop, the backlash is swift and fierce. For example, the Black Lives Matter movement has been largely misunderstood and shouted down with “all lives matter” cries. More recently, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and other athletes began kneeling during the national anthem to shed light on this unchecked police brutality against people of color. I’d love to say we finally stopped to listen with compassion and curiosity. Instead, the message was hijacked, and Kaepernick has been sidelined as a result. Last I checked, peaceful protests are a First Amendment right and a freedom that our brave service members have fought to uphold in our country. Protests are inconvenient and uncomfortable by nature. Using a position of power and influence to invoke change and call for equality isn’t irresponsible; it is called leadership. In the absence of national leadership and moral character, it is even more important that each one of us positively disrupts the cycles of bias, prejudice, and inequality in the world around us. These situations are a cry for white allies to talk with our children about racism and the disparity in experiences among their friends; to raise them to care more about speaking up against injustice than craving the cushion of the status quo; to use their position and privilege in society to stand with others when they are being treated unfairly.

Each of us are called to do whatever we can to help others, not just when it is convenient or affects us personally. When someone is hurting, we don’t ignore or question their pain. We ask questions, we listen, and we do what we can to make things better.

As I sat around our Thanksgiving table counting my blessings, I realized how thankful I am for this abundant life and my beautiful children so full of hope and compassion. But I also realized how often I take simple things for granted that aren't so simple to everyone else. This year in particular, with all of the fear and division in our midst, I am thankful for the reminder that our individual legacies will be carved out, not in our privately held beliefs, but in our radical expressions of compassion, inclusion, and service to others.

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