In the Absence of Hope…

July 11, 2016
By Nat Williams

It’s unusual for me to have so few words. I find that I have hardly anything to say about the brutal deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille and the subsequent killing of five Dallas police officers. It’s all just too much, and I find that I am protecting myself from feeling the grief that I know is there. I asked my good friend and colleague Nat Williams who is the Executive Director of the Hill-Snowdon Foundation if he would be willing to share his reflections on our blog. Please read his powerful statement and call to action. Yanique Redwood

nat pic

Nat Williams/ Hill-Snowdon Foundation

Something changed in the souls of Black folks on July 7th, 2016.  One hundred and twenty-three Black people were shot and killed by police so far in 2016, but the back to back murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille took something else from us.  It was palpable, pervasive but hard to name. There were such profound feelings of dismay and loss from all the Black people I spoke with on July 7th.  The sense of loss and grief for Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, their families and all the other Black people gone at the hands of police.  The loss of any modicum of safety that following “the rules” is supposed to provide in this society.  The loss of vision of the way forward and what to do next. The loss of belief in the power and impact of our organizing and resistance. The loss of hope that things will ever change.  And at our collective nadir, our lowest point, as hope is sucked out of our spirits, it is replaced with a disconsolate despair and desperation.

Life is the single most precious gift that we all have. And when any life is taken intentionally, whether it be by police or civilians, it shreds the fabric of our humanity.  I mourn the loss of the lives of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille, just as I mourn the loss of the five police officers that were gunned down in Dallas.  The taking of an innocent life is always a despicable act, regardless of the role or status of those who are killed. And our humanity demands that we honor and grieve for the loss of all life in equal measure.  And our humanity demands that we as a society and the institutions that we allow to regulate our lives must focus on restoring the concrete hope that only comes from a systemic and society wide commitment to protecting and upholding the right of all lives to thrive – especially the lives of us who suffer the most from social oppression.  Individually and collectively, we as Black people have to fight through our trauma, loss and despair to hold onto our hope for a better tomorrow.  We have to do this for our own sake, and we can with the knowledge that our ancestors endured their hardships so that we could have the hope that life brings.  However, this society, for its own sake, has to honor our hope with concrete, real, lasting, ubiquitous transformative social change in the lived conditions of the Black community.  That this change needs to happen is no longer the question.  The only questions that remain are will this country commit to the changes that are necessary so that Black people can thrive and live in peace and, what will happen if the country does not?

As a nation, we cannot continue to let death and tragedy be the only things that compel reflection and action on anti-Black structural racism.  Black lives have to matter in life, as well as death. There are scores of individuals and organizations that are committed to the struggle for a nation where Black life matters and thrives, and their work gives us tangible hope. For our part, the Hill-Snowdon Foundation launched our Making Black Lives Matter Initiative as part of our proactive commitment to help secure the transformative social changes that are necessary for the Black community to thrive – not just in relation to policing, but in every aspect of Black life.  We understand that it is critical to address anti-Black structural racism directly, and to dedicate the necessary resources to help the Black community build the institutional, political and social power it needs to dismantle anti-Black structural racism in this country.  In this quest for justice and freedom, there are no sidelines and there is no time to delay. We all have a role to play and we all must act, with urgency and conviction, to replenish the wellspring of hope with our collective efforts for racial justice, equity and freedom.

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