I grew up in Detroit. A contradiction in realities. Attending a private Lutheran School as a kid, my mother would not let us forget ever, how blessed our lives were. My parents were strict educators. They expected their rules to be followed, inside and outside of their home. We reflected them.
This morning I thought about the eight-year-old version of myself as I watched the violence coming through my television screen. Scenes from CNN of protest and violence in cities like Portland, Aurora, Seattle. That eight-year-old version of me who watched in 1967, the 12th street riot in Detroit by a group people who were tired of police brutality. The 12th street riot began on July 23, 1967.
That day started off as a happy one for my family. It was brother’s fifth birthday and my mother had a great day planned. That day has become one of the deadliest and bloodiest riots in American history and it lasted five days.
My siblings and I watched as the tanks, rolled down our street, and saw the flames burning from buildings less than a block away. We all slept in the center of the living room during those five days. My father blocked windows to prevent stray bullets from hitting his family.
At the end of those five days…we moved to the suburbs never to look back. But we were not kept from the violence. The following year in 1968, following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Detroit once again erupted into violence.
I am a Detroit girl, by way of Alabama. I have seen civil unrest most of my life. And what I have learned along the way is that everything is going to be alright. Congressman John Lewis’s passing reminded me that every now and then we must make “good trouble” in order to make “good change.”
Now, I’m older and wiser and if I could go back and give myself advice about what I’ve learned, it would be something based on a lesson I learned from the Protestant Pastor who lived on the end of my block. Pastor White was the neighborhood pastor in that suburban community. He pastored the big church on the corner that many in my neighborhood did not belong to. But that did not matter, he treated us as if we did.
“Never stop fighting for what matters.” Those were some of the last words I heard Pastor White speak. His death came in the summer of 1971, while I was off at summer camp in Canada.
When I look back at the many opportunities I have had to fight for what matters, I would tell my younger self not to worry about the small stuff. You know, the small stuff about whether people like you, or accept what you fight for. I would remind me to ask myself if what I am fighting for will matter in five or ten years.
It’s been nearly fifty years since I witnessed those tanks, marched in civil rights protest, walked against apartheid and more. Yet, through it all, I know what I was walking and protesting for, really did matter. Laws changed, minds changed, systems changed.
And while we still have a way to go since racism and other forms of oppression still exist here and around the globe, I will not give up making “good trouble.”
As I finished watching the protest on CNN, I realized I would go back and tell my eight year old self that I was in it for the long haul, and that I’ll never stop fighting for what matters.
“And That’s A Brilliant Glimpse of Insight!”