Speak Their Names

Last Wednesday night was one of the most magical nights I can remember. With my good friends Krista and Lori, and our daughters in tow, I sat at Rojo Beach Bar in Amerbgris Caye, Belize and watched the sun set on the turquoise water while Coldplay's song Paradise played through the speakers in the background. There was a breeze, no heat, a bottle of white wine, kids playing, hammocks swaying, feet on the table and eventually, three made-from-scratch-pizzas. All of that, plus a pristine ocean and a beach so far removed from most of the world's radar that it was empty and private and felt completely ours and the stage was set for one of the most surreal nights of my life. When it was finally time to head back to our  beach house, perched a mere thirty feet from from the Caribbean waters, we hailed a water taxi, took a boat ride through the dark night on the smooth ocean, got off at our dock, realized the stars were shining bright and laid down right there with our daughters to name constellations and find planets. In bed that night, Annie curled up close to me and said, "Besides Disney World this has been the best day ever and you have been the best momma to me in the whole world," and then she fell asleep in my arms. It was a perfect night. 

 Rojo Beach bar. Ambergris caye, Belize. June 17,2015.

Rojo Beach bar. Ambergris caye, Belize. June 17,2015.

 star gazing on the dock. June 17, 2015.

star gazing on the dock. June 17, 2015.

I woke up the next morning to a news feed of horror beyond imagination.

Nine beautiful people killed inside of their church by a young racist intent on starting a hate-filled war between black and white people. A thousand miles away from home, I read the news and felt physically ill. The night before had been one of the best nights of my life and yet it was another momma's worst nightmare. I wept bitterly that morning and have wept everyday since. I hope the tears do not dry up any time soon because the wounds in our country are deep and will never heal if we live unaffected in the face of intolerant, ignorant evil. So I grieve. I grieve for every life lost and every life left behind to grapple with the unthinkable horror that they or their family members experienced first hand that night. I grieve for the pain our brothers and sisters in the black community have continually experienced this year. I particularly grieve for Reverend Clementa Pinckney's wife, Jennifer Pinckney, and their two daughters Eliana and Malana.

On June 17, 2015 two Jennifer's from the south lived a completely different story and that will never be fair. The least I can do in light of the disparity in our stories is grieve with my sister Jennifer, allow righteous anger for the injustice that so many of my black brothers and sisters still live under, and let the world know that my soul is not unaffected by what has happened. It is affected and I pray it may always be so. As a daughter of Jesus Christ I cannot turn a blind eye to intolerance, injustice, oppression, bigotry or hate. Nor can I turn a blind eye to the collective tears of people in mourning or the righteous anger that rises up from that deep pain. May I always be affected and afflicted with groans of the oppressed and broken in this world.  

May I always remember June 17th, 2015. 

While I sat under stars with my daughter that night, Jennifer hid under a desk with hers.

While my 6-year-old daughter listened to the waves lapping against the shore 
Her 6-year-old daughter listened to the spray of bullets, screams for help and the eventual silence of death.

While my daughter fell asleep safe in my arms 
Her daughters fell asleep in a nightmare, their sense of safety stolen.

On Wednesday night June 17th, while Annie was given the gift of a carefree childhood, Malana was robbed of hers. Her innocence stolen as she hid under a desk with her momma and listened to her daddy being murdered. Malana was robbed; we all were. Violence and hatred effect us all. 

One week later I am still horrified.  
And angry.
And grieving. 

I told Annie about what happened that night because I want her to know Malana's name. I don't often know where to start or how to be a meaningful part of the larger conversation of racial reconciliation, but I will start where I can: in my own home.

I will tell Annie her name. Malana Pinckney. 
And I will tell her what led to the church massacre on June 17th that killed her daddy. Racism.  

I will tell her the stories of our own family. Of our own sin. Of our own pain. Of our own triumph.

I will tell Annie that my grandmother (her great grandma whom she adores) was spending the week with my family in high school, working outside in the yard and bringing loads of trash to the bins in the alley when a white neighbor pulled up and asked my Hispanic grandma how much she charged. I will tell Annie how deeply embarrassed my Grandma was and explain to her that for a long time people assumed a Hispanic woman bringing out the trash from a white person's home meant the Hispanic woman was a maid. A servant of sorts. I will tell her that we can never give into the un-Christlike arrogance of assuming something about a person because of the color of their skin. Never. Not their job, their faith, their work ethic, their political affiliation or their propensity towards good or evil. Skin color does not reveal the substance of a soul. It never has and it never will. It seems elementary, I will tell her, but there are arrogant pockets of people who blindly continue to label those around them and this becomes dangerous and deadly in the hands of the most depraved. I will tell Annie this is the opposite of our faith in Jesus Christ whose earthly ministry was hallmarked by dispelling labels that enslaved people and setting the oppressed free. 

I will tell Annie about my own papaw who helped ensure black students in Enterprise, Mississippi could walk into school buildings that were historically designated for white children only.  As the superintendent of schools in Enterprise during de-segregation in 1964, my papaw stood next to the front door of the high school for months on end, along with local pastors, and ensured that every student was physically able to walk through the doors. This was no small feat in a state where people physically assaulted black students trying to enter the halls of previously all-white education houses. While my Papaw and Mamaw received death threats and vandalism to their own home across the street from the high school, he remained resolute: No black student would be turned away on his watch. He oversaw the integration of the school system at a near record pace for Mississippi. I want Annie to know that this issue has mattered to our family for a long time. 

I have to tell her that some people see skin color and they think it is okay to make jokes, imitate, belittle, categorize, humiliate and in the worst cases hurt and kill others because of the color of their skin. I want her to know that racism is not only an ugly part of our history, but part of our present.  Sadly, a culture of people who routinely turn a blind eye to racist jokes, racial stereotyping, intolerance and injustice will always be marred and marked by the worst among them who take it "one step too far." Our tolerance for such words and deeds pave the way. We all have blood on our hands if we refuse to speak out against such ignorant hate. Sadly, there have been moments where I was not courageous or brave in the face of racism and I too have blood on my hands. I want Annie to know that we must fight ignorance so that when she has children they don't live in a country where cultural racism and religious fanaticism drive the most depraved to do unthinkable acts of evil. I want her to know that black lives matter. And brown lives. And ALL lives matter. She cannot understand this, because she does not see skin color. We were in Belize with her best friend who is black. Black lives matter? Of course they do. It is incomprehensible to her that this is even a question. It should be incomprehensible to us all. 

I long for the day when those of us who profess faith in Jesus Christ lean deeply into the words of the Apostle Paul who says: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Until then I grieve and will continue to speak their names. 

Clementa. Cynthia. Susie. Ethel. DePayne. Tywanza. Daniel. Sharonda. Myra.

Jennifer, Eliana, and Malana Pinckney—and all of those left behind.