Michael Brown Prayer Service Reflections

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Editor’s Note: Due to the undeniable weight and importance of the words spoken at the campus prayer service held in memory of Michael Brown, the Foghorn reached out to some of the speakers in order to publish excerpts of their reflections. This is a collection of reflections and contemplations, not necessarily arguments and analysis. We do this in the hope that the rest of the USF community that did not attend the service may benefit from these thoughts.


Alejandro Covarrubias is the assistant director of the intercultural center.

I was asked to share my reflections about the killing of Michael Brown and the injustices that continue to happen in Ferguson, Missouri. To be honest, I have not had the time to reflect on these events. As a staff member here at USF, and as a man of color, I have been asked to organize, facilitate, support and hold the emotions and needs of students before my own. This happens all too often for people of color; we are asked to put the needs of others, particularly the White community, before our own. Michael Brown was killed because a White police officer put his life before the life of Michael Brown, someone the officer swore to protect and serve. The officer felt his personal safety and needs were more important than that of an unarmed black man and because he felt threatened, he shot and killed Michael Brown.

So here I am, in my full humanity and vulnerability, as Ale a Chicano, a man of color, who is filled with so many mixed thoughts and emotions that I don’t really know where to begin.

I did not know Michael Brown, I never met him, I do not know his family. The first time I heard his name was when I clicked on a link on Facebook while I was eating lunch and then I quickly went back to work. But if I allow him to only be an individual, then the injustice that happened to Michael Brown remains an individual instance of tragedy. Although, I did not know Michael Brown as an individual; I am connected to him because we are members of the same group: Men of Color. And as men of color we exist in a system that forces us to fear authorities like police officers, teachers, doctors, and others in power because they are more likely to discipline us than to protect and serve us. The unjust systems’ negative impact do not just hurt Black and Latino men, they impact our Asian Pacific Islander brothers as well. These systems also hurt women of color, Queer people of color, and especially Trans* people of color. They rob us all of our humanity. They even rob the humanity of those in power because at this moment, I know I am struggling to honor the humanity in the officer who killed Michael Brown AND, in my heart, I know he still is worthy of human dignity.

And still, I am angry about these unjust systems because my anger shows that I have a problem with these systems. We can remain complicit with the system, even when we know it is wrong, and maintain the status quo. But instead I choose to let me anger show and drive me towards change.

My brilliant friend Monica Rivera says anger is like salt. A little bit of salt enhances our sense of taste and clarifies flavor. A little bit of anger can enhance our awareness of injustices in the world. We can more clearly see and name the ways injustices play out on the individual, group and systemic levels. Anger signals us something is wrong and change needs to be made. But just like salt, too much anger will choke the heart and lead us to place without the potential for new life or new growth.

In an essay, Jeffrey Duncan-Andrade writes about the concept of “Critical Hope” and the idea of living with audacity, a boldness. I have the audacity to call out and name the injustices that I see happening around me whether they be individual, group or systemic. I have the audacity to live my life like a teddy bear: I would rather hug you than hit you; show you love, compassion, and empathy even though the world expects me to be aggressive, violent, and dangerous. I have the audacity to stand before all of you and say I do not know if I can make the change that I want in the world and stop these injustices. I do not know if I can ease your pain or heal these wounds. AND I am committed to walking and working along side each of you in hopes of a better tomorrow.

We say that to err is human. But our fullest humanity is not in our fallibility. We live into our fullest humanity when we make mistakes; then take accountability for the hurt that we cause and work towards healing the relationship. In this way we can reclaim our humanity and rediscover the humanity in everyone. I encourage all of us to be more accountable to each other and work towards healing. Peace to you all.


 

Hector Martinez is a senior accounting major.

 Race is still a factor. It is something that we see. We formulate an opinion on people based on the color of their skin, what they wear, and how they speak. My name is Hector A. Martinez and I am a senior here at USF. And still people say it does not matter. That race is something we are over. That people don’t see color.

For the people like myself that have had negative experiences I have to see race as the reason I get stopped by cops. My race and the color of my skin are factors as to why people may choose to walk on the other side of the street. The color of my skin is why people may be suspicious of me. It affects me. It affects us. It is devastating what is happening in many places in the U.S. Young people being killed by cops. People of color have experienced this type of violence for decades. How can we not be suspicious of the police? How can we not think we are targeted because of our race? How could we feel safe when those that are there to protect and serve, serve their own interest and are protected by their own laws? How can we not question the cops’ intentions when we hear of these killings? More importantly how can we try to hide the conversation of race?  Because it is hard and doesn’t exist? No, it is because people are uncomfortable. It is because people think it is an overreaction. Those who ought to be having that conversation do not know how to. I ask you to talk about this issue with the people close to you. Try to talk about things that make you uncomfortable. Have less of those on the surface conversations. The best way to harmony is to communicate with each other and talk about these issues.


 

Ronald R. Sundstrom is an associate professor of philosophy and teaches for the African American Studies program at USF.

There’s a line from Lorraine Hansberry’s Raisin in the Sun, in which the mother of the family that play is about, counsels her daughter about her brother, the mother’s son. She advises: “When you begin to measure a man, measure him right… Make sure you take into account what hills and valleys he went through before he arrived to wherever he is.”…Mis-measurement and mis-recognition aren’t trivial errors. They evoke one aspect of W.E.B. Du Bois’s idea of double-consciousness, the peculiar, “… sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”

…The awful event that brings us together, however, is about how Michael Brown’s self—and this includes so many others, such as Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant—was reduced to the contempt in the eyes, hearts, and deep-down in the minds of others. Their selves, the persons loved and known by their families, with their young hopes and ambitions, were obliterated, wiped out, shot dead and allowed to lie in the street in Ferguson, choked by a billy-club in Staten Island, New York, or handcuffed and then shot point-blank in the back on the platform at Fruitvale Station.

…What hope there is lies in your efforts to not passively trust in the arc of history, progress, and justice. Talk of arcs don’t bring back the dead or give justice now. The hope lies in the hunger that I hear from you, to reject the distorted measurements of your souls, to assert your voice—your personhood—and to bend history into an arc of your own making.

* Post Script: These comments were meant to be contemplative. I wanted to communicate the feelings of those who identify with Mike’s death at the hand of the police officer. My comment isn’t an argument or an analysis of the event itself. An essay or paper by me about the Mike’s death would be far more careful, footnoted, and probably less engaging to read. As a side note, what I shared was influenced by two recent viewings I had of Barnett Newman’s The Stations of the Cross (1958-1966), which is a series of 15 paintings, and is currently on display as part of the exhibition, “Modernism from the National Gallery of Art,” at the De Young Museum. The paintings take as their inspiration Jesus’s cry from the cross, “Eli Eli lama sabachthani?,” which translates as “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The theme of the paintings relate to the ideas in Hughes’ poem “Harlem” that I reflected on in my comments. One final important note is that the lines from Hansberry’s play that I refer to are paraphrases rather than quotations.

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