It was a day like any other day. A normal Wednesday. I woke up at the sound of my alarm, fixed my avocado, tomato, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwich, and got ready for work. I hummed along to Frankie Beverly as I walked my dog around our apartment complex. I left for work, arrived on time, and started my work day. There was nothing out of the ordinary. Until there was.
As I scrolled through Facebook while on break as I do on most days, I came across a video. A video that had tears streaming down my face before the gunshots even rang out. Alton Sterling was being forcibly tackled to the ground and restrained. My heart broke in that moment for a man I didn’t even know. A man I would never get the chance to meet. But a man nonetheless. Someone who deserved to be treated with more dignity than they were allowing. I saw my brother, cousin, nephew, friend, and father in this man. I saw myself. I saw the years of mistreatment that black people have endured. I saw a slave and his master. Not because he was black and they were white, but because our bodies have never truly been our own. They were stripped of their humanity a long time ago. We are no more than a new form of slave. We don’t wear visible chains any longer. Just invisible ones. Chains in the form of stereotypes. Stereotypes that make it easier for people to justify the death of our black bodies. Even if there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Because a black man would never be forcibly tackled and restrained if he hadn’t done something first right? I was immediately angry and devastated at the same time. And so the tears flowed. Tears I couldn’t stop. And then came the gun shots. Not one, because one shot isn’t enough to subdue the black man, multiple shots are needed right? Pump as many bullets as you can into his black skin. Stop him at all costs. Never mind that he was on his back and restrained. Never mind that he had nowhere to go being wedged between a car and two men. Never mind the gun was removed from his pocket after he was shot. So the tears continued to flow as the screaming started. Not just the shouts and cries from the witnesses in the video, but the screaming in my head. The voice that constantly reminds me “Don’t get too comfortable! Be aware, be alert!” And so I cried, in my cubicle, at work, for the life of a man who I would never know.
I watched as social media blew up with exclamations of outrage, fear, pain, sorrow, and despair. I watched as those I loved tried to come to grips with what they had seen and what it meant for our community. I watched as black mothers moved from being afraid for their sons safety to being outright petrified. I watched as one such mother expressed the pain her fifteen year old son had to endure when he learned of his father’s death through a video. And I watched that same fifteen year old boy break down on national television for the loss of his father. My heart shattered. Every bit of faith I had, shattered along with it. It was just too much.
Fast forward to the next morning. I woke up trying to put the fragmented pieces of my faith back together. My heart was a goner, but I NEEDED to restore my faith. I prayed for the life of Alton and the lives of his family. I prayed for my family. I prayed for a sign that humanity would overcome. And then I prayed for myself. I asked GOD to help me to continue to walk in my faith. I asked God to shine his light on me in my darkest moments. I asked God to help me remain a faithful believer in hope and justice. And then I cried. I cried a lifetimes worth.
I thought that I would get to take a breath. That I could process my feelings and the events of the day before. But I was so horribly wrong. Less than twenty-four hours after the death of Alton Sterling I watched horrified as Philando Castile struggled to breath. I watched his incredibly composed fiancée live stream the last moments she would ever have with him. And then I heard their child’s voice say “It’s OK, Mommy. It’s OK, I’m right here with you.” My heart imploded. For the man who lay dying, for the woman who couldn’t come to his aid for fear of what would happen to her or her daughter, for the little girl too young to have seen what she saw and be as strong as she is. And then the anger and frustration slowly crept in. I had no more tears to shed. I was tired of crying. I was furious. When would enough be enough. When would people start to realize that the violation of the rights of black lives would eventually bleed into the rights of all citizens. When would people stop trying to justify the action of police officers who CLEARLY shouldn’t be justified. When would people show COMPASSION. Why is the death of an unarmed individual seen as acceptable?
That Thursday was one of the longest of my life. I watched social media explode yet again, but less from pain and sorrow and more from fury. The hate that we have tried for so long as a people to suppress from our hearts was starting to infiltrate. It was starting to take hold. Statements were being made that would make us the people we had fought so hard against. And then Thursday ended with the deaths of five police officers in Dallas at the hands of one man who decided his solution was the right solution. Who never represented a people or a movement. Who had his own demons. So I prayed. I prayed for divine intervention. WE could not end up being judge, jury, and executioner. As a people that is never who we have been. We are love, compassion, faith, strength, honor, dignity, and we believe in equality for all. We believe in humanity. I prayed for the lives of all individuals involved in the shootings in Dallas. And as I prayed I watched Facebook mourn as well. I watched as MY people mourned the loss of those police officers. I watched as MY people who fought for justice for our community also fought for justice for the lives of those slain officers. I watched as MY people remembered what we truly stand for. And the outpouring of love, compassion, and prayers from MY community to those who were injured and killed in Dallas reminded me that hate had not won.
It’s been a week since those events. A week of prayer. A week of discussion with family, friends, co-workers, and strangers. A week where the smoke has cleared, the rage has died down, but the cause has not been forgotten. We still have work to do. But my focus now is on me. I have to take care of myself. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop fighting injustice. That doesn’t mean I’m going to remain quiet. That doesn’t mean I will forget. It simply means my mental health is IMPORTANT. I cannot keep going at this rate. WE cannot keep going at this rate. It is taking its toll on all of us. At some point self-care has to be a priority. We cannot make wise decisions for the future of our community, of our country if we are worn down, if we are not emotionally stable and mentally sound. Check in on your loved ones. Ask them how they are doing. Ask them how they are processing everything. Be the sound board they so desperately need. And then take time for yourself. Disconnect from social media if need be, play Pokémon Go, read a book, spend time with your family. Acknowledge that your mind needs a break. As much as you want to fight the good fight. You cannot do it all the time and still come out unscathed. Whole. If you don’t take care of your mental health parts of your humanity is lost. Do something other than replaying over and over again the violence that is being shoved in your face. Because ultimately you become desensitized to the issue. And the issue is that UNARMED American (black specifically) citizens are being shot by police officers in cases where there is no bodily threat to the police officer. But you won’t see that if all you see daily is death. You WILL start to justify actions that should be unjustifiable. So take the time for yourself. Give your mind a break. Heal.