Under the mental strains of a public health crisis and mass unemployment, our country’s tradition of systemic racism once again roared to the forefront of a national emergency. Christian Cooper, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd. All of us were, and continue to be, witnesses to our system’s unraveling.
Personally, witnessing our national struggle to recognize all people equally, I looked to my wife and my son. I wondered about my role. How do I affirm that my family’s lives matter? Why does the system keep us living with such small margins for error? What can I do to push back against a system whose design pits us against each other while the investor class’s wealth only goes up? In the midst of the pandemic, local economies froze and our friends and family got laid off by the millions. But, the stock market instantly rebounded? We are living in different worlds. This did not happen overnight. The system was designed to do this.
I vote. I volunteer in the neighborhood. I try to educate myself on the inequities of our culture. I work hard. But it all still is the way it is. Now? Voting and volunteering aren’t enough. There was a fire in my belly to do something. To be great, not good. Then the riots hit.
I woke up one morning to find out that Providence had descended into chaos the night before. Opportunists and antagonists had abused the power of protest to self-indulge in anarchy. As Chairman on the Board of Licenses, I know a lot of the business owners. I felt an obligation to witness the damage so I could consider what could be done. As I walked through Providence that morning, I thought of all of the things wrong about our system that pushed our society to start actively harming itself. But I was so entrenched in my own thoughts, that I missed what was right before my eyes. That morning wasn’t despair. It was rejuvenation.
Walking the broken glass, I didn’t see shopkeepers angrily cursing the protests. I saw all sorts of people coming together to help clean the mess. The setting was ominous, but the humanity was hopeful.
That night, there were rumors my neighborhood was going to get hit by the rioters. We live on the first floor of a three-family house. My 17-month old son’s window is closer to the street than our master bedroom. I slept in the front room because it felt like an unnecessary safety risk to sleep in my own bed that night.
The dark irony at play plagued my mind. The Black Lives Matter movement, whose sole purpose is to respect and elevate the value of my son and my wife’s lives, was being blamed and abused by opportunists in such a way that I feared for my son and my wife’s safety in our own home. Those opportunists are just one small piece of a much larger, deeply rooted system of oppression.
But, we must remember: the system did not break. It was designed to do this to us. We dream that we are born equal, but the truth is that we each live according to the unequal opportunities afforded us.
And now we are in a position that we will never be in for the rest of our lives – to be able to stand up and take the future we deserve. We have the opportunity to build something for our children, because they certainly deserve better than what we have.