I Walk, I Do Not Run for Justice

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I walk, I do not run for justice
Oh how I wish I could fly.
Soar above the despair.
Yet, the burden is too heavy.

This load, this crushing weight
My own, my brothers’, my sisters’
Forces me to take slow, heavy steps
Forward, always forward

But I fall, often I fall
For justice is not perfection
It is a devastatingly human desire
Full of lust, envy and failure

So I walk, I do not run for justice
For each human failure
accepted, noticed, loved
Makes the steps easier, the burden lighter.

My stumbles bring healing
For me, for my brothers, for my sisters
Their stumbles bring healing
For me, for my brothers, for my sisters

For how can I run?
When millions struggle to simply stand
Under these structural burdens
For only my privilege lets me run.

But if I run, I stand atop these burdens
Freely, swiftly
Pursuing a lofty end of justice
While adding more weight to these burdens

So I choose to walk, to carry this weight
Not run above it, adding to it
For a justice, sustainable
For a healing, universal.

May we walk, not run for justice
Noticing people, dreams, failures along our way
Building community that chooses to carry this unbearable weight
Understanding our privilege to even dream about simply running.

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Omar

Every time I try to write this my hand won’t let me
won’t let my pen solidify in ink, which seems more permanent now than ever,
the fact you are no longer here.
Each word I try to suppress like the tears that I won’t let myself cry for you
but as my pen now confesses the truth that we all know
tears fall with aimless rhythm.
And I finally let myself cry
because you were a child
because you were a child
because you were [in some ways] for a year my child
———————
I wouldn’t let myself write for each word etched into
the tightly woven fabric of a page
felt like drops of your blood now forever confined within the concrete
the asphalt, black as death.
———————-
No I won’t let myself write because it can’t be real
but every time I pass that corner I’m forced to remember
It is reality. For this whole city. It is reality.
You are gone, ok? You are gone.
———————-
But I won’t let myself think of your face
the one that looked at me most of the time with the
assuming suspicion of an outsider.
It takes all of me not to wonder
if those same eyes that once looked at me
stared down the boy that held that gun.
———————
But I won’t let myself remember you that way.
You were a boy full of promise with a smile that everyone
everyone, felt like they knew.
Yet, you were the streets that raised you
and you learned too soon from that unforgiving parent that
a young man of color must put on toughness and resolve
in the same swift motion
that he instinctively lifts his hand to his hat
tilting it ever so slightly to the appropriate side
because a mistake with either instinct
summons a most definite punishment.
No, but you didn’t deserve that life…
No boy, no child ever does.
————————–
I won’t let myself believe differently
I do believe though that with these streets as your parents
like any obedient, loving child
you would have died
you did die
for them.
just like your brother that night
raised by the same streets would kill for them.
Your harsh and unrelenting parents
these concrete guardians
would be proud
but if only you were here to see it.
See, that’s the problem…
You gave your life to these dark streets,
your blood flows through the cracks in the poorly paved asphalt
your brothers mark you as a local hero
but, see, the problem is next summer
this memorial will be paved over fresh.
Fresh for a new boy’s blood to be offered to these streets
———————-
But I will not let myself forget you, brother
for when blood is shed
and at too young of an age
there must be more to the story
we must stop paving over the memorials of these boys
because I know one day in the place where the
bloodstained asphalt is the darkest
a flower will sprout its way through an unseen crack
And I won’t let myself stop looking for this hope
———————-
I saw a boy walking the other day
and I thought it was you.
Before I said anything, I slammed my lips together
so that my voice couldn’t form your name
because I remembered, it’s real…
you’re gone.
As I watched, the boy walked across that same
fatal, fateful street
your street
and with each step he took I prayed
that those feet would tread respectfully on that pavement
aware of any sprouting flowers
hopes or dreams
for on it Omar Castel, forever a dreamer
lost, gave, lived his precious hope-filled life.
RIP Omar Castel (1995-2013)

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I Pray the Lord My Son’s Soul to Keep

Now I lay me down to sleep…
as the news
hangs heavy around my bed.
A boy, with a face sullen and cold,
like the face of my own son,
was shot tonight.
…I pray the Lord
but, oh Lord, I pray much harder.
Much harder than I imagine my fellow mothers pray.
I pray for my chocolate-skinned son.
Long, silent nights. Alone. I pray.
My God you have blessed me
not with peace
but with this unbearable burden.
For the freedom and unending mercies
of each new day wrought from your word
seem not enough to release my son from this:
a life filled with violence at the hands of sons
of other mothers,
backs broken by the same humble position of prayer.
The weight of the minutes I endure
tick. tock.
when my son is late from school
crush my knees
calloused, bruised
even harder into the ground
once again burdened by a load not my own.
My soul unsettled by the guilt
that my very own flesh and bones
bore this young man into this
daily battleground.
…my soul to keep
from questioning whether with each prayer
I am stealing away the minutes from
thousands of other mothers
pleading for the protection of their children.
keep my soul, oh Lord
from questioning why some black mothers
both young and old
must devote hours, years, lifetimes
to this unbearable burden
when other mothers
yes, both black and white
can sleep in relative peace
knowing they can save their prayers
for such extraordinary things:
success, satisfaction, and happiness.
…and if i should die before i wake
I pray my Lord my sons life you will not take
and for the years that he may be alone
I pray even harder, even longer for
Lord knows
oh Lord, you only know
I am the one and sometimes the only one
that knows the value of the life of my son.

**This poem is loosely inspired by a recent movie I watched called Fruitvale Station, which shares the tragic and heartbreaking story of a 22 year-old black man that was accidentally shot and killed by a BART police officer a few years ago.  As I was watching my attention kept being drawn to his mother who, despite her many efforts and prayers, could not keep her son safe that night.

It’s Not Enough

Two young boys playing cops and robbers in the summer heat
How do you tell them it is more than just a game?
The dichotomy of good and bad, criminal and innocent are alive and real.

Sweat pouring down a young mother’s brow in labor
this moment of joy almost overshadowed by the fear in her heart.
Her future filled with conversations prompted by questions of why…
“Why does Billy’s mom not let him come over to play at night?”

It’s not enough to say things have changed.
To raise a fist, post a comment, write a poem.
It’s not enough.

A father fingers a wad of sweaty cash on the corner
waiting for the next round of fiends to pay him for the
single moment of peace he supplies.
All the while his mind ponders the familiar thought
How to teach his son another way of life.

It’s not enough to tell young men the way of their fathers
does not have to be their own.
To speak of education, bootstraps, and potential.
It’s not enough.

Brothers working two jobs, hustling on the side
providing money for their babies and baby mamas
hoping their babies remember their faces,
sweat dripping, wrinkles deepening
unlike their own dad’s unknown, empty silhouette.

It’s not enough to simply hope for men to become fathers.
To theorize about responsibility, parenting style, pride.
It’s not enough.

The smile of a baby born with the skin of his father.
The skin of his grandfather; like any other infant.
Now unaware that this same skin that carries the pride of generations
marks this child as different, other.

It’s not enough to be colorblind.
To claim the skin color of that child does not matter and in the same breath
dismiss the centuries of hurt, pain and journey experienced in that skin.
It’s not enough.

Such skin color reckons back to the generations of survivors.
Men and women born in quicksand with the screams of
“pull yourself up… and quickly.”
the only sound echoing through their conscience.
But they remain. But they persevere.

And each generation of young men playing a simple game
of cops and robbers faces the reality.
With each game, they are rehearsing life
but instead they never choose their role.
BANG!