Building Community Through Connection
Last night as I lay awake in the early morning hours my mind drifted over the events of the past week since the death of George Floyd. I thought of Floyd’s death, the ensuing protest and riots, the outpouring of raw emotions and anger. I thought about the political finger pointing, the war of words on social media and the sea of feelings, emotions and opinions that have been shared throughout all of our communities.
As I sifted through my thoughts my mind settled onto August 28, 1963 when Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before 250,000 people and gave what become known as his “I have a Dream” speech. His speech that day contains many powerful statements and will undoubtedly be viewed as one of the most important speeches ever given.
During those early morning hours my thoughts settled onto one sentence within his speech, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” The powerful words Rev. King spoken on that August day during the civil rights movement reach across the decades and should ring in our ears as we strive for social justice today.
Stop for a moment and imagine a world where no one passed judgement on another person until they knew the content of their character. Imagine how things would be different if we refused to stereotype anyone based on the color of their skin, their religious belief, who they chose to love, their political leanings, where they live, their career, their economic status or any of the long list of stereotypes we utilize to prejudge someone. Imagine if we all committed ourselves to reserve judgment until we knew the content of the person’s character. We would be committing ourselves to taking the time required to really know the person and that would require us to connect and communicate.
In 2018 when the Waldo County Recover Committee began conducting community support meetings every Tuesday morning at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Belfast I attended as a representative of the Sheriff’s Office. The meetings were started to offer addiction recovery support for anyone from the community. The meetings were attended by a diverse group including law enforcement, treatment providers, restorative justice practitioners, incarcerated men from the Reentry Center, and a wide range of individuals from the community, each seeking support for their individual needs. Our meetings quickly took the form a Restorative Justice Community Building Circle and a talking piece was utilized to give everyone equal voice in the meetings.
When we started those meetings, I was not sure what to expect. Over time as the members of our group shared personal stories and struggles and gave one another encouragement we all came to realize that, although each of our stories were unique and paths in life different, we shared more in common than separated us. When we all took that one hour a week and agreed to set aside our preconceived ideas and stereotypes about one another and connect with one another as fellow human beings we built community, true connection and friendship. To truly know the content of someone’s character it takes time, an open mind and heart, and a willingness to set aside stereotypes and connect on a personal level.
The first time I watched the video of George Floyd’s arrest and death every fiber of my being recoiled. I struggle to understand how anyone, especially a person who has sworn to protect and serve their community, could treat another human being in such a callus and hateful way. I have worked in law enforcement for over 24 years and know the professionalism, passion and dedication my fellow law enforcement friends give to their communities every day. I know there are some law enforcement officers who have no right wearing a badge and it is our responsibility to diligently purse and remove them from among our ranks.
Our country has a long and troubled struggle with racism, hatred, indifference and inequality. Our history is there for anyone to read about, study and understand. What is unknown is our future and how we as a nation and people will move forward. The need for systemic change in our country goes much deeper than just criminal justice reform. To achieve true equality, we must be willing to examine every aspect of our society to include housing, education, employment, health care, the criminal justice system and more to ensure we have eliminated discrimination and created equal opportunity for everyone.
I believe it is the responsibility of every citizen to make a stand against hatred, discrimination, inequity and oppression where ever it raises its head. I would challenge each of us to start our journey of healing and reconciliation with a commitment to connect, communicate, set aside stereotypes and preconceived ideas and embrace a willingness to reserve judgement about our fellow human beings until we know and understand the content of their character.