By Vonda Reives
I am a 54-year-old woman who grew up right here in Lee County and have lived here all my life. I am an American and I love my country.
I was born poor and Black. I was educated in public school. I was always smart, but didn’t always apply myself in school. My single mom worked in a factory 8-16 hours a day, five to six days per week. She still didn’t make enough money to care for me and my four siblings, so we were supplemented by public assistance of Medicaid and food stamps.
Fast forward, I am a proud graduate of Central Carolina Community College, North Carolina Central University and Duke University. I am a family nurse practitioner, make a decent living and own my own practice. Although I was able to accomplish these things despite many obstacles, I am not the exception. I am every poor Black woman or child you may encounter in this community today. Had not the hand of God been in my life and I had made different choices or fell on different circumstances, my life could have gone so differently.
As Black people, we don’t normally dwell on racism. We experience it often, sometimes daily: snide remarks, stereotypical comments, being watched in stores, being looked over as next in line, and “who are you to tell me” attitudes. Let alone the systemic racism that we see in finance, housing, employment, education, legal systems, access to healthcare and in underrepresentation in government. I could go on. We recognize it for what it is and for a lot of us, we use it as motivation to excel, never saying a word.
But there are those that didn’t develop the same skills and are victims of it for various reasons. Some are angry, impoverished, imprisoned, uneducated, underemployed, and some just too weak to fight. Some victims just happen into racially motivated situations as sheep going to slaughter, as with the cases of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Alton Sterling, Botham Jean, Ahmad Aubrey, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
But when we as Americans watch, live, as an African American man’s life is so dehumanized, while the life is being choked out of him in an act of racism while his concerned neighbors watch in horror and helplessness, their shouts of pleading for his life ignored as the racist’s unbothered peers shielded him while George Floyd called out for his mother with his dying breath, can discern anything other than cold blooded murder is beyond belief. My nurturing and protective nature kicked in while watching this and I felt eviscerated! Like it was my brother, my son, my uncle, my father lying there!
Have we become so desensitized? Have we become so polarized? Have we become so politicized? Is the chasm so great that we can’t agree on that?
When this happened, a scab of all the suppressed hurt, anger and fatigue of being the victims of the aforementioned racism was removed and is now a hemorrhaging, gaping wound. It also caused the African Americans who excelled, despite racism and the ones who fell victims to feel the same thing at the same time.
Black Lives Matter! We are tired! We can’t breathe! Enough is enough!
And as we are crying out at this travesty, some are appalled at our audacity to protest calling it a rejection of authority — anarchy and even the spirit of the antichrist, I’ve heard. Meanwhile there are others who are protesting wearing masks and staying at home and ignoring the local and scientific medical leadership so they can go to bars and nail salons in the midst of a global pandemic.
I am not a proponent of looting and burning buildings. But standing against these injustices is necessary. Even Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
Although, when Colin Kaepernick peacefully protested these injustices by using his platform as an NFL star to bring attention to them, he was demonized and blackballed. He also fell victim to the racism he was fighting. So we ended up here.
Where do we go from here? I don’t believe our fight is between white and black, but against spiritual wickedness in high places. The system is where the fight is. I’ve always believed that now that I am strengthened, that I should reach back and strengthen my brethren. We must strengthen our communities. We can’t wait for others to do it. We must mobilize in order to help those in need.
And most importantly, we must exercise the right that those before us prayed, fought and died for in voting in our local, state and federal elections, every time. Let’s be moved to action.
If we are to march, let’s march to the polls in early voting in great numbers in total, peaceful silence, so we can shout down the “Walls of Jericho” on election day. Let this not be a moment, but a movement.
Vonda Reives is a Robbins-based nurse practitioner who lives in Sanford.