It was February 12th when I received the first email. The subject line was “First Steps Towards a Worthy Cause”. The email talked about coming together as a US community in Bolivia to voice our concerns around the racial injustices taking place all over the US.
My first reaction? Why are we doing this now? The killings all happened last year. And when I say that, I am referring to some of the high-profile cases such as Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Aren’t we a little too late? My second reaction? What are we going to do from all the way over here in Cochabamba? Aren’t we too far removed from it all to make a difference?
Despite my initial resistance, I eventually did join in on the meetings. The first few were hard for me – mostly because we focused on reading the names of each victim and praying for them and their families. Then we prayed for the police officers and other people (like judges and demonstrators) involved in the cases that were unfolding.
Not that I don’t enjoy praying (I do!) but when it comes to the subject of injustice, I am much more inclined to voice an opinion and come at things from a place of anger. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will share that being angry doesn’t always allow me to see things very clearly or feel an equal amount of love and compassion for everyone involved.
This was clearly a very different type of space for me. Everyone in the group seemed to be coming from a place of peace, compassion, and love. They weren’t in such a hurry to place blame or talk about how to fix things. Often we just wrestled with what was happening back home and the sadness, frustration, and disappointment we felt, as a result.
As the meetings evolved, we eventually started talking about our individual perspectives and experiences as it relates to race. Clearly, this is a part of the group meetings that I enjoyed. I got to talk about growing up in NYC in the late ’70s when “police brutality” was something everyone talked about. I also talked about what it’s like to be a Latina in the US and how often times, in race conversations, things are kept to black and white when clearly there are more people who should be included in the discussion.
Fast forward to the present.
Our group still meets weekly to talk about current events in the US. If a hate crime occurs before our Friday meeting, or if we stumble upon a relevant article, we share whatever information we have online. When someone’s hometown is involved, we get to hear personal stories of what they are hearing from friends and family back home. There is a sense of community in that these are topics and stories we all care and want to hear about.
Five months after our group first started to meet we are finally talking about WHAT WE CAN DO to help bring awareness to racial injustices, to start dialogues that are well overdue, and even to apply what we know and have experienced to our work overseas.
Writing this blog post, for example, is something I decided to do in order to start a discussion around what my friends, family, and anyone reading this blog, might be thinking as it relates to racial injustices and struggles in the US.
The group, as a whole, is also thinking about getting t-shirts that will outwardly demonstrate our solidarity to the cause. And still other people are trying to figure out how we tie the complexities of racism and discrimination to the experiences of the people here in Bolivia. As it turns out, the same problems do exist here. They just have different faces and ways of being expressed.
Our group is not divisive. Our objective is not to say who’s right and who’s wrong when something happens back home. We stick to a basic premise: ALL LIVES MATTER. Despite the fact that we now talk about how different events make us feel and what we think we can do to affect what’s happening back home, our primary vehicle for change continues to be prayer. And it always comes from a place of love and compassion.
“Black Lives Matter Bolivia” is a group I am proud to be a part of. I think everyone who has been participated can honestly say they have grown from the experience: as a person, as an American, as a missioner. I, for one, feel like I can share my feelings with the group without being judged knowing that many of the group members share the same disappointments and frustrations.
What has not significantly changed is my fear of bringing up race outside of the group. It’s such a hot-button topic and you can never tell how people might react or what perspectives shape their thoughts or ideas. I still tread lightly when I discuss race with other people. My hope as I return to the US later this year is that I can continue to dialogue more about it and learn how other people feel we can begin to drive change.
And now, I invite you to explore your feelings on race relations and how you might play a greater role in ensuring that ALL LIVES MATTER. If you would like to join the conversation, feel free to LIKE our Facebook page “Black Lives Matter Bolivia” or follow a local Black Lives Matter group to learn more about what is happening in your community and how you can be a part of it.
Paz y Bien from Cochabamba!
Editor’s note: In order to affirm and promote the dignity of our global human family, Franciscan Mission Service encourages all who come through our programs to reflect on systemic racism and its interconnectedness to poverty and other injustices. The pre-mission formation program for long-term overseas missioners like Hady, for example, specifically includes discussions on power and privilege, nonviolence, and cross-cultural realities. It is our hope that because of their experiences in our programs, all of our participants become lifelong bridge builders, advocates, and partners for peace and justice.