Food, toy, and gift-giving drives have flooded our county this holiday season. This is a beautiful thing to see and participate in. But what can we do to give a gift towards someone’s character? What present, once unwrapped, can reveal and uplift the moral conscience of the one who has received it?
I attended an NAACP meeting the day after Thanksgiving regarding the recent cartoon postings by Undersheriff Morrison, and comments made by our deputies, along with a few others.
The purpose of the meeting, which was stated clearly to all, was to give every Wakulla resident an opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings with the Sheriff.
And that, simply, was it.
The vice president of NAACP’s northern Florida region, Dale Landry, who is responsible for all branches from Pensacola to Lake City, said the following when referring to the cartoon and postings:
“This is not a meeting to debate the comments.”
He recited this for the audience:
“The mission of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination.”
“When we say ‘colored people’”, continued Mr. Landry, “Folks often relate that to people that are black. Let me help you define what that means. It means that all people can be members of NAACP because all people have color. There is one type of person that cannot be a member. And that is a person who is translucent.”
This brought hints of laughter from the crowd because, in short, he was talking about an invisible man; a thing that, physically anyway, does not exist in nature as we know it.
Wakulla chapter president, Anginita Rosier, Sheriff Creel, and people from the community spoke throughout the meeting.
I chose to listen. I needed a way to understand and sort through my feelings. Like others, I have been in contact, sat down, and kept company with those on both sides of this incident.
Later I viewed a few social media outlets for comments and found statements from residents referring to NAACP as a ‘racist group’. These comments came from those who didn’t attend the meeting; who had no idea of what was addressed.
This is all it takes to rip apart the universal goodwill that people are actively working to achieve.
Weeks later, after the spray-can man showed his acetone, I attended the prayer vigil at New Bridge Missionary Baptist Church. It was one of the locations recently marked with the letters ‘KKK’.
Undersheriff Morrison spoke at this event. Before he said a word he was greeted with heartfelt applause.
“Earlier today I had a long-time friend call me,” said Mr. Morrison, “and he asked me ‘Why’re you going? You’re gonna be ridiculed.’”
Mr. Morrison continued: “I said to him, ‘Well, first off, I’m going to church. Forgiveness, to me, is a big thing.’”
He apologized for how he may have hurt the community with his online postings.
It was a moment where everyone present made a certain mental – emotional – sacrifice. Everyone had to lose something in the hopes of gaining something better.
The Undersheriff could have stayed home and made up – in his mind – what type of boogeymen ‘those people’ were. Some of us have learned (learned) to do that.
I believe it played a part in Ferguson, Staten Island, Tallahassee, and here in Wakulla. We are too tightly wrapped in the straightjacket of fear and terror(ists).
If that were not, in some way, so, we would have no need of God.
Or weapons of mass destruction.
We wouldn’t tremble and shake when someone bigger, broader, darker than we are passed us in a dark alley. Or on a street corner in broad daylight.
There are people who appreciate the courage it took for Undersheriff Morrison to apologize. It does not mean that they will feel safe if he, or other deputies listed on those postings, were to pull them to the curb for the slightest infraction, in the dead of night.
And what if it’s a woman who is pulled over? We’ve heard such accusations before.
Some people will put the Undersheriff down for having dared stooped so low as to even apologize in the first place.
No one wins in a game like this.
It is thought that when trouble arises law enforcement is the first one called. This depends on the experience one has had at the hands of law enforcement. One does not always see a savior in uniform. They are human just like us.
Upon their arrival they bring with them their history and all that they have learned both in and outside of their training. When confronted by an officer, we too bring our history and training with us.
How do we work together, understand both histories, and train ourselves towards true and proper justice?
The citizens and law enforcement officials have begun an honest dialogue. My hope is that we come to understand one another, and our neighborhoods (our neighbors), better.
No one wins in a game like this. If we are all losers this time around, there still may be an opportunity to pool our resources and go for the gold – together.
Yes, I know this sounds all pie-in-the-sky and Tinkerbell pansy-ish. But I’d much rather have a feeling and vision towards that, than the Jeremiah-prophet-of-doom episodes of late.
Although I felt encouraged after the vigil, there was a thought I couldn’t shake.
Alphonse Karr once said, “The more things change, the more they are the same.”
I don’t want to be guided by this thought, but I won’t deny that it’s there. I am eager to hold on to something positive.
During the prayer vigil, Wakulla pastors – black and white – from numerous congregations throughout the county, stood up to read their favorite passages of scripture.
The beauty of it was that members in the audience, choir, and the pulpit began to recite the chosen verses with them aloud, as one.
There are moments when unity burns brighter than any cross in someone’s front yard ever can. This was one of those moments.
I am not a Christian. I do not attend church. But I can only hope that there is something larger than we know that is waiting to work for our personal and overall benefit. I want my energy to last so that I can be a part of it and lend my hand to the work.
It was all well and good to be in a church, experiencing a moment with ‘God’s Chosen’.
But there were others in attendance, too.
There were atheists and agnostics there.
There were gays and lesbians there.
This is to name only a few of the people who have been, in a sense, shut out from the love of God. Who have been told to their faces that God does not love, care, want, or need them.
We speak easily of opening our minds and embracing our collective ‘differences’. When we say we are here to serve and care for all, do we really mean it?
This is larger than race.
This is larger than the NAACP or the KKK.
This is a larger, more telling indicator of who we truly are, as opposed to who it is we claim to be.
Yes, this is one of those moments that we will not be sure of until it’s over.
And all it took was a can of paint.