Marcus and I go to the same church. I met him 10 years ago when my husband was called as the pastor. He was in high school at the time and was memorable for several reasons: mainly that he is over six feet. As a teenager, he was smart, mannerable and funny. He did play sports. He was big, but fast and light on his feet. My husband once said he was like a “dancing bear.” Though recruited by several schools, he decided to only focus on his academics in college. Marcus has since graduated from college, earned a Master’s degree, and is now in law school. I sat in on the young adult Vacation Bible School class this summer and I was really impressed that this funny, mannerable young man was also thoughtful about his relationship with the Lord and insightful in the questions he raised and the commentary he gave.
I can always count on Marcus to give me a warm greeting. One day, after we exchanged pleasantries, something about his stature struck me in a way it had not before. Maybe it was after the murder of Alton Sterling. Maybe it was after Philando Castile. But, for some reason on that day as I watched his 6’6, or so, nearly 300 pound frame walk away I had a fleeting thought: “Jesus! I know his mother must pray over him every time he walks out the door and is out of her sight.” It was then that I made the connection that murder after murder that we have witnessed the last several years in our country of African American men at the hands of police and “citizen police,” thanks to phone cameras and social media, it was really not the actions of these men. It was simply that they inhabited a black body. Some were average size. Some were not. But, the bigger the black body, the more the perceived threat to those who are socialized to fear those bodies.
What a sad reality that the very thing that was created and designed by God, that protects you, that gives you agency, that is celebrated for its athleticism (especially when it comes to sports and capitalism), is the very thing that that is also a threat to so many people. It’s the very thing that could get you killed with no other provocation. The black body.
When I write blog posts, I usually know how I am going to end it. I begin with a nugget of hope in mind. This post is a struggle. I really don’t know what to say. I feel the pain, agony and numb shock of many of my family, friends, students where I teach at an HBCU (Historical Black College and University), and social media connections. Another march? Another protest? Another trial hoping and praying for justice? Instead, we get another betrayal by the United States judicial system. Another injustice served.
Because we cannot legislate the heart, we do need to advocate for policies that protect all American citizens. The reality, however, is this is an issue of America’s heart. It is a heart issue when the very group who is called to serve and protect all citizens fear and hunt another. It is a heart issue when time and time again the judicial system can rationalize a reason why these murders continue to happen and hold no one accountable. It is a heart issue when people can’t even acknowledge that all lives don’t matter until black ones do.
It is a heart issue when one only sees Marcus’ big black body, but doesn’t see he has gone on every local and international missions trip our church has sponsored the last few years. It’s a heart issue when you only see his big black body, but don’t see him volunteer with Awana (youth Bible study) faithfully and consistently. It is a heart issue when you only see his big black body but don’t see that he has hopes, goals and dreams and that he matters to many people.
And so for Marcus and all the men who inhabit black bodies, I want to say that I see you. Your life does matter not only to me, but many, many others.