by Liz Liles
“Leave safety behind. Put your body on the line. Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind – even if your voice shakes.
When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say. Well-aimed slingshots can topple giants. And do your homework.”
– Maggie Kuhn
I am the Founder of a non-profit organization, and the first rule of thumb is simple: Don’t ever engage in politics. There’s too many opinions, too many perspectives, too many ideas. You don’t want to get caught up in a whirlwind of political chaos. And for the most part, I attempt to play by the rules. I strive to listen to every side, to hear all ideas suggested and to not seek to divide in any manner.
Division isn’t my heart or my jam. At all. But justice and equality are. And for this reason, I write. For my beautiful, treasured, cherished girls that we serve in Daughters of Worth (of every age, race, religion and culture) …. For her, I write. Because sometimes we have to do the very thing that we are the most terrified of…. To be willing to leave safety behind, to put our bodies on the line, and to stand before the people that we fear and to speak our mind – even and especially, when our voice shakes.
And to be completely honest, my voice is a little bit shaky. And it has been…. For six days now. In fact, if you have seen me or talked with me over the past week, you have probably noticed it all over my face, in my tone and leaked through my heart. Disguising my emotions and thoughts have never been my strong suit. It’s all been there – so very present.
The confusion. The anguish. The anger. The intense sadness. The unanswered questions.
The wounds just seem to continue to fester, fueled by the venom-filled words that charged across our city. Our City. The words that though were apologized for – were heard throughout the nation and echoed throughout homes for hours and days and weeks and probably months to come. Words that cannot be erased or deleted throughout history.
“Send her back,” they chanted.
They laughed and mocked and scorned.
It’s six days later – as I write –
and I am still at a complete and utter loss.
How could this happen?
Aren’t we better than this?
The very same day that the chanting occurred, a woman of leadership in our community decided to peacefully protest. She simply wanted to exercise her rights, to give voice to her ideas, to rise up for her own heart.
Yet, as she walked alone down the street, a truck pulled beside her, cursing her and then proceeded to declare, “I hope you get raped.”
I simply cannot fathom how we as a community, a city, a state, a Nation have fallen to a space where we are ready and willing to “Send her back” because she doesn’t look, act, think or believe in the same manner that we do or that we would wish for a woman to be sexually violated, assaulted, raped because she doesn’t hold the same political stance.
How could this happen?
Aren’t we better than this?
Throughout the past two years, I have listened to the hearts of beautiful, Hispanic girls who come to me and ask why they are hated and bullied by others in their schools. I have wiped away tears as precious girls are told that they will soon be deported because they aren’t wanted here. And I have looked her in the eyes as she questioned, “Ms. Lizzy, but I was born here…. Why don’t they like me? Why am I not good enough for them?”
I have sat with precious women of color who have shared openly about their experiences of raising growing brown boys and the struggle of coaching them, diligently watching them – so that they are not targeted and profiled because they are the wrong color at the wrong time of night. Everything has to be viewed through the lens of caution – not because they have done anything wrong – but because society taught them that their skin color deems them “guilty” if there is ever even a question of wrong-doing.
I have spent hours listening to women who fear coming forward to share their story, the truth of their lives. Because they are convinced that if they speak of their injustice, their assault, their shame, that no one will even believe them. And even if, perhaps they are believed for that moment, nothing will happen. Maybe, perhaps – a slap on the wrist. But even that is highly unlikely. And because I have personally witnessed and experienced this at every level, I cannot tell her that she is wrong.
So, today, I write. I write not to endorse a political party or agenda or to even pour the salt of ink into gaping, open wounds. But rather, I write to expose the larger issue – the greater need – for authentic unity within our community. Today, I write with my voice shaking quite a bit because my heart isn’t to harm, hurt, reject or condemn. But rather, to advocate for hope, healing and overall unconditional love for fellow man.
A place where we can all simply agree that every single life matters and one color of skin does not elevate itself above all the rest. A place where we can all simply agree that our community is a space in which we all belong.
Six years ago, I moved into Greenville, and it is truly my heart’s home. This city is a place that I absolutely adore and so thankful for the opportunity to live, work and serve here. Yet, this week, I am also reminded that there is much work to be done and much healing that needs to be found – for all of us.
It is my hope and dream that collectively we can agree that all people are welcome here – Regardless of ethnicity, culture, political party or religious stance. It is my hope and dream that collectively we can unite to wholeheartedly love, advocate for and protect all of the children in our city – Not just the ones who live and look like us. It is my hope and dream that collectively we can stand against injustice and value all people – Not wishing assault, rejection or rape on those who think differently than us. Is this really too much to ask?
The work that needs to happen has already been revealed. It showed up – in real time – across every social media account and has marked itself into the hearts and souls of people throughout the land.
It’s not a suggested work.
It’s a mandated work.
It’s the only way that together, we can begin to heal, build and grow.
But it has to begin today –
and it has to begin with all of us.
And sometimes, most of the time, it begins in the most simple ways. Like being willing to speak up for the things that matter the most – even when your voice shakes.
For it is when enough shaky voices come together to unify – to advocate for the lives, freedom, and future of all people – to represent Hope in a real way – this is the true beginning of change.
And my hope and dream is that this vision will become the legacy chant for our community.