On the afternoon of Sunday, June 14, I drove out to the Fairfield Library in Henrico County. Located on Laburnum Avenue, the library was to be the starting point for A March for Unity. This event was put together by the Richmond District of the United Methodist Church. The start time was 3 p.m.
For some reason, I did not find out about this march until Sunday morning. But, I determined I was going, and I went.
Before leaving the house, I covered my beyond pale legs in sunscreen, put on a long sleeved shirt, brought along a wide brimmed hat, and put in a pocket my newest friend—a handmade facial mask.
I stayed off the interstate on my drive to the library. It was a pretty June afternoon.
By the time I arrived, a small crowd was beginning to gather. With sun glasses, hats, and masks, it was tough to recognize people. But, early on, I did see a couple of friends, Ginny Willis and Elizabeth Compton, who I knew from church work and the school system. I enjoyed catching up with them for a few minutes.
People kept trickling in, and it seemed like getting started was being delayed. But, eventually our District Superintendent, Pete Moon, started to get our attention.
Pete was using a megaphone to gather us. Initially, it took a few minutes for all us chatterboxes to stop talking and listen to Pete. If nothing else, Methodist are methodical, and we eventually figured out we needed to be quiet.
Pete introduced and turned over the next few minutes to Reverend Rodney Hunter who offered prayer, march instructions, and some heartfelt thoughts about an important question: Why are we here?
Once Reverend Hunter concluded his remarks, we started the very short walk on to Laburnum Avenue. We were heading west on Laburnum. Officers from Henrico County Police had blocked the two travels lanes. We had lots of room, but this crowd of about 300 was moving slow.
Along the way, participants waved signs, sang, chanted words of encouragement, shouted out the names of African Americans who had lost their lives from racial injustice, and acknowledged horn toots and hand waves of support from drivers in the east bound lanes.
While walking, I recognized fellow Trinity member Anne Burch who was there with her husband, Bill. We listened and participated with our fellow marchers, talked, and at times were silent.
Once off Laburnum, we wound our way through neighborhood streets. Our stopping point was the home of the Worship and Praise Church. On the tree shaded front grounds of the church, we came to a stop.
Reverend Tim Kirven pastor of the church gave us leadership at this point. His wife Michelle sang a beautiful song, and then a young man from Woodlake UMC, James Lee, offered a scripture reading from Amos 5:21-24.
Before introducing the Bishop, Reverend Kirven offered some words of inspiration too.
Our Bishop for the Virginia United Methodist Conference, Sharma Lewis is a busy lady. And, I will not pretend to remember every word she stated, but I will never forget what she asked us to do.
If we were physically able, Bishop Lewis asked us to kneel on one knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. This was the amount of time that George Floyd was pinned down by the Minneapolis police officer.
During this 8:46, Bishop Lewis made points of emphasis related to time. Occasionally, in the stillness of the shaded grounds, a random voice called out “I can’t breathe.” A few times other voices called out “momma.” And, the strained polite request “please” was also voiced.
Finally, the last seconds ticked away. Unlike George Floyd, we were able to rise, finish the march, and go home.
Nothing I have been through in my life compares to that 8:46—nothing.
I’m glad that Pete Moon and the Richmond District organized the march. It was a good opportunity to learn. Clearly, I have lots of learning left to do.
That learning will need to go much deeper than toppling statues, changing brand names, and peaceful protest that become violent and destructive.
America is still a powder keg.
It is like when the summer heat and winds have cooked every ounce of water from the undergrowth along a parched, dusty trail out in California’s Eastern Sierra Mountains. It only takes one tiny spark to birth an out of control wildfire.
The layers of our society are just as tense as that undergrowth.
One disruptive agitation can ignite a ferocious reaction.
Somehow, we must find the path for dialogue. We must sit down, talk, and listen. And the key to this is having that conversation with people who I don’t know. Without these critical conversations, I worry that we will not be able to move forward and make long overdue improvements.
I am currently reading Osha Gray Davidson’s book The Best of Enemies— Race and Redemption in the New South. The book focuses on Durham, North Carolina and the integration of its school system. But, the author in constructing this story about Durham also includes lots of historical information about race relations in America, but particularly North Carolina.
After recounting the student led sit-ins in Greensboro and Durham, Davidson makes this point: “It is no exaggeration to say that without the church, there would have been no movement.”
I wonder if our present circumstances are the opportunity for all churches to become involved in leading their communities to the critical dialogue needed to help us move forward.
Recently, two words from John Chapter 11 verse 35 caught my attention: “Jesus wept.”
I would imagine that God and Jesus have shed quite a few tears over our current state. And, I’m pretty sure there have been times in my life when I contributed to their tears.
Stopping those tears is within our reach. It is a matter of truly embracing and putting to work the longstanding teachings of God and Jesus.
Even in the most difficult environments, we must: “Love our neighbors.”
When we find the courage to love our neighbors and put that love to work, then the words from Amos Chapter 5 will ring true: “Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”