• Verneda Adele White

To Our Brothers: Know You Are Loved #justiceforGeorgeFloyd

Updated: Jun 9, 2020

My brother looks like George Floyd. He is a black man. You may have a brother or husband or son who looks like George Floyd because he is a black man too.” – the author

Photo Credit: instagram.com/vientoxsol

In many of our lives, there are black men who are active fathers, husbands, brothers, sons, mentors, educators, business leaders, significant others, pillars of the family and contributors to our communities; with a focus on strengthening the foundation on which the next generation of black men will stand. In the same breath, there are black men in our lives who are lost, scarcely tethered to the fabric of our communities, ofttimes as a result of any one of the many institutionalized systems designed to take black people in America out en masse. Collectively, all black men are our brothers, no less human, no less deserving of being treated with the respect of basic humanity, and none are exempt.

While this is not the first piece I have written shining a light on the beauty of black men, as I began the process of harnessing the full range of emotions I have experienced over the last week, I found myself imagining a world where it could be my last. Not to do away with positively uplifting the honest, courageous, outstanding black men in our lives, but to no longer have a need or an impulse to write from my being on fire with anger and outrage, shock, and sadness. It is disheartening to fully digest that in the year 2020, we as a people are still considered less than human to racist members of law enforcement and the general population alike; a mentality not so distant from the Slave Patrols that predate the origins of today’s modern-day police.

We are resilient. As a people, we are resilient beyond measure. Yet, while grappling to make sense of this latest senseless act of police violence, the murder of George Floyd is one that reached into the very core of my soul. The scars from this last week, in the accumulation with generation after generation of persistent police killings, the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and so many others, has pushed the breadth and depth of the human spirit to its capacity. This time our collective spirit refuses to be silenced. Our country is burning with demands for change; change in our justice system, in the way we are policed, in the running narrative about black men and women that feeds the beast of hatred and fear on which our country’s systemic racism stands.

Protester at the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn, NY. Photo Credit: instagram.com/vernedaadele

In first seeing the image of former police officer Derek Chauvin’s knee pressed against Floyd’s neck, I momentarily blacked out, as if I was unable to process the utter disregard for human life in front of me. The final breaths with which Floyd could no longer form the words “I cannot breathe” made it impossible to watch each successive video through to the end.

To the extent, I have been desensitized over the years by the endless accounts and images that define the #blacklivesmatter movement, all equally devastating on their own, for me this one is different. For us, this one is different. This one is personal in a way where my cup of tolerance spilled over with the aggregate egregiousness of our recent history, so much so that after a diligent run of quarantining day in and day out for the last 10 weeks, I have broken my own commitment to #stayhome. I joined thousands of my fellow brothers, sisters, and allies at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn to express our demands for justice, superseding our masked fears, pushing back on attempts to undermine the purpose of our peaceful protests, to stand up and say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

Coming together is part of our shared desire to breathe through the impending emotional trauma, in ways that will ultimately build us up. It is critical to not only recognize the importance of taking care of ourselves through this time, channeling our energy to honor and validate the anger and tears that come with the pain, but to recognize the pain is not where we end.

In retrospect, the news of Floyd’s murder came in just hours before my family was set to celebrate my brother, two years older than Floyd, on his 48th birthday. As I reflect on that day it’s like replaying a split-screen. To the left George Floyd is pinned to the ground gasping for his life, and to the right, my family’s Zoom festivities are in full swing with particular focus on the pre-recorded greetings my sister-in-law gathered from friends and family expressing the positive impact my brother has made in their lives. My brother, a father of four, husband, teacher, community builder, and entrepreneur is a good man. He is the type of big brother who, when I was going through my biggest challenge in college, literally dropped what he was doing and drove up from DC to Cornell to come to see about me.

Photo Credit: instagram.com/vernedaadele / Courtesy of The White Family

Where I would not normally be overrun with emotion, that moment, that split-screen, suddenly put into perspective that the simple act of being able to sing happy birthday to my brother with all the other little squares filled with grandparents, niece, nephews, and cousins, had crossed over from being a given that can easily be taken for granted, to being an exception. Without the war for racial justice, our country has designed it to be an exception for our black men to be alive, let alone thriving, and having not succumbed to any of the aforementioned institutionalized systems directly pointed at us. It is an exception we must push back on, and realize we have an opportunity from this point forward to come into a new level of appreciation for the black men in our lives.

The speed with which the four former officers were fired and charged in the death of George Floyd, is indeed unprecedented. The charge against former officer Chauvin has been upgraded to second-degree murder. Yet, as we seek full justice for Floyd, his family, and all the families who have lost loved ones, we must be prepared to remain relentless. None of us are helpless or hopeless in this fight. No act is too big or too small. As we find the courage to stay the course on the journey ahead, we can embrace the process of healing and gain more inspiration than a Kirk Franklin / Fred Hammond #verzuz, by taking action to uplift the black men in our lives and the relationships we have with one another.

Looking at myself in honesty, I have not given my brother the proper recognition he deserves, and I rarely acknowledge, putting aside the many ways we butt heads, just how much he has shown up for me over the years. Now is the time for me to tell him. I protest so the next generation can realize a better future (including my prayers for the day I will be blessed with the opportunity to raise black children of my own, to teach them to love themselves and all mankind in spite of the world we live in), but in this present moment I am due to put in some virtual one on one time with my 18-year-old nephew as he springboards from being a member of the class of 2020, onward to college and into the forays of adulthood. Now is the time to do it. The words we speak matter.

George Floyd with his daughter Gianna. Photo Credit: Courtesy of The Floyd Family

To all the black men in my life from my daddy to my gay besties, my fraternity brothers to my barber... thank you, you are loved. To the officers and retailers taking a knee in solidarity... thank you, you are loved too. And to the Floyd family... thank you for sharing your love for George with us.

Who are your brothers? In the weeks and months ahead, let's each be encouraged to think about the black men in our lives, recognize their positive presence, and reach out. It matters to simply say I see you, we stand with you, and let them know "you are loved."

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