The 6 Acts of Injustice
Guest blogger: Lyn E. Cook
My Why is a series of Lean Lab stakeholders who we feature as guest bloggers. They describe their "why," or inspiration, for becoming involved in social change and reform. We hope you find similar inspiration in their stories.
My understanding of identity is that the essence of who we are is revealed through our experiences; how they resonate with us reveals the internal processes that makes us us. For example, I like the idea of guacamole, but if I eat it, I will have a violent allergic reaction that could send me to the hospital. Therefore, avocado is just not my thing. Similarly, I’ve had life experiences that showed me me.
Loss. I was 6 years old when my father was gunned down on the stairs of his storefront. Sadness blanketed my home like a thick fog. I did not properly understand death and I watched in bewilderment as my oldest brother and mother held each other and sobbed while sitting on the stool of our organ. They looked at my dad’s picture together and cried heavily and wildly. I remember wondering what happened to make them so sad.
Rejection. “Go home, Nessie!” my personal hero -my oldest brother- yelled at me. “Quit trying to be around all of us boys.” I was the youngest and only girl of my house siblings and when my brothers would leave home to play with friends, I wasn’t permitted to tag along. It was their way or protecting me, I hope. Or perhaps it was their way of not being made uncool by my presence. In true tomboy fashion, I properly learned to catch a football, could climb any tree, and play most video games well. It didn’t make sense for them to not keep me around.
Opportunity. My mom married. My step-dad was amazing. They put me in a local private school to begin my high school career. I looked forward to wearing the plaid skirt that Catholic school girls wear. No, I wasn’t Catholic, but yes I would have the honor of wearing a red and black plaid skirt.
Assholes. 9th grade. I hate school. There were only 8 black students in the (entire) school and none of the other students really cared to make room for me. I was lonely. While getting my books from my locker, my locker neighbor and a group of his friends approached me. One of them quipped “What’s up, BLACK-ie?” smiling, he awaited my response. I was small-framed; he was stocky. I committed to the consequences: I balled my fist up and hit him hard in his chest. I expected a fight, but there was none. He was more amused than anything. The group of boys laughed. Years later, I found, my fist never un-balled.
Speechlessness. My teenage eyes had never seen anything like it before. It was a picture of a Black man hanging from a tree. This hanging is how he met his death. The picture’s caption read, “Lynchings were common in the Jim Crow South.” I was shocked at the image, however, an emotional fascination told me to study the picture, learn it, and know it. The deceased’s hands were tied behind his back. He was stripped of his clothing and left to dangle before onlookers who appeared proud of the spectacle. They took pictures to commemorate the event.
Fear. Sometimes I use Facebook to pass time. I particularly like to read articles, but on occasion someone’s comments on a video posting will cause me to click, watch, and then resume article reading. I clicked and watched a video of a calm, adult man handcuffed by police. They walked him into a room, he stood there, and then suddenly the officers began beating him. Four officers to one man. My son walked into my room and cocked his head to see what I was doing. He caught a glimpse of the video: “Whoa! –Mom, why are they doing that to him?”
“Baby, I don’t know…” I responded, never really intending for my son to see violent content; I turned my laptop away from his glance and hit ‘pause’. At this time my son was 6.
“Mom, are police going to do that to me?”
“Baby, I don’t know” –My honest answer. Since then my son and I have had “the talk” about good and bad police and how people (mis)use power. He’s now 9.
Somewhere along the lines I’ve learned that injustice –like avocado- just doesn’t really jive well with me. I also learned that systems of exploitation purposely exist in many forms and they directly conflict with liberating systems that promote opportunities for others to be self-actualized and edified. I think the two –perhaps- exist as part of a continuum. Historically, the former is often more fiscally lucrative to exploiters than the latter, but it’s settled that my identity cannot be divorced from the fact that my internal make-up chooses to perpetuate the end of the spectrum where exploiters and assholes don’t reside. In fact, I’m really quite fascinated by human potential and how others seek to manage, grow, and handle it.
In the case of my “personal why,” I ball my fists for anyone who can’t properly do it for themselves. My mother calls me “a hippie” for it; others call it “community building,” while still some say it’s “social activism.” To me, there’s really no label needed for stake holding compassion, kindness, equity, justice, and opportunity for humankind. I can’t imagine why one wouldn’t want these for themselves and be accepting of others having the same. Simply put: I have a son, you know. As I work and have my way, he’ll never hang from anyone’s proverbial tree.
Lyn E. Cook is the founder of Business Allied Scholars and an inaugural Lean Lab Fellow. You can find her on Twitter: @helloLynECook .
We hope you are inspired by Lyn's "why" and continue to be inspired at Narrative: Lean Lab's Demo Day on April 16. Utilize code WHY408 at checkout for $5 off your admission to witness the future of KC education.