The Burden of Knowledge
Yesterday I wrapped up the third gathering of the Leadership St. Louis cohort I'm fortunate to be a part of. When the group convenes, its for roughly twenty hours spread over two consecutive days. A lot comes at us quickly and is discussed by the sixty plus people in the group. Parts of the class are enlightening, affirming, contrary to particular world views and at times are hair-raising. To experience these things among such a diverse group is helpful because I see how other people process it based on their professional and personal backgrounds.
This weekend's topic is racism baked into our country's DNA, its overt past and slightly more subtle present. While we're all aware of our country's past with respect to race, how well we understand, relate to, or dare I even say for some, believe in the significance of its impact varies. I like to believe I stand as someone who wants to do his part to create a more equitable environment. But on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis, what is the work I put towards raising awareness among various groups or getting my hands dirty and putting in work to close that gap? How often am I disheartened or frustrated by something and then go back to my busy life? This scene from the movie Hotel Rwanda, about the country's genocide in the early 90's comes to mind.
As our weekend wrapped up yesterday, one of the university professors who lead part of our discussion said to us, "How long will what you have seen and learned this weekend bother you? Will you lose sleep over it?"
As I stand now alongside a cohort identified as "leaders", what will I do with the knowledge and responsibility I've been handed with respect to this new level of immersion around the true gravity of this issue? As I drove to and from the sessions this weekend, I re-listened to an interview with author Ta-Nehisi Coates. While reflecting back on his work and impact it has had on many people Coates stated, "I never want you to say, 'wow. that guy was right', and then go on with your day.” He expects more from us than that. He wants it to stick with us. To bother us. Inspire us to action. His colleague Matt Thompson who was interviewing him the furthered the point stating, “its almost like there should be consequences for knowing these things.” Coates exclaimed upon hearing this, “Yes!! There should be consequences.”
Now that I have lived these things among my cohort, heard and felt the stark difference in my community and seen how it has shaken many members in my group, what will I do with that? What consequences will I impose on myself?
And to those consequences, the final thing I want to take with myself as I move forward and aim to take up more action, the true danger of this all for my part is best captured by the Martin Luther King Jr. quote, 'In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."
Go Forth Boldly