June 18, 2020
by Peter Holmes, Chapel Member
The horrifying murder of George Floyd has awakened the conscience of America to a generations-old system of racial injustice. Now, I learned long ago to steer clear of politics in columns such as this. But the current circumstances that grip our society are too serious to avoid. After a lifetime of having to navigate the “system” of racial bigotry and oppression in this country, I am a black American screaming “enough is enough.”
At this point, any attempt to sidestep the obvious would only give support to those seeking to minimize the tragedies or hijack the urgency of the moment. Therefore, with apologies to no one, I have a few thoughts I’d like to share with my fellow congregants at Galilee UMC and the Chapel at Lansdowne Woods.
Peter Holmes stands with his friend and neighbor Larry Messner at the Leesburg BLM protest on June 6.
This story begins on June 6, twelve days after the murder of Mr. Floyd. On that day I was feeling overwhelmed with emotions of anger, disgust, sadness, and despair. In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, I also felt a strong need to get out of the house and do something for the cause. Fortunately, I learned of a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest march that was taking place in Leesburg that afternoon. What I did not know is that due to a family tragedy, the march organizer was unable to be there and I found myself as an extemporaneous speaker at the opening of the event in front of a crowd estimated at 600-700 people.
I was astounded at the makeup of the crowd at this, my first-ever BLM march. It was 98% (my estimate) white folks! No doubt influenced by that, I shared with the group the anger and despair I was feeling. Also, I shared the hurt that has built up over my lifetime, sixty-one years and counting, with the lack of basic honesty and truth-telling about centuries of racial injustice in America.
I remember imploring the group, “I need to know what you’re thinking.” Well, after listening to the 12-14 people who made remarks after me, I was heartened to hear that most of us want the same things: honesty, equality, love, and kindness.
Plenty of Leesburg citizens have had enough of racial injustice.
At the end of all of the remarks, the group marched and chanted enthusiastically through downtown Leesburg in the name of justice and equality. During the march I had brief encounters with other protesters. We were able to share honest and authentic perspectives and learn from each other. While the structural issues of racial injustice are huge and complicated, I can say that the person-to-person experience of sharing our outrage, hopes, and pain among a multicultural/multigenerational mix made the encounters unforgettable for me.
For the first time, it feels like there may be a path forward. Enough is enough.
As this societal crisis is coming into plain view for all (who want) to see, I hope it is becoming clearer that is not solely and narrowly about police brutality and “a few bad apples.” The murder of Mr. Floyd that millions of people witnessed was literally a public lynching of a black man, narrated by the victim himself. That incident speaks for itself.
However, the art of bigotry has advanced over the generations. Code words and circuitous procedures have replaced the more blatant forms of racial hatred. Stricter voting rules, which at first glance may appear to have the ring of truth, have been exposed as simply a way to suppress voting among minorities. The phrase “law and order” is a euphemism for controlling thoughts and ideas and an excuse to muzzle protests by those being persecuted. And then there are the chronic disparities in housing, economics, healthcare, and education. Enough is enough.
Change requires us to speak up, but also listen and act.
How do we climb out of this abyss? I do have a significant concern that framing this crisis around a single individual (i.e. George Floyd), when in fact there are countless people affected by racial injustices, creates a possibility where this movement “runs out of stream” and loses momentum. Yes, there is outrage—mostly constructive, some otherwise—but raising an issue is not resolving an issue. Will we (each of us) continue in a manner where no one really listens to others and no one truly expresses compassion in spite of injustice?
How do people of any faith tradition or any sort of moral constitution respond to this moment?
That is where the hard work begins. The past 401 years is pretty good evidence that this issue is not going to just go away. Those who shy away from change count on being able to simply wait for the rest of us to move on to another subject. But enough is enough.
Healing must begin with education and honesty. Real education and real honesty. That’s what my experience on June 6 among the hundreds of protesters in Leesburg taught me. I want to experience people understanding how I’ve struggled. It is critical that we all seek to learn and understand more about other groups in regards to race. It seems we often figure out ways to persecute those who are not like us or stick our heads in the sand and choose to “not see.”
While this long and tiresome journey towards better race relations has been daunting for the African-American community and the country as a whole, it appears that a critical mass of people now believe that a new norm of equal justice, respect, and dignity for all is coming. I hold that same hope. Now is the time to educate, seek understanding, and celebrate!
America will be greatest when we don’t ignore those things that are outside of our view, but face up to the fact that we all have blind spots. We must find a way for all to have equal treatment under the law and equality in our societal systems. There is no “again” in this statement because as a country, we haven’t been there yet.
And FYI. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!
Dr Peter Holmes is a member of The Chapel. He and his wife Deborah moved to Lansdowne Woods in 2016. His background is as a scientist and executive in the chemical and special materials industry. He has worked around the world, including time in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Singapore and Shanghai. He has degrees from Virginia Tech, Howard University, and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.