2020: Year of Vision?

When this year started, the collective perspective was that 2020 would be the year of vision. We entered this new decade with a renewed sense of hope, excitement and confidence.

However, the last seven months have felt more like a smoky haze of sadness and frustration— for a variety of reasons which tend to change day by day— than anything resembling clarity and growth. Our visions seem to be clouded by the onslaught of national news stories all highlighting destruction and universal angst and, to top it off, we have been unavoidably stuck with ourselves, and with our pain- most of which is not new pain, just old pain we used to be able to escape from using a variety of distractions that were, effectively, destroyed over the last few months.

You might ask why I am reminding you of things you already know and probably would prefer not to think about, but I have a thought: 2020 has given us more clarity than we could have ever prepared for.

Let’s consider the reality of 2020 so far, shall we?

Before the year began we spent a lot of time and money distracting ourselves from the realities of our own existences. We tolerated a lot of pain— we even found comfort in its consistency. We spent hours commuting to jobs we didn’t love; we spent very little time with people we do love; and when we did find time for fun it often required us to spend money we didn’t have.

Beyond that, we spent whatever “free time” we had left, vegetating on our couches and dreaming up ideas to get us out of the routine that felt like a slow creep towards death.

2020 wasn’t really shaping up to be much different; we lost Kobe Bryant and his beautiful daughter, we lost the impeachment, Mercury was in retrograde (whatever that means) and corona virus began its invasion. Boom: quarantine.

The thing about the quarantine is when it forced us inside— it really forced us inside in every way possible. We were living incredibly external lives focused on money and business, and keeping up with the Jones.’ After we went into quarantine, and the Netflix binges lost their appeal, we accidentally— maybe even reluctantly— started the process of self-reflection. Some of us started watching documentaries instead of Living Single runs; we began opening books; we started practicing meditation, praying and even working out. Our step counters didn’t recognize us anymore!

Moreover, as we shed tears waiting to be released and forgave ourselves for our past mistakes, we began to empower ourselves with a new sense of appreciation for our lives. Our focus became the families we didn’t have time for before and the dreams that seemed unattainable. Not to mention we were emotionally and physically available to face the issues surrounding race in our country.

We started questioning everything we thought we knew before. Thoughts crept into our minds such as: Can I make a difference? Why am I the way that I am? Do I enjoy the things I thought I enjoyed or did I use those things to distract me from my pain? Is that person really my friend? Am I sure about my marriage? How can I stay at this job? What is my passion Where am I in life— where am I going? Who am I really? Am I happy?

The answers to these questions often landed uncomfortably on our egos, which really doesn’t appreciate change. However, we’ve started to understand the truth about who we are and what matters to us.

So, so far 2020 kept its promise, didn’t it? Our vision is, in fact, expanding in many directions and as the world begins to open back up, we have to prepare for the challenge of cherishing this new vision while old distractions tempt us back to old comforts.

If we want the new vision we’ve been given to manifest in our lives, we will have to experience a ritual sacrifice of our old selves and old ways with the faith that the reward will be an elevated, happier life. The problem with clarity is it starts with painful reflection and ends in a battle of determination. Now that you know so much about yourself, you have to be determined to stand by your new beliefs. Now that you know, there is no going back to not knowing. 2020 is giving us vision in its own, slightly annoying way. The question is and always has been: what do we plan to do with it?

‘Look me in my eyes’

As I sat in a sunny Mt. Vernon park and ate my lunch on Saturday afternoon, I tried to prepare my mind for the protest I would be attending later. I felt the weight of my city’s pain and was conscious of the fact that day I would have to be willing to sacrifice everything to support the cause of justice.

What I didn’t prepare for, what I couldn’t have known to prepare for, was the heartbreak.

We took to the front lines of the protest and marched through most of the city. It was a long, hard march. We were in pain emotionally and physically, our voices grew weak from the repetitive shouts of the names of the slain and the demands of the people, and there were moments of hopelessness when white diners at luxury establishments moved indoors to avoid us.

Jasmine Garland

Alisha Wallace

Jasmine Garland

Then, I watched as a young white man in Fells Point rolled his eyes, removed the lid of his plastic beer cup and flung it into the crowd— I broke, as did many others. The question raging in my mind was how? How can you not support our movement, how can you not see our pain?

It was in his eyes. He did not see me.

As we faced police officers in front of City Hall— without yelling, without crying— I asked “Do you love us? Do you understand our pain? Do you fight for us?”— with no answer. I removed my mask and sunglasses. I wanted to be a person, someone you see in the grocery store or on the same pew at church. The worst thing that could’ve happened, the thing I couldn’t have known to prepare for, was the avoidance of my stare.

I stared deeply into the eyes of black and brown police officers, I begged them to look back, chanted “look me in my eyes” and they looked away. Never meeting my eyes, never meeting my pain. I have felt unimportant before but never completely unseen.

As the protest died down and protestors took a rest on the grass of City Hall, I approached an officer. His bright blue eyes met mine honestly and I felt a moment of relief— I was real to someone, a white man no less. He explained that officers are trained not to show emotion, not to voice an opinion, just to do their jobs. As he spoke, I realized the fundamental problem we face as a nation: police officers are taught to look past the pain they see every day because if they saw us as people, if they saw us as their family, they could never choose a side.

Instead, they must act as if it’s us against them whether it’s on the protest line, whether it’s regarding petty crimes, whether the person they face is mentally handicapped or poor, or a broken product of their environment. They are not allowed to feel for us and therefore we lose the fundamental component that brings our society together— love.

It takes love to let a kid go for a petty crime he committed to impress his friends or make money for his family. It takes love to think twice before murdering someone out of fear, anger or prejudice. It takes love to stand up to other corrupt police officers to protect an unarmed man. It takes love to overcome your pride and take the knee. It takes love to bear the harsh criticisms you face even though you are a good cop; to know that the blue uniform you wear represents a symbol of hate for many people because of the system that employs you. It takes love to show up to work every day not just with the goal of staying alive but to protect the lives, even, of assumed lawbreakers. It takes love to build a system that rehabilitates criminals rather than erase their sense of humanity and take away their dignity.

This is why the love has been trained out of them. Because a system with love at its heart does not finance the prison industrial complex and it does not maintain the control of slaves. A system founded on love in service of the people sees whole people, supports them and as a result it protects them. All people. Black people. Us.

Many of us felt that heartbreak and continue to feel it as we march for peace. Beyond anger, there is heartbreak. We are desperate for love; we are desperate for healing. The absence of love in our community and the growth of our desperation can be seen in the fires lit across America. This is the same fire that burns in our hearts. Only love can calm the flames. Only love can rebuild our country.