I Can’t Breathe

Real change? It’s all up to us

By Mark Meeks
August 2020

It was in March when I saw the Facebook meme, “I would like to exercise the 90-day return provision on the Year 2020.”

As more than one person has observed, 2020 has proven to be the conflated sum of cataclysmic elements from the 1918 flu pandemic, the financial crisis of 1929 and the social seismicity of 1968.

On May 25, the recorded killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police with his repeated plea of “I can’t breathe” set off a cascade of outrage, anger, reflection, introspection and demand for change with an intensity not seen before. Apparently, either as a result of choice or benign ignorance, many people, until they witnessed Floyd’s murder, were not aware of a virus more insidious and dangerous than COVID-19.

My six-plus decades of life have been lived in California. And while my African American experience is not comparable to the injustices of my parents and generations before, my story is all too familiar: a life filled with micro- and macro-aggressions, physical and verbal assaults, opportunities and promotions denied. Indeed, breathing can be and has been a challenge.

I believe we have arrived at an inflection point of opportunity. Who we are now and who we will become is in our collective hands. We are the change we desire. As with someone with cancer, treatment will be uncomfortable and difficult. But ignoring its presence will lead to certain death.

As a semi-retired civil engineer and present pastor at City Church of Sacramento in North Oak Park, I’ve had more than a few conversations of outrage and a desire to be part of real change. The question often asked is, “What can or should I do?”

It has taken more than 400 years of injustice to arrive at this nadir. Achieving this level of (as the youth say) woke-ness is just a beginning. Real, substantive, systemic change demands understanding and perseverance.

If you want to be part of real change: first, expand your circle of friends, including developing relationships with people who don’t look like you and aren’t already neighbors or part of your social circles; second, listen (at least) twice as much as you speak, listen with the goal of understanding; third, engage with agencies that actively support and work toward racial and restorative justice.

What’s often referred to as the Negro National goes, in part:

Lift ev’ry voice and sing
’Til earth and heaven ring
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list’ning skies
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on ’til victory is won

Change, real change, is possible. However, it’s not guaranteed. And it’s not a default choice. You are the change. I am the change. We are the change.

Mark Meeks is pastor of City Church of Sacramento in North Oak Park. He can be reached at mark@citychurchsac.org.


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