Accountability Spark

So #NationalRelaxationDay was trending earlier this week, and I’m having a hard time with that.

I have a sneaky suspicion that I’m not the only one.

The current news cycle(s) ≠ Relaxing

I wasn’t even sure how to formulate words around Charlottesville. My emotional spectrum was all over the place. Here’s a peek into my current state of mind:

I’m angry. I’m not surprised. But I want to be surprised. Doesn’t that mean there’s still room to be shocked by appalling things? I’m sad. I can’t sleep. Uh oh, I’m mad again. Let me make a joke. Now I’m crying AND I’m angry. [Insert similar reactionary feelings here].

Virginia students bringing accountability to Charlottesville
Virginia students demonstrating in Charlottesville. Photo: Twitter

And then, I saw a video. A man named Mark Heyer was speaking about his daughter, Heather, who had just been killed.

Mark Heyer speaks about accountability & forgiveness.
Mark Heyer, Heather Heyer’s father.

He was standing in his yard, crickets chirping, and said things like, “My thoughts about all of this stuff is that people need to stop hating and they need to forgive each other, you know? And I include myself in that in forgiving the guy that did this, okay? He didn’t know no better.” He went on to say, “My daughter’s life…she’s…I’m proud of her. I’m proud of her for standing up. She had more courage that I did. She had a stubborn backbone. If she thought she was right, she would stand there and defy you. But if I understand her, she wants to do it peacefully, with a fierceness of heart that comes with her conviction. I hope all of this stuff that’s come out isn’t twisted into something negative, but that there comes a positive change in people’s hearts. In their thinking, in their understanding of their neighbor. We just need to forgive each other, and I hope that’s what comes out of this…You can fight all you want…but when you take your last breath, it’s over. It’s done.”

It’s very hard to stay angry when you listen to the father of a murdered daughter, calling for forgiveness, even for her killer. That definitely put my anger in check (until I made the mistake of scrolling through Twitter and then got angry all over again).

I also had the opportunity to hear Heather’s eulogy from her mother, Susan Bro. And again, I was floored. Don’t believe me? Watch for yourself (I highly recommend taking six minutes of your day to truly listen to Susan’s words).

Here are some highlights:

“This could be a storm in a tea cup, and it could all be for nothing…Here’s the message. Heather was a caring and compassionate person, but so are all of you…I think the reason that what happened to Heather struck a cord is because we know that what she did was achievable…They tried to kill my child to shut her up. Well, guess what? You just magnified her. So here’s what I want to happen. You ask me, what can I do? So many caring people…I want this to spread. I don’t want this to die…You need to find, in your heart, that small spark of accountability. What is there that I can do to make the world a better place? What injustice do I see?…You poke that finger at yourself, like Heather would have done, and you make it happen…Find a way to make a difference in the world…My child was no saint, she was hard to raise because everything was a negotiation. But you know what? She was a firm believer in whatever she believed. Let’s do that. Let’s find within ourselves that spark of convictionLet’s have the uncomfortable dialogue…The truth is, we are going to have our differences. We are going to be mad at each other, but let’s channel that anger not into hate, not into violence, not into fear, but let’s channel that difference, that anger, into righteous action…Right now, there are people here willing to listen to each other…The conversation shave to happen. That’s the only way we’re going to carry Heather’s spark through. Remember in your heart, if we’re not outraged, we’re not paying attention. And I want you to pay attention, find what’s wrong, don’t ignore it, don’t look the other way. Make a point to look at it and say to yourself what can I do to make a difference? And that’s how you’re going to make my child’s death worthwhile. I’d rather have my child, but by golly, if I’m going to give her up, we’re going to make it count.”

So, what should we take away from what we witnessed happening in America this past weekend? How can we find our own spark of accountability? We can be angry, hell yes. And we should be. But as Susan said, let’s channel that anger into action. In a recent interview, Heather’s coworker, Marissa Blair, echoed these statements when she spoke about the kind of person Heather was:

“We thought, ‘What would Heather do?’ Heather would go harder. So that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to preach love. We’re going to preach equality, and Heather’s death won’t be in vain.” (New York Times)

There’s been a lot of talk lately about “self-care.” It seems to be a buzz word, but there’s something valuable in it. I, for one, have been feeling unfocused, frazzled, stressed, and grumpy. When we are bombarded by images of violence and hate, minute after minute, it can take a toll on our emotional and mental wellbeing. Teen Vogue released a self-care guide for people of color post-Charlottesville, and here’s the basic breakdown:

  1. Keep Your Basic Needs in Mind – It’s as simple as making sure you’re hydrated and eating, before and/or after scrolling through violent images.
  2. Take a Break After Taxing Engagements – We’ve all had the occasional war of words on social media, so focus on what soothes you after a taxing engagement.
  3. If You Can, Log Off – Even if you can’t disconnect 100%, try to limit your screen time. Constantly educating others on race relations can be exhausting, so make sure to give yourself some down time.
  4. Don’t Feel Bad About Blocking People – There’s no shame in blocking toxic people. Be like Maxine Waters and reclaim your time.

Last, but certainly not least, we can all put our money and time where our mouths are and contribute to organizations working to bring us closer together with patience, focus, empathy, and humility.

Some suggestions from the Everyday Ambassador Community Network:

  1. Be More America – follow them on Facebook as they train other to hack their implicit bias for a more level playing field.
  2. Use Your Difference Media – They cover stories on diversity, inclusion, travel, immigration, global business and entrepreneurship.
  3. Action Aid – They are on a mission to end poverty and injustice by investing in local problem solvers. People who are determined and committed, and motivated to change the world around them. Their ‘take action‘ section features petitions just waiting for your signature!
  4. Allowance for Good – They empower all youth through the tools of philanthropy to take meaningful action in their world. Get involved through donations, volunteering, or partnering with them!
  5. I Have a Dream Oregon – Their mission is to support and empower students from poverty-impacted communities to thrive in school, college and career.

Finally, writer and comedian Sara Benincasa made an extensive list of organizations that need your help, so take a look here.

Take that spark of accountability and run with it. Let’s make the loss of Heather, and the loss of every activist before her, and the activists we will lose after her, and make their loss worthwhile.

Let’s preach love.

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