— By Steven from Namibia
I would have never imagined that I would stand on the very steps Martin Luther King Jr spoke from on May 17th 1967. Here at the Sproul Plaza at University of California-Berkeley, he spoke to a community of people that have suffered significant trauma. The hub of free speech from the time of Martin Luther King Jr fifty something years later still mourns the injustices against black people.
The atmosphere was solemn as final preparations were being done. Students, faculty, community members, black white, latino and allies were all gathered for a vigil to honor those that had suffered under police brutality in the past two weeks. The resounding storyline is that the shootings are nothing new; what are new are the videos and social media that have brought light to the ferocity of this violence. Mothers are afraid for their sons; they worry about whether their sons will get home safely night after night. The increase of police presence does not calm the situation and put people at ease but rather increases the fear and the anxiety of the black community. “To protect and serve”, the foundational slogan upon which the police department is built, is met with skepticism and sometimes repugnance. One of the African fellows here at UC- Berkeley mentioned that he is afraid to stay out late fearing for his life because he is not immediately distinguishable from the locals.
One cannot help but realize that the Black Lives Matter movement is part of a larger ongoing story for justice. The vigil began with a short formal program acknowledging the University and the Cal Black Student Union for ensuring that the event takes place. Thereafter was an open mic for anyone who wanted to share words, songs, chants for catharsis. There were messages filled with encouragement, positivity and others full of pain, anger and frustration. However this was a safe place for us to feel, speak and be. Hearing our voices, singing, being together was healing in of itself.
Taking into account our Namibia history with apartheid, I felt connected to the stories being shared. For centuries black people have suffered and carry that trauma which is not easy to “just” get over with. One of the student speakers said a profound statement “we are always fighting, never healing”. It is sad to see how inequality has been hemmed into the very fabrics of our history and society. The blood of the innocent young men and women cries for justice. How long until our narrative changes from suffering to thriving? How long and how often do we forgive and turn the other cheek until it is enough?
I, for once, had to examine my own heart to look into my prejudice and start to interrogate and speak against the systems that proliferates inequality. My silence speaks to the normalization of injustice. As a Namibian I cannot help but think; have we truly reconciled? Are the playing fields equal in access and opportunity or shall we too have our day of reckoning?