I took two weeks off at the end of 2015. Thanks to a generous leave policy at NWLC I packed up my office in mid-December and said goodbye to my colleagues until the New Year. It felt downright luxurious, even though like too many of us in the social justice movement I often take what I call “workations.” Although technically on vacation, I check email, multi-task, and make calls.
But this vacation was different because on day one the news broke that a Texas grand jury failed to indict anyone for the death of Sandra Bland, who was found dead in her jail cell 3 days after being arrested for a minor traffic offense. And though the prosecutor indicated that the grand jury would reconvene in January, justice for Sandra Bland, whose only crime appeared to be questioning an unjust traffic stop and arrest, seems far away.
A week later, a grand jury failed to indict anyone for murdering Tamir Rice. Only 12 years old, Tamir Rice was playing with a toy gun outside a recreation center in Cleveland when he was gunned down by a police officer a year ago. In the prosecutor’s statement announcing the grand jury’s decision he emphasized Tamir Rice’s size, noting that he was “big for his age” and that his “size made him look much older.”
Once again, my heart was broken. I grieved for their families, their friends, and their lives that were cut far too short. I grieved for children who are not allowed to be children because of their “size.” I grieved for black women and girls who are at risk every day because of stereotypes about their “attitudes.” I grieved for what is nothing short of an assault on black motherhood, as I watched my friends and family once again give their teenagers “the talk” on how to handle encounters with police. And I grieved for our fragile justice system, which has simply let us down.
And then I paused, abandoned my “workation,” and tuned in.
I tuned into my family, spending endless hours with my husband and two young boys. I inhaled 4-year-old giggles as we played with construction tools and puzzles. I played board games with my 7-year-old and read story after story. I watched my boys, who are both “big” for their age, engage in deep imaginative play together, play involving superheros and lightsabers and forts. I gave both boys the hugs that Tamir Rice’s mother can no longer give.
I thought of Sandra Bland’s friends, who surely wish they could have one more sista-girl conversation. And I called my dearest friends and talked for hours. I thought of Sandra Bland’s mother, who spent this first holiday season without her daughter, and made calls to my own mother.
I tuned into my family and friends and tuned out most everything else because I needed to do so to enter this important year restored and ready.
I’m ready to fight for justice for Tamir and for Sandra and for a reformed criminal justice system that is failing black men and women. I’m ready to fight to eliminate violence and harassment experienced by girls and young women in school. I’m ready to fight so that working women have the wages, fair pay and critical job supports that they need for themselves and their families to thrive. I’m ready to fight for full access to health care, including reproductive health services, no matter where you work or where you live.
I hope you’re ready to join me and NWLC in the fight for justice in 2016. We will need all of your help for sure.