There’s something about that spot on Main Street that stirs my emotions.
It happened again.
The tears came at the same location where I walked in the Gay Pride Parade in 2010. Walking then followed a lengthy internal battle involving my fear of retaliation and being labeling by those incapable of understanding why all of us should march in the parade.
The rain that year blended with my tears and left my body soaked and my soul weary. I kept marching, inspired by the memories of men and women who had fought the temptation to stop. Images of people singing“I shall not, I shall not be moved” came to mind as my body was weighted down by drenched clothes.
This time was different.
The sun baked my body and the cheers of people on both sides of the street affirmed my decision to march. The masses outnumbered the few who exploited the occasion to pitch the message of Hell.
It was different this time, but still I cried. Just like before.
Although surrounded by members of Unitarian Universalist congregations in the Triangle, I was, in many ways, alone.
Thoughts of Charlotte came just before my right foot hit the pavement. Thoughts of another dead black man, with a wife and children in need of answers, came to mind as my left foot rose from the ground.
“Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland,” I whispered the names of men and women killed by police. I wiped away tears quickly enough to hide the pain.
I closed my eyes and fought the urge to scream. And the next image came. I saw people gathered in Washington, D.C., to dedicate the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. I called their names – Phil Freelon, Nnenna Freelon, John Lewis – then I called the names of those who died long ago.
The names blended like jazz, echoing in my head like Coltrane jumping off the music sheet.
What had begun like a song mourning tragedy ended with a celebration of the work yet to be done.
Stand with us
Maybe it’s idealism that keeps me coming back to these places. We all crave the protection of others to stand with us, to believe with us in a world beyond the one that brings the tears.
In that moment early in the parade, it had felt like too much. My feet felt heavier than before. The journey seemed longer after the tears recalled the memory of the first time I had marched.
Who will walk with me this time, I wondered. Where are the people willing to take hold of the vision of a world not complicated by the madness we create? Could it be that I was alone – again?
Then the cheers of the people rekindled a faith that triggered an eruption of my soul. And I heard a new song.
“Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon’ be alright,” I picked up the pace as Kendrick Lamar reminded me of the faith that challenged me to march in the parade. “My knees getting’ weak and my gun might blow but we gon’ be alright.”
That’s the challenge. That’s the prayer. That’s the hope we all share. We gon’ be alright. Durham, we gon’ be alright.
We gon’ be alright when we walk in places where no one looks like us. Change comes when we take on causes that aren’t our own and our family and friends aren’t there to cheer us along.
I carried the pain of the family of an unarmed black man killed by a police officer in Charlotte. Rather than going to Charlotte that day, I stayed in Durham to march in the Gay Pride Parade.
All of us should pick a place where we don’t belong.
Why? Because we gon’ be alright.
Carl W. Kenney II is co-executive producer of “God of the Oppressed,” an upcoming documentary that explores black liberation theology. He is the author of “Preacha’ Man” and “Backslide.” He can be reached at Revcwkii@hotmail.com