GENERAL INTEREST

The Time I Went to a #BLACKLIVESMATTER Protest on My Lunch Break

Photo by ABC 7 Chicago

Photo by ABC 7 Chicago

I remember the day that the picture above was taken. It was late August of 2015, a month before I would ultimately move from Chicago to New York. The summer was an emotionally grueling one for the black community and in turn, the country. According to mappingviolence.org, in August 2015, twenty-seven black people in the United States were killed by police officers. In fact, black people were three times as likely as white people to be killed by a police officer.

In total, at least 346 black people in the United States were killed by police officers in 2015.

On the morning of the day when the picture above was taken, I learned from Twitter that a Black Lives Matter protest was scheduled to take place in Millennium Park at noon. At the time, I worked across the street from the park in the AON Center. With the country's state of affairs as they were, I desperately wanted to attend the protest and stand up for those who were gunned down. The only issue was that things were business as usual in my office and I had back-to-back meetings that afternoon which made even taking a lunch break tougher than usual. 

All I had was thirty minutes. Thirty minutes to pay my respects and then go back into the office to participate in brainstorms about how to encourage people to buy more stuff. FYI I work in public relations. 

I rushed down to Millennium Park and saw the signs. Literal signs proclaiming, "BLACK LIVES MATTER" and "SAY THEIR NAMES." I knew I was where I needed to be. 

I decided to stand towards where I assumed was the back of the crowd. I knew they would be marching around the city soon, but that I would not be able to stay. Turns out, where I was standing was actually the front of the crowd and news cameras were on the scene to report on the protest. When the picture you saw above was taken we were listening to speeches from mothers who had lost their children. This was nothing to smile about and you can see that in my face. 

I was in near tears. I wanted to stay with them. To march with them. To stand with them and let those mothers know that they were not alone. It was a lot to take in. 

The minutes flew by. Those minutes were all I had. The world doesn't stop because you're hurting. And, so, I went back into the office to make it in time for a brainstorm. Having to go inside a glass tower to brainstorm ways to sell moms more things seems less important after being out in the streets of Chicago listening to real moms share their real stories of loss and resilience. 

Sometimes I wonder if I could've simply asked my supervisor if I could miss the brainstorm to stay at the protest, but I didn't. The truth is, I was afraid. Not afraid of what she would say, but afraid of being perceived as "political" or "unprofessional." I was afraid to start that uncomfortable conversation where you let your co-workers know that you're black. More so, that you're black and you're hurting. 

Summer 2016 hasn't fared any better . I wanted to call out black every day after the murders of  Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

Lately, I've been thinking about how to broach these subjects in the workplace. There are people in the country that think of public outcries against police brutality as "political." These are also the same people that have no problem publicly sharing their opinions about the 2016 election with anyone that will listen. Elections have clear party lines: Democrat, Independent, Republican, etc. However, this hurt that we as a country are going through in regards to the 123 people that have been killed by police officers to-date in 2016 is an issue that should cross party lines. This isn't about red versus blue. But, it's also more than just black and white. We're not only protesting about a white officer shooting a black person. We are expressing our frustration about the systemic racism that has been poisoning the waters of our country, from sea to shining sea, for far too long. 

I get it. It's traditionally taboo to talk about race, money or religion in the workplace, but let's not play games here. You can clearly see that I'm black. What you can't clearly see, or may not look to notice, is that I'm hurting.

Below are a some resources on how to talk about gun violence at work and how to be an ally for your black co-workers. i hope you arm yourselves with the knowledge to make a difference in your community.