Sitting in my St. Louis home office watching live coverage of protests waging across my city tonight, I am reminded of similar scenes six years ago when the nation and beyond focused on Ferguson, a sister suburb just a few miles away. As I type I can hear sirens raging in the distance, the distinct cacophony of fire, police, and ambulances blending into a far-too-familiar soundtrack of city life in the days of social unrest.
Five years ago I moved here with my small town-raised sons, and our city orientation included not only learning new streets and directions, but also learning a new level of hurt I’d not experienced in my previous homes of Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, Dallas, Chicago, or even Minneapolis. My sons and I had gracious churchmates and coworkers who joined us at our dinner table, told stories of growing up in the area, and shared tales of things we’d never heard before—white flight, the Delmar Divide, or, the greatest mystery of all to my wide-loving ears, “Driving While Black.” Over pasta, baked chicken, salads or desserts, evening after evening our education continued. We sought to understand this environment we’d never previously encountered. I wanted my sons to know a life beyond their own experiences so they could have empathy and understanding for their new neighbors who’d had a life experience so different from their own Kentucky Bluegrass upbringing. Little did I know that empathy and understanding would one day become the hallmark of my daily life and I’d get to help lead an organization based on those very ideals.
For the last eight days, ever since I first read of George Floyd’s life senselessly being stolen from him by a police officer on a Minneapolis street, I have read report after report of communities in crisis both near and far—people and a populace struggling with the need for understanding and coming up short because the truth is simply unfathomable. Through whirlwinds of conflicting conversation I read that black lives matter, blue lives matter, not all cops are bad, not all protestors are violent, and that—dear heavens most of all—that we need understanding. We need empathy. We need to listen.
Listening to understand instead of listening to respond, listening to connect instead of listening to win, listening from a place of service and as an act of caring—Our Community Listens believes this is where the bridge of hope is founded. These are important in personal and professional relationships, and they are important in our cities, our nation, our world moving from a place of racial tension or bias to one of shared humanity. With so much uncivil discourse and social media debate, we strive to equip people with the tools for authenticity, empathy, leadership, care, and service. Do we organizationally have all the answers? No. But we believe within connecting at the point of shared humanity we can find some of them.
Update, June 2, 2020, 5:00 a.m.
Overnight in my city four police offers were shot when peaceful protests morphed into violent demonstrations and looting. My own early morning thoughts go back to a 2019 podcast I listened to last night on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), which talked about how regulation and legislation cannot come close to heart of how people are relating to one another around these issues. In this episode, DEI leaders call for a new way of conflict that allows for the dignity of the other person, saying it is foundational so we can go deeper into healing and having the courageous conversations and bridge the gap of differences.
Our Community Listens knows the importance of being seen and understood and the impact that has on individual and communal psyche. Our hearts go out to the many communities who are hurting this week, and we stand with the individuals aching to have their voices and hearts heard. Let’s listen.
Seeking Understanding Alongside You,
Rebecca Buell, Executive Director
Our Community Listens