Last week, through West Philadelphia, Black men marched mostly in silence.
As they reached Malcolm X Park, one of the organizers of the Juneteenth commemoration, Taj Murdock, turned to his fellow marchers and demanded of them:
“Release that pain, brother!”
A weight, lifted.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the weight of things lately.
The literal weight of a white police officer’s knee fatally pressed into a Black man’s neck. But also the weight of oppression, shouldered alone, suffered in silence, and too often barely survived.
Daily indignities piled on injustices piled on dehumanization, until eventually, something has to give.
Oh, the damage it does to the body and soul.
More likely to be killed by police.
More likely to be locked up.
Less likely to attend quality schools.
Less likely to receive decent health care.
Humanity, denied over and over.
If you pay attention, you can hear the sound of this weight in voices that sometimes crack while trying to conceal disappointment and frustration and righteous rage.
In tears, trapped in throats, or twisting in the pits of stomachs. Shed in private.
In usually stifled screams.
In the daily struggle to breathe in a society still weighed down by centuries of racism, still expecting those most marginalized to carry the baggage and burden.
“It takes a toll,” said Bianca Lazuli, who organized with others a “community scream” scheduled for Wednesday night at Clark Park, meant to offer a needed outlet for people trying to navigate the current uncertainty and injustice.
“Holding this stuff in, trying to keep your composure, it retraumatizes you every single time. It’s too much.”
Caution: The following video contains explicit language.
You can see that in a video of a Black FedEx worker who describes a driver spitting on him and calling him the n-word while he was on the job in rural Lisbon, Ohio.
The Facebook Live video that Brandon Brackins posted about that June incident is six minutes long.
But about a minute in you can hear him break under the weight of what he has endured — on that day and on many other days before — as he shields his tear-streaked face and cries out.
“Why…? Why so much hate? Why so much hate? Why? Why?”
He is distraught and angry and so tired.
In the reckoning for racial justice that followed the police killing of George Floyd, it’s become so common for people to say, “I am tired,” that I worry that those who have never experienced this kind of exhaustion may write off the declaration as rhetoric or hyperbole.
Or worse, as a trendy catchphrase instead of a desperate plea for long-overdue accountability and action.
“What the f— is the point of all of this protest s— if it don’t work?!” Brackins cried out, echoing the fear so many have of the recent uprising.
What if nothing changes?
Imagine carrying this weight, day after day after day?
Here, come share the load.
I think, too, of what it takes to lift this weight, and what it looks like when it does lift, if only for a moment.
Earlier this month, a Philadelphia couple who’d just gotten married emerged from the Logan Hotel and were enveloped by a crowd of protesters on the street.
A celebration of Black love in the midst of a fight for Black lives.
Surrounded by cheering demonstrators holding signs that read “Black Lives Matter” and “Say His Name,” Dr. Kerry-Anne Perkins and Michael Gordon held hands and kissed. And then in a moment I’ve watched over and over, this:
Perkins, her hands still cupped in her husband’s, tips her head back ever so slightly and inhales in such a way I felt my own lungs fill with air.
The symbolism as stunning as the bride.
“I can’t breathe.” Those were the words George Floyd said before dying under the weight of it all.