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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I have used this blog to explore my thoughts and improve my writing. I spend a lot of time trying to get everything just right. But I am not going to do that this time. One take, one opportunity to put my words down. I hope I do this justice.

I am writing this very late at night, especially for me...two nights a month I meet with six other Planning Commissioners for our county and sort out land use situations. For the most part it is interesting, and useful. I think we are a helpful group, we keep people from having a land fill in their front yard, too many cats in their homes and we keep businesses where they belong, doing what they are supposed to do.

It's not usually exciting, the items come along, and we deal with them with the help of the full time planners for the county. There are lots of rules to follow, and we do our best. Occasionally neighbors get together with torches and pitchforks and cause a big scene...but usually we hear an item, make a decision and vote on

Tonights meeting was really long...but we finally finished and the last order of business was public comment. Very few times has anyone stayed for the whole meeting......whole, long offer anything for public comment. But tonight someone did.

A man came to the podium introduced himself and told a sad story of problems and then redemption. But then he looked at us and said that he had been recently stopped, or pulled over, whatever you want to call it. He panicked and ran. Now all the trouble he had put behind him was with him again. All because he ran. The sorrow in his face was palatable, he was so sorry...but it was done, and now he had no idea where to turn. Our chairman explained we couldn't help, we are land use board. He gave him ideas about who might be able to help him, but explained our limitations.

And then he said the worst thing of all....."No one can help me, no one hears me. I don't have money or influence......" He was simply hopeless. And I was profoundly changed.

The exchange that went on after that was unthinkable. My dear friend and fellow planning commissioner told of the eight times he had been pulled over for no reason. Simply being black...he told the man at the podium how his father had warned him that it would happen in his life and how to react when it did. What? Eight times? Cliff? What? Does this really happen?

Please know I am bright white, I am Nordic white...the extent of the prejudice I have experienced is some bad blond jokes and a few polygamy jokes - I am Mormon...I hate polygamy jokes, but it isn't even worth mentioning in this context. I felt so many different emotions in that few minutes..., acrimony, outrage, incredulous-ness (is that a word?) but I settled on sadness. I was sad that it happened, sad that he was back where he started after doing all he could to change. Sad that he wasn't able to explain to anyone who would listen that he had changed, and even hope they would believe him.

He was stuck. Stuck being black with a record.....and I guess for that there isn't redemption. I guess he doesn't get to change. No matter what he does he is going to be black with a record...someone who can't be trusted, someone who can't move on, someone who is judged and found guilty.....of being black with a record.

I saw him face to face. I saw the pain, and the hopelessness. And I hurt. But he is wrong about not being heard. I heard him, and no matter what he changed me. Staying for that whole, long boring meeting was worth it for a bright white girl to feel some of his pain...and be changed


  1. Thanks for sharing this experience so beautifully. I think that, through you, this man will have touched many more people...and been "heard" by them.

  2. Amen, Sue. Thanks so much Donna for sharing what you learned. It helps us realize how important it is to listen and learn. It also makes us appreciate when people listen to what we have to say. It also helps us realize how important it is to listen to other people...with our hearts.

  3. Donna, this is a beautiful, profound post! If only one person - you - were changed it was part of God's plan. But through this posting, it will effect others, too. Our pastor talked about 2nd and 3rd and 4th chances this past Sunday. Pray this fellow will see that from his experience there, not all is lost...

  4. Thank you, Donna. You are a gifted writer who has the ability to touch peoples' hearts. Well, at least mine. Hugs from Wisconsin.

  5. I would encourage you to send this to your local paper. It is thoughtful, well-written, and gut-wrenching. Maybe some other people will be touched.

  6. Sending this story to your local paper is an excellent idea. I hope you will do it.

  7. Hey, is that my friend The Mom? I hope so.

    This was awesome. I love that you wrote it down. How touching. That makes me so mad! And sad. It makes me think of that song I just posted on my blog tonight by Crystal Bowersox. People Get Ready.

    Thanks for sharing this. And for stopping by my Magic Quilt blog and showing your support. You made my night.

  8. btw, you have a lot of cute followers. ;)

    And your profile pic cracks me up.

  9. Donna -

    I agree that you should be in the paper. I know that doing so would be too much spotlight for you but I would rather read your posts than most of the stuff I do read in our paper.
    Thank you for taking the time to share it.

  10. Donna, I love your blog! Beautiful writing and very thought-provoking. I discovered you through Tessa Santiago's blog--your comment about my comment...(-:
    What a treat to find another wonderful writer/blogger to read!