On a 2017 segment of “On Being with Krista Tippett,” civil rights icon and mentor to many Ruby Sales recounts the moment she learned to look beyond physical devastation and ask a deeper question that, when answered, has the ability to cut to the source of brokenness and pain: Where does it hurt?
It’s odd to me that in the midst of our conversations about how to stop the violent death of black children in St. Louis, this question is rarely asked of those best equipped to answer. Where does it hurt?
When I moved to North St. Louis County from Birmingham, Alabama 31 years ago, the area was markedly different than it is now. Arriving then, as a young married couple with our first child in tow, North County was filled with family restaurants, movie theaters, bowling alleys, skating rinks, local grocery and retail shopping options, and other family-oriented gathering spaces, all designed to foster a caring sense of community.
Over the years such locations for respite and recreation have been replaced by liquor stores, pawn shops, and payday loan locations, just as they have been in the city. Family restaurants have decreased as drive-through fast-food options have increased. Safe recreational options for children are scarce and often non-existent. School systems supported by property taxes create a geographic inequity in educational resources that cannot be ignored. Our communities are suffering and, while we must maintain order, we must also sustain hope.
The cries of our families must be heard as cries to be fully seen and cared for in community. Most parents bring children into this world with hopes and dreams for their futures. There is no difference between the love and aspiration of a white mother in West County and a black mother in North City for their children. The difference is the environment that nurtures those aspirations and the resources that support them.
We must fight for responsible regional gun legislation and we must fight for collective investment in black children beyond heavier policing and crime prevention programs.
Who is asking our children, all of our children, the ones who live in fear and the ones who we have been conditioned to fear, Where does it hurt?
Thích Nhất Hạnh, a Vietnamese Buddhist and peace activist, is quoted as saying: “When another person makes you suffer, it is because they suffer deep within themselves and their suffering is spilling over. They do not need punishment; they need help." The pain of our communities is spilling over and the blood is filling our streets.
On this Saturday, September 12, mother’s from all over our region will once again gather with mothers who never stop organizing, never stop crying, and never stop working to keep our children safe.
The cries of our children, and of mothers who have been organizing and crying out on behalf of our children in our communities for years, compel us to show up in massive numbers and renew our commitment, presence and support until our children’s laughter replaces our lament, freedom to play replaces fear, and our streets are once again safe to dwell in.
The Mother’s March to End Gun Violence will be held from to noon to 2 p.m. Saturday, September 14 starting in Fairgrounds Park corner of Kossuth and Grand. For more information, visit www.MothersMarchSaintLouis.com.
Rev. Traci D. Blackmon is senior pastor, Christ The King UCC in Black Jack, and associate general minister of Justice & Local Church Ministries for the United Church of Christ.