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7 of 7: Never Giving in to the Fear

On New Year’s Day 2019, I got a call from Scottsdale Osborn Hospital Emergency Room.

“Your mother was struck by a vehicle while riding her bike. We’re taking her for an MRI now. Please come ASAP.”

That was the single most frightening moment of my life to date.

However it was not a fear that endured endlessly. By the time I arrived, she was out from her MRI, diagnosed with a mild concussion, was discharged with some decent bumps and bruises and was prescribed REST for her recovery.

She was hellbent to get back on that bike, never giving into the fear.

I can’t say the same...I was still afraid for her.

I was also proud of her, refusing to let fear rob her of an activity that was good for her health, mental wellness and that brought her joy.

After the follow-up with her physician, she was cleared and even encouraged to ride again.

I think she may have gone straight to her neighborhood shop to replace the bike that had been totaled.

And Mom was off! (with some adjustments.)

She opted for different routes. She applies greater caution at the more dangerous intersections.

And she rides with the same fervor and joy as she had on December 31, 2018.

I am not here to be fearless.

I am here to not let fear stop me.

If fear dissolves, then so be it.

Excerpt from So Be It! - JoAnna Rothman, 2014

Several year ago, my ADL anti-bias education colleagues at selected Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, Co-founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, as the next book for our professional development.

The film by the same name is excellent. But the depth and breadth of stories in the book are essential reading. Beyond race, he explores injustice rooted in poverty, gender and the juvenile systems.

The murder of his grandfather during his teen years. His experiences being pulled over in a predominantly white neighborhood. Being an attorney with a Harvard Law degree and subjected to a strip search by a lone white prison guard before being allowed to enter for a meeting with his client.

When black lives continue to be at the mercy of unchecked power, I imagine the idea of a single most frightening moment of their lives is preposterous - insulting even.

I need only to look to this list to recognize that walking through life in my white body brings me multitudes of freedom from concern, that black and brown lives do not have.

How does one recover from that level of fear, pain and anguish?!?!

And yet I think about Bryan Stevenson and how he was and remains hellbent to center his legal career fighting for justice, never giving into the fear.

Even when the odds were stacked against him and his clients (Walter McMillian featured in the film), he forged ahead and mobilized others around him as well.

He refused to let fear rob him of his life's passion, his intrinsic duty to seek justice and to serve others who have been wrongly incarcerated.

After a particularly difficult blow during his years working Walter’s case, Stevenson was met only with gratitude and encouragement from the McMillian family, letting him know they trust him to get back out there. T

Spoiler Alert: He did get back at it, (with some adjustments.)

He dug deep into the law books, worked his way through layers upon layers of appeals processes. He applied greater caution with whom he trusted and was ever more aware of dangerous encounters.

To this day, he fights for justice with awe-inspiring passion and conviction, as he did as that fresh young man out of law school on his way to Alabama.

I consider Bryan Stevenson one of my “celebrity crushes” and hold him in high esteem. But I don’t need to look to social justice celebrities with huge platforms for their work to be inspired. Right here in my own community, I see countless black folks who are dedicated to justice, who never give into fear. And they are in your community too. I hope you will make the time and attention to truly see them. And if you do, you will see people like:

  • My friend, R, who’s college-aged black son is attending protests in his town. Although she knows the risks and her fear is real, she chooses to focus on how proud she is of the man he has become.

  • My friend, J, who risks her position as an organizational leader by speaking truth to her fellow leaders and imploring that they advance their racial justice allyship to best serve the youth of her community.

  • My friend, S, who chose bravery trying to comfort his daughter after she shared she is afraid every time he hugs her goodbye, it could be the last time .

  • Beloved mentor to many (me included), Calvin Terrell who, with his educational racial justice assemblies and critical thinking, accepts invitations to speak in school communities known to have an active white supremacist/terrorists presence.

  • EVERY. SINGLE. BIPOC who shows up to protest and demand change, day after day after day.... hopeful, but never quite sure, if the white allies they deserve will be around when push comes to shove.

  • And so many others.

And so this is where my story comes to a close. As I continue on my anti-racism journey, I am following the lead of these community leaders, of my friends. I am trying to be better… to be worthy of being called “friend” or “ally” or “accomplice” or “co-conspirator." I am committed to becoming that person who never gives into the fear.

Although this series of reflections, cycling metaphors and parallels comes to an end, my work along the path remains... to be continued.

Writer's Note:

When I shared with my mom that I was going to parallel her story with Bryan Stevensons, she was both excited and deferential. "You can't do that! I'm no Bryan Stevenson!" As her daughter, I will neither confirm nor deny her claim. Rather, I will assert that like riding her bike, her resolve to engage in tough conversations and start on her anti-racism journey has shown she won't give in to the fear. I love you, Mom.

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