When I went to help clean up in Santa Monica earlier this week, I saw the spirit of community and pure love shine its light. What a difference a day makes. The previous morning, I felt gutted. The protests in the name of justice for George Floyd and other black people oppressed by our corrupt police force had turned ugly. And we all know what happened. Folks who probably cared nothing about the cause used the opportunity to loot and vandalize. It struck me hard because some of the destruction was in my neighborhood, on Melrose Avenue, a shopping district that makes a point to give independent shops (many of them minority owned) priority on this young and vibrant boulevard. To see a beautiful moment derailed was saddening.
That night, Santa Monica would suffer much of the same fate. But when I arrived to the Santa Monica clean up, the feeling was different than the day before. I saw so many young people of all colors and races, and many from other neighborhoods arrive with brooms, brushes, and paint thinner ready to make things whole. What was even more inspiring was the fact most of these young people were peaceful protestors from the day before. They felt just as compelled to clean up the shattered glass on this day as they did to protest our nation’s systemic injustice the day before.
I talked to Latinos, Caucasians, Asian-Americans, and African-Americans about why they were there a day later, and why they felt it was their duty to both protest against racial injustice and protect their community. Those things are not mutually exclusive. That was evident, and inspiring.
But the moment I will hold with me for a long time is the exchange I had with a young black man. He was a peaceful protestor who had been there the day before. And he came the next day to help clean. The sight of the destruction brought him to tears. It pained him that anyone could take away from the momentous cries for justice. He wanted to make sure we all understood that the looters are not the protestors, and this movement must not be tainted by the reckless actions of some. I assured him that I understood, and I hope the rest of us do too. After letting him know I had been recently tested for COVID, I asked if he’d be down for a hug. There was no hesitation on his part. It was a great hug…I needed it as much as he did.
That young man, along with all the other young people who are doing it right – protesting, cleaning, supporting, and loving their fellow humans – are everything that is RIGHT about this moment.