(Rodney A. Cook)
A Message of Compassion & Understanding from our Director of Financial Planning, Rodney Cook
Dear fellow Central Oregonians,
As racial tensions have escalated over the tragic murders of Black Americans such as Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain and George Floyd, I feel the need to open an honest dialogue. I have struggled for a few weeks, at a loss for words about how to address the thoughts and feelings that this turmoil has triggered in me. I’ve asked myself what can I do and what should I do? My intention with this letter is not to divide or polarize people, but, with humility and compassion, to share my perspective and encourage us to connect over our differences.
I tend to take a passive and non-confrontational approach when addressing conflict. Like many of you, I worry that I may say the wrong thing, offend the wrong person or create more tension and divisiveness instead of bringing people together. I am not an expert in assessing racial conflict and discrimination, nor do I have the answers to solving the very complex issue of systemic racism in our country. One thing I do know is that Martin Luther King Jr. was absolutely right when he said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
On May 11 of this year, I woke up to a video clip of Ahmaud Arbery being murdered by a man with a shotgun, while the man’s father stood on the bed of a truck with a pistol. Having assumed that Ahmaud had robbed a construction site, they chased him down and as Amhaud tried to get past them, fired one shot and then another, killing Ahmaud in the street that day. As the details of the story began to unfold, an entire cocktail of emotions started swirling in my mind. Another Black man killed by a white man, and again another incident covered up by those in power. It took nearly two months and a video going viral to bring about the arrests of the men who murdered Ahmaud.
Just a few weeks later, news broke about Breonna Taylor’s and Elijah McClain’s tragic deaths. On May 25, the video of a police officer kneeling for almost nine minutes on the back of George Floyd’s neck as he gasped for air. Floyd’s final words, “I can’t breathe” and calling for his “momma” seemed to finally set the world on fire. As the Black father of a Black son, this has all been profoundly and disturbingly personal.
These deaths and lack of justice have shaken me like nothing ever before. I found myself physically sick and unable to complete daily activities. I would sob multiple times a day in private. I realized that this was no longer about fearing for myself, but for my 15-year-old son. How do I explain to him that he may be treated differently or even killed for the color of his skin? How will I be able to protect him? I pray that he never has to feel the anger and fear that I have over the last couple of months, but the reality is that he already has, and he will in the future. Racial injustice may be less of a factor for some, but that is not a luxury that my family or I have.
As a man who was taught to love his neighbor as you love yourself, I am shocked. As a man who has family and friends in law enforcement, I am concerned. As a citizen of this beautiful city and great nation, I am frustrated. As a Black man in America, with our current racial tensions, I am not okay. As a father of a bi-racial son, I am scared to death.
With my emotions all over the place these past several weeks, I felt compelled to put them on paper. I will use a similar approach as Benjamin Watson’s book, Under Our Skin, which I highly recommend, to express the feelings that have threatened to overwhelm me:
- I am ANGRY — Racial injustices continue to plague people of color. And now individuals are killing my people on camera without any remorse.
- I am in DISBELIEF — How can this still be happening in 2020? Even with video evidence, most police officers and even citizens will not be charged for taking a human’s life.
- I am FRUSTRATED — Racism is embedded in the fabric of our nation. It is so deeply rooted, both systemically and institutionally, that those who benefit from it have a hard time acknowledging that racism does indeed exist.
- I am SAD — I think of my son when I hear that another young Black life was taken from his/her family prematurely.
- I am FEARFUL — In the back of my mind, I know that although my son and I are law-abiding citizens, we could still be looked upon as a “threat” to those who don’t know us. We will always have to make sure to smile, dress appropriately, speak softly and go the extra mile to earn the benefit of the doubt. The divide amongst Americans continues to grow, and as a person of color, I must always look over my shoulder in constant fear.
- I am OFFENDED — Some of the comments about these traumatic experiences on social media and the news have been defamatory and heartless.
- I am EMBARRASSED — The Black Lives Matter protest has been associated with looting, violence and law-breaking, which only validates in the minds of bigoted people that Blacks are dangerous savages. These stereotypes allow those in power to continue to treat us in an inferior manner.
- I am INTROSPECTIVE — I, like the people opposed to my views, pick sides. I immediately see a Black man murdered by a White man before I hear the facts of the case, which makes me just as prejudiced as the people I point fingers at. How can I look at a White person and make assumptions but not want assumptions made about me?
- I am CONCERNED — In my almost 40 years of life, I have become numb and expect things like this to continue to happen. My greatest concern is that my son will inherit the weight of being a minority and all it entails.
As my glass is always three-quarters full, I also have some other emotions:
- I am ENCOURAGED by the outpouring of support I am witnessing from my friends, my community, the nation and the world. I was deeply moved by friends and professionals in our community who personally contacted me to offer support and to ask what they can be doing to help. The global support and near universal courage to step out to peacefully march and protest.
- I am HOPEFUL, because these recent events have changed the very fabric of my being. I will no longer stand idle in times of challenge and controversy. I will stand for what is true and just. I am hopeful because I see changed behavior from people in our community and throughout the country. Empathy, dialog and love have been common themes that I have witnessed in many of my conversations. These events have not only changed me, but I believe it has changed and affected many others. I have witnessed friends and community members feverously reading books, attending peaceful marches and watching historical documentaries on race relations with their children. Practicing what we preach, being an example, educating our youth is the real beginning to change. We cannot be distracted by the groups who tend to highjack these horrific events and use it for their narrative. My hope in being vulnerable with my thoughts and emotions are that it continues the dialog. I hope this piece resonates with others, and they too will find that they have been changed by these events. We cannot miss this opportunity to take action for justice.
- I am STEADFAST in my faith. My faith has been my guiding light through these difficult emotions. I’m certain I wouldn’t have the same outlook and hopefulness without this counsel. I was taught that all men and women are created in God’s image regardless of our skin color. We are all loved by God as a father who loves his children unconditionally. This shall be my guide as I interact with my brothers and sisters of all colors and nations. In the words of the late John Lewis, Civil rights activist, “You are a light. You are the light. Never let anyone — any person or any force — dampen, dim or diminish your light… Release the need to hate, to harbor division and the enticement of revenge. Release all bitterness. Hold only love, only peace in your heart, knowing that the battle of good to overcome evil is already won.”
We must continue to have an open dialog regarding racial reconciliation. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.” My concern is that, as time passes, as we return to our daily routines, these thoughtful discussions on race relations will become an afterthought. Let us act for change now, rather than pushing this issue aside until we are again reminded of this crisis with the tragic loss of another Black life. Let us not take being alive during this time lightly, the world needs each and everyone one of us to take action and not stand Idle. Let’s continue to have these vital conversations.
As a Black man, it was truly amazing to witness the peaceful marches in our small town of Bend, considering Blacks only constitute less than one percent of the population. From my heart, I would like to genuinely thank the community. We must continue to fight for racial equality. This begins by choosing every day to be compassionate toward — and understanding of — others. We must recognize that we are all one race, the human race. We must meet each other where we are. This is not about choosing sides. There are no sides when our fellow human beings, our brothers and sisters, are not being treated equally.
I am optimistic that our nation is beginning to open its eyes. I trust change is on the horizon. I encourage you to reach out to your Black friends, coworkers, community members and begin a dialog. This has affected us all in different ways and sometimes a shoulder to cry upon is more powerful than any words you can offer. Let us begin to celebrate our differences and together we can create the change we long to see.
Rodney A. Cook CFP is the director of financial planning at Rosell Wealth Management in Bend.