Why "Black Lives Matter" matters
We are Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, a community of more than 10,000 people – Kentuckians – inspired by a vision, building New Power and a brighter future for all of us. For 35 years, we've been organizing for a just society, a fair economy, a healthy environment, new safe energy and an honest democracy.
We believe Black Lives Matter. We also believe that all lives matter; we've built an organization and a resume of accomplishments based on that principle. Together we act on that belief every day. We are motivated by our aspirational vision statement where we describe ourselves as "working for a day when Kentuckians – and all people – enjoy a better quality of life."
Like much of the country, we are devastated over the violence of the past two weeks. The deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by police shootings followed by the shooting deaths of five policemen in Dallas – Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa – leave us heartsick. Words can't express the sorrow we feel for all the devastated families. We see the fear and anger that ripples out from the violence.
Though we are motivated by the fundamental truth that everyone matters, we know it is often necessary to focus our attention more clearly if we want to generate an intention and commitment to act, if we wish to create change.
As an organization founded in Eastern Kentucky by Eastern Kentuckians, we have made the case for 35 years that Appalachian people and communities have value and deserve respect – that we matter. As an organization with members all across Kentucky, we frequently remind allies and adversaries that rural people matter. Dismissed or disrespected in some national conversations, we sometimes have to declare firmly that Kentuckians matter.
Each of these and similar declarations of our community's value have been necessary. None of them detract from the truth that other lives matter too. None of them have generated a backlash against our members or our organization. And none of these ideas of our particular place in our shared humanity have been publicly rejected. Until last week.
Last Thursday, after the police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota, one of our staff made and displayed a Black Lives Matter poster in a window above our office. It was a personal gesture of solidarity and grief, intended to make the ongoing tragedies of black lives taken in full view, somehow less invisible.
Then, after the shootings in Dallas, the backlash against KFTC over the poster was immediate and intense. The animosity and threat expressed toward us is but a small fraction of that experienced by people of color and others working for racial justice, but the intimidation intended was real and felt. Most of the vitriol is flowing through unaccountable social media, but some of the intimidation is more traditional. All of it is disappointing.
Much of the vocal reaction and one small act of vandalism, sought specifically to use the phrase All Lives Matter to erase the message of Black Lives Matter. That only strengthens our resolve to remember and remind ourselves of the importance of Black Lives Matter.
“Black Lives Matter” matters because it focuses our attention on an urgent, immediate and centuries-old crisis. Violence against black people – state sanctioned or ignored – is so prevalent in our nation and across our history that we seem to have somehow accepted it as inevitable, even as we bear witness to example after example of gut-wrenching, deadly assaults. Perhaps we are numbed by the repetition, but our inaction looks like indifference … or complicity.
We are all witness to this tragedy, even if we try to look away. Each death, regardless of how distant, hits close to home and diminishes us all. And we are all responsible for creating the solutions that can put an end to the violence. But we can't solve the problem if we can't even bring ourselves to acknowledge it exists.
At KFTC, we recognize that we are – all of us – bound together. We believe that we can build a bright future together. Overcoming racism and halting the spiraling cycle of violence is but one of the challenges we all face, but it is a big one. Surely we can find the compassion to recognize – and the commitment to declare – the clear, simple, essential truth that Black Lives Matter. That will be a start.
For more resources and links on this conversation, visit this blog post.