I am writing this letter to you after a long, painful week in our nation’s history. We have witnessed together gruesome images captured on video, and we’ve seen the violence that erupted in its wake. We’ve also watched peaceful protests with participants numbering in the thousands who cry for action. The emotions evoked and the soul searching this moment demands will occupy our hearts and minds well into the future.
Social unrest at the level we are witnessing may erupt overnight, but the embers that fuel it have long been simmering in our collective consciousness. Interfaith Prison Ministry for Women (IPMW) recognizes the complexity of this shared moment.
As an organization that strives to embody the values of empowerment, intentionality, caring, dignity, inclusivity, integrity and compassion, we stand with our brothers and sisters who are suffering. We recognize that the insidious nature of racism in our nation fosters beliefs and behaviors that anyone can fall prey to, knowingly or unknowingly. They are systemic and deeply rooted in our foundations.
As I reflect on all that has occurred and still is occurring, I am struck by the resonance of these events with our mission and work here at IPMW. Modern day policing and incarceration in the United States evolved from the aftermath of slavery. These systems rest on a historic and unequal treatment of people of color, particularly those of African descent. Situations such as those endured by George Floyd and countless others contribute to the sad reality that even though the United States of America has less than 5% of the world’s population, we house almost 25% of the world’s prison population.
And, once this cycle of incarceration begins, we make it so hard for people to break free.
Our faith – be it religious, spiritual or moral – requires more of us than this. Each of us holds within our hearts the seeds of bigotry and hatred. And yet, we each also hold the seeds of unbounded love and goodwill. Which do we choose to water and tend on a moment-by-moment basis?
And so, I invite you to ponder these additional questions with me:
When people trigger discomfort in me, how can I examine myself, and then listen to and learn from them?
When people break laws in our society, how can I embrace them?
When people cause harm to me or my family, how can I forgive them?
When people stand for ideologies that threaten my very existence, how do I love them?
When I see others being mistreated, how can I speak up or help?
When I myself am culpable, how can I atone?
Until we are able to move past judging people as guilty simply because of the color of their skin, we will be unable to extend the mercy of humanity toward those who have been judged guilty in a court of law. Both are necessary for a fair and just society. I hope you will join me in connecting with other engaged citizens toward transforming not only our individual hearts and minds, but also our systems and institutions of power. Together we can hold them – and ourselves – accountable for reflecting those values we hold most dear in our own lives for the benefit of the whole.
Sending prayers of peace in honor of those who have given their lives that we may see. Sending prayers of faith to you, your families and communities. Sending prayers of hope for our fractured world.
In gratitude and solidarity,
Jennifer C. Jackson