Thrust onto the Public Stage, Being a Force For Good

The tension in our communities is palpable. I’m referring to the tension resulting from shootings, racial tensions and confrontations between citizens and the police. It is a sad state of affairs. It’s a tragedy to see the loss of life, the transformation of people’s lives and erosion of trust .

SybrinaFultonAt this week’s YWCA Inspire luncheon in Portland, Ore., Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother shared her story. Her son, Trayvon died after a violent confrontation in Florida in 2012. Today, Sybrina is a civil rights activist committed to positive change in the face of violence in society. She recalled the transformation from being a regular mother of two bright boys to becoming a voice of positive change by establishing the Trayvon Martin Foundation. Sybrina encouraged the audience to use her story to inspire change. Her loss and grief felt young, deep and tender.

Parents and victims of pain and loss often decide to channel their experience of loss and grief into advocacy. It is HOW the individuals choose to use their experience and WHAT they choose to do that is striking.

The story of Amy Biehl is illustrative of the power of forgiveness. In 1993, Amy was a graduate of Stanford University and an Anti-Apartheid activist in South Africa who was murdered by Cape Town residents. The four men convicted of her murder were released. Biehl’s family supported the release of the men, and according to Wikipedia her father shook their hands, stating: “the most important vehicle of reconciliation is open and honest dialogue … we are here to reconcile a human life which was taken without an opportunity for dialogue. When we are finished with this process we must move forward with linked arms

Listen to the StoryCorps episode with Oshea Israel and he Mary Johnson. One night at a party Oshea got into a fight, which ended when he shot and killed Laramiun Byrd. Today they are close neighbors and friends. Mary Johnson founded From Death to Life, an organization that supports mothers who have lost children to homicide, and encourages forgiveness between families of murderers and victims.

This depth of forgiveness in these stories is unfathomable for some people. I can’t help but wonder whether the depth of forgiveness is a source of hope towards building a more harmonious society. (Of course, this would not be in the absence of institutional changes too).

We’re often reminded that we can’t change people but we can control how we respond to a situation.