The Longest Four Minutes of My Life

February 1, 2015 @ 07:00 am by Jacqui Lewis

Right after the Rodney King violence in LA, I was in graduate school and had cut my hair in a short afro to make it easy to care for. I lived on the Jersey Shore and almost every day driving to Princeton, a police car—at least one—would follow me, ease up on me, check my plates, and sometimes pull me over, the shock registering on their face when I was a woman.

Oh, how we need a movement for racial justice. And we now stand on the shoulders of Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Diane Nash and so many more. I am a child of the Civil Rights Movement; we have done this before. There are Selma moments all over the nation. People working together to cross the Bridge to racial reconciliation. We will not rest until Congress helps put an end to racial profiling, until there is a Congressional hearing on the criminalization of communities of color, and until we demilitarize the police.

On Wednesday, January 21, an interreligious bunch of us got on a bus to DC at 5:30 am to assert how much Black lives matter, Black women’s lives matter, and all lives are sacred. Here is Jonathan Lucas’s testimony about our experience. —Jacqui Lewis

The longest four minutes of my life started yesterday at 12:30 pm, with my death, on the floor of a packed Capitol Hill cafeteria.

Who knew that it would take several days and lots of folks to prepare for a four minute and 30 second statement? The very idea that I would gather up the courage, to get up off of my ass, to do something like this is in itself a miracle. It really began with a conference call at 8:00 pm on Monday, when the moderator announced that we were going to stage a very dramatic "Die-In" on Wednesday during lunchtime in our nation’s capital. I immediately got a sinking feeling in my gut... followed by a vision of me posing for a less than flattering mug shot. After talking to another Middle member who was also on the call, I was able to collect myself enough to re-affirm that this was something that I had to do.

There’s usually a feeling of safety in numbers. However, being joined by 30–40 new brothers and sisters made me feel less alone and only slightly safer. After the secret signal, I took my sign and fell to the floor, where I began to die. To avoid eye contact with the police and the surprised employees, I closed my eyes. Soon, I became aware of the presence of photographers, security, and bystanders. My mind began to wander as I listened to the people around me. This is the point in time where it started to become personal. There were those who were clearly angry that I had disrupted their lunch and those who felt I was unfairly and inappropriately forcing my personal agenda on them. I felt as if there were many more who cheered me on. I peeked as the capital police entered the room, in numbers which seemed disproportionate to our size, I grabbed the hand of my sister, who lay next to me. I closed my eyes again and asked God for strength and guidance.

For the first time in a very long time, I felt alive with purpose. I could feel the presence of God in my newly-acquainted brothers and sisters. It felt like I belonged and that was contributing to this miracle in the making. Then, I started to panic as I became aware of my breathing... I had been holding my breath almost the entire time. It was as if I couldn’t risk exhaling, like this was going to be my very last breath before dying. And I wanted to hold on to it for as long as possible. I then became aware of the hand of my sister on the back of my neck, the head of my new brother resting on my leg and my foot touching someone else’s foot... we were all one and in mutual support of each other. The presence of God filled my heart telling me to do the thing that I feared the most. The voice was telling me to let go of my fear. I said to God (or maybe to myself) I’m afraid to give up my fear—it’s been with me for so long and if I release it, I won’t have anything to replace it. Fear, for a variety of reasons, has been ever-present through most of my life.

Flashbacks to several personal encounters with the police flooded my mind. From recent police stops, because I drive a nice car; being chased as a child for riding my bike in Cicero (Illinois), because I didn’t belong there; being cussed out for insisting that an officer take a report when I was hit by a taxi; and for receiving preferential treatment during a bike incident, just because the other party only spoke Spanish. Until this moment I had forgotten how fear and anger had sustained me in complacency, protected me with invisibility and made be content with passivity.

Like most of my personal experiences with God telling me to do something, I resisted. The more I resisted, the louder the message became. If you don’t do it now, you never will. I then surrendered to the unrelenting encouragement of my God... and I did it. I exhaled. And in doing so I released years of accumulated frustration, anger, and fear.

I opened my eyes again, as the signal "Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around" was given to end the protest. We stood, marched out defiantly with our heads held high singing in unity. Something special had just happened and I was a part of it. I realized that my life was changed, and as we sang I had to hold back the tears. I realized that I needed to go back to some basic principles, forgotten since my 50th birthday. As a human being, an American and a believer in God I have a basic right to put my whole-hearted, fully actualized and creative self into my work, my relationships, and my contributions to society. I ought to be more afraid of myself allowing others to make me feel less than, than fearful of what others might think, say, or do. Yes, as a Black man, my life does matter. I have a personal responsibility to live and act as that if I believe that to be true every day.

Thank you Auburn Seminary, Bend the Arc, and Middle Church for the opportunity to be a part of this amazing miracle.

Jonathan Lucas is a deacon at Middle Collegiate Church

About This Blog

Preparing ethical leaders for a just society. Posts by Jacqui Lewis, Senior Minister.

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