• Dan Robinson

In a History of Violence and Discrimination Against People of Color, We Are at a Watershed Moment


Watershed: “An event or period marking a turning point in a course of action or state of affairs.” (Oxford Dictionary and Dictionary.com)


We find ourselves at a watershed moment. The recent killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks among others bear witness that we must end racism and violence against people of color in the U.S.

We find ourselves at a watershed moment... or do we? We’ve been here before... the killing of Eric Garner and Michael Brown in 2014... or Emmett Till in 1955... or the millions of enslaved persons in the U.S. dating back to the year 1619... or the millions of indigenous people killed as a result of European colonization starting in 1492. We’ve been here before. What makes this moment different?

We find ourselves at a watershed moment, filled with questions. Will we do more than just talk about racism? Will we take actions to dismantle systemic racism and white privilege? Will we put an end to violence against people of color?

Those questions require an answer, most of all, from white people. Many may see these recent killings of Black people as a wake-up call. But people of color have been here, at this place in history, for centuries. I recently saw a picture of a Black protester carrying a sign that read, “George Floyd isn’t a wake-up call. The same alarm has been ringing since 1619. Y’all keep hitting snooze.”

Over the course of the last five centuries, people of color have suffered oppression by the dominant white society, all too often through violence. They have been stripped of their lives, home, land, livelihoods, and foundational human rights. They’ve been denied equality and prevented from fully developing their gifts and strengths as individuals and as communities.

This watershed moment calls for more than just words. It calls for action, which is a humbling thought to a writer and communicator like myself. It is my commitment, however, that the Great Lakes Spirituality Project contributes in meaningful ways to the important work of ending racial violence and discrimination.

The Project is just beginning, but the first few articles on this blog, I believe, indicate how this commitment will be lived out in the future. First, through listening and learning, the Project will amplify the voices of people from a diversity of cultures, heritages, spiritualities, religions, and experiences. So far, I’ve had the honor of talking to and sharing the wisdom of people who are grounded in Indigenous and Christian traditions, as well as a non-traditional, personal spiritual perspective.

Second, the Great Lakes Spirituality Project will share information about and advocate for work that builds environmental justice, grounded in a religious and spiritual perspective that recognizes the dignity and worth of all people. As an example, I recently wrote a post about the lack of access to clean drinking water for communities of color. In an area rich in water resources like the Great Lakes Basin, we can do better. We can make sure all people have access to safe and clean water.

I believe a spirituality of the Great Lakes, at its core, recognizes and works for the inherent dignity and value of all life touched by the water that flows through this Basin. There are moments... watershed moments... when that becomes crystal clear, even to those of us who have had the privilege of taking life for granted. We find ourselves now at a just such a watershed moment.

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