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  • Writer's pictureDan Robinson

Grief and Anger in Buffalo, Anti-Racist Commitment for All

There are moments when ordinary language fails us. When the enormity of the emotions, the anger and rage, the pain and grief, transcend our usual expressions, we need a different way to speak. The racist killings of ten black people, as well as two white people, by a white supremacist at a supermarket in Buffalo, NY this past Saturday created such a moment.

Artists and their words help us express the inexpressible. So, I want to lift up the voice of poet Jillian Hanesworth, the first Poet Laureate of Buffalo. In an interview with National Public Radio, she said that, "We can't let society gaslight us into thinking that there's no racism... As a poet, I see my role as a way to bridge the gap between what we know and what we need. So we know that racism exists. We know white supremacists are real. We know that we have been targeted. Now we need change."

Hanesworth shared this poem on her Facebook page the day of the mass shooting (originally written in October of 2020). Rather than read it here, I encourage you to listen to the poem at the link, because the full power of the words come through with the author reading them.

Lake Michigan (photo by Dan Robinson)

Ending White Supremacy

The peace that so many people feel when they’re near water, whether it’s one of the Great Lakes or a small stream in their neighborhood, contrasts with the violence and horror of that day in Buffalo. The same can be said of the mass shooting at a Taiwanese church the next day in California, or the countless lives lost to acts of white supremacy across our nation’s land and history.

White supremacy is at the root of so much evil in the world; that must be stated unequivocally. Therefore, people like myself who are white, must condemn it, acknowledge and repent from the ways we sometimes contribute to it, and do all we can to end it.

The Lakes as Witness

In that work, a spirituality of the Great Lakes can serve as a witness to the truths that…

  • all of us, no matter who or what we are, were brought into being by the Divine and are needed in this world and this ecosystem;

  • all of us, therefore, deserve love, justice, and respect for our right to live and to flourish;

  • grief and anger over the ways we mistreat the life around us is necessary if we are to confront the reality of the damage we are doing to each other and our shared ecosystems;

  • Those of us who are white need to listen to and respect the voices, lives, and wisdom of Indigenous people, Blacks, and people of color; and

  • hope is only possible and real if we realize it is our responsibility to heal our world and create a better future for all life here in the Great Lakes Basin and beyond.

A Relentless as the Waves

We must continue the work of anti-racism and to heal our connections to the people and life with whom we share the Great Lakes ecosystems. In that effort, the Lakes can be an image and a guide:

May we be as relentless as the waves

Turning boulders to sand

As bright as the sun on water

Bringing to light injustice so that all may see

As sad and dreary as a cloudy and damp day

Grieving over the pain caused by violence and racism

As thunderous as a storm sweeping to shore and churning the deep

Turning upside down the powerful and bringing to the surface new possibilities

As calm and clean as the air after the storm

Showing a new reality in which healing is real and all life can flourish

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