I CAN’T BREATHE! said the voice inside me as the smell of smoke, pepper spray and the sound of helicopters waffled through my backyard. It has been 7 years since I chose to make Baltimore, Maryland my home and as I watched my community struggle yet again with how to make sense out of the senseless murder of another young African American man, it was very clear that my life’s work or rather ‘my calling’, is as relevant now as it was when I first began my career.
For nearly two decades, my work has been squarely focused on generating relevant knowledge to the African American experience of surviving the homicide of a loved one for the purpose of developing a program of research that can inform the development of community informed and community based interventions. I have personally struggled with and been challenged by those entities who refuse or can’t quite seem to ascertain the insidious nature of racism that feeds the underbelly of systems in which we all rely.
Education, employment, housing, safety, medical and mental health resources are vital mechanisms to one’s ability to breathe freely-without restraint; yet the provision and accessibility of such systems for survival and sustenance are not equitably distributed to people of color in the United States; thus making the pollution in the air impalpable and breathing damn near impossible. To that end, I have come to realize that while we tote our formidable beliefs in a just and non-violent society here in the States, we have continuously sanctioned a diabolical plan of injustice whose outcomes have resulted in the perfect murder.
Perhaps now the day has come, where we are beginning to move beyond the notion that urban environments are a menagerie- only to be viewed at the convenience of those whose designs are on personal prosperity- and we are now beginning to acknowledge, unpack, and collectively engage in long term systemic change that enables us all, to breathe freely.
For those of you currently immersed in the struggle to give voice to the homicide violence and victimization of marginalized and disenfranchised populations of color and to those of you newly joining us, I invite you to return to this platform so that we can continue to explore the ways in which we can shape research, policy and practice that can lead to systemic change.
Our community has spoken. In response, I strongly suggest we choose our words and actions carefully.
Tanya L. Sharpe,