LETTER: A love letter to Selma and her people
Published 3:39 pm Saturday, July 29, 2017
Anytime I talk to people about my adopted hometown, I always say that Selma needs love. Love is what is going to heal her. Selma has lived and been defined by her very worst day in memorable history. It is hard, and the burden feels heavier than you can imagine. I know because I feel Selma’s pain, and have ever since I moved here 20 years ago, July 4, 1997. I am one of those ridiculously empathic people who can actually feel other people’s pain. I know others feel it too. People have described Selma as having a cloud over her. Someone else told me that it’s as if the entire community is depressed. There is a negativity here that you can cut with a knife, as if nothing will ever work, why try?
Here’s what I have concluded after living with this collective pain. Selma cannot take the shame any longer. She just cannot.
Even though Bloody Sunday changed not only our country but our entire world, it is a day full of shame for her. Here in Selma it is as if one can only be identified with being a beater or being beaten on Bloody Sunday.
Even though the foot soldiers, who took this horrific beating for our entire world, did so knowingly, there is still shame there. The very nature of being beaten is shame-filled. If you are identified as a beater, well forget about it, nothing but shame there.
It is as if Selma, for the last 52 years, has been living Good Friday, every day over and over for 52 years. And people wonder why she has empty buildings with broken windows, or why her schools are failing, or how her poverty seems unsurmountable. How can a community live, prosper, and have hope, when the same community is defined by systemic hate?
When I give tours to people not from Selma, I tell them to shut their eyes and think of the very worst thing they ever did, the thing they want to forget, the thing they want hide away and never tell anyone. Then I tell them to open their eyes and I ask, “Okay, which one of you would like to share with us your worst thing, but know we all will define you by that for the rest of the day?” I let it sit for an uncomfortable second or two and then say, “Just teasing, but now imagine what it is like to be the city of Selma.” I ask them to come and see our town, walk our bridge, have their catharsis, but come to Selma with an open heart and with love as their intent to help heal her. Selma cannot take the shame any longer.
So here’s what I want you to know Selma. All of Selma, meaning everyone who lives here in Selma, I love you, I love you, I love you. Selma, thank you for continuing to hold on to this world changing story. The world is coming to see you and wants to walk your bridge and imagine that day, But Selma, you no longer have to live on that day because that is not who you are.
Listen up. Selma, you are worthy of love and acceptance for who you are. Selma, you are beautiful. Your potential is palpable. The natural world around you is breathtaking. And Selma, your people are so very precious. We are all broken, funny, scared, crazy, salt of the Earth, aka human being just like everyone Else. The only difference is we are human beings living in the shadow of the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
And for anyone reading this not from Selma, come see us. Come spend money with us. I know we do not always make that easy, but we are working on it. Come love on us just as we are because I promise you we will love you back. You don’t have to try and fix us because we won’t let you anyway, just ask anyone who has ever tried. But by coming to visit with the intent of love, I believe that you will heal us. And when Selma is healed, she will change the world again. All of this I truly believe.