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When words and actions meet: Operation Blue Shield

Operation Blue Shield badge declaring 'I'm all in, 24,7,365' (Credit: Operation Blue Shield)Last month, members of the grassroots movement #BlackLivesMatter disrupted a Bernie Sanders campaign event to the extent that the candidate would not even take the stage. Last week, the movement gained an unexpected meeting with Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton after they threatened to disrupt her event. And word is spreading that the group is planning to disrupt the Minnesota State Fair, a traditional gathering that features politicians, livestock, and the necessary fried food.

What started as a Twitter hashtag, seeking to engender support, has turned into a grass roots organization, seeking to bring lasting change. They are claiming that this is more than a moment, but a movement. In a time when racial tension is palpable in the air, #BlackLivesMatter has deemed the status quo unacceptable and does not appear to be relenting anytime soon.

Drawing their power from the tragedies in Ferguson to Brooklyn, the group has created a suffocating sense that something needs to be done. But this is accompanied by a hesitant fear among the general public of what might be done. The line that separates reacting appropriately and overreacting detrimentally is far smaller than desired and usually exceeded because of desire.

And in turn, some are expressing their hesitations and frustrations with the group and at the group. This weekend, Peggy Hubbard expressed her frustration without censor. This grandmother's video went viral, being shared by upwards of 330,000 people and watched by over 8 million. In the video, she rebukes the group for sticking up for "thugs," believing the movement should spend more time on "black brutality" than "police brutality." Joining Hubbard this week was Republican candidate Ben Carson. He criticized the movement, calling some of their actions "lunacy." He went on to write in an op-ed for USA today that the group is too "focused on the wrong targets, to the detriment of blacks who would like to see real change."

While all parties would agree that change is needed, the parties disagree as to how that change should happen and what it should look like. Sharing a common concern, these groups understand that change requires a certain catalyst and has a certain appearance.  But in today's world, is perception reality or are appearances deceiving?  

Should the likes of Ben Carson trust the volatile tactics of #BlackLivesMatter, disrupting the status quo's appearance? Or should #BlackLivesMatter trust Ben Carson and company in their maintaining of societal equilibrium while they attempt to reform the current system?

Today, we live and move in a world in which we hear that perception is reality. What you see is what you get. You dress for success. You look the part. Just keep it together. We have a multitude of phrases that continue to edify this idea.

But there is another, competing principle that we become acutely aware of as soon as we get into our cars. We look into the side mirror and see that appearances can be deceiving. Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear. We are not to judge a book by its cover. Perception is not reality because there is more going on than what you can see. This is why C. S. Lewis would say "don't judge a man by where he is, because you don't know how far he has come."

So which is it? Is perception reality? Or are appearances deceiving? Well sadly, it appears as though it is both. W.E.B. DuBois found that there is a human tendency to be generous with grace when it concerns ourselves, but stingy when it comes to others. All too often, in our current environment, when it concerns ourselves appearances can be deceiving. But when it comes to others, perception is reality.

But this is all predicated upon the fact that we talk at each other instead to one another. We have a tendency to place people in boxes made up of our pre-conceived notions. We sacrifice unity for the sake of being heard. We sacrifice the chance at change in order to be noticed. 

A writer known as the teacher once said that there is a time to speak and a time to keep silent. There is a time to break down and a time to build up. Could that time be now? Is it possible that we are in time when some need to be silent while others speak? Could that be a time of breaking down pre-conceived notions and together building up a better tomorrow?

On Thursday night, Operation Blue Shield will break down the boxes of pre-conceived notions and host a conversation. This will not be a time of talking at each other, but talking with each other, listening to one another. All this in an effort to understand that appearances can be deceiving. There is much more going on than what meets the eye.

Think about the situation of the police officer. They are not called to celebrations, but to breakdowns. They do not pull people over to tell them job well done. They are mobile customer service representatives. They are literally, every day, leaving their loved ones, not knowing if they are going to come back, and go into the darkest places in order to shine the light of justice and truth. And the reality of the situation right now is that they are viewed by some as the enemy…because of the detrimental actions of a few.

Think about the situation of the minority. While many of our ancestors came over to America because of the prospects of freedom, they were forced over here despite it. There was a time when it was instituted within the laws of the land that they were less than human. And when one document was signed that sought to give them freedom, that was a check that did not clear until 100 years later. This isn't a distant reality, this was a few years ago. And now, viral videos show the horrors of prejudice…because of the detrimental acts of a few.

So on Thursday night at 7:30, I will join the Reverend Dr. Michael Waters as we engage in a conversation to learn from the past and walk together into a brighter future. This event at SMU is open to the public and your attendance would not only be welcomed, but strongly encouraged. We can lament the current situation, or do something about it. I have chosen the latter and I hope you will do the same. As the old Quaker saying goes, "You've chosen to be the last one to do the right; I've a mind to be the first and set the rest an example."

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