A speech by Akron Minority Council President Bree Chambers

This speech was delivered on June 25 at an Akron Minority Council rally. Bree has shared the text of her speech with us so that we can publish it. Stay tuned for speeches from the AMC’s other leaders, too.

by Bree Chambers

Welcome, Akron! As aforementioned, my name is Bree Chambers and I am President of Akron Minority Council. On behalf of the leadership of the Council, I want first and foremost to thank you for being here this evening. We are overwhelmed by the support that we have been flooded with and are so incredibly proud 

Today is June 25. One month ago was May 25. One month ago today, around this time, things were probably rather uneventful, I don’t very well remember. I had probably spent some time that day reading or trying new lipstick or binge-watching re-runs of my favorite television show. I’m sure I spent much of that day simply being nineteen. 

The following day, I would read about a man named Christian Cooper, who had been attacked in Central Park the day before. Mr. Cooper, a black birdwatcher, had dared to politely ask a white woman nearby to observe park rules by putting her dog on a leash. In an unfathomably manic web of screaming and harassment, this woman decided, smirking, that she was going to call the police. I watched the video footage of this encounter in what can only be described as bafflement as ever-respectful, ever-tactful, ever-better than I could hope to be Mr. Cooper remained calm and firm in the face of what, in this country, is danger. I felt sick as I watched word become weapon, as her mouth twisted, her body contorted and her eye pressed out a tear. I felt paralyzed as she raised the phone to her ear, as the curtain parted, the performance began and as the lie slipped out without a care and with complete intention — I’m going to tell them that there’s an African American man threatening my life

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As enraged and dismayed as I was, I could not help but to thank God that it didn’t go “the other way.” The way we fear. The way we pray it won’t be when our phones alert us to another name trending. The way we grow to anticipate regardless. That man was alive, and this one didn’t go the other way. Within the same hour, I first heard the name George Floyd. And I watched it go the other way.

I watched, with all of you, in crippling shock, in disgust and in outrage. I watched yet another brown life be snuffed out. I watched red blood flow into the street. I watched white bodies form protective barricades as cities went up in flames. I worked as these images worked their way from newspapers to newsfeeds, from meeting notes to music notes. And I watched as, for the first time in my lifetime, this “melting pot,” “when I look at you, I don’t see it” nation had no choice but to see color. 

In the very little free time that I can manage as a full-time university student, I’m a writer. I always have been, I expect I always will be. In recent years, so much of my work has surrounded my attempts to make people see color as I see it. In its rhythm and its blues. As a badge of honor, a mark of strength and a source of pride. I have written countless works about the beauty that I see in what black people have to offer this world. The beauty that I see in my own community, my own church, my own classmates, friends and family. So when I saw the hashtags, the photos, the artwork, the statements from brothers, from friends, from daughters, I mourned not because it could have been, but because it has been.

This is not the result of one bad apple. Even so, one bad apple is one too many. Even so, we have bushels of them. No, this is the result of a culture that does not demand that we check our privilege at the door. This is the result of systems that are ill-equipped to address bias, at best, and working in direct opposition of its dismantling, at worst. If this much of the fruit is rotten, it is time that we examine the health of the tree. Prejudice is not bred overnight. It begins with the ugly truths of the foundations we idolize in this country, with how we internalize these closet skeletons and reflect them in our jobs, in our faith, in our relationships. It begins with the hiring process discrimination and profiling in the corporate American dream. It begins with the redlining and gentrification of the white picket fence. It begins with the Euro-centricity of our prized educational system, and with the school to prison pipeline. It begins with the mass incarceration and brutality of our justice system, and with the voter suppression of our unparalleled democracy.

It begins at home. With jokes and language and symbols, with mascots and branding. It begins with a lack of representation, and with stereotypes. It begins with microaggressions, and unwillingness to listen, to consider, to learn about experiences you will come to understand in no other way. And so I mourned because it has been. It has been me at the butt of the jokes. It has been people I love on the losing side of the game of opportunity. It has been, countless times, somebody’s brother/sister, mother/father, friend with their face in that asphalt, it has been SOMEBODY with their face in that asphalt. We have fought this fight and told these stories for generations, without the consolation prize of happily ever after. So — to those who choose to sit this one out — when you see us in these streets, fighting for our lives, and it inconveniences you, and you don’t understand the fuss, know that it is not about 8 minutes and 46 seconds of video footage. Know that it is about 400 years of what you see, what you don’t see, what you hear, what you don’t hear, what you read, what you don’t read, what some live and what some could only imagine of a nation founded on the necks and backs of people we continue to kneel on to this day. 

The effects of prejudice and racism in this country are a disease in its very lifeblood. What you have witnessed these past several weeks — the art, the protests, the tears, the tributes — are the phoenix rising from the ashes of exhaustion. In the words of Fannie Lou Hamer, we are sick and tired of this nation being sick and tired. For those who no longer breathe, it is time that we use our collective breath to screamthat enough is enough. All lives cannot matter until Black Lives Matter, and to matter is the absolute minimum. When given the chance in a just world, black lives, hopes, futures, dreams, and fears — black views, votes, educations, feelings and businesses — black stories, love, voices and communities much more than matter. They inform. They add joy. They revolutionize. They transform. And as seeds watered with adversity but rooted in resilience, they blossom. 

Over the past few weeks, I have seen unprecedented hatred, bitterness and refusal to even attempt to understand. Most upsetting of all is the claim that our fight, that our vocality, that our anger, that our impatience and that our insistence upon change are unAmerican. But it is not complacency, nor silence, nor perfection, nor patience, nor stagnancy that are the price all Americans pay to exist in this country without fear. Though the truths are far from self-evident, we owe no debt. In fact it is we, as citizens, who are owed life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And if we, as a bc sv, are who we claim to be, to stand up and speak out for our fellow man, to tell our country to be better and to fight to the finish are the most American things that we can do. 

A desire to remain impartial, a blind eye turned and a resignation to silence are violence. There is no such thing as silent support, people you know and love are grieving, they are angry, they are tired and they are dying. Your actions speak louder than your words. So here’s an action for you: stop talking and look. Look at your environments, at your relationships, and at the experiences of those around you. Look at them critically. Look at them honestly. And then move. Whether it is a crawl, a walk or a run, start where you are. Start where only you can. And do not breathe until you have reached the destination, where justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Bree Chambers is the president of Akron Minority Council.