On Wednesday, October 2, 2019, I witnessed an act of forgiveness that took my breath away, angered me and brought tears to my eyes all at once.
Eighteen year old, Brandt Jean, asked Judge Tammy Kemp for permission to hug his brother’s murderer. He wanted to hug the woman who up until the moment she pulled the trigger, in the wrong apartment, proudly posted her racist beliefs. Up until that moment she was the law, after that moment she became a small defenseless woman who was afraid for her very existence. Another day, another scared cop and another dead Black body.
Brandt Jean’s genuine need to forgive his brother, Botham’s, killer was an act that is filled with so many shades of grey, one will spend a decade counting them all.
The Art of forgiveness is a discipline worthy of study in any institution of learning and is definitely a subject that needs to be taught in churches everywhere. Brandt Jean showed a depth and width of forgiveness that Black Americans are known for. We forgive our oppressors. We forgive our killers. We walk with olive branches in our purses and pocketbooks at the ready because it’s hardwired into our DNA via our ancestry and the sting of massa’s whip.
The moment he touched his brother’s killer, the pieces of me that have grown weary of the another Black or Brown body show was angry. How many more scared cops must we endure? How many more home grown shooters must we see humanized to avoid saying what the children of the hues already know? We pray, we forgive and now we hug. THAT HUG!
That hug and act of forgiveness took my breath away and drew me back into the recesses of my mind. Back to the night I had to write my own victim impact statement for the sentencing of one of my son’s attackers.
My child lived. My child lived.
The day I wrote my victim statement it felt like it took me hours to get the first word out. I got up before sunrise to pray and couldn’t, truthfully I didn’t want to. I watched the sunrise, listened to the house wake up and everyone go to school and work. I just sat in the window staring off into space.
I never got a chance to write a victim impact statement for my father or my cousin. Too angry and grief stricken during those times.
My son lived, he lived. I was deeply grateful for this. He was here and received justice, a privilege denied to many, denied to Bathom Jean. I spent hours looking for “it”. That moment where forgiveness would kick in and love would come dancing in to replace the rage, hurt and deep longing for another moment with my loved ones long gone. I sat on my bed for most of the day until I realized that the sun had set and my face was stained from my dried tears. When I looked at the time, I had less than an half day to get my statement together.
I decided that I would write from my heart and tell the man who attempted to shorten my child’s life exactly what I thought of him. To my great surprise, sometime during the early morning, I wrote my statement. I didn’t even remember doing so. I read what I had written and it was profound, so much so that to this day I swear my Ori descended and wrote what I could not.
As I watched that young man hug that killer, I understood the why’s and how’s. I understood it completely, even though I didn’t agree, I got it.
Over the decades I have learned that there is an art to forgiveness. To put yourself in a state that allows you to forgive someone who has betrayed you or taken a loved one from you is an act so revolutionary that it defies logic. True forgiveness is not a sign of weakness or being a mental slave. Forgiveness is that unique sonata, jazz riff or one of kind poem that requires you to remember all of the pain and ugliness so that you can transform it into your own elevation. Some people need to use religion, some use creative pursuits or throw themselves into projects/work to help them get to that space of forgiveness because otherwise we would drown in our sorrow and rage.
Here is the victim statement I wrote:
Mr. ****, a little over two years ago you made a decision to participate in a series of events that has forever changed the lives of both your family, our family and yourself. The actions taken on ***** cannot be undone, all we can do is move forward.
The history and levels of violence towards African Americans both external and internal has taken a huge toll on our communities, families and individual psyches. Daily we grapple with the inherited burden that comes from generations of oppression, hopelessness and struggling to get ahead in systems that were not designed for the advancement of men such as yourself.
When you made the choice to act as a societal virus instead of as a man who could correct, you became another part of the generational and societal machine that would seek to keep Black and Brown bodies in a state of dysfunction, fear and disenfranchisement.
It is our hope that one day, you will be a man that helps young African American men and boys make better choices, that you will be a community builder and a leader, instead of a thief, a partner to assault and part of the larger problem that plagues African American communities nationally.
There are no free actions in this life and today you are paying a heavy price for the poor choice that you made.”
There are no winners in this, we hope that whatever your destiny maybe from this point forward, you walk it with integrity and become a community and nation builder.”
I forgave, have forgiven and will forgive again but I won’t be hugging anyone who harms me or mine… I’m not that quite evolved yet.
To the Jean family and all of the many others who grapple with the never ending night of grief, anger and the countless what ifs, may the forgiveness you have extended bless and elevate not only yourself but, your family past, present and future.
Ibae Ibae Ibae