I See Toby (guest post)


This is a speech written by very dear friend of mine, Mary Louise. It’s a long read but brilliantly written and well worth it. Please take the time to read it in its entirety.

GOOD DAY, EVERYONE. I WANT TO THANK YOU FOR READING THE FOLLOWING MESSAGE. THIS WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN AS A SPEECH, BUT I HAVE PENNED IT INTO A COMPOSITION PIECE. 

FIRST I WANT TO TAKE THIS MOMENT TO SAY I AM SO SORRY FOR THE LOSS THAT THE AFRICAN AMERICAN COMMUNITY HAS SUFFERED. WE ARE GATHERED HERE TODAY, BECAUSE OF A MAN NAMED GEORGE FLOYDWHO WAS MURDERED MAY 25TH 2020 IN MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA. HIS DEATH HAS IGNITED PROTESTS ACROSS THE UNITED STATES. THESE PROTESTS ARE ASKING FOR JUSTICE. THESE PROTESTS ARE ASKING FOR CHANGES. THESE PROTESTS ARE ASKING FOR ALL HUMAN BEINGS TO BE TREATED EQUAL. THESE PROTESTS ARE ASKING TO END RACIAL DIFFERENCES.  THIS IS WHY I AM HERE, BECAUSE I WANT THE SAME THING YOU DO. I WANT AN END TO RACISM.

MY NAME IS MARY LOUISE. MY HOMETOWN IS MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN. I ACTUALLY GREW UP IN WEST ALLIS A LILY WHITE SUBURB OF MILWAUKEE COUNTY. I MENTION LILY WHITE, BECAUSE IN THE SIXTIES AND SEVENTIES WHEN I GREW UP WHITE PEOPLE LIVED IN WEST ALLIS. BLACK PEOPLE LIVED ON THE NORTH SIDE OF MILWAUKEE; BETTER KNOW AS THE INNER CORE. 

WHEN I WAS A SMALL GIRL I DID NOT SEE BLACK PEOPLE WHERE I LIVED. WHEN MY MOTHER’S SISTER CAME TO VISIT WE USUALLY DROVE TO THE NORTH SIDE OF THE CITY. THEY HAD HAD AN AUNT WHO OWNED A BAKERY ON 3RD AND NORTH AVE. THE AUNT HAD PASSED, BUT THEY LIKED TO DRIVE PAST HER OLD VICTORIAN HOME THAT WAS ALSO THE BAKERY. IT WAS THEIR CHILDHOOD MEMORIES THAT TOOK THEM FOR A DRIVE THROUGH THATOLD FAMILIAR NEIGHBORHOOD. I CAN REMEMBER HEARING THEM CHAT ABOUT THE STREET CAR THAT RAN ON NORTH AVENUE, AUNT BELLE’S IMMACULATE HOME AND THE SMELLS COMING FROM THE BAKERY LOCATED TOWARDS THE BACK OF THE HOUSE. I CAN REMEMBER THAT THEY ALSO COMMENTED ON THE CONDITION OF THE OLD NEIGHBORHOOD. THINGS WERE IN NEED OF REPAIR. BROKEN WINDOWS WERE BOARDED UP, PAINT WAS PEELING ON THESE HOMES AND TO ME THEY JUST LOOKED VERY DIFFERENT FROM WEST ALLIS. IT WAS DURING THESE RIDES UP TO THE NORTH SIDE OF MILWAUKEE THAT I WOULD SEE BLACK PEOPLE. I SAW CHILDREN OUT PLAYING, BUT SOMETHING WAS DIFFERENT. I WAS TOO YOUNG TO FULLY UNDERSTAND AT THAT TIME, BUT WHAT I SAW WAS POOR LIVING CONDITIONS AND POVERTY. 

IN 1966 I BEGAN FIRST GRADE AT ST RITACATHOLIC GRADE SCHOOL TWO BLOCKS FROM HOME. I HAD NUNS MY FIRST THREE YEARS IN GRADE SCHOOL. IT WAS IN RELIGION CLASS THAT I WAS FIRST TAUGHT ABOUT THE COLOR OF OUR SKIN. I REMEMBER BEING TOLD GOD CREATED US ALL EQUAL. SOME OF US HAD WHITE SKIN AND SOME OF US BLACK SKIN. SHE TOLD THE CLASS GOD LOVES ALL OF US THE SAME AND HE WANTS US TO LOVE EVERYONE REGARDLESS OF SKIN COLOR. I LEARNED WE ARE ALL GODS CHILDREN. WE ARE ALL EQUAL!

ABOUT THE SAME TIME THAT I WAS LEARING ABOUT RACIAL DIFFERENCES IN GRADE SCHOOL A CATHOLIC PRIEST WAS DOING SOMETHING SIMILAR. IN 1967 FATHER JAMES GROPPI A ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST WAS WORKING AT ST. BONIFACE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN MILWAUKEE’S INNER CORE. THE INNER CORE IS LOCATED ON THE NORTH SIDE OF MILWAUKEE. THE INNER CORE WAS DECAYING. HOMES WERE DILAPITATED. SCHOOLS WERE IN BAD SHAPE. WHITE LANDLORDS WOULD NOT RENT TO BLACK PEOPLE OUTSIDE OF THE INNER CORE. BLACK FAMILES COULD NOT BUY HOMES IN OTHER PARTS OF THE CITY OUTSIDE OF THE INNER CORE, BECAUSE WHITES REFUSED TO SELL TO THEM. MILWAUKEE CITY GOVERNMENT WAS REFUSING TO PAY FOR ROAD REPAIRS IN THE INNER CORE. THE CITY WAS ALSO REFUSING TO REPAIR THE SCHOOLS IN THIS BLACK COMMUNITY. DO YOU ALL SEE THE WHAT I AM SEEING? I SEE A PLACE I DON’T WANT TO LIVE IN. YET AFRICAN AMERICANS HAD NO OTHER OPTION. 

FATHER GROPPI BELIEVED EVERYONE SHOULD BE TREATED FAIRLY. HE DID NOT CARE ABOUT THE COLOR OF SOMEONE’S SKIN. SO WHAT DID FATHER GROPPI DO? HE DECIDED TO PROTEST FOR FAIR HOUSING FOR THE BLACK COMMUNITY AND HE DID. HE LED 200 NIGHTS OF MARCHING. HE MARCHED WITH VEL PHILLIPS AND OTHER CIVIL RIGHTS WORKERS. THEY MARCHED OUT OF THE INNER CITY, ACROSS THE 16TH STREET VIADUCT TO THE SOUTH SIDE OF MILWAUKEE. ONCE THEY CROSSED THE VIADUCT BRIDGE THEY WERE MET BY ANGRY WHITE MEN AND WOMEN. THE WHITES LINED THE STREETS THROWING ROCKS AND BOTTLES WHILE SWEARING AT THE MARCHERS. 

I WAS SEVEN YEARS OLD WHEN RACE RIOTS BROKE OUT IN MILWAUKEE IN 1967. IT WAS SUMMER AND I REMEMBER THAT THERE WAS A CURFEW. WE WERE NOT ALLOWED TO GO OUT TO PLAY AFTER SUPPER.  I MIGHT HAVE ONLY BEEN SEVEN, BUT I REMEMBER SEEING THE NEWS ON TELEVISION SHOWING THE CONFLICTS. WHAT I DID NOT KNOW WAS THAT AT THE END OF THESE CONFLICTS FOUR PEOPLE WOULD BE DEAD. I DID NOT KNOW EACTLY WHAT WAS HAPPENING, BUT I KNEW IT HAD SOMETHING TO DO WITH THE BLACK PEOPLE WHO LIVED ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE CITY. IN 1968, AS A RESULT OF THESE PROTESTS MILWAUKEE PASSED THE VEL PHILLIPS FAIR HOUSING LAW.

IN 1973 WHILE STILL ATTENDING SAINT RITACATHOLIC GRADE SCHOOL THE 8TH GRADE CLASS WAS GIVEN A BOOK TO READ. I WAS NOT MUCH OF A READER, BUT THIS BOOK I READ. THIS BOOK I COULD NOT PUT DOWN. THIS BOOK FILLED ME WITH SADNESS FOR PEOPLE. THIS BOOK MADE ME CRY. THIS BOOK GAVE ME AN UNDERSTANDING OF THE CHALLENGES BLACK PEOPLE FACED IN A WHITE AMERICA. THE NAME OF THAT BOOK WAS “BLACK LIKE ME” WRITTEN BY JOHN GRIFFIN. 

FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE NOT READ THE BOOK “BLACK LIKE ME” … I AM ENCORAGING YOU TO READ IT! 

JOHN GRIFFIN THE AUTHOR OF THIS BOOK WAS DEEPLY COMMITED TO THE CAUSE OF RACIAL JUSTICE IN 1959. AT THIS TIME AFRICAN AMERICANS WERE STILL LIVING UNDER RACIAL SEGREGATION. MR. GRIFFIN WAS FUSTRATED, BECAUSE HE WAS UNABLE TO UNDERSTAND WHAT THE BLACK MAN FACED IN SOCIETY. JOHN GRIFFIN DECIDED TO EXPERIENCE THIS. HE UNDERWENT MEDICAL TREATMENT TO CHANGE THE PIGMENT OF HIS SKIN TEMPORAILY. IT WAS IN NEW ORLEANS HE STEPPED OUT INTO SOCIETY TO BEGIN HIS LIFE AS A BLACK MAN. 

MR. GRIFFIN KNEW HE WOULD FACE PREJUDICE, OPPRESSION AND HARDSHIP, BUT WAS SHOCKED AT THE EXTENT OF IT. IT IS THE CLOSEST A WHITE MAN HAS COME TO EXPERIENCING WHAT A BLACK MAN ENDURES. HE CAME TO UNDERSTAND THE FEAR, THE ANIXIETY AND THE HUMILATION THAT AFRICAN AMERICANS FELT IN 1959. AFRICAN AMERICANS ARE STILL GOING THROUGH THIS TODAY AND IT IS GETTING OLD. 

JANUARY 1977, I WHEN I WAS A JUNIOR IN HIGH SCHOOL A NEW MINISERIES WAS AIRED ON TELEVISION. IT PORTRAYED AN AMERICAN FAMILY … AN AFRICAN AMERICAN FAMILY. IT WAS BASED ON A BOOK AUTHORED BY ALEX HALEY. MY FAMILY IS WATCHING THIS AND THAT MINI SERIES WAS ROOTS. I REMEMBER WATCHING AND FEELING THE HORROR, THE PAIN AND THE SUFFERING. 

THE MINISERIES ROOTS WAS ABOUT A TEENAGE BOY NAMED KUNTA KINTE WHO WAS CAPTURED IN 1767 AND ABDUCTED FROM HIS HOME IN THE GAMBIA, WEST AFRICA. HE WAS SOLD TO A SLAVE TRADER AND PLACED ON A SLAVE SHIP HEADING TO COLONIAL AMERICA. AFTER ARRIVAL IN AMERICA HE WAS AUCTIONED OFF AND PURCHASED BY A PLANTATION OWNER FROM VIRGINIA. HIS OWNER NAMED HIM TOBY. 

NOW KUNTA KINTE REFUSED TO ACCEPT THE NAME TOBY. THEY WHIPPED HIM UNTIL HE ACCEPTED THE NAME TOBY. TOBY WAS DEFIANT AND RAN AWAY SEVERALS TIMES. HE WAS HUNTED DOWN AND CAPTURED LIKE AN ANIMAL. HE WAS WHIPPED UNTIL HIS WELTED BACK BLED. HE STILL RAN AWAY. THE LAST TIME HE RAN AWAY AND WAS CAPTURED THEY CHOPPED OFF HALF OF HIS FOOT SO HE COULD NO LONGER RUN. 

I REMEMBER PRAYING THAT TOBY WOULD NOT BE CAUGHT. I REMEMBER THINKING RUN TOBYRUN. EVERYTIME HE WAS CAUGHT I FEARED THE PAIN THEY WOULD INFLICT UPON HIM. WHEN THEY CHOPPED OFF HALF OF HIS FOOT I WAS HORRIFIED. I COULD NOT UNDERSTAND HOW A HUMAN COULD DO THIS TO ANOTHER HUMAN BEING!

TOBY NEVER GAVE UP HOPE THAT SOMEDAY HE WOULD BE FREE AGAIN. EVEN AFTER HE COULD NO LONGER RUN HE DREAMED THAT HE WOULD SOMEDAY RETURN HOME TO THE GAMBIA. KUNTA KINTE NEVER DID GET TO GO BACK HOME TO AFRICA. HE MARRIED AND HAD A DAUGHTER HE NAMED KIZZY. KIZZY HAD THE SAME SPIRIT HER DAD DID. 

WHEN I GRADUATED FROM HIGH SCHOOL I BEGAN WORKING FOR SAINT LUKES HOSPITAL IN MILWAUKEE AS A NURSES AID. IT WAS HERE I MET HATTIE AND ANNIE. HATTIE ALWAYS SAID, “ANNIE WAS BLACK, I WAS WHITE AND SHE WAS BROWN”. THESE TWO WOMEN WERE MY CO-WORKERS, GOOD FRIENDS, BIG SISTERSAND TWO OF THE BEST PEOPLE I HAVE EVER WORKED WITH. THE CAMARADERIE THAT WE SHARED AT WORK AND FUNCTIONS OUTSIDE OF WORK LEFT YOUR SIDES ACHING FROM LAUGHTER. HATTIE USUALLY INSTIGATED IT TOO! I WORKED WITH HATTIE AND ANNIE FOR ALMOST TEN YEARS BEFORE I RELOCATED UP NORTH. THEY WERE MY FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN FRIENDS. AT THE END OF OUR SHIFTS HATTIE AND ANNIE DROVE HOME OVER THE VIADUCT BRIDGE WHILE I ROAD A BUS WEST ON LINCOLN AVENUE BACK TO WEST ALLIS. I JUST ASSUMED THE THREE OF US ALL LIVED ALIKE. 

WHILE I WAS WORKING WITH HATTIE AND ANNIE A YOUNG BLACK MAN DIED IN POLICE CUSTODAY. ON JULY 9TH, 1981 ERNEST LACY TOOK A WALK TO BUY A SNACK. MEANWHILE POLICE WERE LOOKING FOR A RAPE SUSPECT. THEY SPOTTED ERNEST LACY WALKING THAT NIGHT. MR. LACY WAS BLACK. HE WAS WRESTLED TO THE GROUND BY THREE WHITE POLICE OFFICERS AND PLACED ON HOLD IN A POLICE VAN. LATER THAT NIGHT THEY WOULD ARREST THE PERSON THEY WERE LOOKING FOR. WHEN THEY OPENED THE POLICE VAN ERNEST LACY WAS DEAD. HE DIED IN POLICE CUSTODY. HE WAS AN INNOCENT MAN. THIS WAS THE FIRST TIME I HEARD OF A BLACK MAN DYING, BECAUSE OF POLICE. LITTLE DID I KNOW I WOULD HEAR THE SAME STORY MANY TIMES OVER THE YEARS? THE LAST TIME I HEARD THIS ALL TOO FAMILIAR STORY WAS MAY 25TH 2020. HIS NAME WAS GEORGE FLOYD WHO WAS MURDERED BY POLICE OVER A $20 BILL.

WHAT COMES TO YOUR MIND WHEN I SAY TOBY? KUNTA KINTE?

WHEN I SAY TOBY  I SEE 401 YEARS OF IMPRISSIONMENT, TORTURE, RAPE, FAMILY SEPARATION AND EXTREME SUFFERINGS. WHEN I THINK OF BLACK AMERICA, I SEE TOBY. WHEN I THINK OF SLAVERY, I SEE TOBY. WHEN I SEE AFRICAN AMERICAN PEOPLE, I SEE TOBY.  

WHEN I HEAR THE WORD RACISM, I SEE TOBY. WHEN I THINK OF RACISM IT LOOKS LIKE A HUGE FESTERING INFECTED WOUND. THISINFECTION HAS SPREAD THROUGHOUT THE UNITED STATES. THIS WOUND HAS LAYERS AND LAYERS AND LAYERS OF BANDAIDS OVER IT. THOSE BANDAIDS ARE DESEGREGATIONS LAWS, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTS AND OTHERS TO BETTER THE LIFE OF AFRICAN AMERICANS.

YET UNDER THOSE BANDAIDS THE WOUND HAS NEVER BEEN CLEANED. THIS WOUND OOZES PUS OUT FROM UNDER THESE BANDAIDS. THIS WOUND IS SO INFECTED IT HURTS ME WHEN I SEE IT. THIS WOUND IS EXTREMELY PAINFUL FOR THE BLACK CITIZENS OF THIS COUNTRY. THIS INFECTION HAS A NAME. IT IS CALLED RACISM.

RACISM IS HATE, IGNORANCE, PREJUDICE AND BIGOTRY. RACISM INFLICTS PAIN, SUFFERING, FEAR, SADNESS AND HUMILATION ON ITSVICTIMS. THIS WOUND HAS BEEN OPEN AND GROWING FOR 401 YEARS AND IT KEEPS GROWING DEEPER. IT KEEPS GETTING MORE PAINFUL. THIS WOUND HAS LED TO THE DEATHS OF INNOCENT PEOPLE LIKE GEORGE FLOYD AND ERNEST LACY. 

IT IS TIME TO CLEAN THIS WOUND. IT IS TIME TO CLEAN UP RACISM. IT IS TIME FOR AFRICAN AMERICANS TO BE ACCEPTED FOR WHO THEY ARE. 

IT IS TIME WHITE PEOPLE LISTEN, HEAR AND UNDERSTAND THE LIFE OF A BLACK INDIVIDUAL. NO MAN OR WOMAN SHOULD BE AFRAID TO BE OUT AFTER DARK. NO MAN OR WOMAN SHOULD BE AFRAID TO WALK IN THEIR OWN NEIGHBORHOOD. AFRICAN AMERICANS ARE AFRAID. THEY ARE AFRAID AND TIRED OF DYING.

A CHILD SHOULD NOT BE RAISED IN FEAR. A CHILD SHOULD NOT GROW UP THINKING “IF I GROW UP” OR “IF I GRADUATE” OR “IF MY DAD WILL BE AT MY WEDDING”. BLACK CHILDREN GROW UP THINKING  IFS. THEY SHOULD GROW UP THINKING  WHEN  “WHEN I GROW UP”. 

TO THE AFRICAN AMERICAN PARENTS AND GRANDPARENTS I UNDERSTAND YOUR FEAR. MY HUSBAND UNDERSTANDS YOUR FEAR. RECENTLY I HAD MY FIRST DISCUSION WITH MY HUSBAND REGARDING OUR GRANDCHILDREN. I EXPLAINED TO JIM THAT THIS COULD HAPPEN TO HIS GRANDSON. MY HUSBAND LOOKED AT ME CONFUSED. I EXPLAINED TO HIM THAT DAVANINT IS A YOUNG BLACK MAN. WHAT HAPPENED TO GEORGE FLOYD COULD HAPPEN TO THE GRANDSON HE LOVES. IT COULD ALSO HAPPEN TO HIM.

ON SATURDAY APRIL 18TH I WAS TOLD BY A PROTESTOR WHO OPPOSED WISCONSINS COVID-19 SAFER AT HOME ORDER THAT I WAS A SELFISH AND SHALLOW PERSON IN A FACEBOOK POST. HE TOLD ME THIS, BECAUSE I TOLD HIM HUMAN LIFE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN MONEY. I WAS NOT IN FAVOR OF REOPENING THE STATE. HE ARGUED THAT 4 PERCENT OF THE POPULATION DYING WAS WORTH SAVING OUR ECONOMY. I DISAGREED AND I WENT TO BED. 

THE NEXT DAY I WAS TAGGED BY HIM IN THE SAME POST. HE WAS STILL AT IT TRYING TO CONVINCE THAT WE NEEDED TO GET OUR ECONOMY GOING AGAIN. HE WANTED ME TO AGREE WITH HIM. HE CONTINUED NAME CALLING AND TOLD ME THAT I WAS THE ONLY PERSON WHO SUPPORTED GOVENOR EVERS AND THE SAFER AT HOME ORDER. I CLICKED THE LAUGH ICON. I DECIDED AT THAT MOMENT THAT I WAS GOING TO PROVE HIM WRONG. I LEFT THE POST AND STARTED A GROUP …

SUNDAY APRIL 19TH AROUND NOON I CREATED A FACEBOOK GROUP NAMED “WE SUPPORT GOV. EVERS AND COVID-19 SAFER AT HOME ORDER. I CREATED THIS, BECAUSE I BELIEVE ALL HUMANS BEINGS HAVE THE RIGHT TO LIVE. THIS GROUP NOT ONLY SUPPORTS OUR GOVERNOR IT HAS ALSO, BECOME A PLACE FOR COVID-19 EDUCATION. 

ON THAT FATEFUL DAY MAY 25TH GEORGE FLOYD WAS DENIED THE RIGHT TO LIVE. HE WAS DENIED … AIR TO BREATHE.

ON MAY 30TH, 2020 I CREATED “WISCONSINITES FOR GEORGE FLOYD”. I STARTED THIS GROUP TO GIVE PEOPLE A PLACE TO DISCUSS THE EVENTS SURROUNDING GEORGE FLOYDS DEATH. THIS GROUP IS BECOMING MUCH MORE. AFRICAN AMERICANS AND WHITES ARE DISCUSSING RACISM. AFRICAN AMERICANS ARE SHARING HISTORY AND EDUCATING WHITE PEOPLE LIKE ME.

COMMUNICATION, SHARING EXPERIENCES AND PROBLEM SOLVING TOGETHER IS THE KEY TO CLEANING UP THIS WOUND AND GETTING RID OF THE INFECTION … RACISM.

IF THIS GRANDMA  CAN FORM A GRASSROOTS ORGANIZATION AT MY KITCHEN TABLE ON A SUNDAY AFTERNOON THEN WHY CAN’T A COLLECTIVE GROUP OF PEOPLE BRING TOGETHER OUR COMMUNITIES AND END OPPRESSION OF its PEOPLE?

WE SUPPORT GOVERNOR EVERS AND A SAFER WISCONSIN DURING COVID-19 PANDEMIC” IS CURRENTLY 21,000 STRONG! THIS GROUP SUPPORTS WISCONSIN’S GOVERNOR EVERS AND IS AN EXCEPETIONAL COVID-19 EDUCATION SITE.

WISCONSINITES FOR GEORGE FLOYD” IS STILL DEVELOPING AND THRIVING. MEMBERS OF THE BOTH THE AFRICAN AMERICAN AND WHITE COMMUNITIES ARE DISCUSSING RACISM. 

REGARDING PROTESTS AND CHANTING:

When they get loud it is loud cries of mourning. This mourning goes much deeper than the death of George Floyd. It is 400 years of pain, suffering, fear and humility! It is the pain of many who have died in slavery. It is the pain of all those who died in police custody.

This is not a celebration. Someday we will celebrate together as friends who have broken the cycle of racism. I won’t be here for that moment in time. I will embrace all you with God’s help when that happens.

THERE IS ONLY ONE RACE AND THAT IS THE HUMAN RACE

I HAVE A POEM TO SHARE. WRITTEN BY, POET HARLAN DIDRICKSON. IT IS CALLED  

HUMAN RACE

AND THE PEOPLE ERUPTED

THEIR HEARTS BLED LAVA

IT POURED FORTH

AND BURNED CITIES

AND HOMES

AND EVEN IN ITS DECIMATION

DOESN’T COMPARE TO 

AGES OF TYRANNY 

AND OPPRESSION

WHAT IT CAN IS

FREE OUR SOULS 

TO UNITE US

AS ONE 

HUMAN RACE