George Floyd will be memorialized today and laid to rest on Monday.
None of us knows when our final day will come, but we can only hope that when it does, it won’t be the result of being killed by an unfounded hate born of an unfounded fear that we are somehow dangerous just by being who we were created to be.
I’ve lived 75 years as an African American. I spent my earliest years in the segregated South. I’ve served as a Marine in Vietnam and as a cop, councilman and deputy mayor in Newark. I’ve been a State Senator for 34 years. I am a son and brother. I am a husband and father. I am a grandfather. I am first and foremost a human being, flawed and imperfect, with my own fears to contend with.
Today, I reflect on all the things that I am, and all the things I’ve seen. I do it in honor of George Floyd, in profound grief for him and thousands of others who have been killed by racism. I come to a full stop to honor George Floyd by putting every ounce of my concentration into how America can, once and for all, finally, put our knees on the neck of racism and smother the fear that fuels it.
What I come to, is that we must – every one of us – sit in silence for a moment and picture our friends. See the faces of those we share laughs and life with. Picture lunchtime at work or school. Think about those we worship with. Consider the faces of people we relate best to in all the parts of our lives – at the gym or the park, on the bus or the elevator.
If everyone in your sphere looks like you, you have discovered the first thing that needs to change. We can’t treat others like ourselves unless we see ourselves in them. And we can’t do that until we know them.
Knowing brings understanding, and understanding brings love.
We must start with invitations for inclusion. In the name of George Floyd and his family, I beg you to reach out to someone today who does not look like you. Walk over to them and start a conversation. Pick up the phone. Take the first step toward expanding your friends group.
Do it again tomorrow. And the next day. And every day.
It is not enough to forward a meme or to like a post, or to feel pity or sympathy for George Floyd and all the others who’ve been murdered. We must live a life of inclusion. We must open our hearts to each other and feel true empathy that results in the kind of tender compassion our nation needs so desperately.
Legislation and policies and programs go a long way toward equality and justice but they can’t take the place of love. Love is what will change us. And it has to start in my heart and yours.
America has the capacity to change. Because it has us.
Senator Ronald Rice of Newark represents the 28th Legislative District.