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Out of this pain can come purpose and power

Out of this pain can come purpose and power

More than 250 years ago, one of my ancestors kept a journal.

Augustus was a slave in southern Maryland, and he filled his journal with letters and words as he learned to read and write.

But eventually, his slavemaster became angry when he learned that Augustus was educating himself. He tossed the journal into a fire. Fortunately, someone rescued the journal before it was completely destroyed. Over the generations, the remains of the journal was passed through my family, and I keep a single page of Augustus’ writing with me today.

That page reminds me of the pain he endured and the power that he passed along. I need it right now, and I know a lot of you do, too. Even when they took Augustus’ journals and his freedom, they couldn’t take his education. It was part of his identity.

His experiences resonate for me in the present. Just this week, I was trying to find a bicycle for my son, who is feeling cooped up during the pandemic like everyone else. I’d finally located a store that had one, and I excitedly showed up to buy it. After I purchased it and walked toward the exit of the store with relief, my excitement quickly deflated. A store worker stopped me, asking me to remove my mask, show identification and produce a receipt.

I knew I couldn’t show disdain or disappointment, though I was boiling on the inside, so with all the strength I could muster, I tried to compose myself to comply. The worker could not see much of my face because of my mask, but he could see my black skin. That was enough for him not to trust me. After I showed him the receipt, I pulled myself together and left the store to show my son his new bike as he waited in my car, as my mask hid my emotions.

I wasn’t physically harmed, but the pain ran deeper. Another nick to an open wound, that in the course of days like these, seems to not have a chance to heal. When your identity is challenged, it hurts. And small moments like my experience buying a bike build on and reflect the institutional racism people of color face every day. I drove home with a mind full of questions and worry. What if that was my son? Why did the kid who didn’t look like him get to ride his scooter out with such free joy, while I walked my bike out with scrutiny?

And a bike is nothing compared to a loss of life. But we shouldn’t have to get that far still to see change.

It’s often said that things don’t change overnight. But how many nights are we going to wait? Thousands of nights have passed since Augustus’ last journal entry and mine. I would love for a different story to be written.

Here’s what I would ask you to do now. Reach out and diversify the network of people you talk to. None of us should have the news be our only exposure to difference. Who do you seek other perspectives from?

Be authentically curious. Ask questions because you want to know the answer, so you can get the information you need to be more aware of your surroundings. Once you’ve learned more, find some kind of bridge you can build. It might not be easy. Sometimes creeks don’t need bridges, and you need to find a lot of stepping stones to get across. But that’s the kind of work we need to be doing.

As health care providers, we ask a lot of questions to understand what kind of care people need, whether there’s a pandemic or not. At this moment, we need to understand the symptoms that are causing the pain.

We can’t look at the killing of George Floyd and the resulting demonstrations in isolation. These single stories draw us in like a movie trailer, letting us know what the bigger picture is all about. But we need to watch the full movie to, in this case, get a better understanding of how racism touches so many parts of our lives.

All of us have to support each other in these difficult times, as we find the courage and the fortitude to keep working to make a difference, even when we need a break.

Now, we are like my ancestor’s journal page. We’ve been tossed into the fire to be tested once again, and it takes courage to reach into the fire — before we’re destroyed. We must endure for the good of the next generation.

We must be that lasting reminder for our friends, families and children that we have a shared responsibility to ensure purpose and power can come out of this pain.

Erickajoy Daniels is Advocate Aurora Health’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer.

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  1. Excellent article!

  2. Lisa Parro

    Thank you for sharing your experience. And thank you so much for the work you do every day for our organization. There is power in our stories — in sharing them, in really listening and in taking action.

  3. Laurie Bystrek June 3, 2020 at 9:15 am · Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience.

  4. Patrick M. Robinson June 3, 2020 at 9:46 am · Reply

    Thank you for sharing this much needed information.

  5. What beautifully written article! Thank you!

  6. Thank you for sharing your experience and for your honesty.

  7. Sonja Williams June 3, 2020 at 12:38 pm · Reply

    Thanks for sharing your story. Hopefully, it will help to continue the much needed dialog in order to change policy.

  8. gabriele lakie June 3, 2020 at 12:42 pm · Reply

    Thank you for sharing your heartfelt experience with us. Beautifully written and yet so sad at the same time. Praying for peace…Hugs to you…

  9. D. Cherie Romano June 3, 2020 at 12:47 pm · Reply

    Honest and eloquent. Thank you for sharing your story and insight. Thank you for the work that you endeavor to do in order to create a better, brighter world and place to work. You do not work nor walk alone in this journey.

  10. Beautifully said! Thank you for this article.

  11. Beatriz Mickelson June 3, 2020 at 1:22 pm · Reply

    Beautifully written! Thank you!

  12. Thank you for sharing this personal experience, that I would imagine is replicated many times for many people across our country each day. I really appreciate your call to action for everyone to expose ourselves to those different from us and build bridges.

  13. Claudelle McCreary June 3, 2020 at 2:20 pm · Reply

    Thank you for sharing this much needed article. I pray for peace and understanding.

  14. Thank you for sharing this experience. We as people need to listen and come together as one.

  15. I am sorry the joy of giving your son a new bicycle was marred by this experience. I thank you for sharing and seeking to enlighten all of us.

  16. Susan Mingesz June 3, 2020 at 2:59 pm · Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing your pain. May we all resolve to take action. We are all needed to create the solution.

  17. Thank you for eloquently articulating the symptoms of pain, and giving next steps to build bridges with others that do not look like us. I am grateful that this organization has leaders like you who are not afraid to engaged in the social issues of our time. As an African American caregiver of this organization it means a lot.

  18. Beautifully written! Thank you for sharing! You are appreciated!

  19. Sarah Steinle June 3, 2020 at 3:30 pm · Reply

    Thank you for helping us see next steps to building bridges. Too often, as the chants quiet and the marchers go home, we are left with
    the question “what can I do to help foster change?” Thank you for leading the way.

  20. Thank you for sharing. I am so sorry for the way you were treated in that store, and I do recognize that we still have a systemic problem. I am also amazed and moved by the fortitude and resilience that resonate through the message of this article. May we all be called to action to see a better tomorrow for this country!

  21. Beautifully written and inspirational.

  22. I have always considered myself to be an inclusive leader who embraces diversity. It was not until this most recent civil unrest that “it” hit me and I realized there is work to be done. We can do better. This article confirms the work that must be done.
    I do know articles like this will only help drive us to increased understanding. I think we need to start having these difficult conversations with each other. Make sure your fellow co workers are ok! Thank you for sharing!

  23. Thank you for sharing your personal story. God Bless You.

  24. Chiara Caruthers June 4, 2020 at 9:03 am · Reply

    Very well written and very encouraging. Thank you for this awesome article! We all need to read this!

  25. Pilar McKinney June 4, 2020 at 9:23 am · Reply

    Thank you for sharing this all to familiar experience! I reflect on a meditation, from my morning a few days ago, based on a quote from Myles Monroe, “Dreams without work accomplish nothing.” Many dreams now lie ahead of us all because of this civil injustice and turning of times that is stirring many emotions. May our passions stir our dreams to move forward in accomplished ways that utilize our individual gifts and help us collectively turn this tide to make the waves that truly meet the needs of “OUR” people; in and outside of this hurting nation! Peace and Love

  26. This is beautiful. This article has given me a lot to consider in my own life. I realize that I have gotten too comfortable. I was born in the mid 50’s and grew up during the Civil Rights Movement, and living to see how far we have come. But with this particular civil unrest and other incidents, I am actually seeing the work never stops. One can not become too comfortable no matter how old you are. Thank you for this article.

  27. Thank you for a painful, yet beautifully written article. We still have more work to do.

  28. I appreciate your story amd want to amplify the change for racial justice you call out. It is tough being racialy profiled with the child or youth you care for observing it right next to you. It is like saying your. dignity does not matter in that situation.

  29. Thank you for sharing this with our organization.

  30. When people are hurting, keeping quiet only make it worse. Thank you for sharing your story and I applaud Advocate for posting.

  31. Tayler Keefer June 4, 2020 at 3:13 pm · Reply

    Thank you so much for your words. This is beautifully written (brought me to tears!) and I’m sure will resonate with all members of our organization as they either know the struggle black people face because they live it, or those who are looking to seek and know more about that struggle so that they can stand as an ally. That is what we need to do as an organization and a country more than ever. I am trying to learn and do everything as I can as a white person to be an anti-racist and bring change, and want all of my black colleagues and friends to know I support you, I support you, I support you!
    Thank you for your leadership!

  32. I loved your article. Not only the way it was written, but also the wisdoms that it spoke.
    I am familiar with the experience. I have been stopped a number of times leaving a store – having them ask for a receipt. I did not have on a mask. I am not black. My children and I stopped and produced the receipt. I did not feel insulted or angry. Irritated and bothered, yes. Thinking to myself “Again?”
    I believe that at times we carry within ourselves feelings that create our emotional responses and physical reactions.
    World events bring these emotions closer to the surface. If we learn to hold on to the hands of our friends – we can cross that creek you spoke of, and perhaps see things in another light.

  33. Thank you for the amazing work you do for our organization. So very important that we all become more open to other’s experiences, stories, and histories as individuals and as communities or ethnicities. Perspective, viewing the same thing from differing starting points, informs each of our reactions to the turmoil across our nation and the globe. May our hearts be filled with empathy and our minds with inspiration to be part of the change.

  34. Well done. As a team member with a blended multi-racial family, I appreciate this. I am araying everyday for progress and peace.

  35. What beautiful writing! Thank you for sharing a piece of your family’s history with the world. I would have loved to have met Augustus. *And I’m so sorry for how that store employee treated you the other day. Shame on him/her.

  36. Thanks for sharing, I get irritated too leaving stores with big purchases, hands full, and someone stops me asking for a receipt. (BestBuy, Costco, Sam’s Club, You know what I’m talking about.) A friend works at Wal-Mart they are supposed to check receipts for all large looking purchases. I try to think of the positive and give others the benefit of the doubt. Letting the anger and frustration go has help me live a happier life. This has also helped me forge several multi-cultural relationships.

    • Toni Soward-Gatford June 13, 2020 at 11:41 am · Reply

      Ryan, I was just wondering if you saw the line in which Erickajoy mentioned the kid who rode his scooter out of the store? It’s one thing to have a policy in place that applies to everyone regardless of its inconvenience, it’s another for security measures to be selectively enforced.

  37. Thank you for your vulnerability, Erickajoy. I am committed to change.

  38. Jolene Halvorsen June 15, 2020 at 7:51 am · Reply

    This is a great read – I hope our entire organzation takes the opportunity to read it! I am so incredibly proud to work for AAH that requires and encourages us to embrace diversity and inclusion. We can all learn from one another!

  39. Jolene Halvorsen June 15, 2020 at 7:56 am · Reply

    This is a great read! I am so proud to work for an organzation that requires us to embrace diversity and inclusion.

  40. LuVerda Martin June 17, 2020 at 3:13 pm · Reply

    Outstanding piece. Thank you for this Erickajoy!

  41. This article is very well written, thank you for sharing!

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About the Author

Erickajoy Daniels
Erickajoy Daniels

Erickajoy Daniels is Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer for Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care.