I'm not here to argue the historical relevance, symbolism, and your personal sense of pride and loyalty to the flag. I'm not here to argue your rights under the First Amendment. I support our individual rights to freedom of speech and expression. I get it. You have the right to display that flag. I promise you, I'm not here to argue that. My purpose here today is rather three-fold. Please bear with me.
1.) I want to let you know that I value you as a citizen of this town, a neighbor, a Berean. Our kids probably go to school together. You have probably extended a kind act towards me at some point during the last two decades - perhaps wished me a blessed day when I was out jogging, or let me in front of you at the grocery store line? I hope I've done the same for you.
2.) I want to challenge you to join me in asking this question of yourself: Is it more important for me to be compassionate or to be right? I used the word "join" with great intention, because this is an ongoing personal struggle for me, one that I've most recently re-committed myself to. I promise to always ask myself this question when our paths cross and when we disagree. I promise to listen to your side, reserve judgement, and see you first as a human being with inherent goodness.
3.) I want to share with you how real people who live in our town feel when they see you. I'm certain that you are not aware of the real-life impact the display of the flag has on your neighbors, your children's teachers, your high school classmates. I wanted you to know because I believe that you would never want to inflict pain and fear on anyone, regardless of your pride, regardless of your true intentions, and not even in the name of being "right".
Yesterday, my friend made the decision to drive right by the Speedway although she needed gas - because you were parked there. Her four African-American sons were in the car with her.
This week an African-American staff member at one of our local schools happened to walk by your teen children who had confederate flags draped around their shoulders. Can you imagine what may have been going through her mind?
When you and your friends were parked in Walgreen's parking lot revving up your engines and honking your horns at passerbys, an elderly African-American woman decided that maybe she could go one day without picking up her prescriptions.
An African-American mother discreetly put her cell phone in her hand "just in case" when exiting her car with her young children. She needed groceries and had to walk right by you and your friends in Walmart's parking lot.
An African-American man was called racial slurs when someone driving around with the flag passed him on the street. This has happened many, many times to many, many others over the last 20 years. While your intentions may be to express pride and not hate, others - so many others - are using that very same symbol to inflict hate.
I know in my heart that it can't be your intention to make your neighbors feel threatened and intimidated in their own hometowns, to force parents to have gut-wrenching conversations with their children at a very young age, to make anyone feel like they are not welcome, safe, and included in our community. Because while our town is big enough for us to disagree and to express our beliefs, it's too small for us to forget that we are an interconnected community made up of real people with real feelings.
Still Striving to Love My Neighbors - All of Them,
20 Year Berea Resident