Understand. Love. Act.

I want everyone to participate in this brief exercise with me. I want you to read these names out loud.

Ahmaud Arbery.

Breonna Taylor.

George Floyd.

Now I want you to do it again.

Ahmaud, Breonna, and George are more than names on a page, more than ink on a cardboard sign at a protest or words in a hashtag. They are names of human beings. They were brothers. Daughters. Cousins. Friends. Unfortunately, like many others before them, they lost their lives because of the color of their skin.

I want to share my experiences from this past week. But first, I want you all to understand my perspective and point of view. I am a white, straight male, who grew up in an affluent suburb just north of the city of Milwaukee. I am engrossed in privilege and have, for my entire life, benefited from the systems that are in place throughout this country. I have never feared for my life while on a run, while sitting at home, or after being pulled over by police. Nor have I ever feared for the lives of my family because of the color of their skin. I know I will never understand what too many have experienced in this country.

I am, however, actively working to understand and initiate change. Realizing my privilege is one thing, but more is required. I am educating myself on systemic racism, having difficult conversations to gain perspective, and practicing thoughtful, intentful listening. If we all do the same, we can bring about change through informed voting, empathic donations, and - perhaps most powerfully - by word of mouth...by spreading awareness of what we have learned to help others see the need for a systemic change to the perpetual cycles of oppression.

Now, back to my experiences...

The last couple of weeks have been extremely heavy for me. To see my friends experiencing this fear fucking sucks - and the fact that they've felt these emotions over their entire lives certainly amplifies the sentiment. I knew I needed to do something. I knew I had to become engaged with the city of Milwaukee - my home. During the week of May 24, I saw on social media that a protest was scheduled for Saturday. I instantly knew. That was exactly where I needed to be. Where God wanted me to be. Saturday came and I packed up my backpack, filled up my water bottle, and departed for Veterans Park - the protest's starting point. Us passionate, fed up souls then proceeded to weave throughout downtown Milwaukee, past iconic buildings and locations: Town Hall, The Third Ward, The Milwaukee County Courthouse, and The Milwaukee County Police Station (District 1), to name a few.

Being part of this movement was one of the most, if not the most, powerful thing I have ever experienced. Up until that time, I have never heard Ahmaud, Breonna, or George's name called out with such agony. Hearing that was enough to move most people to tears - myself included. As chants permeated the crowd...“Say their name...Breonna Taylor”, I found myself choking up, barely getting out the name “Breonna Taylor” because it was said with such passion, pain, and suffering. It truly gave me a different perspective on what our brothers and sisters were so fucking exhausted of doing. Protesting. Getting a name and a hashtag to trend on social media. Shedding light on corruption, on racism, on systemic racism, the list goes on. They can't breath. And neither should any of us until we can bring about change.

This protest, similar to the one I would participate in the next day, was peaceful. Hundreds of people, moving and speaking with conviction, taking a stand and making a difference. It was a powerful experience to walk with my brothers and sisters and proclaim that BLACK LIVES MATTER! But my greatest takeaway might not be what most would expect…

On Saturday, as mentioned, we weaved in and out of downtown Milwaukee, taking stops every so often at those iconic venues and ensuring that our voices were heard. After a couple of hours, as we were nearing Milwaukee's Central Library, I veered off to head back home. After a few blocks, now away from the crowd, I removed my mask and plopped in my headphones. I immediately stopped dead in my tracks. What I was doing was the fucking definition of white privilege. I possess the unearned luxury of turning off the switch when I am tired, when I need a break, whenever I want. Let that sink in for a minute.

While millions of Americans are fighting for their lives, for their families’ lives, I have so much privilege that when I wanted to, I removed myself from the fight and went home. It was too easy. I was overcome with immediate shame. My walk back to my apartment on the north side of Milwaukee was a lonely one.

When I returned home, I then had the opportunity to reflect on the events that transpired earlier that afternoon. Something happened that I hope I never forget for as long as I live...I went to the bathroom to wash my hands and immediately began to sob. God’s people. My people. Your people. Our people. They have been suffering for too long. Their pain and their hurt was so tangible for me after that experience. Truth be told, shame on me for not realizing this before, but after I heard a black mother cry out into the air, “SAY THEIR NAME...GEORGE FLOYD” with such pain, it hurt me. It made my heart heavy. As it should have! I have her voice tattooed in my brain and for that I'm grateful.

I want to be vocal. I want to use the Helium platform, my personal social media accounts, and more importantly, my actual voice and tangible actions to support the black community. The suffering needs to end. Enough is enough.

While I have had the opportunity to take classes, watch documentaries, and have discussions - with members of both the white and black communities - centered around implicit bias and systemic racism in this country, it clearly wasn't enough. The purpose of this blog post is not to share my story but to advocate for a call to action. I urge you to act alongside me.

I will be continuing to learn more about the role I play in perpetuating these cycles of oppression and how I can best help bring about systemic change. I will read books, talk openly, and show unconditional love. We must guarantee equity and justice for all. This starts and ends with all of us. It's not the responsibility of anyone or anything else.

I will be documenting my actions as follow-ups to this blog post in the comments below. I encourage you to learn, start open, honest dialogue with people, and listen without judgement and to understand. I want to engage with you, my Helium Family, as well! Let me know what actions you're taking, what books you're reading, what conversations you're having, what organizations you're supporting - either through volunteer work or donations, and any other ways you're bringing about change. Let's chat in the comments below or feel free to email me directly at jacob@heliumbooks.com.

Writing this post was not without tears, nor did it come without a heavy heart. Enough is enough. Black lives matter. With my newly tattooed brain, I will help drive change. But, I need your help. We all do.

Join us.

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