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September 2018

Believe Her

Believe Her 2716 1810 Corey Leak

Have you ever had a friend tell you she was pregnant? Did you believe her? Of course you did! You’re not a crazy person. I’ve never asked any of my friends for proof when they’ve told me they were carrying a baby in their bodies. We all have the capacity to take women at their word when it comes to their bodies. After all, it’s her story, her body and her experience. When she tells her story, we should believe her.

Maybe you’ve had something happen to you that you didn’t address right away. Someone says or does something offensive to you out of nowhere. An incident occurs, but it takes a bit for your mind to comprehend that something truly wrong happened. When it sinks in, you question if you really heard what you thought you heard. Was what happened really over the line or that big a deal? If you come forward with an accusation after you’ve walked away and collected your thoughts, maybe it’s too late. Maybe how you remember things happening aren’t actually how they happened. If your accusation is against someone powerful (boss, priest, pastor, president) you’d sure better have your ducks in a row. The onus for being accurate in your detail is on you. So, you probably hold your peace. It’s not worth the hassle. You carry the burden of what happened to you on your own. Perhaps you tell a close friend or a therapist, but that’s it. You’re a victim of physical or emotional trauma, and you’re carrying the weight of your experience while the antagonist in your story is unencumbered. It’s your story, your body and your experience. We should believe you.

Three women have come forward with incidents involving Brett Kavanauh from 40 years ago. They have told the world what happened to them, and are drawing skepticism from the people peering into their experience from the outside. Why did they wait so long? This is just a ploy by “the left” because they hate Trump. What does it matter what Brett did as a teenager? We all did bad stuff as teenagers. Sound familiar?

Every one of the above statements are valid if you view human beings as inherently evil, and if your world view gives you a pessimistic picture of humanity. If you believe 3 women would subject themselves to public shame, rejection, and embarrassment to block a supreme justice nominee or for some sort of personal fame….

DO BETTER! For every woman I’ve ever talked to about this, and there are several, being sexually assaulted is one of the most traumatic things that can happen to a woman. That alone should cause us to pause before jumping to the conclusion that women are lying when they come forward. There are also the statistics.

Based on recent data. One out of every four women have been a victim of some sort of inappropriate sexual behavior from men. Two out of three incidents go unreported, and less than ten percent of the ones that are reported are false claims. The numbers are overwhelmingly in support of us offering compassion to the women who have the courage to come forward and share their stories. Still, we demonize women for the timing or manner in which they come forward.

I’ve witnessed men talk about a woman’s obligation to report what happens to them in a timely fashion as if we have any concept of what it is to be the victims of sexual assault, unless you’re in the 3 percent of American men who are victims. I struggle to express how dangerous and insensitive this way of thinking is. I find myself so frustrated as I write this. Any language that minimizes the traumatic experiences of other human beings based on personal or political biases tears away at our collective humanity. 

My wife and I are raising three daughters, and I pray that the world they will soon adult in will be a safe place for them to be women. That’s only the case if we create an environment where women can come forward on their own terms without our judgment. Every time we shame women for coming forward we are communicating that how we feel about their story is more important than what actually happened to them. That’s not ok.

The idea that as citizens we are innocent until proven guilty is not mutually exclusive to the idea that we should believe women when they tell us their stories. It’s insensitive for us as men and also for women to rush to defend the man’s innocence in cases like this. We can wait for all the facts to unfold before determining the guilt or innocence of an accused man without doubting the validity of a woman’s story. It’s her story, her body and her experience. We don’t get to tell her what to do with any of the three.

Lastly, I would urge any Christian reading this blog to deeply consider how damaging our shaming of women for coming forward can be. I feel I can say with relative certainty that Jesus routinely took the side of women in society. Consider the woman caught in adultery. She was legally guilty of wrong, and politicians used her story to try and gain political high ground. Jesus sided with her. He showed her compassion, and dismissed the men who tried to have her harmed. I wonder how considering how Jesus responded to this woman might affect how we process the stories we here.

Imagine one of these three women are related to you. How would that affect how you view their story?

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3 Questions I Asked Myself After a Violent Threat to My Kid’s School

3 Questions I Asked Myself After a Violent Threat to My Kid’s School 3000 2000 Corey Leak

On Monday I got an email from the principal of my kid’s High-School. She emailed us parents to let us know the school had discovered a “threatening letter”.  They handed the letter over to the police to investigate, and we would see an increased police presence at the school the following day. I had the questions that most parents would. What did the letter say? Should I allow my kids to go to school the next day? Are my kids going to be afraid if I do let them go? I also had one additional question as a black father. Was the letter a racist threat of violence to POC? I contacted school officials, talked to other parents, and got some of these questions answered. My wife was out of town, so I called her. We talked it through and decided they should go to school. The school, through multiple calls and emails assured us that the police found that the letter posed no credible threat. All of this lead to a question I thought I knew the answer to, until now. Is protecting my children my number one responsibility?

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We are raising children in a time when mundane routines like school attendance can be life threatening. For parents raising children of color, racial bullying, inequitable treatment and even racially motivated violence are all additional possibilities once our children are out of our sight. We have to release our babies into the world not knowing what they will encounter. How can I protect my kids when they aren’t in my sight? How can I teach my children about the evil that exists in the world without filling them with fear?

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Last night at dinner we talked about how the day at school went. We were about 90 percent sure going into the day that nothing would happen, but that’s a scary 10 percent left out there. I wanted to know how my kids were processing it. They told me what they were feeling throughout the day. We talked about what they felt, and went over some safety measures they could take in the event of the unspeakable. I felt myself being more afraid then they seemed to be as we talked. I avoid talking about stuff like this for fear that I’ll make my children afraid of the world. I’ve shielded them from the nightly news, feeling like I was protecting them. This time, I leaned right into the scariest of possibilities as I talked to my daughters. The subject was dark. It was scary, and theoretically they should be decades away from having to face it. I began talking to them about dying. As I was talking I wondered: What do I want my children to believe about what happens when we die?

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As a Christian, there are a lot of things I’m supposed to believe about death and specifically the after-life. To be honest, none of those things were what I told my kids when I finally mustered the courage to talk to them about death. I actually found myself talking more about life than I did about death. As I sat at the dinner table with my girls, I realized that telling them to live full lives in service to other people was far more important than anything I could tell them about what happens when they die. I told them that living with purpose, and doing something every day to try and make the world better makes the threat of death not so scary after all. If we are intellectually honest, none of us can say with absolute certainty what happens after we die. But, we can enter that unknown with peace knowing that our lives mattered to others and that we did all we could to leave something good behind in the world. That’s what I hope my kids took away from me finally having the courage to take the world as it is and talk to my children about it.

What things do you find difficult to discuss with your children?

How can you find a way to engage in those conversations anyway?

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#BothamJean – An all Too Familiar Story

#BothamJean – An all Too Familiar Story 1200 800 Corey Leak

We’ve heard this story before. We’ve witnessed the National story of an incident between two people with no eye witnesses that ended in the tragic death of a young black man. The last time we saw this story unfold a murderer was treated like the hero, and the victim was portrayed as the villain.

George Zimmerman was not detained after police arrived and found him standing over the lifeless body of Trayvon Martin whom he had just murdered in cold blood. Trayvon Martin was minding his own business walking through a neighborhood when he was accosted by Zimmerman. We’ve heard the audio recording of Zimmerman being told not to engage Trayvon by the 911 operator he’d called. It seemed like there was no way he would not have to answer for the injustice of shedding Trayvon’s innocent blood, but in the end, Zimmerman was found innocent of any crime. Trayvon’s murder was ruled by a court in Florida as a justifiable homicide under the “stand your ground” act. The moral of the Trayvon story is: Trayvon was in the wrong because he wore a hoodie and looked “suspicious”, and that’s why he was killed. George Zimmerman was the good guy and Trayvon the bad guy.

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Today, five years after the shocking plot twist where Zimmerman was found not guilty, we have a similar story unfolding out of Dallas. Again, there was an incident between two people. There are no eye witnesses to what happened (there are witnesses who claim to have heard parts of the incident), and there is another young black man dead.

Nearly a week ago, Botham Jean was in his apartment minding his own business when he was shot to death by an off duty police officer named Amber Guyger. Apparently Guyger, who lives in the same apartment complex, mistakenly tried to enter Jean’s apartment believing it was hers. She entered his apartment, and shot him dead because she thought he was an intruder in her home.

I’m sure we can all identify with a person mistakenly walking up to the wrong apartment. Mistakes like that are common. Just today I brought home someone else’s egg white bites from Starbucks. There were two mobile orders under Julie, and the barista gave me the other Julie’s food with my Julie’s coffee. I’ve watched people open the passenger side door to the wrong car in the parking lot before. I’ve nearly done the same thing a few times. Mistakes happen. Sadly, so does injustice.

Amber Guyger’s original story was that she tried her key several times to unlock the door of what she thought was her apartment, and it didn’t open. She then dropped the things in her hands and kept trying to get in the door when Botham Jean opened the door. She withdrew her firearm and shot him, believing him to be a burglar. 

Amber Guyger was not taken into custody at the scene of Jean’s murder. She was arrested 3 days after the shooting, and later released on bail. During her time being interviewed by Texas Rangers about the events that lead to Jean’s murder, it seems that she has been coached on how to tell a more compelling story that would help her case.

Today her account of what happened is different than her original. In her most recent version, she is the hero, and Jean is the villain. She went to what she thought was her apartment and found the door ajar. She entered and saw a large shadow in the dark apartment. After giving verbal commands that were ignored, she fired her weapon twice, striking Botham Jean in the abdomen. She then called 911 and turned the lights on. Only then did she realize she was in the wrong apartment. For the record, her story that the door was “ajar” seems hard to believe from people who live in the complex.

Once again, there is a hint of accusation for an innocent black victim in a murder case. She said Jean failed to obey her commands. This plays into the same narrative of almost every incident involving the killing of an unarmed black man. That narrative is that somehow, some way, the black man was responsible for his own death. If he would’ve just: been compliant, stopped resisting, not stiffened his legs... he would still be alive today. It seems as though black blood is never innocent, and white crimes against innocent black victims are too often deemed appropriate.

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Like Trayvon before him, Botham Jean was unarmed and completely innocent of any wrong doing. Jean had a job with a accounting firm, he volunteered his time in the community and lead worship at his church. He was in HIS apartment when he was shot and killed. The insinuation that he failed to act responsibly is an injustice to him and his family. I’m hopeful that this tragedy will end in justice despite the striking similarities to Trayvon Martin’s story that did not and the reports out of Dallas that this story is trending towards Guyger walking away Scott free. Only time will tell, but it’s important that we start to recognize the malicious pattern of demonizing the innocent in these stories. We cannot allow ourselves to let subtle unjust rhetoric go unchecked. When we allow justice to be distorted long enough, we lose sight of what actual justice looks like. 

The blood of innocent black men cannot continue to spill in the streets without repercussion. We are all responsible to resist that injustice. It’s outrageous to think that a man could be killed in his own home and his killer exonerated, but that may be an all too familiar reality as this story continues to develop. What’s more outrageous is that even after such an injustice people will still be burning their nikes and boycotting football because they can’t believe an athlete would have the audacity to kneel in protest. God help us.

What do you believe to be the just outcome of Botham Jean’s story?

Why do you believe that to be a just outcome?

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I’m with Kap, Eric and Nike

I’m with Kap, Eric and Nike 720 480 Corey Leak

Polarization doesn’t sell. I was once told by a pastor of a mega-church that avoiding polarization is one of the ways you grow and maintain a large church. We’ve seen NFL owners collude to keep Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid off NFL teams because anti-racism doesn’t sell. They have done their best to rid the league of the demonstration Colin and Eric started to bring attention to police brutality and racial inequality. It’s standard practice for major brands and organizations to avoid polarizing topics, ideas, or people in order to protect the bottom line. Then there’s Nike.

I’ve always been a fan of Nike’s marketing campaigns. They’re always creative and intriguing to watch. Nike is one of the only brands that drive us to youtube to re-watch their adds. They have consistently promoted unity and allowed athletes to use their platform to share important messages with the world. No message is more important to the world today than equality. This week Nike made Colin Kaepernick the face of the 30th anniversary of the company’s just do it campaign. I applaud Nike and Colin for bringing attention to the sacrifice required for change to happen. I applaud Eric and Colin for not just talking about sacrifice, but making it. In doing so, they join a long line of historic icons.

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Each of these brave trail blazers were criticizedin their time for their demonstrations and words. Only in hind sight do we have the salience to understand how virtuous their cause was. Today we recognize pioneers like Dr. King with a National holiday. We have parades, take off work and remember the man who pushed the gospel of equality in an era that vehemently rejected it and him. Americans almost universally recognize Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks as transcendent heroes even though both were found guilty of breaking the law. Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on the bus and Mandela spent almost 3 decades in prison for his resistance to State sanctioned injustice. They spoke out and demonstrated. People were outraged at the things they said and their demonstrations. Sound familiar?

It should. This is Colin and Eric’s story. They have spoken out and demonstrated. People have been outraged by their actions. They’ve both been ostracized and denied the opportunity to continue promising careers as professional football players because they have had the guts to speak truth to power. They have been audacious enough to demonstrate during the National Anthem. They protest during a time that has upset the sensibilities of racist Nationalist and people who wish they would “find another way to protest” – much like the white men on the bus Rosa refused to get up for. Rarely is social change convenient. It’s uncomfortable and the demonstrations that propel us forward to change are supposed to disturb us. We are suppose to begin to ask ourselves if the society we live in is as just as it can be. When the answer is no, the virtuous response is to act. When we are made aware that we can do better – be better – live better together – we should just do it.   

During the opening statements of Nelson Mandela’s trial, he said: “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” That is what commitment to change sounds like. That is the kind of righteous stance we should be teaching our children to have. My wife and I proudly hold Eric and Colin as role models for our children. Sorry Charles.

Role models are people who inspire us to be our best selves. They are people willing to sacrifice time, money or personal gain for a cause that is bigger than themselves. My wife and I want to raise children who are willing to stand in the courage of their convictions even when it’s unpopular to do so. That is what Nike, Colin and Eric have given us the opportunity to do. We can use their example to teach our children to believe in something even if it means sacrificing everything.

What are you willing to sacrifice everything for?

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