Below is the video of one of us, a human being, who has just experienced a terrible tragedy. She’s Nia Wilson’s grieving sister. She and Nia were passengers on a train in Oakland where they were brutally attacked by a violent criminal late Sunday night.
As a Bay area resident, I’ve ridden BART with my family on a few different occasions, and I can’t imagine the horror of being attacked out of no where by a total stranger. It’s even harder to imagine that altercation resulting in the loss of a loved one. My heart has been heavy over this story since I found out about it Monday afternoon. After reading about the incident, which was initially reported as a hate crime, I processed out loud with my wife, and two of my daughters overheard. My middle daughter has experienced anxiety, and we have been working with her to manage it for a few years now. I knew that she had the potential to fear ever taking public transit again after hearing the news, and in that moment I shared her fear.
As human beings we can usually mitigate our emotional response upon hearing tragic news based on how closely we identify with the circumstances surrounding an event. For me, a black father of three daughters, I quickly identified with this story, and hearing Nia’s sister say that Nia too wrestled with anxiety was almost too much for me to bear. The image of a girl with anxiety taking her last breaths is crushing to me, and it probably is for you too. I was tempted to avoid that part of the story both in real life and in this blog because it’s a painful image to hold. Then I thought: the privilege to avoid the pain of another’s story is not a privilege to be treasured. We shouldn’t look away when we see another’s pain or tragedy. We should move toward it, and do all we can to redeem the justice, dignity or humanity that was taken from them.
I picked the cotton, and I carried it to market, and I built the railroads under someone else’s whip. These were the words of James Baldwin at a 1965 debate at Cambridge University. Baldwin used the pronoun “I” to express how the American Negro identified with his ancestors.
His words were intended to assert that all black men were in a sense slaves because our ancestors were. That concept of human connection is at the root of the belief amongst Orthodox Jews that participating in the passover meal is to stand on the banks of the Red Sea and experience the liberation of ancient Jews from Egypt. Communion is viewed in the Bible as entering into the sufferings and very person of Jesus. Throughout history the act of tangibly entering into another human beings experience has been viewed as a sacred act. Taking part in such sacred acts requires an existential connection. It requires that, as said Baldwin in the 60s, we see ourselves akin to the experience and especially the suffering of other humans. It is a redemptive practice, and it is how we shine light into the darkness of injustice.
Dehumanization, the greatest weapon of the enemies of justice and compassion, detaches us from the common thread that binds us all. Every human being loves, hurts, laughs, and cries, but not everyone embraces our core sameness. When we hear stories like Nia’s we can be seduced into finding ways to not see ourselves in her story. The subtle wording, phrases, and images from media outlets “otherize” victims of violence like Nia. Ignore them. She is human like you. Her family is devastated like yours would be. Allow yourself to be pulled into her story, and feel the grief her family feels. Let’s find a way to redeem this terrible tragedy and remember Nia as if she were our own daughter, niece, cousin, friend or neighbor. You probably never met her, and before reading this blog, you’d possibly never heard of Nia Wilson. You likely didn’t know her, but she was your sister. Her death is a human tragedy driven by a hatred that seeks to destroy us all if we don’t learn to love beyond our own interests.
How have others come along side you or your family during a time of grief or sorrow?
Have you ever felt connected to the grief of a person or family you didn’t know? Why did you feel that connection?
Here is the link to the GoFundMe set up in Nia’s honor. This is an easy way to honor her memory, and tangibly share in her family’s suffering and healing at the same time.