Friday morning I woke before dawn, put on a purple athletic skirt and pink athletic top, met up with friends, and ran (let’s be clear: shuffled, slowly) 8.2 miles, something I haven’t done in 25 or 30 years.
Unless you’ve been on a news break, you know why I laced up, why I wore pink and purple, why I slogged through, and why I was with friends.
Eliza Fletcher was my neighbor, which is only one of the reasons her abduction and murder felt personal.
Liza’s running route, from the Central Gardens neighborhood, east on Central to Goodlet, and back again, is the same route my friend and running coach suggested for me, 30 years ago, when I started training to run the Memphis marathon.
Back then, we didn’t know it was 8.2 miles; we just called it 8. No one had a Garmin or Apple Watch or even a cell phone. If you drove in your car from point A to point B and back, the car speedometer’s numbers would turn, manually, to show that you’d traveled about 8 miles.
It was the standard 8-mile route for midtown runners, and for women runners particularly, my male friend advised, because it was, all things considered, pretty safe. It was well-it, mostly residential, and had enough traffic to be populated at most hours of the day.
Back then, in the early 1990s, some of us were still sorting our way through the thousand points of light, Central Park jogger (in all its false narrative that was too easy to believe at the time), and drama on Wall Street, but with clear signs of change.
Cultural notes from my personal memory of 1992 include Nirvana’s Nevermind; movies Alladin and Reservoir Dogs; line dancing to Achy Breaky Heart; wars in Somalia and Bosnia-Herzegovina; Hurricane Andrew; Bill Clinton’s election; the U.S. refusal to sign the UN convention climate change accord; debut of Cartoon Network; opening of the Mall of America.
The IBM ThinkPad that would allow, eventually, work from home.
The dawning of the World Wide Web.
I remember 1992. I turned 27 that year. And I was a runner, training for the Memphis marathon.
On weekday mornings I ran with a small group of friends in the park across the street from my apartment. On weekends I logged longer runs. Sometimes, if I overslept or had an early meeting, I would run by myself in the evening, always selecting a route that was well-lit and busy enough with traffic, often up and down Central Avenue.
Did I really think things would be different for women 30 years later? Did I do anything toward that end?
The short answer to both questions is: No.
Back then, in the early and mid-1990s, I had a heart for saving humanity but no practical ideas for bringing about change. I was busy trying to find my own place in the world, ignorant of and oblivious to most of the realities outside of my relatively privileged and enjoyable life.
Here’s what I wasn’t paying any attention to, at the time:
On March 9, 1997, the U.S. Department of Justice released the results of a new study that showed that if our present rates of incarceration continue, one out of every twenty babies born in the United States today will spend some part of their adult lives in state or federal prison. An African-American male has a greater than one in four chance of going to prison in his lifetime, while a Hispanic male has a one in six chance of serving time. A quarter of all households in the United States are victimized by crime each year. Homicide is a leading cause of death among our young people. And our prison population has exploded. California, for example, is now spending more on its criminal justice system than on higher education. Though we have been greatly concerned about government spending on the U.S. health care system, which many deem to be in crisis, we have not noticed that the cost of the criminal justice system is three times the cost of the nation’s entire health care budget.Excerpt from Ghosts from the Nursery: Tracing the Roots of Violence, published in The New York Times, May 1998.
Published in 1998 and revised/rereleased in 2014, Robin Karr-Morse’s Ghosts from the Nursery lays out, in plain terms, a story that we continue to ignore at our own peril. Each successive generation born into the legacy of trauma compounds the problem ahead.
Too often, we in the U.S. plaster an unhelpful, moralistic, and religious coating on this deeply complex topic and underlying set of issues. We choose to elevate the idea of protecting the innocent unborn yet ignore the adult realities into which the babies will be born. We choose to see exceptions and outliers because they support compelling narratives on both extremes.
In between the emotionally-charged headlines (cries for social justice, cries for stricter justice) is the boring daily work of community building: safe, affordable, accessible housing; safe, affordable, accessible child care; safe, affordable, accessible schools.
The more barriers there are between stability and instability, the harder it is for families to reach stability.
A concrete example, in case the idea is too big and abstract:
Today, as you are reading this post, a mother will choose to leave her young child in the care of a boyfriend’s cousin’s neighbor’s brother so she can get to work, because that’s the easiest, most available, most affordable option. What happens to that child while in that adult’s care, is unknown. The best case scenario is that the child will be fed, housed, and protected from harm. The worst case scenario is that the child will be harmed, mentally and/or physically.
A family, unable to pay the rent that was due September 1, will leave most of their belongings behind and find a new place to live. What they leave behind in that rental house or apartment will be set out on the curb for scavengers to pick through.
The trauma of unstable housing, lack of resources, lack of child care, and overall emotional dysregulation will affect an unknown number of young children today. Some will grow up to overcome that trauma; others will not.
Two quotes that appeared in my social media feeds this week stand out in my mind. The first is Bishop Michael Curry’s mantra that “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.” The second is an African proverb: The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.
There are children today who in 25 or 30 years will be mothers like Liza Fletcher and Allison Parker, going about their daily business of running or getting gas. There are children today who in 25 or 30 years will be like the men who killed both women.
What will I do, today, to prevent that future, for those men?
What will you?
What investments are we willing to make? What comforts are we willing to sacrifice?
How can we work toward big-picture change through our own, individual actions? Through voting, and volunteering? Through a willingness to tolerate and consider ideas that don’t fit neatly into our entrenched narratives? Through acknowledging the corrosive power of racism?
I woke before dawn on Friday morning to join thousands of women and men around the world to finish Liza’s run. To do something – anything – that felt like physical action in response to a story that felt personal in more ways than I’ve yet fully processed. To shine a light of love.
That light can shine a path to a better future, but only if I am, and we are, willing to let it illuminate the dark, uncomfortable truths that stand in the way of real change.
If we really want to finish Liza’s run, then that is the work we all must do.