In the years just after my father passed away in 1977, my mother found that life of the farm in the country was too lonely with a minimal amount of company around. Eventually she purchased a little house on Pershing Avenue in Brockway where she would have easier access to the church, select stores around town, the senior center’s activities, and many friends who were already living in town and the good friends who had automobiles and were looking for convenient travel companions.
That left the farm house empty and brought on the greatest time of sadness for me as I walked past those dark windows each evening on my way to the barn for chores. We discussed just what we needed to do with the house – certainly not put it up for sale since it would be standing right in the middle of everything else, we had on the farm. It would be better to rent it out, but we would want to find a renter who would be a good neighbor and still not cause any damage to the property.
Then our friend Betty Thompson, who had lived for many years right behind the Tastee Freeze stopped in to introduce us to her neighbor Helen Jean Kent, a widow who had recently moved to Brockway from the Clearfield Area with her six children, three sons and three daughters. Betty’s timing was just right and, our family agreed that their rental request was “meant to happen.” Her family had moved to our town in 1977, and came to our farm in the spring of 1979. Jean became a member of our family and stayed with us until the spring of 2019, almost 40 years before moving to Lancaster County to live near her daughter Tammy.
John Kent, the oldest child, was a young adult at the time and worked for several years at Keith Brothers’ Heating and Plumbing before moving away to New York City in 1980. There he began to serve in church work with Adventist Frontier Missions and became missionaries to Papua, New Guinea, with his spouse Belinda and their four children, the youngest who was born overseas. Back in the states years later, the family settled in Berrien Springs, Michigan, as missionary trainers and consultants. Now they’ve returned to Pennsylvania as John and Belinda live in the Pittsburgh Area where he leads and pastors a micro-church planting movement for people caught in generational poverty and addiction.
Last week, John posted the following on Facebook: “Today I ran for Ahmaud Arbery (the young man who was shot and killed down in South Georgia). On February 23rd of this year, Ahmaud went out for a jog. He was shot and killed by two white men who claimed they thought he was a burglar. The story was buried until a few days ago, when a cellphone video brought the murder into public light. Today is his birthday; he would’ve been 26.” John continued, “In that same month, a good friend of mine, also a black male, went out for a jog in a city park in the evening accompanied by a white friend.
“At some point, he was accosted by police officers, shining their flashlights in his eyes, hands on their guns, asking him what he was doing. He tried to explain to them that he lived nearby and was simply trying to exercise. They demanded he produce his ID, and got more hostile and aggressive when he told them he didn’t carry it with him when he went on runs. They told him the park was closed and he had no business being there. There were no signs or barriers to entry that would even indicate that the park had set hours, and when my friend told the officers as much, they hem-hawed around and said he should’ve checked the park’s website before going out at night.
“The only thing that stopped this exchange from ending with my friend in handcuffs is his white friend who caught up with him. The white friend was actively defending him, and at some point, threw out the fact that my friend is an airline pilot. The police officers immediately changed their demeanor, and took their hands off their guns. Shortly thereafter, they left without further altercation.”
As his friend recounted this story to John, and as John read about Ahmaud Arbery, he could barely believe it. It seemed like something straight out of a movie; something that couldn’t possibly be true in America in 2020.
These are John Kent’s thoughts, published below with his permission.
“His picture is captivating. The video-horrifying. The injustice- beyond imagination. Today, I ran 2.23 miles in his honor. Ahmaud Arbery would have been 26 had he lived.
For approximately 25 years, I traveled throughout a great deal of the world. I learned a few things along the way. One of the most significant was that my skin, my hair, my culture set me apart and made me the target of what today we call racial profiling. Being a white American, in another country, was not always to my advantage.
Cross-cultural interaction often results in significant vulnerabilities to the visitor. Without an understanding of the culture, language, and social norms of society, I was often taken advantage of. My heart would begin to race the moment the aircraft touched down in certain countries because I knew that just getting out of customs and immigration would require being confronted by officers with machine guns. My luggage would be pulled from the conveyer belt and taken into side-rooms where it was rifled through, “contraband” identified, and ultimately money exchanged just to get my clothes back. That was just the beginning, however.
In many countries, police, armed with machine guns, stand on street corners to enforce adherence to traffic rules. All they had to do was see someone like me in the car and the result was inevitable. Whistles blow. The car is stopped. Documents checked, taken from their owner, and told to either pay the fine (bribe) on the spot, or the documents could be reclaimed at the police station, an ordeal that might take days or weeks to resolve.
In one country, I was dragged from a vehicle while men armed with machetes, bows, arrows, spears and homemade guns, threatened my life and began stealing supplies. Only by a miracle of God do I write these words today.
These encounters often left me feeling afraid, weak, frustrated and angry. But here is the deal. I was only a visitor. A few days or weeks later, I would climb back on the aircraft and return to the safety and security of the world most comfortable to me.
But what if you are Ahmaud? Or one of the millions of other people of color in this country? And you are not a visitor, but THIS IS YOUR HOME. And yet, you find yourself the target for injustice just because your skin, dialect, and hair are different from the dominant culture. Where you feel afraid, weak, frustrated and angry, day after day after day. Because, like Ahmaud, you never know when someone will target you, take advantage of you, run you down, or shoot you, and sweep it all under the rug as if in the scope of things, it didn’t matter at all. What if that were you?
GOD HELP US!
I ran for Ahmaud today, in the rain and cold. Such a small thing. In the scope of this nation’s brokenness does it mean anything at all? Ahmaud would have run so much faster. When he died so much was lost, so much potential never realized. Dreams and aspirations vanished. All the good he would have brought to the world – gone. Thankfully, the perpetrators have at least been charged. Hopefully, they will be sentenced. But justice will never be done.
And I think what breaks my heart most in all of this is that white, Protestant Christianity is so complicit in the silence, in the inaction, in the turning of the blind eye.
GOD HELP US...
To stop running and start standing up.
To stop running and start repenting.
To stop running and start loving our neighbor as ourself.
”He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8)?”
I don’t know exactly what it looks like, but I choose to begin practicing today. Please join me.
GOD HELP US”