Can racial tensions and healings be washed away as easily as washing another’s feet? The washing of a person’s feet is an emotionally charged, symbolic gesture that symbolizes equality and servanthood throughout humanity.
On Tuesday, June 3, this act was performed, bringing a candid dialogue between members of law enforcement, community leaders, government officials, and clergy members to a poignant climax.
The two and a half-hour conversation on race relations took place in the Buddy Rau room of the Stafford Opera House. Pastor Joel Usher, the first African American pastor of the predominantly White Glidden Baptist Church, opened the meeting with a prayer.
“The reason why we have these conversations is that a lot of times a person doesn’t understand what they have never experienced,” Usher said.
Addressing the police in the room, Usher encouraged the officers to “not hang their heads down,” and to “not grow weary in well-doing.”
“Columbus Police Department had no hand in what happened in Minnesota,” Usher continued, referencing the May 25 death of a 46-year-old African American man, George Floyd, while in police custody.
Columbus Police Chief Skip Edman was clear in his condemnation of the act of excessive force against Floyd and condemned any other acts of racism and violence. “Columbus Police Department is culturally diverse, and stands with me against these acts. We have a great relationship with the community at large here,” Edman continued.
Pastor Daniel Pore’, a community leader, reflected by saying, “This is about an injustice that continues to happen in this country.” Pore’ said he supports peaceful protests, and also addressed the pent up anger and rage that often spurs violence and riots, stating, “When you don’t feel that there is a way out, even a dog will bite. But, let me be clear, two wrongs never make a right. Violence and rioting do nothing but harm, no good comes of that. We will not stand for it here in Columbus.”
Pore’ and fellow local pastor and business owner LaDell Wilson each shared their own personal encounters with police brutality in their lives.
“The only difference between Mr. Floyd and myself is that I am still here to tell my story,” Pore’ said to the visibly moved crowd.
Wilson shared his journey of processing the anger he felt for years following his experience with police brutality, and how he healed, channeling that anger into positive actions for the community.
Pastor Joseph Hargrove’s voice shook with emotion when he said, “I am angry. This just shouldn’t happen. The talks I have with my grandson about how to act in the presence of law enforcement are totally different than the talks the rest of you have with your children and grandchildren.”
Following the meeting, Edman said he felt good about the dialogue that took place and hopes to have conversations like that more often. “We need to have these talks with each other more often than just when something bad happens. We should have these conversations because it’s the right thing to do.”