We have a black son who has a friend who is white who loves our son back from what I have seen and heard. I have made countless failed efforts at setting up playdates outside school for them.
Last week, our son asked me again if this parent had gotten back to me and I said, “No.” He was sad.
Then I told him, “You know we are black, right? And some people may not want to associate with us just because we are black.” I had to say that to my less-than-10-year-old son. As a last possibility and reason why we needed to stop trying. In Bangor, Maine. In 2020, because we have explored every other reason.
Our son melted in tears and asked me, “Mommy, does it mean I can’t be friends with … anymore?” I told him that is not true because I am sure if it was left to his friend alone, they will play every second, but his friend is under the control of his parents so they get to decide.
I cannot breathe not because your knee is on my neck, but because adults have refused to educate and let kids be kids.
It has been asked why we are protesting; after all, George Floyd was not murdered here in Bangor, and our Bangor is generally safe.
Yes, our Bangor has been relatively safe, but let me tell you why we are here.
We are here because parents of white kids keep keeping their white children away from their black kid friends.
We are here because I have been followed around “to ensure I paid for” goods in Bangor, Maine.
We are here because while I campaigned for the City Council in 2019, I was followed around in a neighborhood where I went campaigning. A white lady married to a black man with biracial kids who lives in that neighborhood had to post on the neighborhood social media page that I was not a threat but only campaigning.
We are here because I was shushed away while campaigning until my palm card was seen. And I campaigned with fear and extreme caution in mind. In Bangor.
We are here because our kid has been spat on in the school bus right here in our Bangor.
I want to say that my story isn’t for victimization or pity. The school handled the situations to our satisfaction. And we have uncountable friends and community support.
We tell stories for perspectives and to show the fear impacted by the system of injustice. My stories are to give voice to so many more who can’t speak up.
I can’t breathe because your silence and inaction is killing me.
I love my community and I don’t want violence, but it is not our place to judge people’s anger and how they show it.
Please, I can’t breathe because your white privilege is causing me so much pain.
I can’t breathe. I need air. Please, I need water to quench the thirst caused by the gross injustice against my kind.
I can’t breathe until you understand that it is not OK to tell me at a job interview that I am overambitious and it is concerning.
I can’t breathe until you understand that given the same opportunity, I will thrive and our wider community will thrive.
I can’t breathe until we understand that if one of us can’t breathe, all of us can’t breathe.
I can’t breathe until our schools start to teach our kids with appropriate diverse books to understand that everyone is only a human being with different but equal history and beauty.
I can’t breathe until our community is safe and free to talk about color and differences. When you say you don’t see color, it offends me because I hear, “You don’t see me.”
I can’t breathe until we all understand that our social media posts and campaign promises are not enough until backed with actions.
We appreciate your standing with us, but we need actions beyond protesting.
I cannot breathe until we truly are able to hold our elected officials accountable.
Encourage people of color to run for office and help them.
I am a black woman. Yes. But I am an immigrant. And I can’t speak to the experiences and pains of blacks rooted in slavery. That is why we need them to speak to their own experiences. We need Native Americans to represent their interest, and so on.
November is coming and we need to vote.
Vote like George Floyd was your son. Vote like George Floyd was your brother. Vote like George Floyd was your husband. Vote like George Floyd was your best friend. Vote like your life depends on it because it does.
Angela Okafor is a business owner and member of the Bangor City Council. This column is adapted from her remarks during a Black Lives Matter rally on Monday.