Note: This piece is written by a mourner who took part in the Reparations Procession, a project organized by a group of white-identified people who remain anonymous as they believe that white people should not be receiving attention or credit for doing the work of racial healing and atonement. East Point Peace Academy is honored to support this project, but it is not a project organized by us. For more information about the Procession and to offer reparations, visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/rp2020.
It’s a summer day, and I’m dressing in black—all black. Early in the morning at home, I begin as a mourner in the procession. When I arrive at the Ohlone Shellmound sacred site in Berkeley, that has been covered over with a parking lot, I meet the others who are walking this day. We are masked and keeping our distance because COVID-19 is on the rise again here in the Bay Area. I am given my veil and put it on with help from one of the others who clips it in back to keep it from blowing away in the soft, steady wind that’s blowing. Wearing a veil takes some getting used to; my eyesight isn’t what it once was. The three of us gather around a little makeshift altar that has a single white paper flower on it, some feathers and stones. It’s a plastic milk carton box that will be hidden in the bushes again once we’re ready to walk. We stand in silence for a bit and then share any intentions we have for the walk. I say I intend to be present and to pray my way through the city. Really it’s two cities, Berkeley and Oakland that I’ll be present to and praying for. I fail to mention that my prayers will be mostly grieving prayers. This is a walk of lamentation.
And so we set out single-file and moving slowly, deliberately—along sidewalks, across streets, under the freeway, past all the closed shops, homes, apartments, six rag dolls on a stoop, people going about their business, parking their cars, getting coﬀee, a man who has made a home for himself with all his possessions in a nook along the way, flowers in surprising little spaces. We walk in silence. That is the heart of this practice—this reparations procession. I am walking slowly and silently. I am present and grieving. I am praying, and present. The veil gives me new eyes to see. I think of the history of this land—even the little of it that I know. Indigenous people lived here on the land, there were creeks that flowed into the bay—covered over now with asphalt, cement, buildings. The land was taken. I grieve. My prayers are simple ones from my tradition—a word with each movement of my foot, slowly, deliberately, silently. Any people who notice this small procession of mourners in black—those who ask about it—there is one of us designated to answer, and to hand out postcards describing this thing we’re doing: Reparations Procession 2020. A few ask, a few engage in conversation, we mourners walk on slowly, not speaking.
It’s beautiful to be walking with others—this lament. I realize as I walk along that this walk could be—should be—taking place in cities all over the country. There is so much to mourn—so much to grieve, and we have almost no public acknowledgement of our grief. One woman, as we walk, says she would like to join us one day. “They shot my son,” she says.
We walk alongside beautiful murals of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and so many many others. We pause at St Columba’s Church where there is a mandala honoring Black Lives and Black Lives lost. There are also simple crosses honoring all of those who have died in Oakland this year. First names, ages, date of death. The names are so important. They seem to say to me: “Say my name.” And I do say them, silently. At Oscar Grant plaza the murals and the names are simply stunning. I pause before the one honoring Elijah McClain. “I don’t even kill flies. I don’t even eat meat” it says. Elijah McCain. Say his name.
This is as far as I am walking today. We meet the man who will complete the walk from here to Fruitvale Station where Oscar Grant was shot to death in the back.
Later when I get home to my own city where it has been my practice during these months to walk everyday, I find that my walking has changed. I walk more slowly, deliberately, silently— grieving—the history of this place, the history of racism here, my complicity in the systems and the culture. There is so much to lament, so much to grieve. So much to be faced and changed. The walk is a small thing, very simple, yet at least for me it is important—and a gift.