By Doretha Bailey
I witnessed and felt God’s presence on Friday, July 8, on such a dark day.
By the time Friday morning came I was already emotionally exhausted when I turned on CNN and heard the reporting that five Dallas police officers were murdered and seven wounded. The night prior, when I came home from work, my youngest son (age 13) met me at the top of the stairs. I noticed that he just woke up from what I assumed to be a nap from the exhaustion of summer fun.
When I inquired about his nap, he told me he had put himself to sleep because of images of Philando Castile posted repeatedly all over social media and he asked me, “Why do they fear us?”
As a mother what do I say? All I could do in that moment was hold him in my arms and cry.
After I pulled myself together, I reflected on a conversation the day prior I had with my oldest son (age 16) while driving to his apprenticeship, but this discussion was in regards to the police shooting of Alton Sterling. My son expressed his decision not to accept the Mercedes that his grandmother was gifting him, because he was scared that he would be stopped by police who feel that he shouldn’t be driving such a vehicle, which he has wanted for years. He stated that he knew regardless of what car he drives he will be pulled over, but the type of car may make a difference. As my heart sank to my stomach, I asked him if he remembered what he needed to do if ever stopped by a police officer. He said “yes” and recited the steps we have practiced several times.
So Friday came and I was overwhelmed with an array of emotions. Driving into the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship office in Decatur, I heard an announcement on the radio that the Georgia NAACP chapter would be marching at 6:00 p.m., so I called and shared the information with some of my coworkers and stated I was going. When I entered the office, you could feel and see the uneasiness, grief and overall sadness throughout the staff.
As CBF’s human resources leader, I asked myself, “how do I console them and bring everyone together?” We needed a time to grieve together as a family and I didn’t know what to do, so I ordered lunch for the office and sent out an email.
When I sent out the email to the office staff that lunch was ordered, instantly a reply from CBF Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter came for the staff.
“The devastating violence of this week moves me to prayer and action. Prayers today for the leaders in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis and Dallas, including our CBF pastors, churches and chaplains,” she wrote. “In the face of violence and fear, movement toward a beloved community takes real work. It also takes prayer for a landscape of grace. ‘Grace, before it is anything else, is the crack inherent in the otherwise ironclad, unbreakable laws of nature and history. Grace is the capacity for unchangeable things to change…,’ George Williamson writes in his book Born in Sin, Upended in Grace.”
This was the first sign of God’s presence.
The same time that lunch arrived, I had a meeting scheduled with Lt. Johnson from the Atlanta Marta Police Department, after we had to reschedule twice prior to Friday, and for which he arrived 30 minutes early. I asked him if he would like to join us for lunch and would he mind speaking to the staff. Another sign of God’s presence.
As we gathered in the Commons Area, I introduced Lt. Johnson and requested that we all join hands in prayer. When the prayer was completed, we continued to hold hands and I cried as I looked at everyone and stated that I loved all of them. Others joined me in my tears as we saw each other as people. Once I gathered my tears, I asked Lt. Johnson how his officers were handling the Dallas police officers death and what did he say to them.
He shared with us what he had told his staff: “This is not the time to remove yourself from the community, but to embrace the community and let them show you love.”
More tears flowed through the Common Area (God’s Presence). All of sudden, co-workers were voicing that they were going to march with us, which is nothing but God. Instead of meeting at Centennial Olympic Park, we all met in the reception area and left as a unified family (God’s presence).
When we arrived at Centennial Olympic Park the march started immediately and we started on the life-changing journey together. I linked arms with Martha Perusek, CBF Director of Development, as we marched. The amount of support from the Atlanta community was electrifying as all races, sizes, genders and religious affiliations stopped their cars, chanted from the sidewalks. People got out of their cars to hug the protesters; some were honking their horns or revving their motorcycles.
Seeing all of God’s people coming together in solidarity for justice and equality will be a feeling I will never forget (God’s presence).
There comes a time when enough is enough. When there seems like nothing else you can do, just stand, and stand we did — as a family.
“There were times when I almost gave up and I’ve cried and said Lord it’s too much, He was there all the time by his grace he is keeping me alive. By his (grace and mercy I’m still standing, standing.) I’m standing in the presence of the almighty with (power and a testimony) I standing here today with one thing to say (Lord I thank you, Thank you)” – Marvin Sapp
Doretha Bailey serves as the Human Resources Manager for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.