I would like to lift up my voice with the many others who have expressed their sentiments in favor of the “Black Lives Matters” and “I Can’t Breathe” street murals in Chestertown. Let me be clear in stating that “I love this town and I love this county, but I am not particularly fond of some of its history.” I am keenly aware that Chestertown’s history is really not much different than other colonial towns.
My mother was a Kent County native, born and raised on land that was a former slave plantation. My genealogy was traced to a slave that was brought to Chestertown. I have spoken to countless residents who have shared heartbreaking stories of the injustices they and their ancestors have suffered here. The aesthetic beauty of this area is contrasted with a dark and dismal past that includes blackface performances, lynchings, murders and gross inequities in the justice system in the sentencing of many of its black residents. This is the not so “charming” truth.
I must admit there were even times when my own faith and hope for humanity were tried. There were multiple times my life was threatened. I repeatedly had messages left on my voicemail calling me the “N” word, and I was a victim of “redlining” when a local realtor refused to take my legitimate offer to a property owner in order to keep my family from living in a particular area. In spite of these things, my family has enjoyed a great life here. I have had the distinct honor and privilege to serve, work along with and volunteer with many of the great people in this county.
What can we do about past injustices? It’s history you say. I agree that we cannot rewrite history, nor do we wish to erase it, but we now have an opportunity to show the world that we are not out of touch with the current movement. We can listen to, respond, and empathize with a segment of society whose pains and cries have been so callously ignored. This is Kent County’s chance to make good, positive history by going down on record and saying to its Black population, “We see you. We hear you. We feel your pain and we will not sit idle while you call out to us to embrace this small gesture of allowing these ‘temporary’ murals to be displayed.”
What is the real issue? Now that the residents of 100 High Street have done what most mature individuals choose to do, have a sensible discussion and not retreat to their respective sides, what is the “real” issue? Are the messages too poignant? Do they invoke anger or fear? Is it your sentiment that Black Lives Don’t Matter? You know what the real problem is. Is it that you believe by saying Black Lives Matter that you are supporting the organization? That is what the fear mongers want you to believe. Please understand that there is a movement and there is an organization.
The movement is much larger than the BLM organization and it is not the same thing. Many people of diverse ethnicities support the movement and slogan “Black Lives Matter” who do not agree with the tenets of the Black Lives Matter organization. The irony of the reaction to the proposed murals is that many people are more upset with those who are making the suggestion than they are with the perpetrators and injustices that sparked the outcry for action.
I believe that while on this earth we should seek to do good, be a help and not cause harm to others. A quote often attributed to John Wesley captures it best. “Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can.” This is a noble goal.
When we are gone, people will talk about things that happened during our time. I’m sure this period of unrest will be a hot topic. I’d like to be remembered as one person who joined the cause for equity and fought against injustices no matter how uncomfortable or unpopular it was. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “It is never the wrong time to do the right thing.” I firmly believe this is the right time to do the right thing. While this gesture is but a bandage on a wound that needs stitches, a bandage is better than leaving the sore open and susceptible to infection. Please don’t squander this chance to come down on the right side of Kent County history.
Pastor Leon Frison is a recently retired teacher, chaplain for the Kent County Detention Center, local pastor, former LMB Chair, and former Social Services Board Member.