Mary Mitchell: Now is not the time to be silenced
Timing is everything.
When I decided last year to drastically scale back my duties as a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, I was convinced the time was right.
After all, I had reached the biblical promise of 70 years, an age that, as a cancer survivor, I thought I would not see.
And having spent 29 of those years writing about everything from bloodshed in our streets to racial injustices in society and political corruption in government, it seemed the right time to sit on the sidelines and cheer on others pursuing the cause of journalism, that is, to be a “voice for the voiceless.”
I had just started on my bucket list (having taken a long-awaited trip to Cuba) when the coronavirus pandemic shut down my dreams of exotic travel.
Stuck at home, my plans to take up line dancing and to play with clay in a pottery class also got put on hold.
But as the Good Book teaches, there is a season for everything:
“… A time to break down. And a time to build up;
A time to keep silence and a time to speak,” the book of Ecclesiastes points out.
During the past year, I have written my column sporadically.
Next month that will change.
In this “all hands on deck” moment and at the request of the Sun-Times, I have agreed to return to the newsroom to add my voice to the many voices addressing the issues that make this the most challenging time most of us will endure in our lifetime. Think about it.
We are confronted with a worldwide pandemic that has killed more than 144,000 people in this country, most of them Black and Brown — highlighting long-standing racial inequities in our health care system.
At the same time, we are witnessing the resurgence in blatant “Jim Crow” racism — to the point that a white police officer could calmly and publicly snuff out the life of George Floyd in Minneapolis during an arrest — igniting days of violent protests nationwide.
And as if that were not enough turmoil, many of us are wrestling with how to feel when #BlackLivesMatter has emerged as the new civil rights mantra — bringing together thousands of people of all races across the country — and still, just a few days ago, 15 Black people are injured in a shootout outside of a funeral home in our city, and few people are willing to say a word.
Who do we dare blame when Black children as young as 3 years old are killed in gun battles waged by fathers, while a band of carjackers that includes preadolescent children, are robbing mothers at gunpoint?
As City Hall tries to tackle these ills, it is up to a new crop of journalists to sort out fact from fiction.
For instance, how would brick-and-mortar investments in neighborhoods that were abandoned by Black and Brown folks fleeing the violence save other young lives?
Or for that matter, how are white allies supposed to make sense of the conundrum of Black-on-Black violence in the face of the Black Lives Matter movement?
Make no mistake; we are at a crossroads. The decisions our leaders make today, the causes that we champion, the work that we set our hands to must “break down” the racial barriers of our past to “build up” a new inclusive city for our children and grandchildren.
To do that, all voices must be heard. For the Sun-Times, this work starts at home.
Besides returning to a twice weekly column that focuses on race issues and other challenges the city and our nation faces, I will serve as a liaison between management and journalists, using my institutional knowledge of the city and of the newsroom to help ensure that we are practicing what we preach when it comes to racial inclusion and equity.
For much of this past year, though pressured to do otherwise, I have mostly kept my silence.
But in these unprecedented times, we are all being called upon to walk in our calling like never before.
“To everything there is a season.” Now is not the time to be silenced.
Community activists raise their fists during a march to commemorate Juneteenth in downtown Chicago on June 19.