Mary Mitchell: Now is not the time to be si­lenced

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - MARY MITCHELL mmitchell@sun­times.com | @MaryMitche­l­lCST

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.

PAT NABONG/SUN-TIMES FILE PHOTO

Com­mu­nity ac­tivists raise their fists dur­ing a march to com­mem­o­rate June­teenth in down­town Chicago on June 19.

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