The Spark that Starts the Fire

Wednesday, January 13th, 2016

The following submission is in response to the following article: and writing prompt: Like Gerald Mitchell, dig deep to identify and explain how you personally can treat people more justly. Describe what treating people fairly and humanely looks like to you. How might your actions make a difference where you live (school and community)? In greater society?


Every human- white or black, rich or poor- has a connection to another. When I began reading Gerald Mitchell’s article “I Can’t Breathe Until Everyone Can Breathe,” I already felt connected to him because he mentioned Ferguson. I am from a small town in Illinois about 45 minutes outside of Ferguson. And after the death of Eric Garner, I immediately saw the negative effects. Internally, I was enraged and wanted to take action. Far too many times I had heard the cases of police brutality against African Americans, often ending in death. But when I brought up the topic with a few of my black peers, I vividly remember receiving the response “How does this affect you?” Although I lived where they did, came from a similar social class as them, and even went to the same school, they thought the death of another human wouldn’t impact me because I wasn’t black.


To an extent, they had a point. I could not then and never will be able to fully understand the hardships black people face. But does this mean I don’t recognize these hardships exist and that they should be justified? Of course, not. As I stated before, all humans are intertwined. The suffering of someone who is poor should not be less important than the suffering of the rich because in order to live in justice we must view all humans as equal. However, the way the world works does not abide by this view. Mitchell points this out when saying, “We depend on a system that requires poor people to be poor, both domestically and globally, so that we can get what we want cheap.” Not only do we use the poor to get what we want cheap, but we, as a society, neglect the poor often times not caring that for their well-being. We see this taking place in our own country when we ignore the injustice that comes from police brutality, such as in the case of Garner. And in turn, by neglecting the well-being of poorer individuals, they live life dehumanized. It struck me when Mitchell said, “survival and my humanity—aren't always compatible.” Here, I took a break from reading and admitted to myself that I am part of this unending injustice that forces human beings to choose mere survival over their human rights.


And it our responsibility as a society to admit this fault too. Mitchell explains, “The first step, as any addict will tell you, is acknowledging we’ve got a problem.” Once this acknowledgment is made then we need to research the injustices themselves. In order to people more justly, we must understand the injustice. A personal way that I do this is by immersing myself, the best way that I can, into a life of the person receiving the injustice. Using Ferguson as an example, a few month after Garner’s death, I went to Ferguson myself and stood with the residents rioting. For that short moment, I was able to conceptualize much more than any news channel could teach me. It is moments like these that spark the flame within us to take action. And once others see us taking action, human connection fuels that action further. Before we know it, this action that created the initial spark has become a raging fire that cannot be stopped.