As we move into a New Year, the triumphs and failures of 2016 loom large in our memories.
We survived an election that laid bare the differences that divide us. We watched in horror as violence ravaged our city streets. We saw the purposeful distortion of a simple and poignant phrase—Black Lives Matter. We watched as the optimism of 2008 gave way to anger and fear.
As a black man, it breaks my heart to know that in 2016, African American men comprised 34 percent of the unarmed people shot dead by police, though we make up only 6 percent of the population. It hurts me to know that in a city like Chicago, more than 700 homicides took place, mostly in poor neighborhoods of color. It stabs at me to know that in 2016, our incoming president would cheapen our democracy by thanking black people for not voting.
And still, I am optimistic for the year to come. Because the losses we suffered in 2016 have set the stage for the return of an essential need—hope.
In 2017, hope will make its comeback, and it won’t be driven by political promises or financial schemes. It won’t be pushed by the culture of celebrity that erases common sense. It won’t be recorded in pseudo friendships we collect on social media, or by meaningless ‘likes’ we share on computer screens. No, this hope will be driven by that basic need that makes us human. This hope will be driven by relationships.
Only true relationships can heal the pain of mourning. Only true relationships can share the joy of triumph. Only true relationships can push us though our struggles. Only true relationships can make us whole again.
But in order to have such relationships, we must first acknowledge that we are divided by culture and ethnicity, by skin color and religion, by political and social beliefs. Then we must do everything we can to bridge those divides.
Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to do so.
In 2017, those who’ve been targeted by demagogues will be forced to come together. Those who’ve been identified as outsiders will have to unite. Those who feel empowered by hatred will have to face themselves.
And in the midst of it all, each of us, no matter who we are, will have to hope.
I, for one, believe that hope is more than some imaginary concept. I believe it is something each of us possesses.
Each time we take a step forward, we do so in the hope that another step will follow. Each time we take a breath, we hope that the next is not our last. Each time we see the sunrise, we hope to live to see it set. Each time we reach out to someone, we do so in the hope that they’ll reach back.
In 2017, I will reach out to those who think as I do. But more importantly, I will reach out to those who do not. I will form relationships across ideological divides, and I will shape those relationships with hope.
I hope we’ll stop talking long enough to listen. I hope we’ll listen well enough to understand. I hope our understanding will be deep enough to bring change, and I hope that change will be profound enough to make a difference.
That is the 2017 I hope for. Let’s pray it’s the 2017 we’ll have.