THE BLOG
12/19/2014 08:29 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

8 Ways to Say, 'Black Lives Matter'

I came across this tweet the other day from journalist and activist Ferrari Sheppard. In it he laments the fact that the hashtag #blacklivesmatter seems to be performing as an appeal to those who lack the empathy to realize its truth.

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It is sad. It's devastating to think about the context in which a statement like "Black lives matter" has to be repeated over and over. It is sad that these three simple words seem to be charged with the impossible task of penetrating the darkness that would prevent one from recognizing the humanity of a black man, woman or child.

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Credit: Laurie Townshend, taken Dec. 13, 2014, in Toronto, Canada

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Credit: Laurie Townshend, taken Dec. 13, 2014, in Toronto, Canada

It seems unreasonable that we'd place the heaviness of our broken hearts on the backs of 16 letters from the English alphabet.

It seems absurd to expect four syllables to hold their own against the multisyllabic words and colorful phrases used to defile, denigrate and disenfranchise a people who have endured so much.

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Credit: Laurie Townshend, taken Dec. 13, 2014, in Toronto, Canada

It would be futile to spend a second trying to convince the world that black lives matter. There should be no attempt to justify why black lives matter, nor any move to validate a black person's worth.

I, for one, am not holding my breath for the powers that be to suddenly acknowledge the black-person-shaped cracks in the system. I certainly am not waiting for an apology from a police chief or an emergency worker for the careless manner with which black bodies are handled in times of confrontation or death. The only way I can reconcile the sentiment behind "Black lives matter" and the myriad ways that that truth is denied is to imbue the phrase with meaning of my own. The only way to say the words and not fall to pieces under the crushing irony doled out by a double-talking justice system is to understand "Black lives matter" not as a slogan or a hashtag but as a meditation. A mantra. A prayer. Or...

1. A powerful secret we knowingly share through nods and whispers while riding packed rush-hour buses: "Pardon me. Thank you. Black lives matter."

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Credit: Laurie Townshend, taken Dec. 13, 2014, in Toronto, Canada

2. A battle cry we chant alongside teammates in huddles and time-outs: "Black lives matter! Break!"

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Credit: Laurie Townshend, taken Dec. 13, 2014, in Toronto, Canada

3. A celebratory cheer we exclaim during surprise birthday parties, graduations and baby showers: "Congratulations! Black lives matter!"

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Credit: Laurie Townshend, taken Dec. 13, 2014, in Toronto, Canada

4. A post-loving-making affirmation we trace on the sweaty backs of our lovers: "Yessss.... Black. Lives. Matter."

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Credit: Laurie Townshend, taken Dec. 13, 2014, in Toronto, Canada

5. A peace offering we text to an ex after breaking up: "Hi. It's me. Black lives matter."

6. A declaration we make on government forms where we're asked to check the box labeled "Black": "Signed. Black lives matter."

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Credit: Laurie Townshend, taken Dec. 13, 2014, in Toronto, Canada

7. A reassurance we offer to our children when they've misbehaved: "I love you. And remember, black lives always matter."

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Credit: Laurie Townshend, taken Dec. 13, 2014, in Toronto, Canada

As difficult as it may be to face the reality that, for centuries, constitutions and policies have suggested that a black life matters substantially less than a white one, we owe it to ourselves to breathe love into the language we use with and amongst each other. The act of anointing the words we use with the very love that has sustained us in the midst of anti-black violence is the act of the revolutionary. It might just be the act of self-love that carries us -- in tact -- from cradle to grave. And when the inevitability of death is realized -- when the final epitaph (no. 8) has been carved into our headstones, the words "Black lives matter" should read as a holy inscription corroborating the immutable fact that we were here.

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Credit: Laurie Townshend, taken Dec. 13, 2014, in Toronto, Canada