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When Silence Speaks Louder Than Words

Breaking the Silence Barrier

Significant power stands behind silence, and it never stands with the oppressed.

In a world filled with chatter, chaos, unfiltered commentary, and just NOISE, I eagerly seek refuge in silence. When my head space becomes crowded from long days of meetings, conference calls, and arbitrary “water cooler” conversations about his weekend, her weekend, this weekend, I long for a space of peace and quiet, where not even the voices of my own thoughts dare speak. As the saying goes, “silence is golden.” But inversely, amongst all of that chatter, chaos and noise that daily fill our eardrums, silence can sometimes be the most deafening sound of them all.  In difficult times, it’s the words that are left unsaid that speak the most volumes.

The days following the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile left me in a mental and emotional funk. Foregoing questions of how and why these tragedies continue to happen again and again rattled through my mind, fueling my fear and disbelief more and more. On my way to work the next morning, I began to feel anxious. I wondered what my coworkers would say, scripting the possible conversations I’d overhear regarding the current events. That trepidation, however, was quickly dismissed. There was an air of silence that roamed the hallways. The day to day conversations were still being had as normal. Neither a word nor comment was made within earshot about the disheartening news of that week. It was as if it was just another day at the CDC; but it wasn’t. In less than 24 hours, the lives of two more black men were lost due to the excessive use of force institutionalized by the justice system. Once more, I bear the burden of the same senseless tragedy that continues to plague the black community, my community. Yet, for everyone else, it seemed to be just another day.

Typically, I would find such silence gratifying, but that day, it was almost unbearable. How are people not talking about this? Did no one watch the news that morning? Did they not receive any breaking news alerts on their cell phones? Not see the ceaseless status updates and video posts circulating all over social media? I knew I wasn’t the only person aware of the situation, but it felt like I was the sole bearer of this secret no one knew, and the pressure of keeping it weighed heavy on my mind. Needless to say, my level of productivity that week was challenged. The only thoughts I could process were of the Facebook posts, news updates, and video footage of what happened to Sterling and Castile. It became so mentally exhausting, I wanted nothing more than for someone to see my internal distress and relieve me from it; for someone to ask “how are you doing,” out of genuine concern for me. For someone to give me space to process everything that has occurred but also provide space to let me share my thoughts and feelings.  For someone to acknowledge that there’s an issue present, and offer support and comfort to those impacted by it. I wasn’t looking for answers to my endless questioning of why. I just wanted someone to say something so I knew I wasn’t alone.

I share this experience to offer my perspective – to show what it looks like and what it feels like when you’re the target of injustice and inhumanity, whether in Baton Rouge, Dallas, Orlando, or elsewhere. I understand the weight of sensitivity these topics carry, and other topics related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. You may be hesitant to voice your opinions out of fear of offending or because you think your perspective is different. You want to show support and comfort to those impacted but aren’t sure of the “right” words to say. Or perhaps because the circumstances don’t directly pertain to you, you feel that it’s not your place to speak so you distance yourself from the conversation as an attempt to appear “neutral.” I get it. It’s difficult. These discussions aren’t easy for anyone. But staying silent doesn’t move us forward either. As the brilliant mastermind Albert Einstein once said, “If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.” I’m not asking for you to know all of the answers, but to provide support when it’s needed. If anything, just say something.

Starting the Conversation

  1. What would it look like if we removed the silence barriers often surrounding such matters and engaged in open dialogue?
  2. How will our organization benefit from these discussions?