Our family is best described as the U.N. “Brady Bunch” with our Chinese dad, Jewish mom, Black godmom and godsister under one roof (and then came our five adopted sisters from China).
We grew up hearing Jojo’s stories as a little girl in segregated South Carolina in the 1950s. “You know Amo, when I was your age walking down the street, I would lower my eyes and step to the side or even off the sidewalk completely when a white person was approaching.” I came to learn about Jim Crow through the experience of a little Black girl — the woman who helped raise me. I remember being confounded when Jojo described such blatant racism as completely normal and unquestioned. It was a matter of “proper” manners — the deference and subjugation that was expected of Black people.
Something as simple as walking down the street, was not simple at all.
I remember holding Jojo’s hand and searching her eyes as she recounted these stories, so many stories. I cherished Jojo, loved her smooth dark skin that I kissed, her kinky hair that I twisted. I learned to live with the knowledge and the fear that her existence and presence was under assault. I felt the stirring humiliation, and my own powerlessness to go back in time and protect her and my focus sharpened on the injustice of racism.
When I bloomed into a teenager and felt the gaze of men, and with it my own vulnerability walking alone on the streets. Jojo shared another story, it was late at night and she was alone on an empty street. She heard footsteps behind her. Alert and well aware, she paused and turned around.
She waited for the stranger to catch up with her and said to the man, “Would you like to walk together? I’ll be safer with you beside me. Isn’t that right?” In my pointed teenage way I pressed her, what if he was a racist, murderer, rapist? “Amo what if he was? He could have been all of those things and he could have killed me, raped me, assaulted me — maybe he was planning to. I invited him to walk with me. I gave him a chance to keep me safe — for us to know each other and keep each other safe. He might have been scared walking down the street alone too.”
Jojo taught me how to walk the road together.
On Monday night our council adopted a resolution declaring that Black Lives Matter which I am proud to have co-authored. It is a statement of our values, not an endorsement of a movement or political organization. It is the voice of a coalition of Black leaders, faith leaders, our police chief and police officers’ association. San Mateans from different backgrounds and perspectives who came together in earnest to present a unified front against police brutality and racism. This resolution is the result of complex discourse and courageous emotional and spiritual reflection that stretched us all. It was a multi-layered process of listening to and learning from each other and ultimately finding consensus on our common language and values.
What will give these words meaning are the actions and outcomes that our community must continue to hold us accountable to. This resolution is the beginning of a long road that we will walk together to uphold and protect the dignity of all San Mateans.
Amourence Lee is a member of the San Mateo City Council and has a background in community building.