Stepping Back, Leaning In

Gabrielle Horton (Twitter: @gabhorton); Incoming Master’s in Public Policy Candidate, University of Michigan

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July 5th: Alton Sterling.

July 6th: Philando Castile.

July 7th: Five members of the Dallas Police Department.

And on July 8th, I served my last day with the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office, where I oversaw our Public Engagement efforts in South Los Angeles. The timing of these brutal murders, two of which were documented on smartphone video cameras, and subsequent protests –  including in Los Angeles (where Black Lives Matter protesters continue to occupy City Hall for a second week in a row) – have continued to weigh heavily on my heart and mind.

As the departure date for South Africa drew near, I found myself relieved to be free from work duties, which would have surely kept me buried sky high with briefing papers and emails ensuring our office’s proper response and presence in this ongoing narrative around law enforcement, communities of color, and violence. I even started to mentally frame the 21st International AIDS Conference as a vacation of some sorts, where I would simply join the rest of the ELCA Young Adult Cohort for a week of HIV/AIDS workshops and then return back to “reality” when I got back to America. I figured that 11,000 miles away with complete strangers could in no way match the horror I witnessed on my iPhone screen just days before; and could in no way compare to the haunting dreams of gun shots and bloodshed that I had to shake loose night after night. I was convinced that this experience would finally allow me the peace of mind – even if for just eight days – to box up and shelve away my American Blackness, and check back in once the wheels touched down at LAX the following week. And while I generally understood the racialization – and even the Africanization – of the HIV/AIDS epidemic to a certain degree, I was in no ways prepared for the level of intersectionality of this epidemic, which has so profoundly shed light on my identify as an advocate for urban communities of color, and a tireless advocate in the pursuit of justice, access and equity for all. Continue reading “Stepping Back, Leaning In”