Photo from Antwon Rose rally in Pittsburgh on June 21, 2018 via Mark Dixon / Flickr</a.

Social worker and mental health advocate Julius Boatwright shares this open letter to the Pittsburgh community, which is torn and hurting following the shooting death of Antwon Rose. 

Healing as individuals and collectively is such a complicated, complex and confusing process. While community members continue to stand in solidarity during powerful protests, onlookers ask why can’t we just move forward with our lives.

There are critics who constantly speak negatively about protesting and how it doesn’t accomplish anything worthwhile. There are those who even argue that if Antwon Rose Jr. wouldn’t have run from the police, he would still be alive today.

These are just a few of the narratives that have risen to the surface in our city and around the country. If we’re ever going to properly heal, we must give thoughtful consideration to the fact that this process can look, sound and feel different for everyone.

Grief is nonlinear without a clear path from the beginning to middle to end. There are many people, particularly black and brown folks, who constantly encounter traumatic experiences with law enforcement and the legal system. When you’re a person of color, a routine traffic stop can send your body and brain into a state of shock and debilitating fear.

When these incidents occur, black and brown people are forced to relive moments when the ones we love, or even ourselves, were shot or harmed by those who were entrusted to protect us.

When black and brown people are continually shown that our lives, in fact, don’t matter, how can we be expected to get over it, stop protesting and move forward?

Coincidentally, Antwon Rose Jr.’s funeral was held on the anniversary of 12-year-old Tamir Rice’s birthday. Two police officers responded after someone called saying that a black male repeatedly removed a gun from his pants and pointed it at people. A caller said Tamir was waving what appeared to be a pistol at random community members.

During the call, the person noted that it was probably a fake gun. At the end of their conversation, the individual added that Tamir appeared to be a child. According to reports, this information wasn’t shared with officers on the initial dispatch. I’ll spare us the remaining details because we all know how this story ends.

In the midst of more recent tragedies, the thing that hurts me the most is how cruel we’re being toward each other.

Photo from Antwon Rose rally in Pittsburgh on June 21, 2018 via Mark Dixon/Flickr.

It seems as though some people are more focused on what Antwon did or didn’t do and not on the fact that his life is valuable no matter what happened. As humans, our existence is a miracle and it doesn’t seem like we place enough value on that beautiful concept anymore. We often hear our elders speak of the days when compassion, empathy and listening to understand were the norm.

In today’s society, is it even possible for us to heal individually and collectively in the face of these painful, tragic and heartbreaking times? I strongly believe that the answer to this question is yes.

However, it won’t be an easy, overnight process.

We must give ourselves and those around us permission to navigate grief as they see fit.

We must invest time in our mental health and wellness to ensure that we have the tools necessary to cope and regulate our emotions.

We must engage in empathetic dialogue even when it hurts so that we can gain an intimate understanding of why our neighbors think, act and feel a certain way.

We must learn to love ourselves unconditionally despite God-given unchangeable flaws, insecurities and weaknesses, because that will help us develop a deeper appreciation for the lives of our brothers and sisters around the world.

We must begin to place value on everyone’s existence because we’re all human beings who possess the desire to be unconditionally loved, valued and appreciated.

As a licensed social worker and mental health advocate, I’ve learned so much from my peers about how being actively involved helps them to navigate their healing process. If you’re feeling like you need to do more, which is definitely common during traumatic times like these, know that there are many ways to activate your journey.

Julius Boatwright

Julius serves as the Founding CEO with Steel Smiling. They bridge the gap between community members and mental health support through education, advocacy and awareness. Their vision is to connect every...