OKC, Why are We Afraid to Talk About Julius Jones?

Many of us are afraid. That has become clear to me in recent weeks. We are afraid of confronting the past. We are afraid of talking about difficult things, like broken systems and race. And most of all, it seems we are afraid of being wrong.

Since watching “The Last Defense”- a three-part ABC docu-series produced by Academy Award winner, Viola Davis, and Julius Tennon, I have been deeply troubled and committed to engaging in community dialogue about criminal justice reform, racial bias, and the moral contradiction of the death penalty.

Some are eager to join the conversation, while many others won’t return my calls or emails.

I get it.

These are deep waters, and what if we put ourselves ‘out there’ to challenge whatever powers that be- only to be disappointed or humiliated by the outcome? What if we spend our time, energy and resources advocating for a man who really is guilty? What if the DNA test comes back and excludes anyone but Julius?

What if we are wrong?

I can risk being wrong… as long as I am right about the principles…and I am right about the principles.

I believe everyone- guilty or innocent- has a right in America to Due Process of Law. I believe anyone accused and charged with a crime has a right to a fair trial with competent counsel. I believe that the American criminal justice system has an obligation of due diligence, transparency and high ethical standards.

I believe that a jury of one’s peers should be representative of the accused person. That a black man, such as Julius Jones, should have more than two ethnic minorities weighing the facts of the case. I believe that when people show us who they are, we should believe them the first time. Therefore, a juror who refers to a black defendant as “nigger” is racially biased, and should not be allowed to continue on the jury.

I believe that God is the Creator of all life. That governments will never be holy enough to rightly decide who lives and who dies, especially when we cannot discern whether we are motivated by justice or revenge. I am pro-life “from the womb to the grave”. I believe as long as there is life, there is a chance for God to work. I believe in the Jesus who saved an adulterous woman from the death penalty. And the Jesus who called a stinking man named Lazarus from the tomb.

Lastly, I believe that we cannot walk by faith without taking risks. That nothing good is ever accomplished on Planet Earth without a few brave souls who are willing to look foolish for the sake of the Common Good. So, I am not afraid, because I know what I believe. I know that principles of mercy and justice are true and right.

Hollywood has unearthed a 20-year-old death row case here in Oklahoma City. There will be many opportunities to engage, ask questions, and decide what you believe during #Justice4Julius Month in November. I hope you will have the courage.

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
    of whom shall I be afraid? ~Psalm 27:1

Love+ Mercy +Justice,

Cece

Dear Sister,

Dear Sister,

You are on our hearts. You don’t know most of us, but we are connected to you through the love, concern, and action of Lauren and Leah.  Out of their love for you, for all women, and for God, they let us know that one of our own might appreciate some support at this time.  All of us have responded because of our collective love for you, for all women, and for God.

 

You’ve been through so much.  We do not need to know every detail of your story to know this much to be true. You have endured great pain. Suffered in silence. You have carried an enormous burden, and have now practiced a great courage in pursuing a better life for yourself and your children.

 

You survived. Congratulations!  Let our love remind you of this:  God sees you, loves you, and has deemed you worthy of all good things. Stranger-sisters-friends of yours have poured in money, concern, and things in order to celebrate your survival and affirm your choice to thrive.  We offer you all of our love, because so many of us can relate to your story, and ALL of us can attest to needing support at some point in our lives.

 

Sister, you have our support.  We want you to know that you can do this. You ARE doing this. You are strong and capable and wise.  You are beautiful. The future is bright.

 

Congratulations! You survived. And we honor your life and the lives of Shanann Watts and her babies, who were killed recently by the man who said he loved them most.  For your survival, and the survival of anyone who finds an escape, we send up fiery and victorious cheers.

 

You did it. You made it. And this is only the beginning. Please know that though we are strangers, we really are not. We know you. We understand you. We see you as one made in the Image of God, and we will always be here cheering you on. Please accept this gift, not as charity, but as a seed sown into GOOD ground. We know that you will go on to bare beautiful fruit.

 

Love,

The Care Bear Cohort

P.S.

Below are the messages from people from many parts of the country who have donated and are praying for you.

P.S.S.

Becky G. sent her grandmother’s china and Michelle D. sent the Sam’s Club shipment <3

 

 

“For the stranger who left an abusive husband” ~Lakena J.

“For the friend” ~Brenda C.

“For the Palmers’ brave friend” ~Traci

“For starting over” ~Melanie

“For Shanann” ~Zekariah

“For the sister who got out” ~Linda D.

“For a seed” ~Steffon T.

“For a blessing” ~Tamisha

“For someone who was brave” ~Brooke

“For doing my part” ~Glennis

“For a friend starting over. Be well.”~T.

“For Care Bear support” ~Stacia

“For activated Care Bear” ~Natasha G.

“For her.” ~Michelle D.

“For emergency” ~Kinwana

“For sister love”~Danielle E.

“For a gift for her fresh start” ~Tameeka D.

“Donation for the sister-friend” ~Jean

“I pray she overcomes!” ~Renea

“Prayers for this brave soul as she starts over” ~Stacy

Praying for this friend” ~Alison

“Share the love” ~Rebecca C.

“To help the woman starting her new chapter” ~Kristanie C.

“stop domestic violence” ~Renee, Joanna, Kimberly, Lataya, Dawn, Caleb, Robin M., Lele,

“She can do this” ~Natasha + kids

“We love you” ~Cece & Mike

Goodwill

He was a middle-aged, spanish-speaking man with cropped salt and pepper hair.  His t-shirt overstretched at the neck, and his hands dirty and calloused from many a hard days worked.  I was there, giddy to pick up the antique chest I had purchased the day before for $43.51.

As I rolled past the line of folks waiting to make their purchases, I was stopped by the awkward interaction between him and the cashier.

 "This is pathetic!" She said. 

"You can't steal from here, sir. I should ban you from ever coming in this store again. We are all falling on hard times. This is embarrassing, and I'm going to embarrass you in front of all these people! You cannot steal from this store. MANAGER!"

Apparently, the man had stuffed an old suitcase full of sneakers, thinking the cashier would ring it up without looking inside.

She looked inside.

And one by one, she pulled out multiple pairs of shoes. 

My heart sank. I am easily embarrassed for people,  and will quickly turn a TV channel at first indication of someone being humiliated or making a fool of themselves.  

But here in Goodwill, my favorite store in America, I was frozen.  Concern, fear, nosiness, horror. All of it stopped me and my old/new treasure chest in our tracks. It was like watching a wreck in slow motion. His face was one of weariness, shame, confusion and fear.  

As the cashier continued her speech,  the manager appeared from the back to join the spectacle.  I got distracted by something, and the next thing I knew the man was walking out of the store, without the suitcase and without the shoes. I stood in place for about 30 seconds, then ran to the parking lot to find him. He was gone. 

I went back in to get my old/new chest, but really to re-join the congregation that had just witnessed such a sad, tragic display.  We would be strangers, thinking in silence. Wrestling with the perplexities presented in those few, short moments. In Goodwill. 

I was angry with the cashier. But I was sorry to be angry because she was right. Stealing is wrong. Many people fall on hard times. And stealing is still wrong, i thought. 

 I was angry because of the shame on his face. It seemed that he may not have known every word directed towards him in those moments, but without a doubt, he understood their meaning.  I wanted so badly to change the channel.

I was mad at myself. And at the other people in the store. Here I was rolling my $43.51 old/new chest out to my mini SUV, and a man is attempting to smuggle $7.99 shoes out of Goodwill in a suitcase.  I had cringed. Frozen.

And did not act. 

I reasoned that the man was breaking the law.  That the cashier was doing her job. That it wasn't my place to step in. 

And my good senses caught up with me too late. The senses that tell the truth and acknowledge the obvious-  that if a man has to attempt to smuggle used, $7.99 shoes out of a Goodwill, there is a bigger principle at stake.

I should have intervened. Paid for the shoes. And the suitcase. I shouldn't have wasted those 30 seconds rationalizing my own fear. I should've approached the counter (i've never been known to mind my own business in a crisis, anyway) or, at the very least, stopped him in the parking lot, offering whatever Spanish words the Holy Spirit would pull up from my 7th grade brain files. Told him that God loved him. That I was so sorry for everything. Given him the  shoes. 

Oprah often asks her guests what they know for sure.  And if ever I had the chance, here's what i'd say:

 I know for sure that God is less interested in our WHAT and more interested in our WHY.   

He is the God of The Story, dear Oprah. The Paragraph. The Chapter. OurBook.  

I'm sure that God wouldn't have stopped him at the register to chastise him about those shoes. 

I'm sure God would have said, 'sir, how many people do you have in your family? What size does your wife wear? Let me get the manager and see if there are ways that we can help you.  You must be in a tough spot."

I know that God studies what's beneath. The things deeper in the treasure chest or in the suit case. God sees what men/women/cashiers cannot see. 

I know for sure that God doesn't care about material things like shoes, suitcases, or stretched t-shirts.  He does cares about weary, shamed faces, dirty, calloused hands and needs rushing out the door the same way they came in.

I know that God is the God of Goodwill. 

Benevolent. Compassionate. Good. Kind. Considerate. Charitable. 

All the good we aspire to as human beings. That is God. 

The congregation missed it that day. We missed the opportunity to let our lights shine. To restore dignity to an already hurting person. To dare ourselves beyond his WHAT to imagine his WHY. We failed to buy the shoes. 

I hope not to miss my next opportunity to practice courage. To ooze a loving Jesus all over a desperate life. I hope to ask the cashier to please lower her voice. Tell her that shaming a man over used, $7.99 shoes really isn't the route we should take.  Go to the manager myself, and ask, "what can we do to help this man, Mr. Manager of My Local Goodwill?" Walk down the aisles, taking up a collection from all my fellow congregants to pay for the shoes and some other stuff. To transform into one of those special people who makes a scene to spread a little positivity. That is how we change the world. One musky store at a time. One human life at a time, with a few pair of used, $7.99 shoes.

 

 

Friendship

It was almost two years ago that she pulled up to my new temporary housing. She didn't want me to get lost or confused my first time driving to an OKC Thunder game, especially in the rain. I followed her to the arena that night, sat with her in the stands. A sweet, but edgy soul. Envision Californian sprinkled with a lil' Boston...and maybe a flick of Puerto Rican. We became fast, forever friends sitting in those stands.

Dani is the type of person who doesn't offer anything that she isn't sincere about.  She is very much her own person, comfortable in her olive-toned skin, a simple greek chick.  She's tall and naturally slender. Can wear a pair of holey jeans and a white tee with perfection.  Her beauty is effortless and classic.  And her smile. Her smile is inviting and soothing. The kind of smile that reassures you that you may be crazy, but that's alright. 

Dani is the type of person you'd call to pick your kid up from school if you're in a jam. Or leave your kid with overnight when you go into labor with your next.  She's the kind who is giving your child both  maternal squeezes and dirty 'don't you dare' looks, as applicable. She's gently passing on her 'Baby Whisperer' book to you when you're tired and frazzled and desperately needing that baby to sleep. And she's the one saving all her baby's clothes for yours, folded sweetly, and given in an old Pamper box.

Dani is the type of person who has the gift of friendship.  The gift.

She's a gatherer. A warm hugger. A stoic back-rubber. She tells you that you look tired, brings your kid close to her chest, and orders you home to get some rest. She tells you not to call. That she doesn't want to see your face for 3 hours. All in love. 

Coffee. Tea. Exchanges of books. Playdates. Thanksgiving dinner ordered from Cracker Barrel  when our husbands are on the road.  Bringing people together is effortless for her.  She is a magnet for strong girl-ships. She's a supporter. A confidante. A soul sister. 

She's unpretentious. She's just who she is. She claims she's not a good cook, and unapologetically throws together a delicious chicken soup courtesy of recipe.com.  Dani is steady. Even on a bad day, she's the same. She isn't worried about you seeing her house in disarray, if you are a friend. She doesn't mind seeing yours, either.  She's not an extrovert, but laughs loudly and genuinely with her sister circle. She swings in a hammock while the girls raise hell in the playhouse. Her home is warm. Welcoming. Calming. A place for all of us. 

Dani is the type of person who loves her family with all her strength. But if she starts losing a sense of self, she joins a gym or cuts her hours at work.  She's got a strong personal constitution. She knows her boundaries and isn't afraid to enforce them. She's loyal. She's kind to herself. Makes you want to be kind to yourself, too. 

Dani is real. calm. confident. Human in the most beautiful way. 

She doesn't pretend to have it all together.  But her tidy cabinets and charming backyard makes you think she probably does. She's an adventurer. Not a lover of money or material things.  She has no desire to be rich. She just wants to live a good life- full of experiences, beach trips, and love. 

Dani is a true friend. And i'm so sad that she just moved away.  My experience in OKC would not nearly have been the same without her.  She was my soft place to fall, and always had a listening ear on days when I was lonely.

"Welcome the stranger". That's what the Bible tells us to do. That's what Dani did for me so gracefully.  I have learned so much from her about being a gatherer of wandering souls.  Making space for them. Letting them know that they are alright.

Dani, I want to thank you for all you've done. For having the gift, and sharing it with me. Thank you for loving Halo and for being the best white auntie she could ever ask for.  Thank you for sharing my rage during election season, and for understanding so many of the nuances that make the world different for you and me.  Thank you for your everyday courage, dry humor, and again, for the gift.

Friendship.