3 years ago Michael Brown was shot dead in Ferguson, Mo. 3 years ago we witnessed the divide of a nation, the exasperation of a people. Is today different? Have we learned anything from the past 3 years?

I recently read an excerpt from Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings” and immediately connected with a paragraph where she describes how African Americans felt.

“My race groaned. It was our people falling. It was another lynching, yet another Black man hanging on a tree. One more woman ambushed and raped. A Black boy whipped and maimed. It was hounds on the trail of a man running through slimy swamps. It was a white woman slapping her maid for being forgetful.”

Maya Angelou’s describes the feeling black people experienced listening to a boxing match on the radio, where it seemed like Joe Lewis might lose. Today, Madison groans as well. Gun violence disrupts our neighborhoods, and the shots reverberate across the entire city.

The feelings she describes aren’t a part of history or another bit of interesting literature. No, they beat with the thunder of drums in the heart of every African American when violence stabs their lives, failed systems tramples their hopes, and “polite” racism diminishes who they are.

That collective groan happens when our bright students graduate our esteemed University, then scramble for psychological safety outside of the city. It happens when opportunities disappear in front of those trying to make better choices. We hear it when concerned white people ask questions about our experiences, only to find excuses to dismiss those same experiences as misunderstandings or something equally as trite.

But there are other noises adding to the clamor. The screams of a city learning it must give birth to a different type of environment. The collective groan of a city that is beginning to understand that inclusion doesn’t mean everyone adopts a homogenous culture or way of thinking. Fresh eyes are looking at a new world for the first time wondering what comes next.

People of all ethnicities are gathering, working together with the community, the government, and with each other. The pains of loss are real, and wounds are often slow to heal. The pains of birthing something new are just the start. Nurturing and raising change, so new and fragile, cannot be abandoned when progress is slow, or forgotten when more pleasant distractions arise. If we want real and lasting change, we will have to groan together and grow together.

-Harry Hawkins