The Power of Love and Hearing

by Barbara Joy Cooley

My dad’s business was vandalized and looted in the Cincinnati riots of 1967-68, yet what concerned him was not his losses, but the injustices and racism that sparked the riots. He empathized with the people who were suffering so much. I don’t know if he had heard the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., say that the riot is the language of the unheard,(1) but my dad certainly understood that truth. I was just an adolescent at the time, but my dad’s words and sentiment about the people who were protesting, and his valuing these people’s yearning for basic human rights and fairness made an impression on me. I will never forget it.

So after I listened to the audio stream of the Sanibel City Council meeting on June 2, I had to write these words in Facebook:
“It troubles me that the discussion at the beginning of today’s Sanibel city council meeting seemed to focus on the council members’ concerns about the rioting in cities across the country, and not on the racism and injustices that sparked those riots. This troubles me a lot. The racism and injustices break my heart. Vandalism and looting are wrong but it is racism and injustice that break my heart.”

I would have been present in city hall and would have spoken these words into the record at the podium had I not been in self isolation, at home with my husband due to his underlying medical condition and the Covid epidemic.

The city council members are good people who have good intentions; they are community-minded volunteers who are dedicated to serving the people of Sanibel. But as one friend commented, “You can tell a lot about a person by what they focus on.”

Another friend responded, “We live in a homogeneous community. As sad as it is, the council’s tone deafness, while probably not intentional, does not surprise me one bit. Disconnects often happen when we’re not exposed to other cultures, creeds, colors and orientations on a regular basis. I love Sanibel but we live in a bubble. One of the things I miss most about living in Miami was the mix of cultures living and mingling side by side. We have a lot going for us on the island but diversity isn’t on that list.”

No, diversity is not on that list.

After the Rev. Dr. King said that the riot is the language of the unheard, he stated what it is that America has failed to hear. “It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met,” he said. “And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.” Those failures to hear are still with us today.

The heartbreak caused by words not spoken on Tuesday started to turn into depression, but then I remembered the mantra that I turn to in troubled times, “The power of love is greater than anything, even death itself.”

The power of love is being shown by police across the country who have been kneeling in front of demonstrators in order to show respect for them and an understanding of their grievances. Would these city council members ever do something like that? I do not know. But I know they can open their hearts and minds to try to love and understand the unheard, even if those people live miles away. The world is small, after all, and love can conquer it. Or, as the Rev. Dr. King said, ““I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.”


(1) “The Other America,” speech by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., at the Grosse Pointe High School, March 14, 1968. https://www.gphistorical.org/mlk/mlkspeech/index.htm

Comments (11)

  1. Barbara Joy Cooley is a voice for our times and for this Island especially at this troubled time. Sanibel still has a drawbridge mentality even though the actual drawbridge is long gone. There are bright diverse communities across the causeway and we are just one more in the mix. Please let us all take a figurative “knee”” and pray for healing and peace.

  2. Wonderful reflection, Barbara. Thank you.

  3. Periard Carol

    So well said, Barbara

  4. This piece was beautifully written! I agree with everything you said, but likely wouldn’t have said it as well. My Mother was from the south, but my Father was British, therefore I came from the same kind of home that you did. When many people I know, including relatives, were upset about Colin Kaepernick and others taking a knee during the National Anthem, I was in total agreement, and told my daughter I would be right there with them doing the same. It had absolutely nothing to do with flag or the anthem, but it provided a stage where all would take notice of the continue racism in our country. I just read an article that said the Marine Corps would be taking down all their confederate flags. I should hope so, I had no idea it was being flown by the Marine Corps! How dreadful! I truly hope that this time, something wonderful and lasting happens.

    Thank you for writing your lovely message. I hope many people will read it and learn something.

  5. Jean Chandler

    Amen, Barbara, thanks for having the courage to speak out. I like the benediction at the National Cathedral today: The world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.

  6. Edina Lessack

    Excellent article. Thank you Barbara.

  7. Barbara thank you for sharing your thoughts regarding Sanibel city council. You so eloquently described our current situation and I am hopeful your words will help to open the hearts and minds of those that just don’t seem to get it. We love this island too but also recognize it’s lack of diversity.

  8. Thank you, Barbara, for your words of wisdom. I completely agree with what you have said, and am disappointed in the failure of our City Council to recognize the significance of the serious racism that exists in America. Most of us are aware of the lack of diversity here in Sanibel,(as well as the lack of diversity on our City Council), which is simply a microcosm of many communities in our country. This is a difficult time in our history, and it is more important than ever that we strive now for real change.

  9. Mark A Thompson

    Thank you Barbara. Wonderfully stated. White guys just cant think outside their inherited power.

  10. Shirley Bohnert

    A courageous, heartfelt and truthful article. Thank you so much for expressing sentiments that so many of us feel.

  11. Donna Gillroy

    Bravo Barbara. No way “home” but through the heart.

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