Amisha Harding is an entrepreneur and activist who gained notoriety for defusing tensions between the National Guard and marchers during Atlanta’s spring protests, when she encouraged officers in riot gear to dance the macarena. She also created “Healing Walls,” a public art piece during the protests. Harding’s work includes nonprofit consulting, real estate and wellness. She’s the founder of Courageous Conversations for the Collective, a social justice movement that creates space for healing, understanding and action on such issues as racism and inequality. (Photo courtesy Amisha Harding)
Looking back on 2020, the moment that stands out most to me was watching a young, beautiful African American woman walk down Centennial Olympic Park Drive just after the National Guard and protesters danced together at the peak of the protests last spring. I had just turned my loudspeaker off and made an announcement for my fellow protesters to begin to prepare to leave as curfew was approaching. The young lady was crying and wailing, “WHYYYYYYY?!?! I am 20 years old! Why is this happening?! Why are they KILLING us? I am 20 years old! This should NOT be my life! WHYYYYY?!?!” She was so distraught that her friends had to hold her up as they walked to their car. The street fell silent and everyone stepped aside to give her and her friends room to pass. The street that had been filled with tear gas just days before had erupted into a celebration of joyful dancing, unity and hope. We had all been on a natural high. The heart-piercing wail of that young woman sobered us and reminded us of the pain we were feeling as individuals and as a country.
That moment represented so much to me. It reflected the real roller coaster of emotions so many people are contending with during this time — especially people of color. My biggest takeaway was that people are hurting and we have so much work to do. That work will take time. That work will take place at dinner tables, on car rides, at church, in homes and in hearts. That work will take place through conversations with strangers. It will take place in legislative sessions and police precincts. That work will take place with therapists and in safe spaces, too, because people need support. It is OK to need support as we all work to change our country for the better.
The young lady’s raw emotion moved me. Her vulnerability was both heartbreaking and beautiful. She chose not to hide her pain. It takes so much courage to do that. In doing so, she gives others permission to feel deeply and express their pain. She also reminded all of us that while we had just demonstrated the power of unity and love as protesters and the National Guard danced together, we would have to fight to continue the dance. We have to fight for unity, joy, peace and justice. There is no quick fix for the brokenness of our country, but there is a collective sense of urgency and pain that is calling us to action. We are marching, dancing, voting and fighting our way to change, fueled by our joy and our pain. I have hope that we will reach our destination together.
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