It was an important phone call that made me late to the meeting Tuesday night (7/12/16). A town hall meeting of Charlotte religious leaders and politicians and fighters for justice and engaged citizens, scheduled to respond and give voice to frustrations and pain from the events of the last week–deaths at the hands of police and deaths of police. I was so late for the meeting I almost didn’t go in. But I decided that, since I had come all this way, and the meeting still seemed to be in session, I would slip in and soak in what I could of the moment together.

I missed a lot of speakers. I missed seven or more speakers–some clergy, some politicians, some heads of nonprofits trying to make a difference. But I didn’t miss the last one, our Mecklenburg County Chief of Police, Kerr Putney. It was worth the drive, worth the humiliation of walking in an hour late, to see him, to hear him talk. A man in the prime of his life sat before us speaking about his own feelings about the shootings and his sense of responsibility for such a time as this. His press conference last week went viral, since he spoke from perspectives that have seemed to come from opposite sides of the debate. He is African American and has felt targeted and has seen bad policing do damage. He is a police officer who has felt targeted every time he puts on his uniform and has great pride in the force he represented to us last night. So it seems like he was placed in this unique role for this time.
“This is bigger than me,” he kept saying. And for that, he got applause.

In the end, the gathering demonstrated that we are all in this together. Police and citizens, people of color and people of privilege, generations established and new. The pastor who handled the Question & Answer section of the meeting asked us to sing a song with him. It is a song I’ve not heard in my church, but I’ve heard it somewhere. Those who knew it sang with such heart. The song was “I Need You to Survive,” by Hezekiah Walker. Here are the lyrics:
I need you, you need me.

We’re all a part of God’s body.

Stand with me, agree with me.

We’re all a part of God’s body.
It is his will, that every need be supplied.

You are important to me, I need you to survive.

You are important to me, I need you to survive.
I pray for you, You pray for me.

I love you, I need you to survive.

I won’t harm you with words from my mouth.

I love you, I need you to survive.
It is his will, that every need be supplied.

You are important to me, I need you to survive.

I thought of all the times I’ve wanted to say this to someone–as a pastor, as a friend. The young man caught in deep depression and drug addiction. “I need you to survive.” The child fighting for her life in the hospital. “I need you to survive.” The family in the throes of destruction from within. “I need you to survive.” The grandfather who wishes he had died, rather than his wife, and sometimes thinks of ending it all to join her. “I need you to survive.” The teenager wanting to run away from home. “I need you to survive.” The couple that just lost their home and comes to our church door in crisis. “I need you to survive.” Another component to this meeting had been a continuous slide show on the church screens of the faces of African Americans who lost their lives at the hands of police. And now, as the song played on, I was thinking of the families worried about their own children’s safety, citizens in our country feeling so hopeless without knowing if the struggle is worth it. “I need you to survive.” I was thinking of the police officers running to danger while everyone else was running to safety. “I need you to survive.”

Our nation is reeling.  The struggle of our day is bigger than any one of us.    And we are all in it together.