Staying Up All Night by Kevin Kling

George Carlin said, ‘It’s called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.’

There is a Navajo saying, ‘You can wake a sleeping man but you can never wake a man pretending to be asleep.’

My friend Dovie Thomason says, ‘I can tell you, but I can’t make you understand.’

A few blocks from my house is the memorial for George Floyd. The tragic circumstances surrounding his death are heartbreaking, infuriating, and have shattered our community. Yet on that intersection of 38th and Chicago Avenue, an area surrounded by protests, fires, and at times riots, there are prayer circles, music, children, food and supplies stations. It is considered sacred ground, and that’s how it feels. A window in the violence to honor the story of George Floyd

Wendell Berry said, ‘There are no unsacred places, there are only sacred places and desecrated places.’

When people in power want ground they take it — to build a wall, oil fields, pipelines. This twin town has a history of dubious land grabs, first from the Dakota with broken treaties and forced relocation, and again in the 1960’s when a freeway came through and we lost the Rondo neighborhood. The Rondo was a middle class African American community between St. Paul and Minneapolis. A vibrant, politically active, kids playing-in-the-streets kind of neighborhood. When it came time to find a corridor for the I-94, even though there were other, more suitable choices, the Rondo was earmarked for demolition. A scar of desecration runs through the heart of the city.

The local law enforcement also has an earned a reputation for unnecessary force and intimidation. Though we’ve been told that new community building practices and techniques have been implemented, the oppression has accelerated over the years. Was the murder of George Floyd horrible?  Yes. Was it a surprise? No.

How many times have we heard, ‘I fear every time I get in a car, every time I drive, I fear for my brothers and sisters, every minute of every day.’

We all shoulder the burden for this recent police action. We like to believe we are evolving both culturally and personally but back somewhere in our past we got stuck and instead of moving forward it’s a become a cycle.

Somewhere in my DNA lives both the oppressor and the oppressed.  My job is to recognize that, to confront it, make amends and change, for myself, for my ancestors and my community,… to listen, learn, act, and listen more.

There have been threats perpetrated by outside agitators in my neighborhood for the past four days.  Neighbors have organized to protect ourselves and our property. Yesterday an SUV with no license plates (suspicious new pattern) ,driven by a white man with three white passengers, pulled over on our block and stopped.  I stood behind the vehicle with my dog.  He is a basset hound and I’m me so I don’t think we were scaring anyone. But we stood there, letting them know there were eyes on them, until they finally left. That kind of incident, along with staying up all night is taking a toll.  This is not normal, for me or especially those that live their entire lives in fear and uncertainty.

I know that privilege isn’t what you have — it’s that you have. We are currently in a pandemic wrapped in another pandemic.

But every so often there are breaks from the violence. Police kneeling in solidarity with protesters, people cleaning the streets after a night of fire, destruction and looting, neighbors joining to patrol and protect, demonstrations calling for change, people lining up for miles to donate food and essential items — grocery bags filling entire city blocks. 

My friend Allison said the other day a couple protesters knocked on her door and asked if it was OK if they took a pee in her bushes. She said, ‘Come in, I can do even better.’

Another friend, Michael, grew up with an abusive father. He and his son are very close. I asked him, ‘How did you break the chain of violence’?  He said, ‘You don’t understand, I didn’t. I have to work at it every minute of every day.’

And that’s the thing about waking up. You have to do it every day.

About the contributor

Kevin Kling, storyteller/author, lives in Minnesota. His plays have been produced worldwide including off Broadway's Second Stage Theater. He has received numerous awards including the Whiting and an NEA grant and was named the Minneapolis Storyteller Laureate in 2014. He has written five books.

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11 COMMENTS

  1. Well said. Thank you for writing such an eye opening piece, Kevin, and sharing how your life is, in your neighborhood. I hope to see you tell in the near future. Be well, stay safe and sane.

  2. Thank you for sharing your heart. I hope you and your wonder dog stay safe, but keep your eyes open! Stay safe.

  3. Well said and well lived! Thank you for your words and your life as an example!! Stas’ Ziolkowski, storyteller.

  4. Thanks Kevin for your moving piece. What happened in and to the Rondo neighborhood, was replicated here in Richmond, VA and in cities all over the country. This stuff happened not by happenstance but by Federal Urban planning going back maybe to the 1930’s. So, no surprise we’ve ended up with almost every American city having their own ‘Pales of Settlement’, segregated, hemmed in, impoverished, Public and other inferior housing concentration camps. Which our Police, exist mostly to control by any means possible. Thanks again Kevin.

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