Tywanza’s Kaleidoscope

Do you recognize the name, Tywanza Sanders? I only became acquainted recently. Perhaps acquainted isn’t the right word. I don’t know Mr. Sanders. I never had the pleasure of meeting the young man. Yet, I owe him a debt of gratitude.

He cured me of colorblindness.

When the Charleston shooting took place on June 17th, I prayed in earnest for the people affected by the horror. In the days since, I have tried to understand how love might still win in the wake of this tragedy. My heart is broken for the lives lost and the multitude of lives impacted.

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Tywanza Sanders

When an article on Huff Post listing the names and additional details of the victims ran across my social media feed, I clicked. I found myself looking into the handsome face of twenty-six year-old Tywanza Sanders, and while transfixed by his charming smile…I saw my son.

My son is full of love and intensely devoted to his older sisters. He has a contagious laugh, and like Tywanza, a dazzling smile. He will perhaps one day pursue some form of mechanical engineering or music education. They seem to be some of his interests. He is young—virtually a baby. His life is full of potential.

According to the article I read, Tywanza Sanders was described as, “…(a) quiet, well-known student who was committed to his education…” Other sources online quoted his friends and family recounting him as, “always smiling”. He had an obvious love of family. There are several reports of his efforts to protect his aunt and his mother who were both in that room with him. He was a barber and an artist. He was considering graduate school. He was still young. His life was full of potential.

Tywanza Sanders and my son are also both black. I separate out this fact for two reasons. One—being black is only part of who they are. Two—being black is an integral part of who they are.

If my heart hurt for Charleston before I learned of Tywanza, it was crushed when I placed my son in his shoes—my baby, in a room full of people terrorized and murdered for being who they are…for being black. Perhaps that realization, that intimate connection to this heinous crime, should have been my immediate response. Maybe it was my limited life experiences…my white life experiences, my small-town Wyoming environment, or some kind of self-preservation response that kept me from instantly  venturing into the nightmare of that could happen to my son. I think I told myself the people in that room were just like me. That it was no different than if they were targeted for any other reason—religion, gender, nationality. Except…that isn’t why they were targeted.

I realize racially charged violence is nothing new. I know that while I’d like to believe it is our history, it is our reality. I recognize it is my responsibility to do what I can to change the course of our future through educating my children. Tywanza Sanders made me see I was going about it all wrong—I was wearing blinders.

I will admit to my naiveté. I once believed a colorblind world was something worth teaching my children to build. I equated an absence of color with the existence of acceptance. Such a world is not only impossible; it is a disservice.

How often have I encouraged my daughters and fellow women to claim all of who they are with confidence? How often have I challenged myself to be grateful for the body God gifted me? How narrow and limited would a claim of acceptance and love be if not allowed to be complete, if not allowed to be…in color?

Tywanza Saunders deserved to live in a country, a world, that not only embraces but celebrates ALL of who he is…who he was. My son deserves the same. As do I…as do you. The world is not meant to be colorblind. The world is dense, and rich, and textured. It is painted in color

To Tywanza: I like to think that somehow, some way, you might know about your impact on my life. Your final post on Instagram, only hours before you were taken, was the quote by Jackie Robinson that simply says, “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” I tend to agree with you and Mr. Robinson. At least, I believe that is one of the important measures of a life well lived—a positive impact on others. You and I never met. You never met my adopted son. But in the wake of the tragedy of your loss, you have given to me new eyes to see the world more clearly, and I would argue…more beautifully. You have shown me what it is I need teach my son…and all of my children. You have been an agent for God to speak to my heart and show me love exists even amidst the most suffocating hate. Thank you. May you rest in peace.

The world is not gray scale; it is not black and white.

It is a kaleidoscope of beautiful color that is muted in darkness, but magnified with light.