This week, Daunte Wright joins the long list of names said aloud at gatherings of solidarity across the country and, indeed, the world, in the face of yet another death of an African American man at the hands of a militarized police force. This, as we learn of and witness the horrific pepper-spraying and terrorizing of Army Second Lieutenant Caron Nazario, pulled over when police claim not to have seen the temporary license on his brand new car. This, as hours of live television coverage bring the trauma of George Floyd's killing last year newly into our consciousness.

It is into this United States of America that our 2021 UUA Common Read author, Princeton professor of African American Studies Imani Perry, writes a passion-filled, literary, and heart-wrenching letter to her two teenage sons, a prayer that they might be allowed to Breathe.

Perry writes that, during her growing up, her father had a poem hanging above his desk, written by Hakim Al-Jamil, then a prisoner at Leavenworth, about the 1979 killing of Arthur McDuffie, beaten to death by the police after knocking him off of his motorcycle. Five police officers were found not guilty, a verdict that rocked Miami and sent shockwaves across the country.

In honor of National Poetry month, and in solidarity with the struggles for justice and the dismantling of systemic racisms that prevent life's very unfolding—that disallow the becoming that is our congregation's monthly theme—I offer Al-Jamil's poem, new to me, and powerful in a message tragically topical over forty years after its penning:


"who killed mcduffie? (a definitive question)"
Journal of Prisoners on Prisons Vol. 4 No. 2 (1993) 2

his brain was bashed
cranium crashed
skull fractured/broken
all the way around
but they said those who beat him
didnt kill him
so who killed mcduffie?

maybe it was the same ones
who didnt kill
clifford glover/randy heath/
jay parker
claude reese/randy evans/luis baez
auturo reyes/bonita carter /
eula love
elizabeth magnum/ arthur miller &
countless others
when they musta tripped or
their fingers slipped

maybe it was the same ones
who didnt kill
jose torres/ zayd shakur /
fred & carl hampton/
jonathan & george/ joe dell
twyman myers/spurgeon winters &
a few thousand others
perhaps it was those who
didnt kill lumumba/ ché/ amilcar /biko/ fanon
mondlane/ marighella/ cordero &
quite a few thousand more
do you suppose it may have been
those
who didnt kill
the indians and mexicans
who didnt steal the land &
claim that they discovered it
who didnt steal afrikan peoples
halfway across the planet
who didnt loot our customs/ cultures/
religions/languages/labor & land
who didnt bomb the japanese/
the vietnamese & boriqua too

do you think it might have been those who didnt
kill at attica/watts/ dc/
detroit/newark/el barrios
at jackson state, at southern u
at the algiers motel
who didnt shoot mark essex
for 16 hours after he was dead
ask them & they'll tell you
what they didnt do
but they cant tell you
who killed mcduffie

maybe it was one of those
seizures unexplainable where he
beat himself to death
it wouldnt be unusual
our history is full of cases where we attack
nightsticks & flashlights with
our heads
choke billyclubs with our throats till
we die
jump in front of bullets with our
backs
throw ourselves into rivers with
our hands and feet bound
and hang ourselves on trees/
in prison cells
by magic

so it shouldnt be a mystery that
nobody killed mcduffie
he just died the way so many
of us do
of a disease nobody makes a
claim to
the police say they didnt do it
the mayor says he didnt do it
the judges say they didnt do it
the gov't says it didnt do it
nixon says he didnt do it
the fbi/ cia/ military
establishment
say they didnt do it
xerox/exxon/itt say they
didnt do it
the klan & nazis say they
didnt do it
(say they were busy in Greensboro
& wrightsville)
i know i didnt do it
but that dont leave nobody but you
& if you say you didnt do it
we're back to where we started
looking for nobody
who killed mcduffie

you remember nobody dont you
like with de facto segregation
where they said the schools were
segregated
but nobody did it on purpose
like when they said there's been job
discrimination for years
but nobody did it intentionally
thats the nobody we're
looking for

the one with the motive to kill
mcduffie
& you see, we must find this nobody
who slew mcduffie
because the next person nobody
will beat,
stomp, hang or shoot to death
wont be mcduffie
it'll be you or someone close to you

so for your own safety,
you should know the pedigree of
who killed rncduffie
you should know the reason of
who killed mcduffie
you should remember all those forgotten
who died of the disease
nobody makes a claim to
so we wont be here asking
who killed you


My prayers are with us all, as we build a world where every person's becoming is a birthright.

In solidarity,

Rev. Craig
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April 18, 2021
 UUA Common Read
Breathe: A Letter to My Sons
Rev. Craig Rubano and Common Read participants

In her recent book, Breathe, Imani Perry asks,“How do you become in a world bent on you not being and not becoming?” This Sunday, we join in reading with UUs across the world, sharing reflections on fear, resilience, and becoming.

Music: Louise Chernosky, UU Virtual Singers,
Elaine Held, Rev. Craig
Thank you for your support of UUCMC:
UU Connections Make Community

Let's build together!