Nobody, But Nobody Can Make It Out Here Alone

Star Tribune Special Edition Honoring George Floyd Dec. 27, 2020

Alone

by Maya Angelou  (1928-2014)

 

Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don’t believe I’m wrong
That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

There are some millionaires
With money they can’t use
Their wives run round like banshees
Their children sing the blues
They’ve got expensive doctors
To cure their hearts of stone.
But nobody
No, nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Now if you listen closely
I’ll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
‘Cause nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.


When I walked out to get something out of my car this Sunday morning, running out in bare feet despite snow and a temperature of 18 degrees F, I was surprised to see a copy of the Star Tribune sitting in my drive way, safely encased in a plastic bag, protecting it from the elements.  I figured it had been mistakenly delivered to our driveway and was a neighbor’s, but as I looked around wondering which door to knock on and the need to go back and put on boots to carry out that errand, I realized that every driveway in my St. Louis Park neighborhood had a copy of the Star Tribune sitting delivered, waiting for them, regardless if they had a subscription to the Sunday paper.   When I went inside, glad to have the Sunday paper to read with my morning coffee, I was incredibly moved by what was waiting for me inside.  

I do not know if this special edition was delivered only to St. Louis Park residents for free because it was where George Floyd lived at the time of his death or whether it was done more broadly across Minneapolis, but what I know, is that I am incredibly grateful to all the individuals involved in giving this special tribute, and to the Star Tribune for its generosity in making it happen.  It had a profound impact on me.  I sat down and read every word as emotions swept over me.   

I have written before about how much George Floyd’s death has shaken my sense of self and my sense of home.  It has made me question what role I am called on now to play to reassess my own prejudice, ingrained in ways beyond my creation, but still very real, even in ways that I might have perceived before as good intentions.  I feel tremendous shame in George Floyd’s murder by policemen whose salaries are paid by the money I contribute through property taxes on my home.  I still ask myself, “how did this happen?”  How do men sworn to protect and serve in my community act so callously towards a human being in obvious need of assistance over a matter so minor in importance?  Floyd’s death is a sea change in how I feel about myself and my hometown and the responsibility we all share in figuring out how to narrow the opportunity gap that exists in our community and change the trajectory of our combined futures.    

The article also gave me a little glimmer of hope, despite all that has happened.   I was moved how George was proud of Minneapolis while he was alive of how he felt about how it had afforded him the opportunity for a new start in life.  All Floyd wanted was the chance to put the past behind,  the opportunity for honest work, honest wages and a chance to contribute.  Floyd and I want(ed) the same things,  we have the same ambitions.   It’s not fair that so many barriers were put in his way on what should have been his human right, whereas for me, barriers were cleared out of my path without me even knowing it.   I cried as I read his pride in finally having a place of his own with a room mate in a St. Louis Park duplex that is less than a mile of the home that I own. Though I never met George Floyd we were neighbors in the sense we both lived in and love the same neighborhood.    

https://www.startribune.com/george-floyd-hoped-moving-to-minnesota-would-save-him-what-he-faced-here-killed-him/573417181/

I don’t have the words to express how much George Floyd’s death has impacted me and challenged me to think differently.   I still have not figured out what that means in terms of how thinking differently will lead to action.   I know  his death has had a remarkable impact on this community,  that it has altered things in ways we can not go back.   And yet, the start of a long journey does not mean we have arrived.  Thoughtful memorials and moving tributes have not yet fundamentally changed things in our community.  We have yet in Minneapolis and St. Louis Park to narrow the education, income and achievement gap that people of color face today, nor improved health care access or fair housing or the endless other things that myself and so many others who prosper in the riches of Minneapolis the past 100 years take for granted.  What I do know is that his death has made me more consciously aware that those that have prosperity have an obligation to figure out how to improve the opportunity for those that don’t.   Action starts with awareness.  Now, I have to figure out where that will lead me. 

I am grateful for the staff and writers at the Star Tribune that provided this  healing gift this morning in helping me live in the present and not look any farther than myself in resolving to do better.   Thank you.  The James Wright poem, published in 1992,  is a reminder the challenges we face as a community have been with us for a long, long time and aren’t going away soon.   It is going to take hard work to make a dent in the problems our community faces.  It is going to take sacrifice and resources committed that don’t exist today.   Let’s not waste time debating the matter.  George Floyd’s life and death are testament for the need for change.  Let’s figure this out, together. 


The Minneapolis Poem

By James Wright

to John Logan

1
I wonder how many old men last winter
Hungry and frightened by namelessness prowled   
The Mississippi shore
Lashed blind by the wind, dreaming
Of suicide in the river.
The police remove their cadavers by daybreak   
And turn them in somewhere.
Where?
How does the city keep lists of its fathers   
Who have no names?
By Nicollet Island I gaze down at the dark water   
So beautifully slow.
And I wish my brothers good luck
And a warm grave.
 
   2
The Chippewa young men
Stab one another shrieking
Jesus Christ.
Split-lipped homosexuals limp in terror of assault.   
High school backfields search under benches   
Near the Post Office. Their faces are the rich   
Raw bacon without eyes.
The Walker Art Center crowd stare
At the Guthrie Theater.
 
   3
Tall Negro girls from Chicago
Listen to light songs.
They know when the supposed patron
Is a plainclothesman.
A cop’s palm
Is a roach dangling down the scorched fangs   
Of a light bulb.
The soul of a cop’s eyes
Is an eternity of Sunday daybreak in the suburbs   
Of Juárez, Mexico.
 
   4
The legless beggars are gone, carried away
By white birds.
The Artificial Limbs Exchange is gutted
And sown with lime.
The whalebone crutches and hand-me-down trusses   
Huddle together dreaming in a desolation
Of dry groins.
I think of poor men astonished to waken   
Exposed in broad daylight by the blade   
Of a strange plough.
 
   5
All over the walls of comb cells
Automobiles perfumed and blindered   
Consent with a mutter of high good humor   
To take their two naps a day.
Without sound windows glide back
Into dusk.
The sockets of a thousand blind bee graves tier upon tier
Tower not quite toppling.
There are men in this city who labor dawn after dawn
To sell me my death.
 
   6
But I could not bear
To allow my poor brother my body to die
In Minneapolis.
The old man Walt Whitman our countryman
Is now in America our country
Dead.
But he was not buried in Minneapolis
At least.
And no more may I be
Please God.
 
   7
I want to be lifted up
By some great white bird unknown to the police,
And soar for a thousand miles and be carefully hidden   
Modest and golden as one last corn grain,
Stored with the secrets of the wheat and the mysterious lives   
Of the unnamed poor.