March 22, 2010: “What else can I do?”

Saturday, March 19, 2010, Codman Square’s Great Hall:

Opening Night for “And Still We Rise” and the echoing hall—a former library— slowly filled. Now in its fifth season, “And Still We Rise” offers interwoven, autobiographical vignettes movingly performed by formerly incarcerated men and women. Genevor Monell, Nesto’s mother, was there.

Since I hadn’t seen her since the trial—and hadn’t been able to attend the last day—I was delighted to see her: “I heard you were dancing,” I said, hugging her.

“Yes, I was,” she beamed. “What else can I do?”

Here’s what Genevor did—and continues to do:

She raised a wonderful son. (After the trial, one of the jurors praised Nesto’s mother for doing such a good job.)

She’s working on behalf of other mothers, other sons caught up in this racist criminal justice system and the pain of loss.

She tirelessly told her son’s story. (Friends Meeting at Cambridge’s Lynn Lazar, who’d been volunteering at the same organizations where Genevor worked, after hearing Genevor’s story, had invited Genevor to speak at FMC)

When, after a group of Friends Meeting at Cambridge volunteered to help, Genevor accepted that help—even though she knew that alliances with well-meaning but often clueless white people are never, ever easy.

She prayed.

She was a powerful, loving presence every day at her son’s trial.

When her son was found not guilty, she danced!

But, as the stories the “ASWR” troupe performed that night so poignantly illustrate, racism and poverty and messed-up family dynamics and addiction and mental illness form “The Jail Trail.”* How many families of color are caught up in that web? Even the strongest and most together mothers find themselves asking, “What else can I do?”

But, I think, Genevor’s question on Opening Night was not about that ongoing sense of futility but, rather: In the face of the unbelievable, when justice was served, and a good thing happened to a good person, what choice do I have but to dance?!

* A phrase coined by Dr. Virgil Wood, Lynchburg, VA’s foremost civil rights leader. (He would add “inferior schools,” too.)

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