A Letter to My Kids: Why I Got Arrested

A child stands with Rev. William Barber of the NC NAACP, holding a copy of his state’s constitution.

Dear JaiMichael and Nora,

Since we went to Moral Monday together a couple of weeks ago, I’ve wanted to sit down and write to both of you to tell you why I got arrested—why I wasn’t home that evening to read you your stories and say prayers with you. I’ve rarely felt happier than I did that evening when the bus pulled out to take us to jail. I looked up and saw the two of you standing with mom, waving good-bye even though you couldn’t see me through the wire mesh of the bus window. Thank you for being there for me.

As you both know, we live in a hospitality house and share our life with other people because God has given us this way of life as a gift. It’s not always easy to greet every knock at the door, eager to see Jesus in the stranger. But that’s what we try to do because this is where Jesus promised to meet us. Indeed, the two of you are teaching me much about how to do this as you grow up at Rutba House.

One of the things we know about God’s family is that we don’t all look the same. Even though you are brother and sister, your skin is not the same color. Uncle Matt and Uncle Vern are not the same color. This is how it is in God’s family.

You also know the story of how Grandma Ann, when she was working to integrate the schools here in Durham, became friends with a white man who had led the Ku Klux Klan. Some people say strong black women and white men in the KKK shouldn’t become friends. But Grandma Ann and Mr. Ellis realized that when poor black people are pitted against poor white people, all children suffer. They became friends because they learned a better way.

Some people say that parents should work as hard as they can to give their kids all the opportunities that are available in our society—that this is what it means to be a good parent. I know you’ve been disappointed at times when you didn’t get to have a video game or wear the coolest new clothes. But your mom and I believe that the best life for you (and for us) is a life in the beloved community that Grandma Ann and others worked for—the life that God wants to give us in relationship with others who are not like us.

The men who run our Legislature in Raleigh right now are people who love their kids like I love you. They are afraid because they believe that the inheritance they have to pass on to their children is the wealth that they’ve been able to accumulate. They do not want to see that inheritance squandered by others whom they think undeserving. They are determined to defend their way of life at any cost.

But we believe they are wrong because we know a better way of life. We have asked them to consider the pain they are causing others by pursuing their own interests. They have refused to listen. Because they have power right now, they don’t have to listen to what we say. They can have us arrested and taken away.

But what they are doing cannot last forever because it is not true. God will stop them; we don’t have to. But I chose to get arrested because I don’t want those men to miss out on God’s great party. I want them to know that there is a better way—that they do not have to listen to our worst fears and re-play the worst chapters of our past.

I want them to know that God has invited them to be part of the beloved community too.

Thank you both for being there in Raleigh with the thousands of others who want a better future for our state. And thanks for helping mom get everything done at home while I was gone. I know it is not always easy to invite everyone in—even the legislators who do not want to listen. But, like I said, I’m grateful to both of you for showing me how to extend the invitation with enthusiasm.

I love you both,

Dad

  • Rhea

    This is so beautiful. Thank you, Jonathan!

    • J Wilson-Hartgrove

      So good to hear from you, my sister. Please greet the family. Bless ya’ll.

  • http://dlmayfield.wordpress.com/ D.L. Mayfield

    so beautiful and true. made me cry to think of my own daughter, and how much i want to teach her. God’s party is great indeed, and i don’t want anyone to miss ou.

    • J Wilson-Hartgrove

      Amen.

  • Cynthia Astle

    Jonathan, this letter isn’t merely a tender, reassuring message from a father to his children. It’s a clarion calling all Christians to live out the teachings of Jesus that we say we believe in, but don’t always act upon. You’re a beacon of light and truth in a gloomy world. Thank you for your witness, example and encouragement.

    • J Wilson-Hartgrove

      I’m grateful for the chance to follow the many who went before me. We are, indeed, surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. I don’t want anyone to be left out of this beloved community.

  • Jerry Lynch

    “The men who run our Legislature in Raleigh right now are people who love their kids like I love you. They are afraid because they believe that the inheritance they have to pass on to their children is the wealth that they’ve been able to accumulate. They do not want to see that inheritance squandered by others whom they think undeserving. They are determined to defend their way of life at any cost.”

    Brilliant! Turning their whole argument on its head. And I so love the loving simplicity. God bless, you wonderful jailbird.

  • UWIR

    Wow, what a dishonest title. I can look past the conceit of calling this “A Letter to My Kids”, when they are quite clearly not the intended audience. But the article isn’t about why you got arrested. There’s nothing in this that explains what you were arrested for, what you were protesting, what specifically you saw wrong with it, or what alternative you were proposing. A more honest title would be “A Letter to People on the Internet About How I Have Such Great Ideals That You Should Just Assume That I Had a Good Reason for not Respecting the Law”.


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