‘Take My Ashes to 55th and Lake Shore Drive’ | Sojourners

‘Take My Ashes to 55th and Lake Shore Drive’

A father, a son, and a search for holy ground.
A painterly illustration of two people walking along the edge of a lake on a wide iridescent pathway at night. A cityscape is behind them to the left, and a purple-blue and pink horizon to the right, casting the whole illustration in these two colors.
Illustration by Matt Williams

MY DAD HAD a very mixed relationship with America. Based in his experience of and feelings concerning white supremacy in America, I was never sure he loved America and knew with certainty that he hesitated to call it “home.” America was never holy ground for him.

On Jan. 6, 2021, while I was watching the Capitol insurrection on TV, he died in his hospice bed. My screen view of the Capitol mob’s recitation of “hang Mike Pence,” in rhythmic incantation to bring forth the blood-boiling hate, was reminiscent of the ritualistic lynching of thousands from 1870 to 1940, particularly and almost exclusively African Americans.

I also had a screen view of my dad. Given the threat posed by COVID-19 exposure upon his chemotherapy-treated and compromised immune system, we were not able to visit him as we would have liked. My sister had installed a camera system to get a visual. I noticed that he was not moving. I earnestly studied his lack of motion and noticed that his mouth was wide open. This was the death posture. I instantly knew he was gone.

Trying to come to grips with the death of my father, while staring with glazed-over eyes at the Capitol riot, I said to myself: “The insurrection took my dad out of here. He had enough of white supremacy in America.” During the chaos of the insurgency, my dad became an ancestor. In the stark reality of his death, I realized he had been in search of holy ground for a long time.

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The cover art for Sojourners' July 2023 magazine issue, featuring a black-and-white illustration of a theater screen with a circular, mesmerizing, and disorienting pattern. A lone person with long hair sits in one row with popcorn and a drink in hand.
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