BLM Sign, Courthouse Crowd

A peaceful protest with more than 40 participants was held in downtown Aiken on Saturday. Protesters are pictured here in front of the Aiken County courthouse along Park Avenue.

“In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

A series of phone calls to friends, emails to colleagues and interactions in the workplace compounded with a series of events that unfolded on a regional and national level seemed to tip the absurdity scale this week.

With casualties from the coronavirus topping 100,000 in the U.S., George Floyd, Amy Cooper, China, executive orders and looters, all on the heels of the Ahmaud Arbery shooting, on top of our unprecedented public health crisis, was maximum overload. A speaker on a podcast referred to this week as feeling like a pandemic within a pandemic. Sounds about right.

In this space each week, the North Augusta Star has an opportunity to present an opinion. Many times we see local issues that should be addressed here, from taxes to ice storms. Oftentimes we share opinions from The Post and Courier or other news organizations who devote teams of editorial writers to take weeks and months investigating, analyzing and formulating columns meant to influence public opinion.

Today, we needed to keep this space for Aiken County. We considered leaving it blank. Allowing our readers a clear white space, designers call it “breathing room,” amid all the other news but the word "breathe" brought images of George Floyd fresh in our eyes.

Most days it’s easier to ignore painful images of brutality and cities being torn apart and simply say, "Thank God for Aiken County. Thank God it’s different here. Thank God our local law enforcement publicly denounces the brutality we witness regularly elsewhere. Thank God we don’t have that type of racial unrest in Aiken County. Thank God we see, from a distance, how far things can go when unchecked. Thank God we can still have discussions to address inequalities in community."

Because the inequalities are here. We see it in articles describing our neighbors’ basic needs like food, shelter and safety that remain unmet. We see it in rates of graduation and incarceration. We see it every year when the United Way of Aiken County, and other worthwhile groups and churches, requests volunteers and funding to aid our homeless and undernourished population. We heard about inequality from the Mosaic community group organized by the Aiken Chamber of Commerce that instigated conversations about diversity and inclusion.

In “Letters from Birmingham Jail,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Finding ways to peacefully demonstrate the depth of feelings some of these events have sparked is important. Like minds roughly organized several local marches recently, including a rally in downtown Aiken on Saturday calling for justice for George Floyd.

Peaceful protests should be enough to rouse a dialogue about change, justice, fairness, equality and race.

Even today as we applaud the individual efforts and organizations who put together parades to memorialize our citizens lost to war and celebrate our high school graduates, we have to recognize that part of our citizenry won’t participate in these types of community-wide activities or go to city parks or to our nationally acclaimed downtown because they don’t feel safe or welcomed there. They’re homogenous "white" or "black" spaces and considered off-limits for people who don’t look like them.

So, today, no white space or breathing space in this opinion column. Consider it a word from a friend because now isn’t the time to be silent. It is the time to feel empathy, express compassion and love, welcome your neighbor and be thankful for Aiken.