This article originally appeared on 06.28.21
After Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed Black man, was pursued and shot by three white residents while jogging through a Georgia suburb, Ellen and Patrick Miller* of San Diego hung a Black Lives Matter flag in front of their house. It was a small gesture, but something tangible they could do.
Like many people, they wanted to both support the BLM movement and bring awareness about racism to members of their community. Despite residing in a part of the county notoriously rumored to be marred by white supremacists and their beliefs, their neighbors didn't say much about it—at first.
Recently, though, during a short window when both Ellen and Patrick were out of the house, someone sliced the flag in two and left the remains in their yard.
via Paula Fitzgibbons
They were upset, but not surprised.
"Nobody prior to May of 2020 said a word about our BLM flag," Ellen explains. "After George Floyd and the protesting started, we had about 50% positive interactions with our neighbors, quietly offering solidarity as they passed by on their morning and evening walks. Then 25% of interactions were a lot of older busybodies 'pearl clutching' and hoping that 'nobody takes this the wrong way and commits vandalism' against us." Then there were the men who would drive past and scream obscenities at Ellen while she unpacked groceries with her young child.
Instead of backing down, Ellen and Patrick grew more involved. They worked to educate themselves about racism. They attended and planned local BLM rallies—including a particularly turbulent one in the middle of their intolerant suburb where members of extremist groups suddenly appeared across the street to counter-protest. They donated to BLM and joined a leadership club that Ellen says "helps students of color with special needs navigate current society."
By the time Ellen and Patrick's flag was vandalized, they had already collected some back-ups. Undeterred, they replaced the flag with one that supports a broader mix of voices including the LGBTQ+ community, which they'd planned to hang for Pride Month in June.
via Paula Fitzgibbons
Though they felt the sting of violation, they understood there was no comparison to the indignities Black people in their area experience. As Ellen shares, it was mostly "a sad confirmation of the reputation of our town."
If the simple act of hanging a flag propelled Ellen and Patrick to lend greater support to the BLM movement, what happened next confirmed the need to continue working hard toward effective allyship.
Ellen explains that a couple of days after their BLM flag was vandalized, Patrick rushed into the house with tears in his eyes and handed her the typed note that was left at their front door along with two wrapped packages.
"I busted into an ugly cry as well," Ellen adds.
The note read:
"I saw your ripped BLM flag on Tuesday morning. I realize it could've been 'just the wind' but there are a fair number of other flags I see flying high in this neighborhood without tattering so suddenly…
So, just in case somebody vandalized it on purpose, I went ahead and made a $ donation to BLM on your behalf!
I also wanted to order you a replacement BLM flag in case you still wanted to fly it, then in a fit of passion I ordered two, so that there's another back-up, or a gift for another good person with a flag pole.
Also quick sidenote, I love your LGBTQ+ Ally flag too! As a "B," it gives me a sense of camaradery [sic]!
Do with these new flags as you will. It was simply my wish to 'fix' the torn flags the same way I wish to 'fix' some of the unkind acts against our fellow human beings. I saw it as a chance to remind you, remind myself, remind vandals and kind people alike that you can't tear away someone's humanity, you can't tear away their pride, you can't tear up love and compassion and good hearts the way you can tear up the fabric.
We'll continue to fly high!"
via Paula Fitzgibbons
The note confirmed Ellen and Patrick's hope that flying a simple flag might help people feel more welcome in their neighborhood.
"We no longer felt indignant, but happy that our flag symbol made another neighbor feel safe," Ellen says.
Flying a BLM flag in a neighborhood with ties to white supremacy allowed the Millers to make a statement against the prevailing racist attitudes in their town. It also moved them to act intentionally in support of BLM. They never imagined the vandalism of that same flag might someday invite more neighbors into solidarity as well.
As another resident of their town commented, "It's nice to know you aren't an island when it comes to compassion in your neighborhood."
*Names have been changed at their request.
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