This personal essay was first published in 2017.
The news of Charleena Lyles’ shooting death in front of her children hit close to home. You see, I live blocks away from Charleena’s apartment, up on the hill in View Ridge, an upper-middle class mostly white neighborhood in Northeast Seattle that literally overlooks the Brettler Place Apartments. Divided physically by a busy road, our communities are separated by much, much more.
Mine and Charleena’s lives are parallel in many regards on paper: I’m a 30-something mom of three small children, one of whom lives with disability. I often parent alone. I’m petite and people tell me I have a smile that lights up the room just like Charleena’s. And I live with mental illness.
Parenting is very, very difficult under the best of circumstances. The physical and mental demands, trying to make things work, limited money and resources and the constant feeling in the pit of your stomach that you aren’t doing enough. Parenthood, and the combination of hormone imbalances and trying to work and parent and do everything to the best of my ability has resulted in and exacerbated my anxiety, depression, and OCD. As my mental health care providers and family have cautioned, I’m also predisposed to bipolar disorder and need to limit my stressors. But I’m able to “hold it all together” – just barely some days. Because of my white skin I don’t have to deal with the additional stressors Charleena dealt with her entire life, and if it weren’t for my white privilege I very well could have been the one who died in front of my kids Sunday morning in my zip code. Had I been the one to call the police for help Sunday morning, been holding a knife and acting confused, there is no way I would have ended up shot to death — I would have received the help I was desperately calling out for. I feel certain about this assertion, and that certainty makes me sick. And it should make all of us moms up on the hill sick that because of my white skin I will very likely continue to watch my kids grow up, I will continue to be a high-functioning PTA mom and college instructor, friend and neighbor, wife, daughter, and mom, and I will continue to battle my stressors. I’ll get to live my life.
The circumstances that led to Charleena Lyle’s death should be of concern to all parents. Maybe like me, you don’t know what to do, but we need to push beyond our discomfort and take action now – by having hard conversations about white privilege and racism with our family, friends and neighbors (and ourselves), donating money to funds for the victims, showing up at rallies and marches, becoming better-informed voters in our local elections – however you choose to get educated and get involved. If you don’t like the term “white privilege” then don’t use it, but work to understand what it means and represents and that it is a real thing. If the term Black Lives Matter makes you uncomfortable, then do the same. I fumble over the words, get nervous that I’ll offend someone or say something wrong. But I will keep learning and I will keep showing up and speaking up. I’m going to step out of my comfort zone, the bubble and safety net of View Ridge, because until ALL of us moms have safe comfort zones none of us should.
About the Writer:
Kim Fergus is a mom in Northeast Seattle, living blocks away from where Charleena Lyles was shot to death by police after calling them for help. She’s angry that her neighborhood online social network, Next Door, generates 86 comments in an afternoon about dead crows, tree rot or a lost cat but isn’t talking about Charleena’s death. She is currently doing the best she can with what she’s been given just like every parent currently reading this opinion piece. Kim was recently pushed out of her comfort zone at a rally for Charleena Lyles when she was asked to explain why she was there. She was carrying a sign that read “MENTAL ILLNESS IS NOT CRIMINAL”