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Imagine if you will, being a 20something, black woman college student waiting for a bus to the mall on a sunny December day. You have a gift card to your favorite store and you are excited about buying something nice. Maybe you have just finished your last final, so you’re extra excited and relieved.

As you wait, a truck rolls past full of 20something white men who, upon seeing you, yell out “Hey, N*****!” for absolutely no reason other than to rattle you. And rattle you it does. Your heart drops, your pulse races, you are afraid that they may turn around and physically attack you for fun. There are two other people at the bus stop, neither of them black. They look at you as if you caused this blatant show of disrespect and cruelty, never offering even a nod of support.

That hurts; it stings. For many of us, there is no way around the fact that it hurts and it hurts deeply. We can offer the person in this scenario the standard advice of not letting the words of obvious idiots get to her, but that’s little consolation for the pain she felt and still feels when reflecting on this incident.

“I don’t know if I ever want it not to sting, though. It’s wrong. Viscerally wrong. I want to feel so I won’t get so comfortable I stop speaking up.”

Those were my words of advice to the woman who experienced this event. Amidst the chorus of what others would have done and what she should have done, I just wanted her to know it was ok to feel it, to be hurt by something so deeply disturbing. No one wanted to see her in pain, and I know those who spoke up just wanted to help her move forward and not hurt anymore. That is a very human reaction that shows how much they care.

Sometimes; however, we have to allow the pain to penetrate us so deeply that we refuse to ever willingly allow someone else to go through the same thing. We need to remember how it felt so we keep fighting, keep speaking up and keep actively working for change.

I was 14 years old when, using a dial up modem, I logged into a BBS (bulletin board system) for the first time. Some other teen saw my profile and decided to draw a swastika on my screen using nothing but dashes and slashes. I forget the hateful words that went along with the picture, but 24 years later, I remember how disgusted I felt. On the brink of a technological revolution, I was being bullied for being black. This incident taught me to never get so comfortable as to believe there was nothing left to fight for. Last year (2014) brought that lesson into laser sharp focus again, unfortunately.

Maybe we need to continue to feel the pain when we are spoken to with disrespect, when people are mistreated and when we see injustices occurring to others. Then we have to use that pain to speak up and enact change. Use that stinging feeling to keep fighting for what’s right, so that eventually, we can feel more love than pain, more support than distance, and more peace than frustration.

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