Opinion: Spray paint easy to clean, but pain cannot be washed away

A volunteer cleans paint from the old Montgomery County courthouse Sunday morning. Signs, debris and graffiti damage were left in downtown Dayton Sunday morning, May 31, after protests throughout the day on Saturday in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd. CIty and county workers, business owners and volunteers spent the morning sweeping up glass and scrubbing spray paint. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
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A volunteer cleans paint from the old Montgomery County courthouse Sunday morning. Signs, debris and graffiti damage were left in downtown Dayton Sunday morning, May 31, after protests throughout the day on Saturday in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd. CIty and county workers, business owners and volunteers spent the morning sweeping up glass and scrubbing spray paint. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

(NOTE: This guest column appeared on the Dayton Daily News’ Ideas and Voices page Sunday, June 14, 2020. Community Impact Editor Amelia Robinson asked a diverse group of people with ties to the Dayton area about the impact of protests. Columns from other participants are linked throughout this piece.)

I thought about leaving the spray paint there. Maybe even putting a frame around it, an inscription that pointed to what some call lawlessness, destruction of property, criminal behavior — yes, all of that’s true.

Shannon Isom is president and CEO of YWCA Dayton, the oldest social service organization for women and girls in Montgomery and Preble counties.
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Shannon Isom is president and CEO of YWCA Dayton, the oldest social service organization for women and girls in Montgomery and Preble counties.

And yet, it is also pain, anger, trauma, constraint, powerlessness, and the physical attempt to take control over something — sometimes anything, like the side of a building or the space in which you inhabit.

The act of rebellion is nothing new; the yearning to fight when all options are exhausted is a tactic that has been used many times before, even 244 years ago as the yet-to-be-United States would not show obsequious compliance to then-British government. To what some considered the oppressor of freedom, of voice, of thought, governing — more than anything — individualism. We used to be ruled. Do you remember? These stories are our beginning and our sustenance; they are taught and even celebrated; as we fought to protect our unalienable rights. But even then, those rights were never for bodies that inhabited black skin.

Everyone now knows George Floyd’s name; but, there are countless others who have been killed and brutalized by the hands of the police, by oppressive policies and practices, by the feigned terror of a white woman, by the silence of people who deem themselves “not-racist,” by the Christian conservatives who appropriate every reason to lend its voice to individual wealth more than to human dignity. The bodies are countless. Google it.

YWCA Dayton will not and cannot condone acts of violence and weaponized power and destruction of any kind. We condemn the killing, the looting, and the trauma that is inflicted on black men, black women and black communities. We stand in solidarity with YWCA Minneapolis and YWCA St. Paul knowing we cannot give up our lofty mission of eliminating racism.

The spray paint on our building can be easily washed and trash can easily be removed; but, the pain and anger cannot be healed unless it is heard and addressed; but when that has not worked, it is now being seen. The pain is harder to clean.

We ask that you focus less on the physical destruction and take this time to look at the human toll it takes to be black in this country, state and city. YWCA Dayton mourns with the family of George Floyd; and with all of the families that are less whole simply because they are black.

We are dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all.


Shannon Isom is president and CEO of YWCA Dayton.

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