Ellin Jimmerson, Message
“An Open Letter to Gov. Robert Bentley, Sen. Scott Beason, and Sen. Mickey Hammon About HB 56.” Peaceful Rally and Interfaith Prayer Walk Sunday, July 10, 2011, 6:30-9:30 PM, Big Spring Park, Huntsville, AL, USA.
This letter also was printed in the Huntsville Times, the Mobile Press-Register, and the Montgomery Advertiser.
I want to speak this evening with everyone gathered here tonight, but also with Gov. Bentley, Sen. Beason, Rep. Hammon and those members of the Alabama Legislature who supported HB 56.
I first felt called to make a migrant justice documentary called The Second Cooler because I was heartbroken for the families, especially the mothers, whose children died under the blazing Arizona sun as they were trying to cross the heavily militarized border into the United States.
Through a terrible twist of fate, I joined them in grief.
On the night of April 17, 2009, my sixteen year old daughter, Leigh Anna, and her precious boyfriend were killed by a drunk driver in Huntsville. The car exploded on impact and Leigh Anna’s tiny body was consumed by flames. The driver was an undocumented migrant from Mexico.
My family and I lost a lot that night. A daughter, an only sister, a granddaughter, the son-in-law we might have had, grandchildren, an aunt, cousins. And on that fiery night we became one of the broken families with broken hearts and broken dreams.
One of my favorite memories of Leigh Anna was the day, about two years before her death, when she went with me to Athens. The Ku Klux Klan was holding an anti-immigrant protest. We went to participate in a counter-protest. And I remember her holding a neon-yellow sign, as big as she was, that had one word written on it in big, black letters: LOVE.
I have my memories, but I grieve and I grieve and I grieve.
There is nothing special about my grief. It is no different from that of the young mother in Huntsville whose infant was suffocated by an anxious coyote in that treacherous southwestern desert. Or the grandparents of other children who have died of the brutal cold there, alone and scared. Or of the children whose fathers have been snatched from them and put into deportation. Or the mothers now making plans for someone else to take their children if they should be deported.
And I am reminded of Mary, prostrate with grief at the foot of her crucified son. And I am reminded that recklessness does not belong only to drunk drivers. Or to police officers engaged in high-speed chases.
Recklessness also belongs to the powers, princes, and potentates who wash their hands of the grieving people they accept as the collateral damage of their policies and programs. Who wash their hands of the broken families, broken hearts, and broken dreams.
And as I think long thoughts about Leigh Anna and that reckless night, I recall that I worship the God who said, “No!” to Pharaoh and his recklessness. The God who said, “No!” to Nebuchadnezzar and his recklessness. The God who said “No!” to Caesar and his recklessness.
I worship the God of the Exodus, the God of protection for those in fiery furnaces, the God of Resurrection. The God who takes sides with the broken families, broken hearts, and broken dreams. The God who defies expectations and delights in dramatic reversals.
I remember Saul on the road to Damascus who heard a voice saying, Saul, “Why do you persecute me?” And he encountered himself in that profound moment and Saul became Paul, announcing the reality of the God who had effected the dramatic reversal, the dramatic “No!” to Caesar, the dramatic Resurrection.
And I recall John Newton, steering his deadly ship filled with desperate, grieving human beings bound for slavery. And that in an unexpected moment John Newton encountered himself on that stormy sea, encountered his own recklessness, turned around his ship with its cargo of broken families, broken hearts, and broken dreams unsold, and wrote those endlessly beautiful words, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.”
Gov. Bentley and members of the Alabama Legislature, HB 56 is a deadly ship you are steering, a ship filled with nothing but more broken families, more broken hearts, and more broken dreams. In your heart of hearts you know this. You know you are being reckless with other people’s lives. I am asking you to encounter yourselves as did Paul and John Newton and turn this deadly grief-bearing ship around.
I am asking you to convene a special session, honor the God whom you say you worship, and repeal HB 56.
Before we end this event, I would like to ask that we observe a moment of silence. A moment of silence for all the ones who have already lost their lives or loved ones to death, separation, or deportation. Especially, I would like to ask that we observe a moment of silence for all the children in Alabama grieving and afraid tonight because of HB 56.
©Ellin Jimmerson, 2011