Members of the Confluence Year community recently joined Episcopal Service Corps communities from Chicago, Memphis, and St. Louis for a Midwestern regional retreat in St. Louis, MO.

On Sunday morning we attended St. John’s Church-The Beloved Community and listened to guest preacher Rahiel Tesfamariam powerfully speak on empire. After the service, St. John’s church members served us amazing soul food. While we ate, local university students shared their experience protesting in Ferguson and organizing for racial justice on campus afterwards.

As we left the church, the caretaker of the Michael Brown memorial challenged us – “When you visit the memorial, let it be personal. Let it touch you.” We arrived at the memorial and stood in silence for 4.5 minutes, to symbolize the 4.5 hours Michael Brown lay in the road after being shot. As we stood there in the cold, I thought about books I had read about racial injustice and about the systems that perpetuate structural racism in America. Once the 4.5 minutes had passed, we crossed the street and looked down at a memorial plaque. Through the slush on the ground I read Michael’s birth and death dates: May 20, 1996-August 9, 2014.

In that moment, Michael Brown’s death became personal for me. My own little sister was born in 1995. Looking down at that plaque, the only thought I could think was, “Wow. My. Word. He was even younger than Sara.”

Maybe the caretaker was right, and we need to open ourselves to the emotional impact of tragedy and injustice. Maybe mentally acknowledging that injustice has happened and is happening now and will continue to happen unless we all get involved isn’t enough. Maybe we need to embrace the caretaker’s words and let ourselves be personally moved by tragedy, and let this move us into action.

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hanna-kHanna Kahler is a member of the Confluence Year community in Franklinton.