As a hospital chaplain I begin every morning in the neonatal ICU. There are the most precious newborns, many less than 2 pounds born prematurely struggling for life. Their bodies are breathtakingly small and one tries to imagine that indeed they are “wonderously and perfectly made” (Psalm 139:14)
I pause before each baby and pray “how beautiful you are in my eyes how beautiful you are” (Song of Songs 1:15) reflecting that these are Hashem’s words, not mine. It’s Hashem expressing her love for these precious souls.
And I pray that they feel Gd’s love and support, that their body grows strong and healthy, that every part of them develops and becomes strong, that their spirit is vibrant and they are able to go home to complete their family.
But when it’s an African-American boy I often pause and reflect on the hardship they will face. It’s not just their chances to grow old are substantially less, but their chances to graduate high school, their chances of getting a decent job, their chances of being a father at home, all of these things the path is more strenuous, harsh, the obstacles to success are more severe, the support more fragile or nonexistent.
And the odds they will end up in prison are incredibly higher than if they are white. (After all 2/3rds of my Jewish service at prison is black; you have 3 times as great a chance of going to prison if you are an African American man in Maryland)
I think about how they will have to live in fear of the things we take for granted. Fear of the police and business people, fear just being singled out and threatened with violence.
I remember after the 1967 riots (which included my hometown of Minneapolis) the President appointed a Commission (the Kerner Commission) to investigate the causes of the riots. As a 16 year old I rushed to the bookstore when the Report came out and bought a copy. It concluded “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.”
Isn’t that every bit as true 52 years later? Isn’t that a disgrace?
So when I sit and pray with the African American premature boy baby I pray
“May you always be guided by Gd and your family to know the essential goodness within. You will face many challenges that will test your spirit, but you know you are made in Gd’s image and you can do great things. May you always act with pride and respect. Do not let other people define who you are. And may you always be protected from those who may do you harm.”
And I pray to myself that maybe some day, some day the Chaplain coming after me won’t have to say a special prayer for an African-American boy.
I pray for that
–David Balto, Jewish Chaplain