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Serving: United States
Residents gather to protest the death of George Floyd on May 30, 2020 in West Orange, New Jersey. Elsa/Getty Images
PRAY FOR PEACE: Residents gathered to protest the death of George Floyd on May 30 in West Orange, N.J. People in rural America might think that what’s happening doesn’t affect them, but it will take all the country to bring things back to normal.

Take a moment to listen

Even those of us far away from the violence know someone who is in pain.

It was a long weekend, and it’s been a long spring.

I was very hesitant to write about this weekend’s violence because, to be honest, I had no idea how to relate it to an agricultural audience. Most of us live far away from places like Philadelphia, New York and Boston. The closest big city to me is Philadelphia, which is roughly two hours away with light traffic.

But these aren’t the only places seeing unrest. Harrisburg, Pa., is only 45 minutes from my front door, and there were widespread protests and even some violence there, too.

My life experience is very different from most editors on the Farm Progress staff. I am Hispanic and I grew up in an urban area. I only discovered agriculture in my 20s when I was a young journalist covering crime and courts in Maryland. I ended up falling in love with the industry and I can honestly say that I love my job.

In all my years of reporting agriculture and working with farmers and agribusiness people alike, I am happy to say that I’ve been treated with nothing but respect. The farming community has been good to me, and I appreciate every single person that I’ve met over the years.

But I don’t forget where I came from. I, too, have been the victim of racism. I’ve never experienced it from police, but I know how painful it is to be judged by the color of my skin.

I’ve had difficult and uncomfortable conversations with my wife on how to talk about race with our three sons. It’s a difficult subject because I don’t want my sons to be victims of racism. I want people to judge them for who they are, not by the color of their skin or their last name. But as their father, I must prepare them for the ugly truth, and the ugly truth is that racism is still a problem in this country.

My office is in my basement, about a mile away from a large dairy farm in eastern Lebanon County. It’s easy for me to insulate myself from what’s going on in the world. Trust me, some days I would rather stay in my basement than go outside. It’s better for my mental health.

But I can’t stay quiet; not in this moment.

What happened to George Floyd was awful. It goes against everything this country stands for. The people who took the streets in peaceful protests were exercising their constitutional rights, and that’s a right that we should all cherish.

But the violence that ensued was just as awful. It doesn’t matter who started it or what reason, violence will not move us forward. Looting stores will not move us forward. All this does is take away from the real issue and puts innocent people in danger.

So, what does all this mean for us in rural America? How do we move forward? I don’t have the answers. Nobody does.

What I do know, though, is that we as Americans need to listen to each other. If you’re wondering why these people are so angry, ask someone who lives in a city. Ask someone who looks different than you. Be open, be honest, be patient and, most importantly, listen.

You might feel like we in agriculture are insulated from what’s going on in the world. Well, we’re not. These are our neighbors, these are our brothers and sisters, and these are our customers. Let’s open our hearts to their grievances. We might not agree on everything, but listening is a good start. Maybe then we can truly start to heal.

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