This is My Story

a message from Rev. Grace Kelley-Neal, President of ABWM of NYS

Greetings To All,

According to the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people, but the silence over that by the good people.”

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Some quotes attributed to or sourced to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., you can read/learn more at mlkglobal.org/

This is My Story

I am a Black Woman,
I am a child of the Great Black Migration to the North,
I am a Wife,
I am a Mother who has lost her Son to gun violence,
I am a Grandmother,
I am a retired Police Officer from the Syracuse City Police Dept.,
I am a Licensed and Ordained Baptist Preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,
I am an Associate Pastor at Bethany Baptist Church,
I am President of the American Baptist Women’s Ministries Of New York State.

Social and Racial Injustice

I was born in Gadsden, Alabama in the midst of the Jim Crow era.  My mother migrated to Syracuse, NY in 1962  to escape the brutality of Jim Crow, which is the former practice of segregating black people in the United States. Jim Crow laws were based on the theory of white supremacy and were a reaction to Reconstruction.  The Reconstruction era of the United States was following the Civil war. The duration was 13 years, 3 months, 3 weeks, and 2 days. 

The Great Black Migration began with folks moving from the South to points North, West, East, and into Canada. This era began at the turn of the 20th Century and ended in 1975; 75 years of movement of hope, faith, perseverance, and love. They were looking for a better promised life. To learn more about this movement, read the book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns.  {this is an amazon smile link to benefit ABW Ministries}

As  I grew into adulthood in Syracuse, NY, it was a good experience. I had a good educational experience, good teachers, a loving, safe, home environment.  I still spent all my summers and major holidays in Gadsden, AL. I went away to college in New York City earning my first degree at The Fashion Institute Of Technology.  I returned back to Syracuse after 6 years of living and learning in New York City.  I eventually married my husband of 34 years Roy Neal, and we raised 3 children together.  Two daughters and a son.  I joined the Syracuse Police department while my husband continued as an elementary school teacher.

Change the World

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer.  Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”  

A quote from 2007 attributed to Harriet Tubman, likely inspired by her.

During my 26 years as a police officer, I became acutely aware of mass incarcerations of blacks. Increasingly aware of the need for criminal justice reform,  the unfair treatment of women officers, the brutal arrests of people of color, the need for bail reform, the despair of living in poverty, the over-policing of ghetto neighborhoods, the over-policing of black males being stopped in vehicles, and the profiling of people of color. 

While people were being beaten while in handcuffs,  I  asked the Lord…what is my purpose while I am a police officer? 

The Lord answered me and said to stop all injustices happening in front of you!   By divine intervention from the Lord, I became a Social Justice Reformer right where I was, on my job! 

How you may ask? By not letting police brutality occur on my watch. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I’ve had to stop officers from beating prisoners in handcuffs. I’ve even had to stop officers from putting their foot on prisoners’ necks while they were lying on the ground. Many times I refused to pile upon a prisoner while they were already detained. I was told by a higher ranking supervisor officer once, that I better join in the next time…However, my mind was already made up…not on my watch!  

The struggle against police brutality is real. However, now the Lord has in real time, revealed it for the whole world to see.  Now when all people hear the phrase “Black Lives Matter,”  maybe they can understand where that movement came from…It’s a cry for change!

chalkboard writing in cursive saying, Time for Change

Meanwhile, my husband and I gave birth to three beautiful children and begin to raise them in a very upper-middle-class environment.  We made it a point to raise our children in a Christian environment, and we took them to church every Sunday.  Our children sang in the choir, and they were jr. ushers. Our teenage son was being trained as a Jr. Deacon. They all professed Jesus Christ as their Savior and wanted to be baptized at an early age, and were. 

The Talk

I knew that as a mother of black children (especially a black male) that I would have to have “The Talk,” with them as they entered puberty.  That talk is the proverbial “what to do when you encounter the police talk.”  It includes, keep your hands in plain view at all times if you are stopped, always be super respectful to the officer when approached,  always let them know you are the child of a fellow police officer, always be legal and have identification, don’t make any sudden moves without permission.  This is the critical “Talk” that mostly all black families in America have with their children, no matter the social-economic background.

I was always especially concerned about my son and his safety.  He was so handsome, tall (6’2), and dark. He had a wild streak and a charming dis-arming smile that showed all his pearly whites.  I constantly stayed on my knees about him and his safety. I knew first hand the perils of being a black male in America.  I knew that the devil was and is busy, as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour-1 Peter 5:8.

2016

November 16, 2016, at approx. 8:15 pm, as I was driving home from attending Wednesday night Bible study at my church, I received the dreaded call. My beautiful son had been gunned down on the mean streets of Syracuse and was at the hospital. I thank God it was not a police-involved shooting. His assailant remains unknown to this day; his case is now a cold case awaiting some kind of new leads or tips.

My son was 27 years old, one month shy of his 28th birthday. He finally transitioned on Monday, November 21, 2016, at approx. 12 pm, surrounded by his family. I was there for his very first breath on December 16, 1988, and I was there for his very last breath on November 21, 2016.  His kidneys were donated to the organ donor organization. This was his request (when he was only 6 years old) and so I honored that request some 20 years later. I was informed by the organ donor organization that there are two women walking around with his kidneys enjoying a new lease on life.  I am so happy for them. I still trust the Lord, I still love the Lord, I still praise the Lord….That’s my story.

2020

When I watched along with the rest of the world, the murder of George Floyd on TV at the hands of a rogue police officer, I was grief-stricken.   Where were the real arbiters of law and order?  What the heck were the officers thinking by just standing around not stopping this murder?  It was very obvious to me with my 26 years of law enforcement experience, that this sort of thing was nothing new with any of the officers involved.  Well, the buck stopped at the corner of E.38th St. in the city of Minneapolis, MN., Monday, May 25, 2020.  The Lord is good, and he hears the cries of his people.

Racism and Social Injustice have deep roots in American history, however, there have been good Christians down throughout the ages who have taken up that cross of injustice, and acted on it. Think of all the participants in the underground railroad who enabled (one of my heroes, Harriet Tubman)  those enslaved to escaped to freedom.  It is noteworthy that many whites assisted during the underground railroad, and they continue in the struggle  today for freedom from oppression.                                           

Now Is the Time

American Baptist Churches USA is one of the most diverse Christian denominations in the United States, including the territory of Puerto, Rico.

We, as American Baptist Women are a wonderful diverse group of women from all diverse backgrounds.

Now is the time to stand for racial harmony in our country and the world.

If not now, when? 

If not us, who? 

Now is the time…if you see something, say something, or do something. Do not turn your head and look the other way as those officers did in the case of George Floyd.

You have the power to change the world by your actions.                    

It is an honor and a privilege to serve as your President, and together, we will get through this as we have done on so many other occasions. The world is ever-changing, but our God changes not.

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!

Psalm 133:1

Rev. Grace Kelley-Neal
President-American Baptist Women’s Ministries Of New York State

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2 Responses

  1. Peter Tynan says:

    Grace, shocked and very sorry to hear about your son. Wish I had been there to assist with the outcome.
    Thanks for your story, and I will not only hope, but work, for the needed changes in our profession. One bad apple ruins the whole bushel. My very best regards to you.

  2. Stephen Mcnamara says:

    So sorry for the loss of your Son, I know i have told you that before, but sadness never goes away completely. May GOD BLESS you and your Family. There were a few times that i had too stop a fellow officer from beating up on a prisoner or it might have ended up with serious injury or death. But GOD used Me too put a stop too it. I pray We can all live and love each other as GOD wants us too. GOD Bless take care,, love Steve Black and all lives matter..

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