Beneath the sounds of chanting and yelling, of breaking glass and stores being looted, is the sound of grief. America watched George Floyd being murdered by a police officer who had his hands in his pockets like he was at a picnic while pressing the breath out of a man who was pleading for his life. We waited, as we always do, for some kind of leadership. But this time, we didn’t wait long, because we knew it wouldn’t come.

We were already steeped in grief because of Covid-19. More than 100,000 people have died, many of them dying alone.  People have begged nurses to sit with their loved ones at the end, and nurses have honored those wishes, sitting beside strangers as they took their last breaths. We’ve had no leadership through this pandemic, just petulance and cruelty.


Historically, when America has been plunged into collective grief, we have gotten comfort from a president who spoke to the pain our hearts were feeling. It didn’t take away our grief, but we felt seen, acknowledged. The person holding the highest office in the land was hurting along with us. Reagan after the Challenger disaster, Clinton after Oklahoma City, Bush at Ground Zero just after 9/11, and Obama singing Amazing Grace after the Mother Emanuel AME church massacre. We will never get anything like that from Donald Trump. Narcissists don’t feel grief; they’re too busy staring at their own reflection.

It would be tragic if we forgot what leadership is supposed to look like.

A true leader hears beyond the thick bulletproof windows of the White House. He hears weeping that trails through the empty dark hours of night in cities and towns scattered across this country. He sees past the carefully manicured grounds to over-crowded hospitals where two people are trying to hug each other through a thick plastic curtain. He sees the smudged windows of nursing homes where families hold their hands up to a loved one locked in on the other side. He hears the wails and the rage of black families who have never gotten the same justice as white people and who are tired of burying their children, their parents, their friends after they were gunned down. He hears the voices of citizens who are demanding change and accountability. He hears it not from the safety of an underground bunker but from the open front door of the house that belongs to America.

Leaders don’t use churches as backdrops for photo ops and hold up Bibles as props, and they don’t teargas their own citizens because they want them out of the way. Leaders bring people together – black, white, brown, different faiths and backgrounds so they can bow their heads together and pray. They know when and how to set politics aside; they know how to lead with their hearts.

Sixteen years ago, on June 5th, my father died, and this country opened its heart, set politics aside and mourned along with my family. People who disagreed with his politics and his policies paused to remember the man who led America through its grief when the Challenger exploded in front of us and four astronauts were killed. He spoke about them slipping “the surly bounds of Earth to touch the face of God.”

Leaders are supposed to salve our wounds and light a candle on the path ahead, so we can hope for a better future. Instead, Donald Trump calls American citizens thugs and threatens to attack them with dogs and weapons.

But the cruelty and callousness coming out of the White House is not the whole story. There are millions of people whose hearts ache for those who have lost loved ones to Covid-19. There are millions of us who weep along with George Floyd’s family and raise our voices for change, and who will not be silenced.

Countries need leadership, and we are lonely without that – set adrift to figure things out on our own. But the voices raised right now are not going to fade into the wilderness. Not this time. We will feel the loneliness, we will seethe at the unbridled recklessness of an administration that doesn’t care about us, we will light our own candles, and we will keep them lit until true leadership is elected.



  1. Carol Whitney says:

    You always tell the truth, you seem to be more of a leader than the pitiful man in the white house!!!

    • Alan Kennedy says:

      … I am late to this writing; concise and emotional and true; as always.
      I’ve presumptuously commented before on your writing. Now? Simply that your writing improves each time I absorb it. Thank you.

  2. Janet Zinn says:

    Thank you. Your compassion and honesty is a welcome change to a disturbed chief of staff who poses in front of a distorted looking glass. We look forward to mature and thoughtful leadership.

  3. Gigi says:


  4. Eva Knight says:

    Eloquently spoken. Your insights are always unbiased and speak from the heart, not untruth.

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