Sylvain: Ready to exhale

Michelle Sylvain
Valley Voices

As an African American woman, seeing black people account for the most hospitalizations and the most deaths during the pandemic only heightened my visceral awareness of the risks to my life. But the tragic acts of racial injustice, intolerance, and hatred these past two weeks literally took my breath away.

While I condemn and mourn the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and too many others, as a black mother I also needed to confirm that my son, a reporter, was safely out of New York City. While feeling outraged, I also struggled to comfort my elderly father and stepmother — an interracial couple living in small-town Minnesota and grappling, again, with incredible actions during the twilight of their lives.

I tried to explain these unconscionable circumstances to my mom. She had been stunned into a pained silence — normally she only watches Daystar.  The heartbreak, trauma, sadness, and anger that I am feeling seems, at times, inexpressible. And, yet, I feel I must try. 

Unraveling the tight, Gordian knots twisted at our nation’s founding will require all the skills we have as effective conflict resolvers. We can double down on active listening, and separate issues from interests. We can reframe overheard nonsense and acknowledge the disproportionate impacts on black lives and in other communities of color. We can try to avoid being frequently wrong, while never in doubt. These things will help us grow the justice and accountability in our communities.

While I am frustrated by tone-deaf people drawing false equivalencies between black people’s lives and other people’s property, I am fortified by friends and colleagues who have called to express solidarity and compassion. I’m thankful that in addition to horrifying videos of racial injustice and violence against the lives and bodies of black people, there are also, as in weeks past, counterbalancing and heart-sustaining acts of courage, and selfless compassion. While I, too, hope that valid outrage can be channeled non-violently, I also hope all will ultimately get the point: it is our own humanity that’s at stake.

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Only a mutually shared commitment to reversing an inequitable past will move us forward. I’ve found several constructive opportunities for learning and constructive action. We can advocate for reforms and participate in the political process by campaigning, voting, and engaging our representatives. We can contribute financially to causes like the #SayHerName campaign.  You may already know what’s most important for you to work on to help move our community closer to equity, inclusion, and justice. Please, do it.

Me? I read. Pray. I take a breath — for all those who could not. And then I get back to the work of helping to find justice, so we can all exhale.  

Michelle Sylvain is a local attorney-mediator and founder of Sylvain Law & Mediation Firm, LLC, a legal and consulting firm helping those buying and selling real estate draft effective contract terms that avoid needless litigation. She can be reached at

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