Sometimes, from the depths of despair, comes a glimmer of hope that things can be different.
The Lomax family knows something of despair and are now trying to turn that despair into hope not just for them, but for everyone.
Desmond and Alison Lomax of Spanish Fork have endured hardships before in their 23 years of marriage. A black man married to a white woman in a predominantly white community in a predominantly white state, Desmond and Alison and their four children faced both open and veiled racism over the years.
Each time they did Desmond and Alison struggled to protect their children and explain why the world was the way that it was.
But mostly, they rolled with the punches, hiding their anguish behind smiles and good humor.
Until the day they were knocked to their knees.
Mateen Lomax, the oldest of their children, committed suicide on Nov. 20, 2019. He was an exceptional student and athlete, haunted by a lifetime of not only feeling like he didn’t belong, but often reminded that he didn’t belong.
Lost in grief, the Lomax family faced a new year of constant change.
In January, Desmond retired after a 20-year career in law enforcement and started new careers as the executive director of Steps Recovery Center and as a consultant. Next came the Coronavirus pandemic and the adjustments to “normal” life that was already far from normal.
Then came the death of George Floyd, a black man, by a white police officer, and the nation was embroiled in turmoil over racial divisions and the treatment of African Americans. It added an extra bit of agony to the suffering of the Lomax family, and gave them a vision for the future.
“People are so quick to choose sides,” Desmond said. “When at the core of this struggle is, we are treating each other like objects and not like people.”
For Alison and Desmond, the debate over police brutality and race is deeply personal because they can see it from both sides.
“I have an understanding of what it’s like to be a law enforcement officer. I don’t want that to be misunderstood. I’m also an African American who has had crazy racial things happen to me a lot. Things I would never tell people because I don’t think people would understand exactly how difficult it is.
“I called my son’s manager and asked him if he could walk my son out to the car because I don’t want him out at 10 o’clock at night, worried about whether he’s going to make it out to his car without being treated poorly. That’s like a real thing,” Desmond said.
“We also know there’s law enforcement officers and their families terrified to send the law enforcement officer out because they don’t know what’s going to happen to them,” Alison added.
As protests were organized and the debate for police reform became polarized, Desmond and Alison began to wonder if there was something their perspective could add to the discussion. They found that there was, and it started with the understanding that the only solution was for everyone to begin to find the humanity in each other and be willing to have a conversation.
Desmond and Alison created the Facebook Page IlluminaTEEN Unity in honor of Mateen to share thoughts, feelings, and experiences and to discuss problems and together find solutions to racism.
Since the page was created on June 6, there are now more than 1,200 members and hundreds of posts. Many of them are podcasts by Allison and Desmond, where they share their story and their perspective.
Alison was also prompted to share what she believed Mateen might say if he were able.
When she sat down at the computer, the words flowed; not her words but Mateen’s. Things he said to her or Desmond over the years, the struggles he sometimes quietly endured and how it led him to his decision.
When she finished, Alison posted her son’s story on their Facebook page.
But choosing to lead a conversation about racism was a difficult decision for them.
“Things are not easy in the Lomax home right now,” Desmond said. “which is why I didn’t even want to post, because if someone got negative when I tried to post something, I am just not in a place, I’m just not in a place.
“But we felt inspired to share. If you are so far over on one side that you can’t see the other side as a living human individual, then you are part of this institutional problem we have,” Desmond said.
They uploaded the first post on their page on June 4, and it has been viewed more than 30,000 times and led to the kind of discussions they hoped to start.
“No one would do anything to anybody if they felt that person was a true human being in that moment. We are often so blind to the ills in society that we might not be a part of. To simply say that one side is right can be a slippery slope,” Desmond said.
For Alison, it came down to changing your perspective of the world around you.
“Growing up I was raised very conservative. And I was raised with a certain perspective in the tiny little town I grew up in,” Alison said. “Marrying Desi and different life experiences opened my perspective to the way I was raised. There was more out there than my one little perspective. Being around Desi’s family there have been a lot of things I could open my mind to and be aware of those challenges that come from being a minority in this country. But I had to be willing to allow myself to be able to hear him and listen.”
The couple shares their perspective, their love and their humor in part because they worry if they don’t, nothing will ever change; it will just continue on the same cycle it has been. They believe the change that is needed is a change of heart that can only be made one heart at a time.
“What to do? People go what do I do?” Desmond said. “I think it’s a little simpler than we make it. Education is key. The capacity to have love and engage in love has to start with you and it has to be a day-to-day thing. I’m not about picking sides. I’ve been on both sides of this thing. My concern is you don’t see me. I believe life is about looking ugliness in the face and achieving despite it.
“That’s what my mama taught me. Find the good. Within 30 minutes you can sit down with anybody and find humanity. In the midst of this, let’s find humanity.”
That is what keeps the Lomax family pushing forward through despair, and gives them hope for the future. (Davis is the editor of Serve Daily.)