When Savanna Hartman watched the emotional news conference of Alton Sterling’s family and saw the deceased man’s son collapse into sobs, she couldn’t shake the image of the family’s pain. She couldn’t stop crying for the black man shot dead by police.

She sat and started to write all that she was feeling. And in 15 minutes she’d written a poem in a style called spoken word. She had done the same after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. But this time, when she recorded herself reading it live on her Facebook page, she couldn’t have known her words would  be viewed more than 18 million times through her social media page alone.

In the video, Hartman’s face fills the vertical screen. Her voice quivers and her eyes, rimmed with tears, are downcast for most of the 10-minute reading. She describes racial tensions from the perspective of someone keenly aware of her own “white privilege.”

I wasn’t born rich, but don’t get it twisted.
See how I look? My white skin is my privilege.
I don’t get watched when I go to the mall.
If I get stopped for a ticket it doesn’t end in a brawl.
I don’t know what it’s like to go out for snacks 
And end up lying dead on my back
My car’s never been watched or followed around
My kids don’t play in parks and then get gunned down 

“As a mother of sons, I thought, everyone is up in arms about whether [Sterling] was guilty or not guilty, but he had a child, he had a son, and it became very real to me,” Hartman said in a recent interview. “It hit me on a human level that this was a man with a son. To see someone treated as so [unvalued], and to see that ripple through his family, that was very difficult for me. It really stirred my heart.”

Hartman, 25, is a Christian whose faith, she said, has taught her to love everyone, especially the disenfranchised. She and her husband are pastors, and recently opened a church in Tampa, which they’ve named the Banner Church. They want their congregation to be filled with people from diverse backgrounds, including those who may have been ostracized and are looking for acceptance, she said. They want love to be the shared experience.

That’s the message Hartman wanted to impart with the video. She wanted it to be a wake-up call for other white people; a motivation for them to take responsibility for the racial biases that persist, and to take action to work against them.

These aren’t opinions these are black and white facts
This isn’t about Black men, white women, or cops 
It’s about senseless behavior that on all sides must stop
Whites aren’t all racist and Blacks aren’t all thugs
All our lives matter, we were all bought with love 

Hartman posted the video on the evening of July 6, the day after Sterling was killed during an arrest in a Baton Rouge parking lot. The reaction from her Facebook friends was initially negative, with people accusing her of speaking out of turn. Hours later she considered taking it down. She never wanted to hurt anyone with her words, she said; she just wanted to start a difficult, but important conversation. When she went to bed that evening, the video’s viewership had reached about 250,000. When she woke up the next morning, a crew from a local TV station was outside her home. The words had gone viral. Millions had heard them, and the stream of more than 200,000 comments had shifted from negative to supportive and grateful.

Young lady, people like YOU is what its gonna take to change things! Your words will not go in vain! Thanks for speaking the truth!!!!,” a black woman in Flint, Mich., wrote.

Growing up in the South, both Hartman and her husband were exposed to racism. She said it is pervasive, and for some people it’s a way of life. But she was raised by a single mom who instilled in her the importance of compassion. And when she and her husband started their own family they had a long talk about their values. She said they decided their home would be built on four pillars: honor, honesty, compassion and generosity.

Hartman has no relational ties to the black community, but she feels a deep conviction that everyone deserves to be treated with love. Since her video went viral, and news outlets worldwide have aired her words, Hartman has heard from community leaders from across the country asking for her thoughts on how to start conversations that will change people’s hearts and minds.

“It’s a little weird, but I’m really thankful that God would use little old me to inspire change,” she said. “But it’s also really inspiring that a regular person in their apartment in Tampa can make a national difference.”

She said she hopes she has inspired other white people to be outspoken allies for the black community, to join civil rights groups and advocate for change.  She hopes that her words have opened people’s eyes and moved their hearts deeply enough that they will want to speak out, too.

“I hope people take away that there is a very real error with our system, there is a broken system,” Hartman said. “You can stand against injustice without being anti-anyone. It doesn’t mean we’re against anyone, it means we’re for everyone.”

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