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Sha'Carri Richardson is *still* that girl...and why I support the legalization of Marijuana

One thing that many people don't know about me is that I am an enthusiastic fan of track and field. Hours can easily go by as I'm watching U.S. track and field events on television and YouTube. I have long marveled at how these athletes can train to such a degree that their bodies are able to do things that teeter on the edge of superhuman ability. I mean - running 100 meters in 11 seconds? Racing a baton around the track at full speed without dropping it? Throwing a javelin clear across a field or propelling oneself over a bar high in the air? It's so inspiring to me to watch these elite athletes accomplish such feats.

Which is why I've been so enamored over the past few years by a young lady named Sha'Carri Richardson. I've been watching her races since she was a student athlete at Louisiana State University. She always had a flair and full personality which was only overtaken by her tremendous speed once that gun went off to signal the start of the race. Her prowess on the track even preceded that point in her life though. As a teenager she was winning medals in the Junior Olympics and wowing crowds across the world.

When she became a professional athlete in 2019, her success continued and I was right there cheering her on. Like many, I was rooting for her as she participated recently in the Olympic trials.

I was excited by the thought of her brightly colored hair and long nails being on a global stage. I still remember watching as she dominated on the track. In one race where she was clearly in the lead and about to win, she pointed at the clock while crossing the finish line.

"Stop playing with me!.....I am that girl!," she confidently exclaimed upon winning her race.

"Go 'head girl," I said to myself excited that she would be going to display her talents on the world stage. I loved watching her boldness and confidence in herself at such an important event. It reminded me of Muhammad Ali rhymes, Usain Bolt's pose, and Michael Jordan's tongue-wagging dunks! Watching this Black woman be proud and bold about her gifts was something to behold.

The excitement would soon disappear though as news broke about Sha'Carri having marijuana in her system during the time of the olympic trials. As a penalty, her times at the trials would be erased and she would be suspended for a month from the sport. While there was a sliver of hope that her suspension would end in time for her to participate in the relay event at the olympics, we recently learned that she was not selected for that team - essentially ending any chances of her participating at all this year.

Sha'Carri took to tv to explain that she had taken marijuana during the trials in order to help her cope with life-changing news: she learned from a reporter that her biological mother had died. Apparently, her relationship with her biological mother was complicated. I saw the evidence of deep hurt and challenging family dynamics even as she took responsibility for her decision.

I began to try and imagine what it might have felt like for her at 21-years-old to be on such a public stage and in a very public way learn that her mother was dead. I would have a difficult time managing a moment like that and my guess is that many others would too. Sha'Carri made a decision to cope with the swirl of emotions by taking marijuana. She expressed remorse for that decision and frankly seems to be taking the news of her not being able to participate in the olympics better than many of her fans - myself included.

I don't know how she feels behind the scenes. Her mother is dead, her mistake has been shared across the world, and she's been disqualified from participating in an international athletic event. That's got to be hard.

In my own small way, I wanted to send her a message of support, grace, and mercy. I changed the sign on our church marquee to speak to the moment: "Sha'Carri Richardson, you are still that girl."

Obviously, many others felt the same way as I did because the picture of our sign attracted a lot of attention online. So far, nearly 90,000 people have seen it on Facebook and thousands of others have viewed, reposted, and made comment on all of our social media pages. Millions of people see this as an opportunity to lift up a Black woman who is going through a tough time and facing stiff criticism.

However, people also took notice of the one word that I placed at the bottom of the sign: Legalize. With that one word, I was stating my support for the legalization of marijuana. Even the local news did a story on our church sign.

Now, I have never in my life smoked marijuana - or a cigarette for that matter, but I have long taken note of the ways that the "War On Drugs" was (and is) really a war on Black people. Marijuana use and possession has led to the incarceration of so many people that look like me. Even for the formerly incarcerated, having marijuana on their record has created barriers to employment, housing, and services. In recent years, marijuana use has become legal in many states - for medical and recreational purposes. Marijuana companies and dispensaries have popped up across the nation making millions of dollars from the same plant that has so many Black people, Brown people and poor people incarcerated.

For me, legalization, in part, is a justice issue. It's also an ethical issue - it's unconscionable to have largely White men-led companies making millions from this plant while so many others are behind bars or being

otherwise penalized because of it. It's unethical to have a plant that possess the ability to ease suffering and promote healing be criminalized by the government. Federal and local authorities have used the criminalization of marijuana to injure, harm, and incarcerate. This is what I'm saying should end immediately!

Because legalization of marijuana is a justice issue; it's also a spiritual issue because for me justice is a spiritual principle. Ethics has a spiritual dimension.

I'm clear that the legalization of marijuana won't fix everything and that there will likely still be obstacles put before Black users and possessors of this plant even if it is legal because...racial capitalism [insert Kanye shrug] however, what's also clear is that something must be done now to change this.

I have no doubt that Sha'Carri, who has already shown tremendous integrity in the midst of the fallout of her suspension, will continue to grow from this experience. I will continue praying for her and particularly all other young people who are just trying to cope with the surprises and challenges of life - in the midst of a global pandemic no less!

I will also pray and lend support to the movement to legalize marijuana. I'll be keeping my eye on the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement Act and any other measures that help to weaken the "war on drugs," release people from the grasp of the carceral state, and strengthen efforts to advance reparations through the legalization of this plant.

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