Ruth

(For George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, 
Philando Castile, Eric Garner, and the countless others.) 
 
I want to tell their stories, 
remind the world  
how they were 
murdered by the system,  
but when I try, all 
I can think of is 
Ruth. 
 
The whitest white and the 
blackest black are found 
in churches and their 
affiliated colleges.  
I remember three Black 
people in the entire school 
my freshman year,  
and one was my 
assigned roommate, 
Ruth.  
 
I was 18. Twelve hundred 
miles from home.  Everything 
seemed strange, but Ruth seemed 
strangest of all.  I was homesick. 
I was sheltered. I was incapable 
of seeing beyond a self I barely 
knew, and I devised a way  
(it wasn’t hard) to get reassigned,  
moved away from  
Ruth.   
 
Every justification 
I can offer (and I’ve made 
a long list over the years) 
drips with privilege. 
Poor white girl far 
from home, feels 
uncomfortable, and every 
administrative cog in a  
great machine lurches  
into action to set things  
right for her.  

I was unawake,  
but aware enough to be 
embarrassed.   
Every time I saw Ruth,  
she gave a sincere smile,  
and she waved  
and she said hi, 
and she acted like 
nothing had happened, 
and I would feel  
the disgrace 
anew.     
 
I silently bore the shame 
of my inadequacy. 
It was my secret.  
 
Years later, I 
finished two degrees 
at an HBCU across  
town, “the Black school.”   
I learned the  
greater part of all  
I know from Black  
scholars.  I got smart 
enough to shut up 
and listen, to observe, 
and to learn. 
 
Then I began teaching 
at my alma mater, 
and to my knowledge, 
not one of the Black  
students in my classes 
ever asked to be reassigned,  
moved away from  
me.   
 
In order to share the 
Story of Tamir and 
Alton and Ahmaud, 
I have to start with  
Ruth, and I have to 
understand that the 
same system that  
killed them is the one 
that found a new 
roommate for 
me.  
 
If I could find Ruth, I would  
fall to my knees and 
beg her forgiveness. 
And the Ruth I remember 
would give it, I have 
no doubt.   
I have looked for 
her and I have hoped 
for a chance to 
be absolved. 
 
It has not arrived, 
and I’m glad it hasn’t,  
for I need to stay 
unpardoned, 
unacquitted.   
That is the energy 
that fuels me now. 
Ruth owes me  
nothing.  I owe her 
a lifetime of fighting 
the unpardonable.   
 
I don’t equate  
my actions with a boot 
in the neck, but I have  
come to accept they 
are siblings. 
Were they not, Eric and  
Philando and Michael  
would not have  
told me from the grave 
that I have to start  
with the story of 
Ruth.  



© 2020 Deb Moore, All Rights Reserved