The Black Lives Matter protests across the nation are calling on us to listen, to deeply listen, to the life stories of black people and to give witness to the reality of their lives.

It is our responsibility to hear those stories. We need to open our hearts to the pain and grief. The stories we are hearing cannot be discounted. We need to make the emotional effort to hear, really hear, someone’s pain. When we don’t, we are perpetuating the pain. When we take the time to open up, make ourselves vulnerable to others, we create the room to let the healing begin.

Whether we are white folks living in a rural space, or people of color living in urban communities, we all live in a country that considers personal freedoms and universal rights for all its foundational dream. We all must stand up to protect those freedoms for each other.

The explicit violence of slavery is not present as it once was in our country, but we still see the systems that devalue communities along race and class lines at play as we fight for our rural communities. Rural communities don’t live it as black urban people do, but the system in which some people’s truth is denied to the benefit of others, is at play in both places.

Slavery was an institution of the rural spaces. It was one of the first ways in which the work of the land was devalued. The people who work the fields, who do the manual labor of creating food and crops, were taken for granted as not being worth the same as those who did other work. To this day, rural places and the work we do here is undervalued and unpraised.

One example is our schools. We see the communities with excess wealth able to put more resources into the education of their youth. We continue to see the state refuse to share the burden of running schools across the entire economic spectrum, causing increasing disparities in access to education, and upward mobility, between wealthier communities and working class ones.

These are the same systems that were used to segregate schools and ensure that African-American children were not afforded the same opportunities as white schools. Schools in African-American communities went unfunded, and were told to find funding from within their communities — funds that simply did not exist.

We learned that separate did not mean equal when we were talking about access to education. As we fight to not be priced out of our homes by increasing property taxes, we know the emotion behind the fight for school funding.

In the work of justice we are all equal, and without the work of each of us, true justice can not be won. We all feel the impacts when the rights of one person are denied because of the color of their skin. It becomes all the easier to senselessly deny them to others. These imbalances, these vulnerabilities, are being made clear by the hard work of organizing and speaking out across America by the Black Lives Matter movement.

It is time that we open our hearts to the stories and anger that are being voiced, and see our own complicated history in those stories.When we look deeply enough within ourselves, we will know without a doubt that there is no injustice in someone else’ home that doesn’t also touch our own.

Bill Pluecker represents Appleton, Hope, part of Union and Warren in the State House as an Independent Legislator.