A Picture of Good Hope

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Photo credit: A group of black medical students posed in front of the slave quarters on a Louisiana plantation for a powerful photo. (Brian Washington Jr./Doyin Johnson)


It happened in Wallace, Louisiana on December 18, 2019.

On that day, a group of Tulane University medical students posed in front of the slave quarters of a Louisiana plantation for a powerful photo. Sydney Labat, one of the students, said this in an interview on Good Morning America:

Standing at the Whitney Plantation in front of the slave quarters of our ancestors with my medical school classmates . . . We are truly our ancestors’ wildest dreams. I think I speak for myself and my classmates that it was an extremely humbling experience, to say the least. We would not be here without the strength and determination of those enslaved and their strength to live and to press on.

Labat speaks of the resilience of her ancestors and she credits her ancestors’ resilience for her ability to pursue an education. I shared the photo (above) because it represents the realization of dreams that many people might label “impossible.” But seeing Labat and 14 of her Tulane University classmates in their white coats looked to me like a portrait of the realization of dreams, persistence against all odds and an emulation of the determination of the ancestors Labat spoke of. This photo of the students was posted to Twitter and was liked more than 65,000 times.

I like the photo, too —  a picture of good hope.

I cannot adequately express my emotions about seeing the photo of these students. No doubt, it brought up my deep concern about the well-being of black children in this country and the many disparities they endure. I can not begin to lay out those disparities in a coherent way, but I can cite this troubling research.

Black adolescents and young adults are at higher risk for the most physically harmful forms of violence (e.g., homicides, fights with injuries, aggravated assaults) compared with whites. In addition, black adults reported exposure to a higher number of adverse childhood experiences than whites.Disproportionate exposure to violence for blacks may contribute to disparities in physical injury and long-term mental and physical health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30139709

A study regarding youth and suicide revealed an age-related trend in racial disparities in suicide rates in elementary and middle school–aged children. The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, showed that suicide rates for black children aged 5-12 were roughly 2 times higher than those of similarly-aged white children. https://www.ajmc.com/newsroom/racial-disparities-seen-for-black-children-age-512-in-youth-suicide-

A significant amount of research has documented the overrepresentation of certain racial and ethnic populations — including African-Americans and Native Americans —in the child welfare system when compared with their representation in the general population.Although disproportionality and disparity exist throughout the United States, the extent and the populations affected vary significantly across States and localities. https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubpdfs/racial_disproportionality.pdf

This researched information is definitely not a picture of good hope. The research deepens my concern, but what troubles me the most is that my grandchildren are growing up in a raciallly and ethnically divided world. When we raised our son, we certainly experienced racial discrimination. It was painful for all of us, and I hope beyond hope that my young grandchildren will not face the evil of discrimination. But I know better! I do not want to be pessimistic about it; I want to be optimistic that my grandchildren will not be “judged by the color of their skin” and that they will know the freedom to live out their dreams.

Tulane University Medical Students

So these Tulane University Medical students have given me a gift — a picture of good hope. And the photo of these students also introduced me to another place of hope: the Whitney Plantation, the only plantation museum in Louisiana with an exclusive focus on the lives of enslaved people.

73294CDC-A48F-4E27-ABE0-4DD30A9E02FFThe Whitney Plantation has restored buildings designed to encourage guests to enter the world of a Louisiana sugar plantation and to remember those who built and worked this property. Through an hour-and-a-half guided walking tour, a guide shows guests through slave cabins, a freedmen’s church, a detached kitchen and outbuildings, a 1790s owner’s house and memorials built to honor the enslaved.

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A stunning bronze memorial at The Whitney Plantation in Louisiana *

Guests learn about the lives of 350 people who were held in bondage on these grounds for over 100 years.

Visitors are able to view beautiful memorials built to honor over 100,000 people held in slavery in Louisiana.

Tickets for the tour are available at the Whitney Plantation’s website: https://www.whitneyplantation.org/

Information overload and emotional response

This blog post has included a bit of information and research. That’s the informational part. The truth is, though, that the harsh realities of divisiveness caused by racism, xenophobia and a host of other factors that divide us are not a part of the information we have. Instead, the realities of racism are part of our emotional angst. If we are honest with ourselves, we will realize that we receive informational material with a yawn. We have heard so many statistics and seen so much empirical evidence in our communities and schools that we have become numb to it. We have heard so much about disproportionate minorities in the criminal justice system and mass incarceration that perhaps we just try to block that information out. But we cannot block out our emotional response.

The only thing that will get our attention is a soul understanding of the pain of racism. Only then will we become agents of change, persons of conscience and advocates for justice. For me, this is a calling from God who desires that we “love our neighbors as we love ourselves.”

Consider these passages of Scripture.

In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.  — Colossians 3:11

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.  — Hebrews 13:1-3

The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.  — Leviticus 19:34

Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.  — Zechariah 7:9-10

You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’. But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.
— 
Matthew 5:43-44

May each of us listen carefully to the words of Scripture and allow those words to inspire us and may that inspiration compel us to end divisions that harm. May we be inspired to promote unity and justice. May we be inspired to paint a picture of good hope to guide our world.

* Photo credit: https://www.whitneyplantation.org/photo-gallery/

 

 

 

 

I NEED YOU to join the fight for change!

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We are well into Black History Month, also called African American History Month.  We celebrate it every year in February. All manner of celebrations and commemorations happen during this month, from school plays, choral concerts, historical dramas to formal tributes and ceremonies in cities, colleges and churches. In the midst of this month, I have been contemplating the idea of white fragility drawing on the books, White Fragility by Robin DeAngelo and Radical Reconciliation: Beyond Political Pietism and Christian Quietism by Alan Boesak and Curtiss Paul De Young. I highly recommend both books to you if you want to advocate for racial justice.

A dear and very wise friend of mine would exhort us to know the history of black people, but more importantly, to enter into serious conversations about equality and unity. She would tell white people to accept the reality that we will never completely understand her history and that we should be sure our conversations include deep listening. She would remind us that the history of injustice to black people has not ended yet and that we must all continue our work for justice and equality. I want to share with you some of the history behind this month.

As a Harvard-trained historian, Carter G. Woodson, like W. E. B. Du Bois before him, believed that truth could not be denied and that reason would prevail over prejudice. His hopes to raise awareness of African American’s contributions to civilization was realized when he and the organization he founded, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), conceived and announced Negro History Week in 1925.

The event was first celebrated during a week in February 1926 that encompassed the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The response was overwhelming: Black history clubs sprang up; teachers demanded materials to instruct their pupils; and progressive whites, not simply white scholars and philanthropists, stepped forward to endorse the effort.

The Black Awakening of the 1960s dramatically expanded the consciousness of African Americans about the importance of black history, and the Civil Rights movement focused Americans of all colors on the subject of the contributions of African Americans to our history and culture.

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Then the celebration was expanded to a month in 1976, the nation’s bicentennial. President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” That year, fifty years after the first celebration, the association held the first African American History Month. By this time, the entire nation had come to recognize the importance of Black history in the drama of the American story

There is so much more I could include, but I will finish with some random thoughts my friend would like for us to know.

— The G.I. Bill of 1944 was denied to a million black veterans of WWII (history.com). These things matter. PUBLIC POLICY throughout American history has deliberately and purposefully limited economic opportunities and advancement of black people.

— It never occurred to me that some white people thought black history month DID NOT involve them.

— During this Black History Month, I ask: Do the white people within our networks remotely get how glorious AND exhausting it is being black in America? Can we talk about why it’s exhausting? Can you handle sitting in an uncomfortable space for awhile? Can you handle it? Can you take it in without deflection, pointing fingers, becoming defensive or proclaiming yourself the victim? Can we REALLY talk?

And finally her heartfelt words about a confrontation that happened in her city, in a neighborhood she knows well, to two people who are her friends.

My soul weeps. My body trembles. Anger and fear take turns occupying the same space. Why? Two people that I hold in high regard experienced the policing of their bodies in a PUBLIC space by white people who feel they get to decide where black people can and cannot be!

As I learned of what occurred I was immediately grateful their positions (elected official and one running for office AND a friend who STEPPED UP) along with their “training “ allowed them to walk away from this experience. Yes this was potentially a life and death event.

43274C05-47A6-49F7-979E-B91258D1809CSo many what if’s ran through my mind. If you are black you will understand what I mean. If you are white, I CHALLENGE you to discuss this LOCAL event with your WHITE friends! I NEED you to discuss it in YOUR churches. I NEED you to discuss with YOUR family.

I NEED YOU to join the fight for change! YOU play a KEY role in ensuring change happens.

I thank my friend for challenging me and encouraging me, not only during Black History Month, but throughout time — every day, every month and for years ahead. To black people, Black History Month begins on January 1st and ends December 31st, and the message of the month for black people has been lifelong. As for those of us who are white, let us not be shackled by “white fragility.” Instead let us move boldly — and with courage — into our communities and confront racism wherever we find it. It is true that racism and white supremacy have been a part of our history always, but we can end this tragic injustice with resolve, unity, faith, courage and the blessing of God who created all people in One image. May God make it so.

Taking Back Our World

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Let’s take back our world! Let us join hands and, in the power of community and holy resolve, reclaim our world from white supremacists, racists and violent actors that threaten our people.

If not us, who? If not now, when?

After the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that killed 20 young children, British journalist Dan Hodges wrote that the gun control debate in the U.S. was over. This is what he wrote: “Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”

And then we let 2,193 shootings happen. 

The shootings that occurred this week offend us in a very deep place. You see, we are followers of Christ, the Prince of Peace. We are the people of God who know that thoughts and prayers and compassionate sentiments won’t end this kind of terroristic hate.  

The El Paso shooter told law enforcement that he wanted to shoot as many Mexicans as possible. His manifesto, which he posted on the 8chan online community  included details about himself, his weapons and his motivation. He described the El Paso attack as a “response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” and proclaimed that he was defending his country from “cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion.”

Most certainly, these words from an obvious white supremacist should offend every follower of God. His evil intent is also an offense to God. In response to such evil, perhaps we will raise our voices continually and persistently, without becoming weary. Perhaps we will resolve to take back our world, proclaiming God’s word in the darkness of evil just as the prophets did. Like them, perhaps we will persist tirelessly and with a holy resolve, for as long as it takes to end the evil that arises from racism and white supremacy. 

Perhaps our prophetic action will mirror that of the writer of Lamentations who wrote, “Arise, cry out in the night, as the watches of the night begin; pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord. Lift up your hands to him for the lives of your children.”

May God so embolden us.

A Prophet Among Us

51D84C45-AF36-41C2-824C-3E29EE93E434Because of the recent opening of The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, I have been contemplating the terror of lynching in our history. The Montgomery site is the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with police violence.

“Set on a six-acre site, the memorial uses sculpture, art, and design to contextualize racial terror. The site includes a memorial square with 800 six-foot monuments to symbolize thousands of racial terror lynching victims in the United States and the counties and states where this terrorism took place.” (eji.org)

But racial injustice is not merely art used to contextualize racism and violence. We also have the cold, hard facts. For instance, The Tuskegee Institute reports that 4,743 people were lynched between 1882 and 1968, including 3,446 African Americans and 1,297 whites, mostly white individuals who tried to help their African American neighbors.

Who were the prophets among us who proclaimed in those days a Christian Gospel of justice?

The NAACP reports that today African Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of white people.

Who are the prophets among us in these days? Who is calling for justice, for liberation and freedom for those who are oppressed?

Across a range of human rights issues in 2017, the United States moved backward on human rights issues. The current U.S. president has targeted refugees and immigrants, calling them criminals and security threats. He has emboldened racism by promoting white nationalism. He consistently champions anti-Muslim ideas. His administration has embraced policies that will roll back access to reproductive health care for women and has created health insurance changes that would leave many Americans without access to affordable health care. He has undermined police accountability for abuse. He has expressed disdain for independent media and for federal courts that have blocked some of his actions.

The individuals most likely to suffer abuse in our nation include members of racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, children, the poor, prisoners and other vulnerable groups, who endure renewed attacks on their rights. Issues of injustice include gender equity, poverty, the right to health care, immigration and the rights of non-citizens, sexual orientation and gender identity, criminal and juvenile justice, harsh criminal sentencing and mass incarceration,.

Where is justice today? Who will call each injustice by name? Where is the prophetic voice among us that will proclaim liberation?

06B7213F-F174-4BD0-9B73-D8AB170F288BWhile in seminary, I immersed myself in the study of liberation theologies. Not surprisingly, my research led me to the writings of black liberation theologian, The Rev. Dr. James H. Cone. I became what some might call a follower of Dr. Cone. I saw him as a Christ-like superhero. Much of my research and writing in those days delved into the history of liberation theology, so Dr. Cone’s books covered my desk for months.

On Saturday, I learned of his death and experienced both sadness and gladness. Glad, because of his enormous contribution to Christian theology’s imperative response to injustice. And sad, because his voice of justice is now silent. By his death, we lost a prophet, a persevering voice that championed racial justice. We lost a voice that gave the world an interpretation of the Christian Gospel that paid attention to the voices of the oppressed.

YES! “A prophet was among us.”

These words from Judge Wendell Griffen honored the prophet, Rev. Dr. James H. Cone, and named him as the central figure in the development of black liberation theology in the 1960s and ’70s.

The prophet and scholar was raised in a small Arkansas town, giving him a clear view of the harsh reality of racial injustice. Dr. Cone rose up from his simple roots to become the foremost voice of his day on black liberation theology.

84C76F50-B538-4A1C-91DA-48E4357609E2Google it.

“Black liberation theology”

The first image you will see is that of James H. Cone. And then you will see image after image of him as well as a list of the plethora of books he has written and a list of the places around the world where he taught and preached.

What is my point?

First of all, I want to add my voice to those who are honoring this prophet of justice. But more importantly, I want to own and name the present reality: that there has never been a time in history that needs the message of liberation more than this day. To be sure, the horrific lynchings of African Americans in this country took place many years ago, between 1882 and 1968.BAD8200A-0958-4FBE-9241-F4E2DDEBCA70

And this is a new day, is it not?

It is a new day, a new day that has moved our society to the national shame of mass incarceration of African Americans. Consider this research:

  • By the age of 14, approximately 25 percent of African American children have experienced a parent — in most cases a father — being imprisoned for some period of time.
  • On any given school day, approximately 10 percent of African American schoolchildren have a parent who is in jail or prison, more than four times the share in 1980.
  • The comparable share for white children is 4 percent; an African American child is six times as likely as a white child to have or have had an incarcerated parent.

(Valerie Strauss, March 15, 2017; The Washington Post; https://www.washingtonpost.com/people/valerie-strauss/?utm_term=.8d67a553a8db)

  • In 2014, African Americans constituted 2.3 million, or 34%, of the total 6.8 million correctional population.
  • The imprisonment rate for African American women is twice that of white women.
  • Nationwide, African American children represent 32% of children who are arrested, 42% of children who are detained, and 52% of children whose cases are judicially waived to criminal court.

(NAACP.org)

TMI . . . Too much information, right? Perhaps it is too much information, but the amount of information here barely scratches the surface of the many ways injustice has gripped our nation in these days. We can turn our backs, stop up our ears, and blind our eyes to it, but that will not change the fact that people are being oppressed, injustice is doing its horrific work, and liberation seems a distant, unreachable dream.

The people of God must be the people of God and accept the mantle placed by God on our shoulders — being a prophetic voice in a land where injustice has its way.

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;

to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
(Isaiah 61:1-3 NRSV)

But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
(Amos 6:24 NRSV)

We are the prophets among us. Let’s act like it!

 

 

The Promise of Daybreak

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Pierce Creek Public Boat Landing, Mayflower, Arkansas. Photo by Steven Nawojczyk.

Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

– Ephesians 6:13 Revised Standard Version (RSV)

And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

– Isaiah 58:10 New International Version (NIV)

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A friend recently described this time in history as “days of despair.” She talked about “a veil of darkness” that has covered our world. I have thought a great deal about her comments and have spent time pondering the kind of fear people might be feeling. Certainly, the natural disasters we are experiencing are causing feelings of great unease. Floods and fires, mighty winds and life-changing storms have left millions of people despairing. They have experienced loss of life, loss of their homes, loss of belongings, loss of their place in community. Perhaps some of them doubt the promise of a dawning day that brings back hope.

Add to that the far too frequent expressions of hate, xenophobia and racism that exacerbate distress. Clearly, there is enough fear and despair to go around in these unsettling days. After many years of acceptance and belonging, the young people we call DREAMERS suddenly feel the fear of losing all that they have worked for, including the country that has been “home” to them since they were children.

So how do disconsolate people move forward when a sense of despair holds them captive? How do people in the midst of fear and grief believe that a new dawn will break their current darkness? How do they hold on to their faith in the God who cares deeply for them, protects them, holds them close?

Can we join hearts and hands and stand courageously against injustice, standing with those who have been marginalized, believing that we will overcome the “evil day” that threatens us?

One voice throughout history declares with certain, living faith that, whatever we face, we shall overcome. I do not even need to mention his name because we hear his voice clearly during every trial. These are his words:

We shall overcome because Carlisle is right. “No lie can live forever.”

We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right. “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.”

We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell is right. “Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne. Yet that scaffold sways the future and behind them unknown stands God within the shadows keeping watch above his own.”

We shall overcome because the Bible is right. “You shall reap what you sow.”

With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.

— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1966

These days of darkness and division will pass. These days of dim uncertainty will pass. We shall overcome despair. As it always has, the breaking dawn will drive out the darkness of night. Hope will again rise within us as we embrace the promise of another glorious daybreak.

Amen. Thanks be to God.