For the past two weeks I've sat in disbelief and utter amazement as the very fabric of our country has unraveled. Like a fringe pulled on a garment until it is nothing but individual pieces of thread, so has this country become. We are more divided than any point in my life before, and to my surprise there are those who simply cannot see the erosion taking place. Unfortunately some of those who are blind to the truth are individuals who are closest to me and whom I have considered friends. In case you haven’t figured it out by now I am referring to the racial tensions that hold America by its throat. In the last few weeks several non-indictments by grand juries have sparked nationwide protests over the killing of young, mostly male, African-Americans. It appears that the very country which was allegedly founded upon Christian principles fails to see the dignity that all people were created in the image and likeness of same God of creation. The very country that said “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” fails to protect those who originated from the shores of distant lands with darker pigmentation and courser hair.
I recall a sermon I preached a little over a year ago entitled: Where Do We Go from Here. The sermon took a look at Martin Luther King’s speech given in 1967 with the same title. In my sermon I did not quote king at great length but given the bleak realities of today I feel King’s words of the 60s parallel what I see today in the twenty-first century.
King wrote Now, in order to answer the question, "Where do we go from here?" we must first honestly recognize where we are now. When the Constitution was written, a strange formula to determine taxes and representation declared that the Negro was 60 percent of a person. Today another curious formula seems to declare he is 50 percent of a person. Of the good things in life, the Negro has approximately one half those of whites. Of the bad things of life, he has twice those of whites… What I am saying today is that we must go from this convention and say, "America, you must be born again!"
So, I conclude by saying again today that we have a task and let us go out with a "divine dissatisfaction." Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds. Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort and the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice. Let us be dissatisfied until those that live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security. Let us be dissatisfied until men and women, however black they may be, will be judged on the basis of the content of their character and not on the basis of the color of their skin. Let us be dissatisfied until every state capitol houses a governor who will do justly, who will love mercy and who will walk humbly with his God. Let us be dissatisfied.
I must confess, my friends, the road ahead will not always be smooth. There will still be rocky places of frustration and meandering points of bewilderment. There will be inevitable setbacks here and there. There will be those moments when the buoyancy of hope will be transformed into the fatigue of despair. Our dreams will sometimes be shattered and our ethereal hopes blasted. We may again with tear-drenched eyes have to stand before the bier of some courageous civil-rights worker whose life will be snuffed out by the dastardly acts of bloodthirsty mobs.
Looking at those powerful words which were written well before I ever took my first breath and seeing pictures of cities right here in America that could have just as easily been snapped during King’s life in the 50s and 60s I, like many of my Black brothers and sisters, am left asking the question do I and We really matter?
There will inevitably be friends and colleagues that are quick to tell me they don’t see me for my color, but that in and of itself is not a helpful or useful statement. You see, to not see race is to not see the essence and beauty of who I am. My race is my power. It has shaped me consciously and unconsciously from the way I look, the beliefs I carry and the way I worship. I am the product of my slave ancestors and the Civil Rights Movement. So to not see race, is to not see me.
There are those that proclaim we live in a post-racial society, after all, we do have Mr. Barack Obama. Well, go and tell that to the families of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, John Crawford III, Renisha McBride, Jordan Davis, Kimani Gray, Timothy Russell and Emmett Till. Remind me of this the next time someone says to me I am well-dressed or articulate for a Black woman. Tell me this the next time I and my friends are followed around a department store simply for browsing. With patience and mounting frustration I have watched death and destruction invade my cities and deteriorate the minds of my brothers and sisters. The cries of “no justice, no peace” have been heard for too long. It didn’t start with the death of Trayvon or Michael, but it started when the first slave master exclaimed “sold”.
Day after day, I hear from one side of Black America that we are the problem and our own worst enemy. The other half wants to burn it all down and, and in the midst of all this, I find myself teetering between divine hope and hopeless despair. I hear from Evangelicals that as a minister I am to remember the words of my Savior who said “vengeance is mine” and “bless those who curse you”. How do you remain hopeful when the system and country you work for never intended for you to have the same rights and privileges as others?
I do not have an answer. I do not have a concrete plan. What I do know is that in no way, shape or form, should anyone’s promise of abundant life infringe on my right to life. I will write to those who have power, I will pray to my God who has all the answers, I will love in the face of adversity and continue to hope for a brighter tomorrow. But that’s not enough. None of these things bring back lives taken too soon, or change the hearts of bigots or practices of institutionalized racism. Maybe King was right; America and its systems need to start over. Maybe we need a 21st century prophet that combines the practices of King and Malcolm X. What I do know is I’ve decided to write to Al Sharpton, the NAACP and the Urban League to plant the idea of a modern day March on Washington-a Million Millennial March- fused with young prophetic preachers, dynamic speaker s and goal oriented conversations around race and change. I’m really not trying to make history, I’m just trying to make it to the future and Promised Land.