I once had the opportunity to visit Sevierville, Tennessee with a few friends of mine. While on my trip to the southern part of our country, we had the opportunity to go whitewater rafting across the waters of Lake Pigeon. A native New Yorker through and through, my first feelings about this idea were feelings of reservation. Subways, sidewalks, and skyscrapers had all but soured me to the idea of spending any significant amount of time in the outdoors. Truthfully, outside of scenery that makes for great wallpapers on my cell phone, I struggle to see whats so “great” about the outdoors. But, in my attempts to not be a complete antediluvian, I agreed to participate.
My friends and I arrived at the location where we were to receive our equipment. We suited up and shortly thereafter made our way to the raft designated for our party. When we got to the boat, we had a lady assigned to help us named Jane. She told us that before we got started down river she had instructions for us.
Jane told us that before we went anywhere, that in order to make it up the river, we had to be able to hear & understand her commands. She told us that we needed to be familiar with her voice. She went on to tell us that their would be times when the movements of the river would become so loud that it would be difficult to hear anything, but if we just listened for her voice, we would be able to hear what we needed to do in order to make it through the turbulence. It wasn’t enough for us to know the words she was using. We had to understand what her words meant for us to do. Certain commands were intended to elicit specific responses; We had to allow the words Jane spoke to us to influence what we did and how we acted.
I pray that all is going well with you on yet another day that the Lord has made.
I wanted to reach out to you to lovingly address (and prayerfully have conversation about) some of the concerns that I have regarding the propaganda that comes from your movement. Over the past several months now, it seems that everywhere I look, everywhere I go, I find people proclaiming that “All Lives Matter”. More often than not, the statement is used as a rebuke to those of us who state that “Black Lives Matter”; a correction mean to usher is back into a mindset of equality and equity.
I’d like to offer that there are deep misperceptions on your end about what we mean on ours. I would contend that these spaces of equality and equity are not ones that we have vacated, but rather, these are spaces that we seemingly occupy alone.
For your consideration, I’d like to offer a different way of thinking about the state of affairs we find ourselves in collectively and how it affects African Americans, specifically.
Think with me on these questions for a moment: What does it mean for you to be invited if you’re not allowed (or expected) to be yourself when you get there? What does it means for a people to have to downplay and deny their own identity for the sake of acceptance in a larger dynamic? More categorically, what happens when I have to compromise my “Africanity” in the name of inclusion in the grouping of “all”? Are there other sub sects and groups that are castigated for speaking to their own issues in specificity?
When Parisians are victimized by violence & the cry is to “Pray For Paris”, the collective rebuttal isn’t that “All Cities Matter”. When police are killed in the line of duty and the cry is “Blue Lives Matter”, the collective reply isn’t that “All Public Servants Matter”. Even deeper, the reason why it isn’t the response is because to suggest that “All Cities Matter” in the wake of Parisians having to deal with realities unambiguous to them or to suggest that “All Public Servants Matter” to police officers dealing with the death of their colleagues would be both insensitive and inconsiderate.
It is in this same vein, that when African Americans (& others) proclaim that “Black Lives Matter” and people respond to this declaration by stating that “All Lives Matter”, an act of disregard, disrespect and devaluation is taking place.
Though you may not realize it (at least I’d like to think you don’t realize it), this repeated rhetoric represents a passive decimation of our movement; an invitation to a global party which stipulates we, as African Americans, are our best when we are seen and not heard.
Now, I realize that the tone and topic of this letter may have become suddenly uneasy. Let me pause briefly to say that I make no judgements here. In fact, my Bible teaches me to not to. As a Christian, I also try to presume the best of intentions when dealing with all people. My words are not given in an attempt to condemn but rather to correct.
That being said, these repeated rejoinders from your end made to the pronouncements of personhood from our end are offensive. Your failure to see it this way, does not make it any less hurtful nor does your indifference towards it make your action any less ignorant.
Brethren beloved, please allow us, African Americans and those sympathetic to our struggle, the God-given space that every one else on the planet is afforded to grieve and self-determine for ourselves. Do not allow your lack of comprehension to translate into a lack of compassion. If you feel compelled to critique our behavior, be just in your observations & invest as much time criticizing what creates our responses as you do criticizing the responses themselves.
We are all children of Most High, valuable beyond measure in the eyes of God. Despite this truth, not everyone’s life is viewed, treated or treasured in the same way. All we desire is to be seen as God sees and regarded in the same way our cultural counterparts are.
We welcome your prayers and participation, but, please, refrain from confining us. Allow us the freedom to emote apart from your approval. Doing this is necessary if we are to ultimately to “act justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with our God”. Hopefully, we can discuss this further. Take care & may God bless all of us.
I was on my way to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Following the tragic death of Alton Sterling, an African American whose life was viciously and needlessly taken from him by police officers sworn to protect and serve, I was ready to lift my voice in prayer, protest, and dialogue. Handling my responsibilities with the congregation I serve (and equipped with the prayers and support of that congregation), I was headed to the airport. The continued abuse of authority by law officers needed to be addressed and I was ready to do so in the name of a God who loves justice and righteousness.
On my way to the airdrome, my phone rang with a call from a number I didn’t recognize. I answered and though the number was unfamiliar to me the voice on the other end was. The voice was that of my oldest son.
He was calling me to come and get him as he had been robbed at gunpoint by a pair of young men while dropping a friend off at home. Instantly, I turned my car around and began to head in his direction while listening to the details of the incident. He told me that things happened suddenly and abruptly. He explained that as his assailants kicked and beat him, he laid still on the ground. Even after they had left, he remained on the ground for fear of losing his life. He said that after a few minutes, confident that they had departed, he got up and used the phone of a bystander to call the police and then to call me. I instantly begin to pray that God dispatch angels to watch over my child until I could.
Hearing that police officers were on their way to my son, and given the reality of what has become regular procedure for so many policeman and policewomen across the country, I sped as fast as I could to my son to protect him. I drive till I arrive where he is and when I get there, I find that the police had beaten me there. I prayed for peace as I approached where my son stood with the officers.
I walked over, tightly embraced my first born, and asked him if he was alright. He assured me he was and after I looked him over to sense his wellness for myself, I began to make my way over to the officer to talk with him. Before I get to him, the officer begins to make his way over to me. The policeman introduces himself and apologizes for the incidence that involved my son. The officer then goes on to tell me that while I was on my way there, he had contacted the paramedics to make sure my son was physically well. He had already taken a investigative report but reviewed the report with me to inform me of the events that had transpired. The gentleman also stayed with my son and I while the crime scene was investigated and information was exchanged. The experience ended with another heartfelt apology for what had happened to my son and an assurance that the detectives and he would all do what they could to apprehend these persons. He also left me his cell number to call him if I had any questions. I gratefully shook his hand and took my son home; praising God not only for His protection of my son, but also for the officer that He allowed to be there with my son.
I share this story not to invoke any sympathy on my behalf. Nor do I write this to defend those persons who hide their hatred behind the police badges they brandish. I write this to offer perspective in the midst of our collective pain. With another maddeningly recurring rash of African American fatalities by police, it is easy to allow the hatred at the center of these actions to infect our perspective of the world. In these times of stress and sadness, it is so simple to seek our solace in solutions laced with spite. I offer that our efforts to counteract these wretched actions against us…our protests, our activism, our strategies, our defense of ourselves, even our angst…must be rooted in love. For it is only love (and the God that love originates from) that is able to downthrow the disease of hatred that ails our society. To imitate and react to the hateful acts committed against us validates those acts. If the actions are wrong, retaliation of the like is also wrong (even if it is done in the name of right). It is this conduct that furthers and perpetuates the hatefulness we attempt to stand against. We instead must negate this hate with our capacity to love.
We musn’t allow hate to paint inaccurate portraits of this world. Instead, we must dare to view the world through the lens of love. Hatred would lead us to believe revolution will only come through retribution. The Bible tells us not to “repay evil with evil”. Hatred would make us think that violence is specific to a race or even a religion. Reality shows us that violent tendencies are found across the varied spectrums of our society. Hatred would have us think that all police are evil. Life reminded me on last night that all of them are not. Our efforts are not only against persons but also against the spirit of hatred they are operating in. We do not defeat hatred by operating in reactionary fear or remedying revenge. When we come together and act in love, when we become brave enough to live out our love boldly, that hatred will ultimately be defeated.
I don’t watch BET.
Armed with a real concern about the programming of the network (and, in particular, how that programming promotes a marginalized perspective of my people), I presently find myself in a boycott of the longstanding television outlet. I realize my lone television not being dialed in to their frequency will not miraculously prompt them to change what they show, but I personally struggle with feeling like I am supporting the stereotypes that are perpetuated of our people (especially our women). Word around the campfire is that they are trying to do better, but even if that were the case, I wouldn’t know it because…I don’t watch BET.
Despite my non-existent viewership, my very real connection to social media allows me to be kept abreast as to what goes on as different shows and events are put on the air. So while I do not watch BET, my Twitter feed & Facebook timeline allow me to have blow by blow details of awards shows, premieres, and the like.
This past Sunday, while on Facebook, a “friend” posted a video that had made its way to my newsfeed (I’m sure you haven’t heard it or seen it). The video was of actor and activist Jesse Williams giving his acceptance speech after being awarded the Humanitarian Award at the 2016 BET Awards. Williams’ speech was a beautifully worded disquisition raising awareness to the realities of the African American struggle. His words were not only a clarion call for consciousness and activism from persons of color, but it was also a call to accountability for how we manage ourselves in the name of liberation.
From an apology to how we treat our women (and a promise on behalf of our brothers to do better) to warning abusive law enforcement to change their behaviors to expressing the need for urgency in our efforts to obtain justice to emploring Africans Americans to better control their dollars, the speech was both poignant and powerful.
As he concluded his speech, Jesse Williams’ words were met with a standing ovation. Celebrities, dignitaries, and persons of influence throughout the auditorium showed their support for his statement by raising to their feet and applauding. History teaches us that Williams joins a long list of entertainers who have used their fame and influence as a platform to speak to social issues regarding African Americans. It was an extremely compelling moment to witness.
I watched this video and was overtaken by two distinct emotions. On one end, I was extremely proud; overjoyed by the vision of unity among our people. The other feeling that took hold of me was an overriding feeling of concern. As I watched our people applaud the call to cognizance, given on this stage for the nation and world to see, I found myself wondering what would happen after this moment. By my thinking, milestones occur when moments are married to memories. Mountaintops are attained when motivation is translated in movement. As I watched this, I began to question whether or not we have we allowed the comforts of our culture to confuse us as to what the difference between milestones and mountaintops is?
Have the ideas of fighting for freedom, sacrificing in solidarity, and protesting for progress been relegated to notions that simply sound good? Concepts that we celebrate because our celebration makes us feel better about the work we are unwilling to do.
To affirm Jesse Williams’ remarks with applause is not a bad thing. In fact, it is the right thing (dare I say, the ‘Godly’ thing) to do. But I wonder what happens after the applause? It has been 48 hours since the ceremony, and the wheels on the commercial machine (wheels that often crush the consciousness of our people) are still rolling. The applause means nothing if the same rappers who clap make the same minstrel music that maligns us. The praise is purposeless if the actors who offer it still play characters that calumniate our culture. Our laudation is lessened if we offer it only to go back to business as usual after the occasion has passed. This convenient consciousness is dangerous as it is crippling to any breakthrough and betterment our people aspire toward. Convenient consciousness tells one that it perfectly acceptable to know what needs to be done but equally acceptable (even commendable) to fail in doing it.
The issues we face are real & the solutions to them are far from easy. The place we profess to desire for our community cannot be reached solely by our plans or our plauditing; they also require our participation.
Those who would look to oppress us, those who benefit from our inactivity, are banking on it. And while need to celebrate and support this who demonstrate the incredible courage to live past their own comforts to speak truth, we must not only affirm their truth with applause, but also be willing to act after the applause.
Recently, the world has found itself in a state of bereavement. Many persons of influence and importance have suddenly, unexpectedly passed away. Most recently, the world mourns the passing of the great Muhammad Ali. Famed human rights activist & accomplished athlete, Ali is one of the most influential, iconic persons of the 20th & 21st Century. This sudden loss happens as the global community is still reeling from the emotions upon the passing of another transcendent figure: musical icon, Prince. In fact, the past few months have held much pain for people. It seems as if the untimely, unexpected news of these deaths have sent shockwaves through communities all over the world. People (in particular, people of color) have been forced to engage their heroes in spaces of reflection and reminiscence. Forced into hindsight reflections by circumstance, we now are left wrestle with what these individuals meant to us.
People have taken to their varying mediums to express sentiments and fond momentos. Memories of milestones and acknowledgment of achievements cover the landscapes of our social media. But, what seems to be in lesser variety are the cerebrations concerning the values and principles these persons embodied while they shared space on Earth with us. So much more of the focus ends up on what they did as opposed to who they actually were.
This is a dangerous way for us to immortalize those important to us. We do a damning disservice to those whom we love when we hold up the memory of them without concurrently holding up the principles central to who they were. We stain the significance of the people we revere and respect when we laud what they did more than we laud who they were. The best gift we can give to our brothers and sisters who have departed from us is not exclusive to an emotional homegoing service or a televised tribute. The highest form of regard and respect we can offer our loved ones, the way we keep them alive despite their absence from us, is to preserve and pass along the principles that that made them who they were.
The sadness of what it means to allow principles to pass is exemplified in the 1st Book of Judges. The author writes of a failure to pass on the precepts that came before us. The Bible illustrates that an unsuccessful passing of principles, leads to a unprincipled generation, unaware of the what (or who) that allowed them to be where they are today. We, as a society, are on the verge of becoming an unprincipled people, lest we start to commemorate our champions by not allowing their beliefs to go unremembered.
How do we lift the memory of Muhammad Ali without lifting the causes he was willing to sacrifice his fame for? How do we affirm or appreciate the genius of a Prince without synchronously appreciating what lengths he was willing to go (and whom he was willing to fight) in order to protect that genius? To do so is no different than our brothers & sisters in Christ who preach Jesus but refuse to preach what Jesus preached.
At some point, our mortality will come to an end; we will all one day transition from here to our respective eternities. While we may inescapably expire, we have a responsibility to pass along the values, beliefs, and ideals of those whom we elevate. In a time where people of all walks labor to identify an identity for themselves, it is the preservation of principles that will move our culture forward.
None of us have the ability to prevent death when it is time for it to come to us. What we do have is the ability to not allow to the principiums at the core of our culture to perish. We must learn to love our heroes more for what they stood for than what they were celebrated for. For in this, we find strength & motivation; our voices are given necessary volume.
The critical causes of our culture die because we let them. People operate with no direction or devotion…nations act with no accountability or answerability…children walk into destinies devoid of direction when those who were influenced and inspired by the principles of our elders allow those principles to pass away. We must not allow the popularity of our champions to pacify us; if they meant what we say they did to us, we must not allow their principles to pass away.
-I wonder what happened to the Hip Hop music that used to have DJ’s scratching over the beat. I miss that scratch like my back is itching….DJ’ing needs to come back to the mainstream like yesterday.
-My people spend a lot of money with entities that don’t have their best interest and demonstrate this lack of concern regularly. Perhaps, a major component to our liberation is ceasing to financially supporting our oppression. Dr. King talked about this in the 60’s all of the time. I wonder why those speeches are never played when we celebrate his birthday….
-In 2020, African American pioneers Harriet Tubman & Marian Anderson will be featured on the back of the $20 bill, with Sojourner Truth’s face gracing the back of the $10 bill. While its clear to me that these landmarks are not the cure for the ills that plagues our nation, I think this is a significant step for this country. For women of color to be placed on American currency (given the longstanding history of racism and sexism in his country) is important. I pray that we, as both culture and community, aren’t too militant, too conscious, too radical, or too spiritual to acknowledge it.
-Maybe our society would benefit from a more expansive view of what it means to be diverse. What happens when “diversity” is only seen as a different ethnicities occupying the same space at the same time instead of the values and ideas of those ethnicities being allowed to share space simultaneously?
-When did academic training and study start being seen as so ungodly by so many “Godly people”? I’m pretty sure my Bible says something about studying “to show yourself approved”. Perhaps part of the problem is a lot of us are encouraged to study what we already think we know instead of looking to enhance what we know with what we may not.
-The Bible declares that “a house divided against itself cannot stand” (Mark 3:25). I wonder how long our people will continue to harbor distrust for each other. Prayerfully, we get it right before we fall. What a nightmare…im going back to sleep.
In our present day, they are known as “knock offs”. Things and items that closely resemble that which they replicate. The look like the real thing, feel like the real thing, and sound like the real thing. To the casual observer, they are just as valuable as the original. For most, it is hard to tell a knock off from an original. In fact, knock offs seem similar to the original in every way possible; even in the way that they function. That is until there comes a time when the situation requires something that can only be provided by the real thing. It is frustrating to find yourself in a space and place where you are in need of the real thing and all you are left with to help you get by and get over is a knock off.
I contend that knock offs are not only found in the public sphere but also in the personal spaces of our lives. Even with regard to our faith & spirituality, it is a regretful reality that there are so many of us that cling closely to comprehension of God that we believe to be authentic when in truth all we have is a ‘knock off’. And it often isn’t until we find ourselves left to deal with the downside of life, that we realize the faith we’ve allowed to hold us up has given way because it was nothing more than a knock off.
Knock off religion, knock off spirituality, can be found all around us. From preachers more concerned with profits than people to Christians more concerned with how they look than how they live. From churches with crosses on the inside that don’t allow that cross to influence what they do on the outside to ministries more consumed with emotionalism than evangelism. From making unconditional love optional to embracing doctrine that seemingly has an answer for everything but doesn’t allow room for any questions.
It is these misrepresentations of Christ, these misrepresentations of what it means to be a Christian, that have led to so many to choosing walk away from our faith; defecting from a faith they believe has defaulted on them first.
In a world full of issues that are becoming more and more real for people, there is a need for a real sense of spirituality. A real religion that offers comfort in moments crying and helps one to stand when they feel as if they are sinking. A real religion that not only makes me feel better but also prompts me to live better. There are persons in this present age that are looking for more than performance, piety and pageantry to define their faith. There is a real need for a base of faith in which the Spirit of the Lord manifests, walks, talks, guides, and renews daily. And, unless, we, as the modern Church, move past the quick fix, superficial spirituality that has become prevalent in much of our present Christian culture, we will be unwitting contributors in the great falling away the Bible speaks of in the 4th Chapter of 1 Timothy.
In a time where those whom we share humanity with look to navigate the winding ways of life, we need to be able to offer the world a real religion. A religion that puts a greater emphasis on relationship than it does ritual. A religion that values compassion more than it does correction & teaching more than it does tradition. A faith secure enough to stand in the face of other religions and opt to have dialogue with them instead of demonize them. In order to for the Gospel to spread as God would have it to, in order for the influence of Jesus Christ to change the world (and those in it), we must be willing to adjust what we have made normative. In a time where hope is both needed and in short supply, Christians must present a Christianity that is not only pure and prophetic but also progressive; a ministry that looks, lives, and loves like God. We, as believers, must not ask the world to accept a knock off brand of belief. Christians must be willing and able to offer the world a real religion.
It is, by my estimation, the most hate filled, vitriolic word in all of language. While the usage of the word is subject to debate, what certainly cannot be debated are the emotions the word the N-word evokes. Whether used to salute or to be spiteful, it is very hard for anyone to engage the word without dealing with the ethos of hate and degradation that accompany it. The feelings (and possibly reservations) most of you encountered as you read the title of this post are of proof of this.
What also cannot be argued is the swift, almost immediate, response one can attain with use of the word. Calling an African American the N-word in 2016 may get you punched in the face the same way it would in 1960! A person, or persons, using this word has historically been labeled one as not compassionate to a person of color nor to the causes that concern their well being. If the emotion and intention behind the word have traveled across the ages, it can be said that the volatile reaction to the word has as well….or has it?
What happens when the institutions around us engage and embody the same level of disrespect that persons who use the N-word do? What happens when the school systems we occupy passively project upon our children what Michael Gerson refers to as “the soft bigotry of low expectations”? What happens when businesses and corporations market to us with portrayals of our people that are dull, disrespectful and demeaning? What happens when our government supports the devalorization of our life through its lack of urgency and ,even worse, its silence?
Is the same call to arms made throughout our community? Is the same outrage evident? Does the same desire to correct press and provoke us to the point of retaliation? Or, has our acceptance of the word in public made us numb to the effects of it being perpetuated in private? Do we force ourselves to accept it; supposing that such is the way of the world?
It doesn’t matter if one refrains from calling me the N-word, when the system I attempt to function under continues to treat me like one. If the ‘way of the world’ erects structures and systems that contradistinguish me, what does it say of that world and those who influence it?
Jesus preaches in His Sermon On The Mount (Matthew 7:20) that we ought able to identify good by the fruit it bears and bad by the same. While we must always be amenable to reconciliation and restoration, we conjointly must be able to identify bad fruit when it confronts us. No matter how much they have been sweetened, fruits of racism and discrimination that fall from the tree of hatred must be recognized for what they are. Even deeper, we must be willing to stand firmly and speak loudly against them in the name of a God that declares that through His Son, we are all equal.
If it is unacceptable for anyone to use the N-word (which, by the way, it should be), it ought to be intolerable for the the institutions that encircle us to exemplify the N-word as well. The same reaction we have when a person calls us one should be in full force when the structures that surround us do the same. As contemporaries that are cherished in the eyes of our God, we ought not be reserved, but instead moved to response that forces institutions, powers, and principalities to regard us as what we are. This is what we, as a liberated people, must do when the structures around us call us ‘nigger’.
I don’t know if you were aware, but Donald Trump is running for president…
What started out being viewed as a shameless ploy for attention on his part has turned into a legitimate and viable push to attain the highest office in this land. Media outlets all over the world have been chronicling Mr. Trump’s ascent (or descent, depending on your perspective) in popularity. From reporting at rallies to telecasting live events to tweets and status updates being retweeted and repeated throughout the day, it is hard for anyone not to hear what Donald J Trump has to say.
Despite all of the rambunctious rhetoric surrounding Mr. Trump (and the subsequent cries of support and disapproval that accompany it), there is another sound that has my ears ringing; the deafening silence from so many of our clergy. In a space where Mr. Trump’s vitriolic, demeaning, bigoted, divisive, sexist language has become all too normative, it appears that so many of our brothers and sisters that occupy pulpits around our nation are too timid, too reluctant, (dare I say) too afraid to speak against the venomous verbiage being spewed by Mr. Trump.
Our indignation (presuming that my sisters and brothers in ministry are indignant) must not be relegated to the comfort we find in our pulpits and among our parishioners. We must be willing to declare God’s displeasure with anything that does not push our nation to be one pleasing in His sight. So many misinterpret the ethical dimension of our ministry as a oath of silence; more likely and willing to cosign someone than to criticize them. A responsible use of our influence is not only to further our own agendas (which prayerfully are Godly) but also to denounce things and ideas which are detrimental. The love of Christ in us, the commitment to live as Jesus would, and the intensated level of love we are called to ought prompt us to boldly display our disdain. The price of being popular is cheaper than the cost to be prophetic. Could it be that there are those who are engaged in ministry but aren’t willing to spend that much?
What happens when those who are called to proclaim the Word, Will and Way of God are afraid to do so in the presence of a spirit that is not off God? What does our world become when those who know the truth are apprehensive to speak that truth to power? We play a much more central role in the demise and decline of our society that what we are willing to own. On our day of judgement, we will not be celebrated for what we said loudly, but for what our silences said even louder. Prayerfully, we realize that we are in a place in time where those who listen to us as well as those who expect us to speak, share the same sentiment. Looking for those who speak on behalf of God and needing a word from the Lord, may it never be said of us that we cannot be heard.