Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s struggle for freedom and equality 60 years ago continues – George Floyd is tangible proof. Through his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in which he talks about a “complacent people” turning a blind eye to the injustice of racism, Dr. King’s legacy continues to cry out to church and secular leaders alike to end the horror of inhumanity.
As an aging Black man with a 27-year-old son, I am all too aware of the menacing COVID-19 that disproportionately impacts people growing old, poor and of color; and a profound racism as the ugly underbelly of the American fabric, allowed to grow in its insidiousness to threaten and beat down African Americans, and particularly young Black men.
As churches struggle to reopen their doors in a manner that keeps them healthy and safe yet relevant in the chaos of which they are a part, I am reminded of Dr. King’s words, “Repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the ‘bad people,’ but for the appalling silence of the ‘good people.’ Human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts of people willing to be co-workers with God!” – people of courage, confidence and conviction.
Dr. King’s tears transitioned from deep disappointment to joy and love when “noble souls” joined his Black brothers and sisters so many years ago and rose “from our dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest.” Interracial, diverse protests over George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner and all the others since Rodney King – that we know about – are difficult because they represent all the pain and contradictions that have come to a head. They are living tinderboxes, according to Princeton scholar Eddie Glaude, Jr., that sit on the edge of explosion until they finally detonate.
Yet volatile as they may be, it is critical that protests happen! Dr. King defined riots as the “language of the unheard,” despite his iconic commitment to nonviolence. With soaring unemployment, the loss of loved ones and the distrust of a government where policing relies on videos to prove that what is happening is real, we are on the edge of desperation and need to give it voice. The good people of our churches and institutions on the American landscape can no longer be expected to wait for change. Black bodies can no longer be considered expendable. Black men and women can no longer wait until the social injustices and underlying economic disparities – many occurring in the Twin Cities area – are cured by the “political process,” with its volumes of reports written on these subjects since 1921; each injustice treated as though “we’re starting afresh!”
Our president is ill-equipped, inept, acutely racist and an embarrassment for which we must all – Black and White alike – bear responsibility. But as people who believe in a Power greater than us, we must “act in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant!” So, we will protest peacefully – it is our right and the very foundation of this country; and we will be safe and responsible in our actions and steadfast in our determination, “because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands!”
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