This time last year, our thoughts had already turned to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and the shootings of unarmed African American men by police. A month later, at our Christmas-time service, we placed a black infant doll in the crèche and named him Every Mother’s Son in honor and remembrance of Michael Brown. A few months later, our Anti-Racism Task Force began meeting, and started to explore the ways in which we could best 1) overcome our own White Privilege; 2) Work against white supremacy and white privilege around us; and 3) combat racism by working together with the African American community by showing up, standing up, and speaking out.
How incredibly blessed we have been! Click here for our journey so far.
I truly want to raise up a hymn of praise for the individuals who have entered my life this year, walking into the rooms of my heart like warriors of love and justice into closed-off chambers that had laid unexplored for decades. Parts of me that were filled with shame and despair, old wounds from my own past, my complacency, my complicity, and, yes, my own racism. And other places that had not given up hope for change, but that had really consigned myself to believe that, as passionate as I felt about the struggle for justice and equity for my sisters and brothers of color, as much as I felt my own call to ministry was to help along that struggle, perhaps I was not to be the one to do so.
First of those for whom I am so grateful today is the Task Force at the UU of South Jersey Shore congregation, about 12-14 folks who have met monthly and who have been steadfast, courageous, and incontrovertible. It was they who decided to post our “Black Lives Matter” sign, they who planned and hosted a vigil after the massacre in Charleston, they who re-installed our sign after it was defaced, then repaired and returned it a month later; they who have worn their “Black Lives Matter” buttons and explained, patiently, over and over, why “All Lives Matter” is not an appropriate response. Just this week, while I have been in Kentucky, the sign was attacked again, and these folks held an impromptu meeting, got ahold of a carpenter, and had the sign back up, all before I heard about the damage!
Next are the community members who showed up as we began to reach out to the African American community, and who have steadfastly remained our allies: Kaleem Shabazz, now a Councilman in Atlantic City; Perry Mays; AC Prosecutor James McClain; NAACP President Olivia Caldwell; and many others. Their words and actions have been of inestimable value. Attending the dedication of our sign; coming to services when we were under heavy fire on Facebook and elsewhere, feeling very real fear; and sending letters to us and to the Press in support of our efforts… what blessings they have been!
Then there are the Core members of the Planning Team for our year-long series, Black Lives Matter: Beyond the Slogan. We have dreams for this gathering, but it is also a walk of faith. So many people have asked what are the goals, and what the results will be.. but truly, that depends upon the people who show up, and the people who stay at the table. Like any grassroots organization, the true value, purpose and vision will not be carved out at the outset, but will be eked out by the participants who engage. We have a great Core Team, and it will grow: Joshua, Marte’, Shelee, William, Carolyn, Princess, Chivonne, Brielle, Blake and others who step in & out, as well as the dozen or so organizations who have committed to sponsor in some way… Each individual brings unique passion, talents, skills, and commitment. As we could not have known a year ago that this will exist, we have no idea what fruits will be borne one year from now. But we know if we do nothing, then nothing will occur.
Here's one ministry: Repent, Inc.
And another: Luminary Rising!
Finally, I place all of these individuals on my Jewel Tree, as each of you have taught me lessons of humility, hope, justice, faith, and courage. But I have to raise my colleague, someone I did not know even six months ago, to a special place, because he has surely been a hero in my eyes. Rev. William Williams, of Asbury United Methodist is actually the person from whom the idea of the forums (now known as events) first emanated. Even though he is just a year or two older than my oldest son, he has wisdom and dedication that I believe will guide him through a ministry career of courage and fortitude. I feel so blessed to know him at this foundational stage. I have to remind myself that Dr. King was this age when he led a whole movement! It is hard to imagine my life before I knew him, and knowing him, as well as all of the other young people on this team, helps me face each day and each painful truth with conviction. He does this hard work and so much more, while being a devoted husband and father of 3 very young children.
Atlantic City is a unique and challenging place to undertake a ministry of overcoming racism.
The hopes of the disenfranchised (who are the majority of residents) have been trodden upon for so long that they have virtually no trust in authority, confidence in the future, faith in leadership, patience, or ability to withstand empty rhetoric. A brief over-view of history can explain that. In our first session, I learned that AC, once 60% Black, has declined to 40%; that decent paying casino jobs routinely go to out-of-town workers while AC unemployment remains at very high levels.
· AC is third highest city for prostitution
· AC is #1 city for male prostitution.
There is something obscene about hearing and seeing Donald Trump rail against immigrants, make overtly racist statements, and rake in thousands of followers, while his massive casino (now closed) dominates the skyline over decaying housing and gentrified neighborhoods that still force people of color out.
The purpose of our events, in my mind, is singular: it’s to #tellthetruth . When the truth is told (and believed, things change.
So may it be.