Reflections on the March on Washington 50th Anniversary

My husband Bill and I were involved in a number of the many activities that took place commemorating the 1963 March on Washington.  What a blessing to be here in the District of Columbia to participate.  Here are some snapshots:

Most Moving

On Friday the 23rd, we attended an event presented by The Mamie Till Mobley Memorial & Trayvon Martin Foundations, and it was called “Civil Rights, Human Wrongs, and the Charge for Youth Leadership.” It featured a film by Keith Beauchamp, “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till,” which had been updated to include a bit about the Trayvon Martin case, followed by a panel discussion with Emmett Till’s family and the parents of Trayvon Martin.

I am aware of how awful the murder of Emmett Till was, but it wasn’t until I saw the film, which took us through the ensuing trial and release of the murderers, that it really hit home to me how horrendous life was for black people living in the South in those days.  I thank my parents for moving from their home in Mississippi to raise us up in relatively safer northern Illinois.  Even though I experienced segregation and some hate growing up, it was nothing like the deep south. I was also moved by the strength of Emmett Till’s mother, for without her willingness to display the body of her son so brutally beaten and butchered, the murder would have passed by unnoticed by most of the rest of this country.

I am absolutely moved by the grace and strength of Mr. and Mrs. Martin and their younger son as they share the case of Trayvon’s murder with the world.  They have taken up the mantle just like Emmett Till’s mother, and have helped to make it clear to this country that laws like the Stand Your Ground Laws and the Stop and Frisk laws are tools that are used to target and brutalize people of color, especially our young men.

Most Inspirational

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Bill and I had decided we could not handle being out in the sun and on our feet from 8 am to 4 pm at the Saturday March for Jobs and Justice, so we waited until about 11 am to go.  I wasn’t sure if many people would attend–I just hoped there would be enough people to make a statement.  But even at that late time, we found the subway packed with people of all ages and races still on the way. Having to stand in line to get out of the subway moved me to tears.

On our way to the Lincoln Memorial, we saw a stream of people leaving, even though the crowd coming in was much larger.  Bill stopped to ask one woman why they were leaving, and the older woman said she’d been there since 6:30 am.  I’m convinced that there were more people there that day than could be counted, because the crowds were coming and going like that all day long.

I heard Eleanor Holmes Norton, who helped to organize the 1963 march, on a radio interview say that they had no idea how many people to expect when they planned that first march. Can you imagine how the organizers must have felt when they stood on the steps of the LIncoln Memorial and saw the great crowd of witnesses pouring in? The people have spoken!

Most Fun

On the way to the Lincoln Memorial in that first march, we found ourselves behind a group IMG_0174of United Auto Workers who were chanting and marching, so after a while we began to chant and march right along with them!  On the way back from the Lincoln Memorial, we were provided with some wonderfully jazzy music.  At one point, while waiting for the crowd to move forward, a white man in front of me began to kind of bounce, and another, older white man on the side started dancing, so I said “Let’s get it on” and started dancing, too, and so did a few of the other folks.  What fun!

Most thought-provoking

On Tuesday, we went to a panel discussion hosted by the Methodist Federation for Social Action entitled “Climate of Suspicion: The Criminalization of Race in America.” One of the panelists was Reverend Gil Caldwell, a good friend of Bill’s.  The discussion centered around the mass incarceration of people of color, so you know Bill and I were right at home.  Rev. Caldwell provided the necessary theological reflections for people of faith, Charles Thornton discussed his experience as a youth with no guidance, ending up in prison for 10 years for distributing an illegal drug before he was old enough to make a life for himself, and Kara Dansky, senior counsel at the ACLU, provided statistics and some information on actions.  This was an excellent panel, but what was most thought-provoking for me was our conversation with some of the other people there who were members of the MFSA.

We ate with a small group of them after the discussion before heading over to Asbury United Methodist church for a worship service.  We shared common concerns, with Gil helping to keep us focused on the larger moral, cultural and theological pictures.  One thought that came to me as we talked about greed being such a major cause of injustice is that maybe we ought to start being more intentional about teaching our children a better attitude towards money and materialism. Someone at that table suggested that the church is the place where that should happen.

I woke up the next morning, on the day of the commemorative march, with my mind on a phrase from our Negro National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (which had been sung several times throughout the various events):  “lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee.” Has the Christian church in the U.S. become drunk with the wine of materialism and greed without realizing it?  Food for thought.

Most Uplifting

We attended the Interfaith Service at Shiloh Baptist on Thursday morning before heading out to the commemorative march.  I was so happy to be there in a church packed with people of different faiths, ages and races, hearing from the march leaders and  blessed with star performances by the Shiloh Baptist Choir, the Children of the Gospel Choir, the Voices of Freedom, Lydia and Latrice Pace (who rocked the house with their song “There’s a King in You”) and the fantastic Angella Christie, who praised God on the saxophone in her rendition of “Total Praise” (If you’ve never heard of her, you ought to check her out).

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The discussion between Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr. and his son, Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, III was absolutely wonderful!  The father passed the torch on to the son, symbolically climbing up stairs towards justice.  Those on the journey haven’t got to the top of the stairs, but the older ones have gone as high as they can climb. They must stop at their landing, having done much to break the bonds of racism and hatred, but now it is time for the younger leaders to move on up the stairs from that landing into the direction the stairs are leading today:  voting registration laws, stand your ground laws, mass incarceration of our youth, public school funding….you know the list.  You can see the whole of this wonderful service by clicking here.

Most Inspirational (part 2)

To our surprise again, the March on Thursday the 28th was just as packed as the first, even though the threat of rain pervaded the day. It was so packed that we decided not to wait the hours it would have taken to get through the security checkpoint.  We made our statement by attending for a while, then we went back home to watch our President’s Speech on TV. While he was inspiring, as usual, I had hoped he would provide some concrete plans or legislation that would help deal with the issues we’re facing.  But the more I thought about what he said, the more I got what he was saying.  He’s telling us that it’s up to us to make the difference that we need to make.  It’s up to the people to not only march, but to take the necessary action to make change happen, like Dr. King and the other civil rights leaders did in 1963.

We’ve spoken with our feet.  Now we need to speak through our email and internet presence, through our letters and phone calls to federal, state and local representatives, through our community activities and our continued engagement with each other. Now we must speak truth to move the “powers that be” to make this wonderful country live up to it’s Declaration: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Amen.

The God of Hope

I woke up yesterday convinced that I should write about what some call the racial divide in our country.  I see it as more than a divide–more of a racial cleansing.  I was going to write about the confluence of the War on Drugs, which is sending so many of our black children to prison, the growing privatized prison industry gaining profit from from keeping more inmates than any other civilized country in this world, and using the inmates as slave labor to make even more profit.  I was going to write about  states reducing funding for public school systems, the “stand your ground laws” that allow someone to stalk and kill a black person and be deemed innocent upon claiming to be afraid, states stripping the right to vote from those who have prison records, states stripping away voting rights of people of color– and the Supreme Court clearing the way for that to happen.  I was going to talk about the effort of many states to purge themselves of Hispanic immigrants, the constant efforts to water down Affirmative Action, and how a majority in the House of Representatives want to do nothing more than to defeat any proposal from our first African American President, with the support of their constituents to do that.

These things, along with the Washington Post’s survey showing a deep racial, ideological and religious divide over the result of Trayvon Martin’s killer’s trial, all lead me to believe that there is a mindset held by a large percentage of the population in this country that must be similar to the mindset in Germany when the Nazis demonized and justified killing millions of Jewish people–and the German Christian church mostly going along with that. I believe that many of those who claim to be conservative will also claim to not be racists, but yet they support all those things that are killing off our people, which, to their way of thinking, is not their fault, but ours.  Is it a conscious and concerted effort led by some of the power brokers, like the Koch brothers, who put so much of their billions into defeating Obamacare,  pretty much anyone who’s running for office who is not a conservative, and anything that is designed to help the poor and raise the middle class? Probably so.

But I decided today that I’d rather write about the God of hope. The biblical record lets us know that when it seems like all is lost, that’s when the God of hope steps in:  Joseph redeeming his family after the brothers thought they had killed him; little David defeating the giant Goliath; Queen Esther  (of the “if I perish, I perish” fame) saving her people from slaughter,  and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace, to name a few examples in the Old Testament. Plus of course, Jesus, who humbled himself to the point of being crucified, dead and buried before he arose and was exalted by God, and who now sits on the Throne, with all power given to him.

This God of Hope still exists, as evidenced through history in the American Revolution, the defeat of slavery through the American Civil War, the defeat of segregation through the Civil Rights effort and the defeat of Apartheid in South Africa, to name a few.  These examples tell us that larger, more powerful foes can be defeated and overcome by those who seem weaker and more vulnerable–those who, by the state of their being weak, know that they must not rely on their own power and strength, but on God.  As I heard Jacqueline Thompson, one of my favorite young female preachers say, “One plus God is enough!”

The thing is that the God of hope doesn’t work alone.  Our God works through people who are committed to do God’s will– those who are willing to tackle giants who want to slaughter their people, those who are willing to go before the kings, even though they know they may perish, those who are willing to stand up for righteousness and justice in the face of powerful foes, and those who are willing to die to save others.

God needs people like that.  God needs more people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian who did not back down from challenging the Nazi regime.  He died an honorable death, the death of a person who really knows how to be a friend, according to Jesus:  “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12)  Jesus is that kind of friend.  Jesus wants us to be friends like that for each other.

I trust in this God, therefore I have hope. I have hope in God and hope in so many wonderful people I know who are willing to stand up for what is right.  Just writing this brings back my joy that even this mean, crazy and mixed-up world can’t completely take away, and my peace, that this world just doesn’t get.

Next week, I plan to share information on some ways we can become involved.

If you’d like to comment to this post, please click the little balloon at the top of the post and you will see the comments section.  Contact me if you’d like to receive these weekly posts by email. Please know that I always wish for you to know the love of God and therefore be filled with peace, joy, and hope.

Mockery

I’m spending the week in Ocean Park, Maine, where I preached on Sunday and am leading a morning discussion this week. As the name indicates, Ocean Park is right on the ocean, and I’m blessed to have the opportunity to enjoy some of the most beautiful beach we have on the East Coast.  There’s something about the place where the vast and fluid ocean meets, caresses, rhythmically slaps against the solid and steady earth that speaks to my spirit.  Especially in the early morning dawn.  I wanted to share with you a video I made of dawn over the beach at Ocean Park, so you can hear the sound of the waves and the birds, and through the whole scene, to hear God speaking.  But the file was too large to incorporate into this blog, and I don’t know another way to do it.  So I’m sharing this picture and asking you to use your imagination.

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It truly is peaceful and beautiful.  Just like God.

I felt the beauty of God’s creation like that most poignantly when I was in Ghana, high on a cliff looking out on the Atlantic, thousands of miles from here, from the other direction.  The view was wondrously beautiful. I was in a large castle-like building.  In the massive building was a torture chamber where slaves were chained, beaten, held in brutal captivity, then sent out in ships from the door in that place, which the slaves knew as “the door of no return.”

Can you imagine so much heart wrenching, evil horror taking place amid such beauty, the beauty that God created  for us out of God’s great love? I couldn’t help but cry at the thought of the agony my ancestors went through at the hands of horribly brutal people, many who claimed to believe in the God of creation.

I felt that same paradox here in Ocean Park Maine, as I was trying to deal with my broken heart over the injustice of the decision that set free as “innocent” the man who shot Trayvon Martin.  It still hurts.  And it was all done under the rubric of the legal system, which is designed by humans to implement justice. What a mockery. What a mockery of the God of justice.

I think those jurors, if they were being honest, would have come to a different conclusion without the 29 pages of jury instructions and the convoluted efforts of the defense to make what seems right into something much more complicated.  Without the complications of the law, they would have seen Trayvon as an innocent, unarmed young person, going on his way, minding his own business.  They would have seen Zimmerman as the aggressor, armed with a dangerous weapon, the one who disobeyed police orders not to follow. They would have recognized that if Zimmerman had not followed Trayvon, Trayvon would be alive.  They would have had enough common sense to understand that if Zimmerman had not gotten out of his vehicle and come up from behind close enough to Trayvon to make Trayvon feel threatened, there would have been no altercation.  The jury would have seen that Trayvon is dead, slaughtered at the hands of a man who went against the authorities, whether or not it was was Zimmerman’s initial intention to kill him, and whether or not Zimmerman may have feared for his own life. I thought they would at least have had the common sense to conclude that Zimmeran did in fact initiate the acts that resulted in him killing an innocent and unarmed man–manslaughter.

They were confused, at best. And I’m sure, as are most folks in this world who know anything about how this nation works, that if Trayvon had been white and Zimmerman black, Zimmerman would have been arrested immediately and thrown under the jail.  Isn’t that what happened in the case of the black woman in Florida who was sentenced to prison after trying to use the same law to justify her shooting into the air and not killing anybody? The jury had to be confused, unless they were bribed, because the decision doesn’t make any sense.  And I can’t rule bribery out, either, because there was money behind Zimmerman that I can’t figure out. Maybe some of you know more about the money that financed this man’s defense than I do.

My heart was crying when I talked to God at dawn that beautiful morning, looking out over the Atlantic Ocean. Crying over the injustice of it all.  Crying over such horror committed amid such beauty.  Crying over such evil that exists in the hearts of people, who wrap the evil up and try to hide it with good words like justice, law and order, patriotism, and yes, even sometimes Christianity.  I felt like I could see all the way across to Ghana, and realized that the horror has not really ended for us.

God’s justice will not be mocked.

As a Black woman, the result of this fiasco of a trial has taken me across a tipping point. This is the fourth slap in my face. The first slap I felt was from the efforts of state officials in Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia,Texas and others to wrench away the votes of mostly Black and Hispanic people during the last two Presidential elections. Ouch!  The second was the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act, which has refueled those efforts to take away our votes. Ouch! The third is the continued effort by white people to do away with affirmative action, claiming that they, the ones with all of the power on their side, are being discriminated against by laws that were designed to help ameliorate the hundreds of years of slavery, oppression, and injustice that our people have faced and still face. Ouch! Four slaps ought to wake us up.  (I wish Clarence Thomas could feel these slaps. I’m convinced that he’s numbed by his own sense of self-accomplishment.  Maybe he doesn’t realize that it is his numbness (antagonism?) to his people that made him the right choice to be maneuvered into place by those who want that numbness in high places–or maybe he does realize that, I don’t know.)

So instead of hearing peace in the gentle, rhythmic slapping of the waves on the shore this week, I heard a call to action.  I heard God proclaiming that God will not be mocked, that God’s justice should flow down like a river and God’s righteousness should be like a mighty stream. Justice should not be tripped up by pages and pages of jury instructions or political shenanigans that try to make right seem wrong and wrong seem right.

It’s time to wake up and get busy.  It’s time to unite and stand up and fight back.  It’s time to renew our commitment to and membership in the NAACP.  It’s time to again march on Washington, this time united with people of all colors and faiths who know true justice when they see it.  It’s time to organize and participate in organizations that will speak, with the power of the people behind them, to those in  powerful positions. It’s time to change laws and lawmaking, time to shore up the voting rights act, time to reclaim the need for Affirmative Action more than ever.   Are you with me?