Pastoral Missive about events in Charlottesville, VA

How could this happen here?  Is it 2017 or the 1960’s?  These questions have been asked numerous times since hundreds of white nationalists armed with torches and weapons clashed with counterdemonstrators in Charlottesville, VA.   But while the nation expresses shock, bewilderment, and disbelief at the president’s defense of white nationalists and the events in Charlottesville, VA, the truth is racism had never disappeared.

Racism is when one uses its power to subordinate or impose its will on another set of people.  Since the end of the Civil War, there have been numerous efforts to hurl defiance at racism.   These efforts include, but are not limited to, the 14th Amendment which provided citizenship and equal protection to former slaves; the Voter’s Act of 1965 that prohibited racial discrimination when minorities vote; Brown vs. Board of Education which declared separate but equal in public schools unconstitutional; and the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

But while these laws, policies, and court decisions prohibited blatant and overt forms of domestic terrorism such as Jim Crow Laws, Poll Taxes, and public executions on trees, these efforts were unable to hand racism its deathblow.  These efforts were unable to kill the belief that whites were superior to blacks and other minorities. So, racism just reinvented itself.   It reinvented itself as school discipline policies where one race is punished at much higher rates than others.  It reinvented itself as bank practices where one race is denied mortgages twice as much as other races that earn the exact same pay.  It reinvented itself as police practices that associate crime with certain races despite the fact that people of all races commit crimes at the same rate.  It reinvented itself as policies, laws, and structures that we now know as mass incarceration and the cradle to prison pipeline.   And the list goes on and on.

We must address the blatant acts of racism in Charlottesville, VA.  We must take a stand when overt racism rears its head in Rochester, NY (Like when racist flyers were distributed in Pittsford and Brighton, a swastika and the word “Trump” was spray-painted at SUNY Geneseo, and multiple pride flags were burned in Rochester).  We must speak out when a racist president defends white nationalists and neo-Nazis.  But we must also address racism that operates in boardrooms, council chambers, and executive suites.  We must address racism that manifests itself in resolutions, regulations, bills, and laws.  We must take a stand whenever and wherever racism imposes its will on someone else.

Yes, it is time to take a stand!

Pastoral Missive concerning the Election of Donald J. Trump

On Tuesday, November 8, 2016, Donald J. Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States of America.  Since that time black communities around the world have experienced an unpredictable cluster of raw emotions such as anxiety, anger, bewilderment, sadness, despair, and helplessness.

Of course, these emotions are not unfounded.  Because Mr. Trump has advocated policies such as “stop and frisk” which the courts have ruled an unconstitutional practice because it profiled black and brown people, we mourn.  Because Mr. Trump describes our inner cities as war zones which implies that he believes that black and brown people, who are often concentrated in the inner cities, are criminals and violent offenders more prone to commit crimes than other races, we mourn.  Because Mr. Trump intends to dismantle laws that have benefited black people such as the Affordable Care Act which, for one, mandated that insurance companies could not refuse to cover people because of a pre-existing condition, we mourn.  Because Mr. Trump refused to condemn the Kl Klux Klan, has threatened to ban Muslims, called Mexicans “rapists,” disrespected women, and has mocked the disabled, we mourn.

But while this feels like a bad dream, it is imperative that we remain “woke” (in the modern vernacular) and not allow the advancements we have made as a people to be lost.   We must mobilize, obstruct, oppose, protest, and resist policies that will return us to the past and demand that our representatives on all levels do the same.  We must participate in coalitions and movements that monitor our interests and will hold America accountable to this truth written in the United States Constitution: “all men are created equal.”   We must refuse to accept the racism that is entrenched in this nation and often rears its head in policies, procedures, regulations, bills executive orders and how policies are enforced.

In the same manner that A. Philip Randolph, leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, threatened to hold a March on Washington in 1941 to pressure President Franklin D. Roosevelt to ban discrimination in the defense industries and later in the armed services, we too must remain woke.  In the same manner that Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, Gabriel Prosser and others led rebellions to battle the demonic institution of slavery, we too must remain woke. In the same manner that black sanitation workers in Memphis, TN protested, picketed, marched and even recruited the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to help them secure the right to unionize, we too must remain woke.  In the same manner that Jesus died on the cross to set the captives free, to liberate men and women trapped in a web that we now know as mass incarceration and to defeat the powers of evil, we too must remain woke.

While this feels like a bad dream, we must remain woke.  We must remain woke because God often does God’s best work in desperate situations.  We must remain woke because the same God who equipped us to battle Slavery, Jim Crow, Poll Taxes, fire hoses, dogs, and lynching’s is still on the throne.  We must remain woke because, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” We must remain woke because “harder yet may be the fight, right may often yield to might, wickedness awhile may reign, Satan’s cause may seem to gain.  But there is a God that rules above, with hands of power and a heart of love.  If I’m right, He’ll fight my battle, and I shall have peace someday (Charles Tindley, Beams of Heaven).”  We must remain woke because Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection means that evil will never have the last word.  Amen.  Amen.  Amen.

Black History is More than Slavery

Black History is More than Slavery
By the Reverend James C. Simmons, Pastor of Baber A.M.E. Church and Chairman of Rise Up Rochester, Inc.

On February 2, 2016, the United Postal Service released a stamp of one of our nation’s often forgotten founders, Bishop Richard Allen. Born a slave on February 14, 1760, Allen purchased his freedom and later founded what noted sociologist W.E.B. DuBois called “the greatest Negro organization in the world,” the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church. But the birth of the A.M.E. Church represents more than the creation of a new denomination. It represents a people’s quest to hurl defiance at racism and to hold this nation to the truth that “all men are created equal.”

The birth of the A.M.E. Church is the first civil rights movement in the United States. In 1787 black worshippers that knelt in prayer at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, PA were forced off their knees and told to pray in another section constructed for the church’s black members. In response to this sinful act, Allen and others walked out and transformed elements of their mutual benevolent association called the Free African Society into the A.M.E. Church. Mother Bethel, A.M.E. Church, now the oldest parcel of land continuously owned by African Americans in the United States, worked to end slavery, created schools for its children, and paved the road for future A.M.E.’s that attacked racism like Denmark Vesey, Madame C.J. Walker, Henry McNeal Turner, Rosa Parks, Daisy Bates, Reverdy Ransome, A. Philip Randolph and so many others.

How unfortunate it is that the feats of men and women like Richard Allen and other black people that have struck fierce blows at racism are more often than not erased from our textbooks and collective consciousness. In a University of Pittsburgh study entitled “Parental Racial Socialization as a Moderator of the Effects of Racial Discrimination on Educational Success among African American Adolescents” its authors contend that children who are racially conscious are better protected from discrimination’s poison and are better poised to experience increased academic success. In other words to teach black children about the black DNA that courses in their veins is to prepare them to excel in their future.

Proverbs 22:6 states, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” For black people this scripture has always meant more than a children’s Bible lesson. To train up a child means to teach our children that white history is not the default history and black history is much more than slavery. To train up a child means to teach our children that they are more than a negative stereotype or statistic perpetuated in media. To train up a child means to teach our children that they are the seeds of a strong and resilient people that built this nation. To train up a child means to teach our children they are the descendants of Richard Allen and so many others whose “eyes saw beyond their own time”.

Black Lives Matter to Black People

Black Lives Matter to Black People
By the Reverend James C. Simmons, Senior Pastor of Baber African Methodist Episcopal Church and Chairman of Rise Up Rochester, Incorporated

On Thursday, August 20, 2015, the precious blood of Raekwon Manigault, Jonah Barley, and Johnny Johnson was spilled in our streets and four others were wounded in a cowardly drive-by shooting. Because the seven victims are black and the assailant is presumed to be black, numerous people have since commented that black people must learn how to love themselves and take personal responsibility for our community’s condition; as if black behavior is worse than the behavior of other races or black people only care when crime is white-on-black.

Each week rallies, marches, cookouts and prayer circles that protest violence, encourage persons to report crimes and build community are held in the City of Rochester because black people care about our community. Each week community organizations, nonprofits and churches mentor children, volunteer in schools, distribute supplies and preach self-determination and pride because black people care about our community. Rise Up and Roc the Peace Fest, Yolo’s Stop the Violence walks, Stop the Violence Basketball Tournament, multiple weekly prayer circles and other events are held because black people care about our community just as much as other races. Black lives do matter to black people.

Did you know that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) 2013 Uniform Crime Report indicates that 83% of white people were killed by other white people (white-on-white crime)? Did you know that numerous studies state that poverty and economics influence crime (not race)? Did you know that most crime is segregated because our communities are segregated? In other words each race, not just black people as media and commentators often spotlight, must mobilize in order to address crime. Each race must teach our children to “love themselves.” Each race must work to make the world a better place.

Black lives do matter to black people. Matter-of-fact, black lives matter so much to black people that numerous people work each week to empower our community to establish and maintain a nonviolent culture (more often than not without press coverage). Black lives matter so much to black people that numerous people work each week to address institutions and policies that discriminate against and dehumanize black life. Black lives matter so much to black people numerous black people work to address institutional racism and address intra-communal violence at the same time.

Yes, black lives do matter to black people.