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
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.
In the constitution of the United States, penned in 1787, it states that that congressional representation is to be based on the “whole number of free persons” and “three fifths of all other persons,” a reference about African Americans. Known as the 3/5ths compromise, the founding fathers valued Africans enslaved in America and their descendants as less than human. Even though the 3/5ths compromise was officially repealed in 1868 by the 14th Amendment, its sentiment has been internalized by American culture throughout the generations and black life continues to be reduced in America today.
How else does one explain institutional racism or subtle policies, practices and procedures that benefit Caucasians and exclude people of color like redlining, racial profiling, and our misrepresentation by media? How else does one explain laws and policies that have blatantly disenfranchised African Americans like the Dred Scott decision that said African Americans were not U.S. Citizens, Jim Crow laws that mandated racial segregation and preached black inferiority, the Anti-Drug Abuse act of 1986 that provided more stringent punishments for the distribution of crack that is associated with blacks than the distribution of powered cocaine that is associated with whites, and voter ID laws that will disproportionally affect African Americans? Or how else does one explain the unjustified murder of 18 year old Michael Brown, another African American killed by a police officer just like Eric Garner, Marlene Pinnock, Sean Bell, Kimani Gray, Ousmane Zongo, Timothy Stansbury, Jr., Kendrec McDade, and Amadou Diallo?
Black life is not valued in America. Perhaps that’s why protestors in Ferguson have been seen carrying signs that state, “I am a man,” just like the sanitation workers in Memphis, TN that fought for the right to unionize when the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered. “I am a man” is the battle cry for human dignity. “I am a man” is the demand for police accountability (of course, not all cops are bad; however, the bad decisions and criminal acts of a few have the ability to mare the reputation of the entire department just like any other institution). “I am a man” is the demand that media stops depicting African Americans as thugs, sexual objects and criminals. “I am a man” is the demand that we end the cradle-to-prison pipeline and stop directing resources to building new prisons instead of preventive programs and treatments. “I am a man” is the demand that all men and women be treated equally. “I am a man” is the African American community’s recognition of our own worth and rallying the rest of the world to see our worth by how we vote, hold our government and create a more perfect union.
By the Reverend James C Simmons, M.Div, Pastor of Baber AME Church
After 16 hours of deliberation, on July 13, 2013, six jurors ruled that 29 year old George Zimmerman was justified in murdering a 17 year old, unarmed teenager named Trayvon Benjamin Martin and proved something African Americans have long known: Black life is not valued in America and often considered expendable. On July 13, 2013, history unfortunately repeated itself.
“There is nothing new under the sun” declares the Book of Ecclesiastes. On July 13, 2013, history repeated itself and Roy Bryant and JW Milam were once again acquitted of murdering Emmitt Till, a 14 year old murdered after being accused of flirting with a white woman. On July 13, 2013, history repeated itself and police chief Linwood Shull was once again acquitted of maiming Isaac Woodward, an army sergeant forcibly removed from a greyhound bus, beaten by police officers in an alleyway and permanently blinded while in thecity jail. Shull was acquitted even after he admitted to blinding Woodward. On July 13, 2013, history repeateditself and bus driver Herman Lee Council was once again acquitted of murdering Booker T Spicely, an African American solider in uniform that refused to sit in the back of the bus. On July 13, 2013, history repeated itself and countless white men that lynched black babies once again walked away free. On July 13, 2013, history unfortunately repeated itself.
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 African American communities this Scripture has always meant more than just providing our children Bible instruction. For African American families “train up a child in the way he should go” has also meant teachingour children how to survive in a white world. “Train up a child in the way he should go” has meant teaching black babies they have to work twice as hard just to prove themselves. “Train up a child” has meant teaching our children to immediately place both hands on the steering wheel if pulled over by the police; say “yes ma’am” and “no sir” to white persons in authority; come home when the street light comes on and never draw attention to yourself. “Train up a child” has meant teaching our children you always fit the police description.“Train up a child” has meant teaching our children how to survive in the world.
Once again, the African American community must commit itself to training our children in the way they should go. We must commit ourselves to investing in our young people and teaching them to value their education. We must commit ourselves to monitoring bills our legislators create and act responsibly to protectour community’s interest. We must commit ourselves to creating a new education paradigm that does not funnel our children through the cradle to prison the prison pipeline. We must commit ourselves to being thevillage that raises our children. We must commit ourselves to diligently working to stop history from repeating itself.