When Trayvon Died, The Pastor Didn't Talk About It.
I grew up in a home with parents who attended an HBCU, so I was raised high identity and to love black American culture and experience. My first experience with being black happened because of my socio-economic status I didn’t fit in with the black people in my school…and I didn’t fit in with my white neighbors, so I learned to assimilate and fraction parts of my personality to have friends. It was popularity at a cost I have just recently begun counting. Back then, I had a love-hate relationship with my blackness. I was at once too black and not black enough.
I experienced my first discussion on race in my intervarsity chapter in undergrad and I was very offended by the notion that we should celebrate our ethnicity or embrace it because God had removed race and was color blind. What I came to see later was that my theology was a mask for the fact that this topic had been the source of so much pain for me growing up. My staff actively encouraged me to participate in the discussion, and I began to see the areas that I had not allowed Jesus to heal and redeem my brokenness as it related to my ethnicity.
Growing up, I experienced several micro aggressions and underhanded racist comments, and it became even worse once I became a follower of Jesus in my church relationships. I didn’t recognize this until I was in my late 20’s. When unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin was harassed, followed, shot and killed by neighborhood watch leader George Zimmerman who was subsequently acquitted of the murder. I once again was faced with troubling feelings and questions as I got into a heated argument with my white roommate who also happened to be my best friend, go figure.
I noticed that while I was feeling anger and pain at the fact that this unarmed teenager was killed because of wearing a hoodie (in the rain) and “looking suspicious”. All Trayvon was carrying that day was skittles and an ice tea. Yet, my friend was convinced that he must have done something wrong or been violent or have done something to deserve being murdered and I felt a deep anguish in this conversation because it was the culmination of so many things I had ignored for so many years. Here it was the presumption of guilt and suspicion, of criminality and malice when it comes to black men. The intense desire of white people to find a fact to justify the murder of a black body. A quickness to presume the innocence of the perpetrator over and against that of the victim... especially when that victim is a person of color. I realized that these people I called my brothers and sisters in Christ actually had no idea or understanding of the black experience--of my black experience. I had been their friend, prayed and cried and worked alongside them and yet they questioned my experiences, invalidated my pain and argued facts without mourning or lamenting a life.
When Trayvon Died, the pastors didn’t talk about it.
My friends didn’t know his name, but I cried over Trayvon. He could have been my brother, my nephew…I felt alone and devastated. Next came Jordan Davis, Jonathan Ferrell so on so forth and I found the same indifferent, disinterested response from those who claimed to love the same Jesus as me.
The #blacklivesmatter movement found me. It gave expression to deep feelings and hurt. It gave liscense to anger and rage that I was feeling. It spoke and filled the silence of a church and a community that I felt had betrayed me. For I had always been a black woman with concern for those who looked like me, but I was realzing at the same time they were.....I hardly ever talked about this. Maybe I knew intuitively what the result would be. Yet BLM became an outlet for me and a movement that articulated things I felt and acknowledged things I feared without protest as though my fears and concerns were legitimate.
When Michael Brown was killed, I went numb.
His black body laid slain in the street for four hours.
In front of his mothers house.
I closed my door, and I asked Jesus to meet me, I asked Jesus what he was feeling, and I began to sob uncontrollably for about two hours.
Suddenly this #blacklivesmatter hashtag took on significant spiritual meaning to me. It was clear. Black lives in our country do not hold the same value or worth judging by the systems we’ve set in place. They do not seem to matter as much as the lives of white people in America. This horrific truth is as old as the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, the Black Codes and Jim Crow. This horrific truth would not vanish on its own but it must be exposed and confronted for it is in fact not a truth at all, it’s a demonic lie. The soil of America is laden with dead black bodies piled on top of trampled indigenous bodies. And as I lay there weeping and crying out: “This is not okay with Jesus!” I felt a sense of peace come over me that cannot be explained. I walked away with confidence that there is no disparity between loving God and hating injustice…in fact, they are one and the same, and there is no way to be unapologetically Christian without being unapologetically black and vice versa for at that moment I learned that these two realities inform one another and are foundational to embracing Imago Dei.
And when Donald Trump was elected. I stopped being scared.
For I could no longer put so much weight into the uninformed opinions of those who could not weep for Trayvon or Michael or Eric and who would not talk about Tamir or Philando or Alton from their platforms. I knew that it was extremely likely tht these were among the 81% who would not and could not see the point of my resistence to thier candidate even though in hindsight, he may very well be the best representation of what America is actually like and this is to our shame, not our glory.
These realizations wreaked so much havoc in my interpersonal relationships for better and for worse. It even affected my ministry funding and emotional health. The last three years have been a painful process but Spiritual Warfare has never been easy. We are dealing with a demonic stronghold in our country and it is a costly battle to fight. One of the ways I am seeking to fight is to remain humble as people want information. Here are some of the questions I am asked frequently as I engage with peers and students.
Q. So, what is #black lives matter?
A. Black Lives Matter (BLM) is an activist movement in the United States that campaigns against police brutality against African-Americans. They have ten core values that they have made very clear on their website.
Q. How does Faith inform our interest And partnership with the movement?
A. Faith informs every aspect of the phrase. A black life matters because it’s a life. Think of the core concerns of our faith:
i. Dignity (Lives) – We bear God’s image; thus we have value and meaning. Our lives matter to God and on earth. We aren’t 3/5 of a person; Black Lives do matter
ii. Identity (Black) – We have African roots. We have an Ethnicity that God birthed us into for a reason and by design. Not merely to assimilate to but to affirm the Black experience. The Black voice celebrates God in our own unique way, and It is a gift to the kingdom for the purpose of unity and celebration.
iii. Significance (Matter) – There is Intentionality in our creation. We exist in a world where we are systematically oppressed, marginalized, fractured (some have made it in spite of this reality, but some have not). We are still dying at disproportionate rates. In fact, A black person is killed extra judicially every 28 hours (1) , and Black men between ages 19 and 25 are the group most at risk to be gunned down by police(2). Blacks are 4.5 times more likely to be killed by police than any other age or racial group (3). African-Americans have comprised 26 percent of police shootings though we only makeup 13 percent of the U.S. population. This is not okay. God is the author of life and our creation, and our ethnic identity is deliberate and necessary. Blackness is a crown not a curse. Also, we can uniquely interpret our history and theology in light of The Exodus (redeemed from slavery) and The Exile (strangers in a land not our own) this perspective is a gift to the body of Christ.
A. Telling us that all lives matter is redundant. We know that already. The issue at hand is that police violence, and brutality disproportionately affects black people and more specifically black males. Justice is not applied equally, laws are not applied equally, and that’s why a specific statement must be made. It is not divisive to bear the burden of a brother or a sister and to expose injustice, it's divisive not to. Divisive and Disruptive are not the same, and we only imagine them to be the same when we confuse personal comfort with the presence of shalom. A society is only doing as well as the people on its margins in the eyes of God and in light of this, we have work to do.
Q. What are some things we can do on a day-to-day basis as Christians?
A. Think about what it may be like for someone who is not like you. Use your strength your gift for the benefit of another. Look not to your own interests…lift up your voice for the speechless.
Q. Isn’t supporting #blacklivesmatter is anti-police?
A. supporting #blacklivesmatter is anti-police brutality not anti-police
Q. I’ve had some friends who heard about this- and they responded by saying, well we don’t have all the facts. How should we respond?
A. You don’t need facts to mourn and to comfort. You need compassion…compassion is not cerebral it’s just inconvenient.