Black lives matter – shout it from the housetops! But merely asserting the value of African-American lives is not enough to get our people to the promised land, nor is any party, politician, or program. Black lives matter most when they have purpose, and purpose comes from a destination. What we need today is a Moses, a Miriam, a Martin embodied in an emerging values-driven cadre to point out that destination and lead the way for the rest of us.
Black leaders are imbued with the resilience of the enslaved Africans, who, like Harriet Tubman, stand up to guide their people towards a better future. Faced with impossible odds, they must be courageous. Burdened by the gravity of their task, he/she must be humble. Possessed by the faith of their mothers and fathers, they have integrity before God and humanity.
But though their conduct is crucial, the leader is effective only if they get Black people to where they need to go. So, where is Black America headed? A comprehensive answer is still elusive, but it must begin with the three pillars of our identity: America, Israel, and Africa.
We are Americans. This obvious statement is sometimes hard to say, not because we reject America, but because many Americans still reject us. Nevertheless, we are citizens of this land, and our destination is tied up with that of our neighbors, whether White or otherwise. The best Black leaders will recognize that reality as a necessary starting point for any vision of the future.
We are the spiritual children of Israel. Roughly 80% of Black Americans identify as Christian, the vast majority of whom are immersed in the Hebraic thought-world of the Bible. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the leading Black figures in modern American history, modeled the intersection of Hebraic thought and the Black experience in his pursuit of social justice. There would have been no Civil Rights movement without the message of Jerusalem, and there is no Black future without an eye toward Israel.
We are the proud sons and daughters of Africa. Kidnapped from our homeland and exiled across the ocean to build a New World, we remain captive to the soul of the Continent centuries later. Its memory is dim, but its energy flows through our veins. Its people are distant, but technology has begun to restore our bond — and restore it we must. Just as every future is an extrapolation of the past, any vision of the Black future without Africa is a contradiction.
Here it is that we start to discern the outlines of a destination. Joe Biden ran on the promise of improving Black lives, and he chose a Black woman to stand beside him as vice president. In May, the sacrificial death of George Floyd brought our plight to global attention and sparked unprecedented support from people around the world. It is safe to say that no community has more moral authority in this historical moment than ours.
And so it happens that a people cut off and beaten down for centuries finds itself seated in the palace just inches from Pharaoh’s ear. Could it be that centuries of suffering have formed us for this moment? Could our prophetic link to Israel hold the answer to America’s spiritual famine? Could it be that our place in the world’s wealthiest country might be leveraged to help our people in Africa?
We have reached a turning point, a separation of paths in the desert, and it will be Black leaders who will decide what comes next. We must hold them accountable to our three pillars and begin to train a new generation to meet the challenge when they’re gone.
The rallying cry of “Black Lives Matter” reminded Americans of who we are and what we’ve suffered at America’s hands. Because Black lives are obviously precious, Black leadership matters more than ever. The time for decisive action is now.
Dr. David E. Jackson (@dejacksonii) is the Associate Director of African American Affairs at the Philos Project in New York, NY, The Philos Project is committed to increasing positive Christian engagement in the Near East. Dr. Jackson is an author, ordained minister, former police officer, instructor, and consultant. FB/IG @dejacksonii