Tip Your Cap to the Negro Leagues!

Tip Your Cap to the Negro Leagues!

Bob Kendrick, President of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, MO, had big plans for celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of baseball’s Negro Leagues. He was the driving force behind an effort that would have had all 30 major league teams, for the first time, participate in a salute to the Negro Leagues in an unprecedented show of solidarity. The “Tip Your Cap” campaign originally was tied to the celebrations with teams, players, and fans in those 30 stadiums that, at some point during the game, would tip their cap in honor of the Negro leagues.

“In baseball, there’s nothing more honorable you can do than a simple tip of the cap,” said Kendrick.

Then COVID-19 put the baseball season on hold.

Kendrick was desperate to find a way to salvage the centennial celebration. That’s when he thought of a virtual Tip Your Cap campaign. A few friends who liked the idea agreed to help him. It took them two weeks to pull together the monthlong campaign, which runs from June 29 through July 23. The campaign was a hit right off the bat. Outside of the fact that it’s a warm-hearted, positive activity amid chaos, people can easily participate by submitting a photo or video of themselves tipping their cap in honor of the Negro Leagues and email it to [email protected] or post a tribute on social media with the hashtag #tipyourcap2020. Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter have all recorded video tributes, as well as civil rights hero Rachel Robinson, baseball legend Hank Aaron, Derek Jeter, Reggie Jackson, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Billie Jean King, Tony Bennett, and Bob Costas, and many more. NASA Astronaut Christopher Cassidy even joined in the online celebrations from the International Space Station.

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum Celebrates 30 Years

But the centennial isn’t the only celebration happening this year for the Negro Leagues. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is the only one of its kind nationwide and celebrating 30 years in 2020. When it opened in 1990, no one gave it a chance.

“Here at historic 18th and Vine, there was nothing. It was like a lot of urban communities. It had died. It had been left abandoned,” said Kendrick. “Everybody thought we were crazy. But basically, it was the infinite wisdom of my dear friend, the late great, John Buck O’Neil, who said, ‘This is where we will build this museum. This is where the origins of the Negro Leagues took root. And we will build this museum here. And in doing so, we will help resurrect what was once this very proud, prominent community.'”

O’Neil was right. The museum has changed the landscape of the community. The same thing that the Negro Baseball league did for urban communities across the countries, the NLBM has done for Kansas City.

“It was never self-serving. It was always about the greater good. And that’s something to appreciate,” said Kendrick.

America’s Black Female Mayors on National Stage During Crisis

America’s Black Female Mayors on National Stage During Crisis

San Francisco mayor London Breed declaring a shelter-in-place order early in the coronavirus pandemic, March 17, 2020.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Mayors are elected to govern their cities, serve and protect citizens, maintain law and order and bring about economic prosperity. Those are tall orders today, as American cities are wracked by COVID-19 and anti-racism protests.

One effect of these simultaneous crises has been to thrust Black female mayors onto the national stage. That’s because, for the first time in U.S. history, Black women lead several of the United States’ largest cities, including Chicago, Atlanta and San Francisco.

Black women make up just 14% of women in the United States, and their mayoral history is a short one. But it’s a history of achievement worth exploring. My upcoming book, an edited volume called “Political Black Girl Magic: The Elections and Governance of Black Female Mayors” examines the background of 24 Black women elected to lead cities over 50,000 since 2000 to learn who these pioneering women are and how they came to power.


In 1971, Ellen Walker Craig-Jones of Urbancrest, Ohio, a town of 754, became the country’s first Black female elected mayor. She was followed, in 1973, by Lelia Foley – a poor, divorced, single mother who became mayor of the predominantly Black small town of Taft, Oklahoma. Later that same year Doris A. Davis of California became the first Black female mayor of a big city: Compton, population 78,611 in 1970.

Doris Davis, photographed in 2008, was the first Black woman to lead a major U.S. city.
Photo by Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

In the decades that followed, just a handful more cities – among them Hartford, Little Rock, Minneapolis, and Washington, D.C. – elected Black women mayors.

Then came 2017, when five African American women held that office simultaneously in Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Baltimore, Toledo and Washington, D.C.
Huffington Post dubbed it the “Year of the Black Woman Mayor.” Among those elected were Vi Lyles in Charlotte and Keisha Lance Bottoms in Atlanta, both still in charge today.

In 2019, Chicago’s Lori Lightfoot, a former prosecutor, defeated another Black woman in the Democratic primary to become the city’s first Black – and first openly gay – female mayor.

Seven of the nation’s largest cities now have black female mayors. These women are part of a national wave of winning Black politicians: Twenty-two black women serve in Congress and 313 in state legislatures. These victories are huge milestones for women historically excluded from leadership positions in both traditional politics and civil rights organizations and who, in many cases, lacked even Black community support when running for office.

How she got there

The Black female mayors covered in my book range in age from their 30s to their 70s and represent cities both large and small. They have many things in common.

All but one are Democrats – Acquanetta Warren of Fontana, California, is the lone Republican – and all are very well educated. Twenty-two of the 24 have a doctorate, medical degree, law degree or master’s degree.

Most also worked in a traditional “feeder” occupation for political service like law, business, education or community activism before pursuing politics. All had held another political office before running for mayor, with most serving on the local city council or in the state legislature.

Fifteen of the 24 are members of a historically Black female sorority, primarily Delta Sigma Theta, but also Alpha Kappa Alpha and Zeta Phi Beta. These three sororities prepare Black women for politics with their emphasis on public service – other famous members include Sen. Kamala Harris, singer Aretha Franklin, and authors Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston.

Some Black female American mayors won close elections and others won by large margins, but regardless of margin most won open seats, either because the sitting mayor was term limited or chose not to run for reelection. That removed the added challenge of competing against an incumbent. Only seven of the 24 mayors defeated incumbents.

Anti-racism protests in Charlottesville, Va., May 2020. The city elected a Black woman, Nikuyah Walker, as mayor after a deadly white supremacist rally in 2017.
Ryan M. Kelly/AFP via Getty Images

Where she leads

Most Black women govern Southern cities that have a Democratic majority, though the regional exceptions – Tacoma, Pontiac and Rochester – are notable. And unlike many of the country’s first Black male mayors, who were primarily elected in poor cities, Black female mayors lead a socioeconomically and demographically diverse array of communities, including super-wealthy enclaves like San Francisco.

That means they had to attract votes from all kinds of people to win. Perhaps as a result, my research finds, Black women mayors don’t necessarily discuss race as often as America’s first Black male mayors did, campaigning instead on economic development. That’s been a winning stance for Mayor Acquanetta Warren, under whose financial stewardship, Fontana has thrived economically.

Nonetheless, the women I studied in researching my book say they’ve faced both racism and sexism in their political careers – and that racism is a more complex problem. In a recent interview, San Francisco Mayor London Breed said, “The things that African Americans have endured in this country for far too long are things that I sadly have had to endure throughout my entire life.”

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms was called the n-word in an anonymous text message after defying Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s early reopening plan during the pandemic.

A cardboard cutout of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a former prosecutor, during protests in April 2020.
Max Herman/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

In so many of the cities these women lead – from Atlanta and Ferguson to Washington, D.C. and Chicago – Black residents have struggled to achieve political and economic power despite their large population. And, as demonstrated over and over again, they have strained relations with law enforcement.

Add a pandemic to the poverty and police violence that has long plagued African American communities, and today’s Black female mayors are facing crises with little historic precedent.

Some argue that they may fare better because of their identity and personal experiences. Persistent problems with police brutality and corruption in Baltimore, which has had three Black female mayors, shows that putting women in charge doesn’t magically fix entrenched problems.

But what my research can confirm is that Black women in American politics are used to uphill battles.

This article has been updated to correct an error introduced in editing regarding the percentage of the U.S. population comprised by Black women.The Conversation

Sharon Austin, Professor of Political Science, University of Florida

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘Racialized policing’ program takes faith leaders from grief to action

‘Racialized policing’ program takes faith leaders from grief to action

Members of Peace Felowship, The Village Church, Anacostia River Church, Revolution Church, Covenant Baptist UCC, and First Rock Baptist Church participate in a peace walk in Washington, D.C. The Rev. Delonte Gholston, fourth from left, regularly helps organize peace walks. Photo courtesy of Delonte Gholston

The Rev. Delonte Gholston collected almost 100 signatures from faith leaders for a letter asking the mayor and other District of Columbia officials to transfer 20% of the police budget into violence prevention programs.

The Rev. Andrew Cheung plans to urge city officials to offer new de-escalation training for the officers that patrol Washington’s streets and enlist more social workers who might instead help the homeless and mentally ill.

The Rev. Ashley Diaz Mejias gained the support of fellow clergy in raising public attention about an outbreak of COVID-19 at a juvenile detention center near Richmond, Virginia, where she co-pastors a church.

The three were part of a predominantly Black but diverse group of clergy and lay people who spent the last nine months in a pilot program exploring how theology applies to issues of police violence and criminal justice.

Participants in the Theology and Racialized Policing Cohort Program meet at the Howard University School of Divinity, Oct. 24, 2019, in Washington, D.C. Courtesy photo

Participants in the Theology and Racialized Policing Cohort Program meet at the Howard University School of Divinity, Oct. 24, 2019, in Washington, D.C. Courtesy photo

About 45 participants met in person and virtually at Howard University School of Divinity for the “Theology and Racialized Policing Cohort Program” through a partnership with Sojourners, a Christian mobilizing and media organization, and the Christian Community Development Association. It started in October, months before the recent protests following the death of George Floyd — a Black man held for almost nine minutes under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer.

The certificate program has brought together an intergenerational group of graduate students, social justice and policing consultants and senior pastors to determine what to do before, during and after crises of racial injustice arise. Its last session was led by a minister who was involved in the “Boston Miracle,” an initiative that led to a sharp reduction in youth homicides.

The Rev. Terrance McKinley. Courtesy photo

The Rev. Terrance McKinley. Courtesy photo

The Rev. Terrance McKinley, director of racial justice and mobilizing for Sojourners, said the program was designed to particularly help Black clergy who often have in their pews both law enforcement employees and those who have had negative interactions with the police. The program aimed to foster ways faith leaders, across denominations and backgrounds, could not only address the collective grief of congregants over the deaths of Black people at the hands of police but also determine steps for transforming their communities.

“There’s an acknowledgement of the anger, the anger in particular that comes with these kinds of deaths,” said McKinley, 39, who pastors an African Methodist Episcopal congregation. “But as people of faith, we know that that can’t be an ending point, that we’re always pointing toward the wholeness that God wants for his creation.”

As the White House and Congress debate possible nationwide actions, cohort participants say they have come away from their course of study with determination to push for greater change in their local communities.

“I think that a lot of the folks that are in the cohort are waking up to the difference between heartfelt compassionate service and heartfelt and compassionate action, organizing,” said Gholston, a Black pastor who leads a multiethnic nondenominational Washington congregation that grew out of the Mennonite tradition. “I think it’s been helpful to be able to have those conversations honestly.”

The Rev. Yolanda Pierce, dean of Howard University’s School of Divinity, said faculty at her historically Black institution and guest speakers from Sojourners and the CCDA had already been on the front lines of dealing with race relations and policing and could help other faith leaders advance social justice work and community engagement.

“It is absolutely critical that those who work in faith communities are equipped with language, theology and tools to discuss the ways racialized policing has disproportionately affected communities of color,” she said. “The voices, experiences and engagement of people of faith are absolutely critical in reducing harm, violence and distrust in communities that are often overpoliced but underprotected.”

The Rev. Ashley Diaz Mejias. Courtesy photo

Many participants had already been engaged in the criminal justice system in some way. Gholston, 40, leads regular peace walks in Washington with dozens of churches. Diaz Mejias, also 40, is a director of the Richmond Community Bail Fund and has recently been busy helping protesters in that city who have been detained in jail or had their cars impounded.

Diaz Mejias, a white Hispanic woman who co-pastors a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) worshipping community at the detention center, said the course affirmed that her faith is a “grounding space for liberation.” She said it has also given her reading material — including Alex Vitale’s “The End of Policing” — to guide her.

“I read that book in like a day and a half,” she recalled, saying the reading came before the recent protests in her city. “It was like a breath of fresh air and really challenging. And getting to encounter that in a faith space was invigorating for me.”

Some of the cohort participants, including Cheung, a Chinese pastor of a predominantly white multidenominational church, have participated in recent protests following Floyd’s death, including one organized by Sojourners, and a vigil where he prayed at the Lincoln Memorial.

Cheung, 46, who moved to D.C. a couple of years ago, has noticed the prominent police presence in the nation’s capital — which has some two dozen police agencies.

The Rev. Andrew Cheung, left, and his wife, Julia, participate in a march and vigil for George Floyd on May 31, 2020, in Washington, D.C. The grassroots-organized group marched from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, where Cheung led a prayer of lament and speakers advocated for police reform. Photo courtesy of Andrew Cheung

The Rev. Andrew Cheung, left, and his wife, Julia, participate in a march and vigil for George Floyd on May 31, 2020, in Washington, D.C. The grassroots-organized group marched from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, where Cheung led a prayer of lament and speakers advocated for police reform. Photo courtesy of Andrew Cheung

“We put too much faith as a society in the sense of security and protection that law enforcement offers us,” he said. “I feel like our sense of what safety means and how do we get to safety is kind of skewed.”

The program will conclude in July, when participants are expected to turn in final projects: scorecards on how D.C. police precincts are relating to their communities.

McKinley said Sojourners has received requests to offer the program in other cities, including at Duke University Divinity School.

The Rev. Regina Graham, associate director of the Office of Black Church Studies at the school in Durham, North Carolina, said the spring 2021 program will include the school’s Hispanic House of Studies and Center for Reconciliation and will focus on racialized policing and immigration. It plans to have seven African American pastors and seven Latino pastors participate to help them tangibly follow the biblical admonition of “doing justice and walking humbly” as they seek to transform their local areas.

“We’re hoping that it will provide them with the tools and the resources,” Graham said, “that they’re able to share in their ministries, share in their communities outside of the four walls of the church.”

While some participants in the Sojourners partnership with Howard’s divinity school and CCDA are living out what they learned through protests, letter writing campaigns and congregational action, at least one is contemplating a career change.

Claudia Allen speaks at a community interfaith prayer vigil, planned by Pastor Noah Washington of Emmanuel Brinklow SDA Church, on June 12, 2020, in Montgomery County, Maryland. Courtesy photo

Claudia Allen speaks at a community interfaith prayer vigil, planned by Pastor Noah Washington of Emmanuel Brinklow SDA Church, on June 12, 2020, in Montgomery County, Maryland. Courtesy photo

Claudia Allen, an African American Seventh-day Adventist laywoman who writes for an online Adventist magazine, was a teaching assistant pursuing a doctorate of philosophy in English at the University of Maryland when she started the program. Now, after spending months sharing stories, statistics and practical steps with Baptist, Presbyterian and Catholic cohort members, the 29-year-old has applied for full-time work in the social justice field, as well as a position on a county policing advisory commission.

“I think that people don’t know that, hey, these town halls, these boards, these meetings are open to community citizens, and, unfortunately, many church folk aren’t sitting on them,” she said. “That’s kind of what I try to encourage people to do and what I’m trying to do myself.”

New Program Will Train More Black Men to Become Preschool Teachers

New Program Will Train More Black Men to Become Preschool Teachers

Early Learning Director Kahlil Mwaafrika gives a presentation at Crispus Attucks High School. Provided by Blake Nathan


After teaching for more than 20 years, Kahlil Mwaafrika said he’s used to being an anomaly in urban Indianapolis schools. As an adjunct professor of early childhood education at IUPUI, only a handful of his hundreds of students are Black men.

“There’s very few people who look like me in buildings,” he said.

So in early 2018, he started working on a program to recruit, train, and place Black men as Indianapolis preschool teachers.

Mwaafrika brought his idea to Blake Nathan, CEO of the Educate ME Foundation, an organization that works to diversify the national teaching population by recruiting and retaining educators of color. Earlier this year, Mwaafrika and Nathan formed the idea into a program called Educate ME Early and partnered with Early Learning Indiana to create 50 two-year fellowships for men of color.

They hope to address the barriers that discourage men of color from working as preschool teachers, including a lack of representation in preschool classrooms and the misconception that teaching preschool is like a babysitting job.

Early Learning Indiana is providing funding for Educate ME to give fellows up to $1,000 in stipends throughout the two-year commitment. Once the fellows complete training and begin working, they’ll be paid $10-14 per hour. Educate ME will place fellows at Early Learning Indiana’s nine child care centers before staffing other sites.

Brittany Krier, chief strategy officer for Early Learning Indiana, said early learning teachers have an “unparalleled opportunity for impact” by working with students in the most formative years of their lives. The organization has been looking to diversify educators while trying to recruit more preschool teachers in general.

“As a field, we have some work to do to welcome more men, and more men of color, into the profession overall,” Krier said. She views this program as a starting point in the push to make Indiana teachers more reflective of their students.

It’s not clear how many Indianapolis preschool teachers are Black, since the state doesn’t track that data. But among full-time K-12 educators statewide, almost 93% are white, according to the state’s education department. Nearly 30% of students in Indiana are people of color, however, creating a disconnect in representation.

In early childhood education, 36% of the nationwide workforce are people of color. In Indiana, that number drops to 14%, according to a press release from Early Learning Indiana. Of Indiana’s some 30,000 early childhood educators, 7% are men.

This poses a challenge for both students and people of color, especially men, who are considering becoming teachers.

“It’s difficult to recruit young Black men if they don’t see themselves represented in the field,” Nathan said.

Preschool teacher Zachary Ferguson has been working at Day Early Learning in Fort Harrison for eight years. Of his 20 co-workers, only one is a man. He advises Black men who might be hesitant about entering the field to “take a chance.”

“I think we just have to strive to do better for our kids,” Ferguson said.

Becoming an early learning educator in Indiana requires much less training than for other grade levels, Mwaafrika said, making it easier to enter the field. But this also contributes to a stigma that can discourage people from considering early childhood education as a career.

Nathan said people often view it as a babysitting job. He hopes this program will help show people the benefits of working with children and the impact they can make. If a Black student has at least one Black teacher in grades three, four, or five, they are more likely to graduate high school, according to a 2017 study by the IZA Institute of Labor Economics.

Black educators can influence students of other ethnicities as well by “opening their cultural lenses,” Nathan said.

“Other races need to see African American teachers in the classroom that are well-educated and very competent in their instruction,” he said.

The Educate ME Early fellows start with an orientation through Early Learning Indiana and a state-required 12-hour training on topics including safety, curriculum, and discipline and child development. The candidates will spend their first year co-leading a classroom and can work as a lead teacher in their second year.

The program also offers a network of support for the new teachers, which Nathan believes is an important step toward keeping them in the field. Educate ME matches the fellows with mentors and connects them with other men going through the program.

The recruitment process has been slowed down by the coronavirus. When Nathan and Mwaafrika started accepting applications in Januarythey went into schools and organizations to meet people face-to-face. The state’s stay-at-home order forced them to move recruitment online.

Now they’re about a quarter of the way toward their 50-person goal, Mwaafrika said, and are accepting applications on a rolling basis.

While the program offers an opportunity for people who have been laid off due to the economic recession, Nathan said, they “still want people that have it in their heart to want to make a difference and change lives.”

One of the new fellows, Damani Gibson, said he has always enjoyed working with children, and he’s excited about the impact he could have on young students’ lives.

“Sometimes it just takes that one person to say ‘Hey, you can do this, you can do that, I’m here with you, I’m here to walk these steps with you to get you to where you want to be,’” he said.

What Colleges and Universities can do to Improve Police-Community Relations

What Colleges and Universities can do to Improve Police-Community Relations

Video Courtesy of GMA:

In the wake of the death of George Floyd – and the protests that it has sparked around the world – public attention is focused on ending police brutality like never before.

Even before Floyd’s May 25 death in Minneapolis, public trust and confidence in law enforcement and America’s legal system were already in a perilous state. The difference now is that calls are being amplified to defund and disband police departments as they are currently known.

What can America’s higher education system do to reduce the use of excessive force among police? As a public policy scholar who examines the interplay between race, policing and public governance, I see multiple things that colleges and universities can do to make a difference.

1. Teach courses that rethink public safety

As a professor, I help students and communities rethink and redesign the policies and practices that shape relations between police and the community. The idea is to foster a shared sense of responsibility for public safety and order.

In one course, I have had students develop guides to get people to make better choices about when to even call the police in the first place.

To aid in this discussion, I use a refrigerator magnet that has a decision tree on when and when not to call the police. It was designed by police and residents in the community of the University of California at Irvine after an incident in 2015 in which a neighbor called police on a 20-year-old black man who was mistaken for a burglar at his own home. The guide continues to be in use and is distributed to new arrivals by members of the University Hills homeowners association and other residents concerned with public safety. With a purpose to lessen unnecessary calls to police, the guide encourages people to question themselves and ask if they are calling the police because of the way the person looks versus what the person is actually doing.

2. Use voices from history

To better understand police practices from various points in American history, universities should create or use digital archives that catalog recordings of people with actual lived experiences from those times. For instance, to hear what it was like to be arrested and subjected to police brutality as a black man or woman at the height of the civil rights era in the 1950s and 1960s or to have experienced the unrest after the Rodney King trial in the early 1990s, students should have easy access to recordings of people who were there.

At the University of Virginia, students and faculty have access to the HistoryMakers Digital Archive, the largest African American video oral history archive in the U.S. The archive offers high-quality videos and audio. It also provides full transcripts for each interview.

3. Make use-of-force policies transparent

Campus police departments – and surrounding police agencies – should collaborate and make transparent their policies and procedures. This is particularly important when it comes to the use of force.

Colleges and universities can host and facilitate community dialogues to help the public better understand when police use of force is permitted under the law and when that force is excessive.

4. Research effective practices

Since research is a key focus of higher education, universities should investigate which practices are most effective – from stop and frisk to community policing – at reducing the use of excessive force, and which practices make it worse.

Universities can also shed light on how people with different backgrounds experience and view the use of force. For instance, one study found that blacks and Hispanics are more than 50% more likely to experience some form of use of force in their interactions with the police when compared to whites. On the other hand, whites and men are more likely to view the use of force as justified than nonwhites and women.

5. Producing diversity within public administration

I argue that in order to better serve the community, bureaucracies, such as police departments, need to reflect the diversity of the communities in which they operate. This is in line with something known as the theory of “representative bureaucracy.” This theory states the more the workforce of a government agency, like a police department, is representative of the people it serves in terms of its demographic diversity, the more likely it becomes that it will ensure that the interests of all groups are considered when decisions are made.

Research on the impact of representative bureaucracy in policing is mixed, however.

Some studies have shown that it improves the delivery of police services and on public perceptions, while others have found that it does nothing to change police culture. This is because, research has found, black and brown officers often feel pressured to not act on the experiences they and their communities have had, but to “represent blue” and align with the cultural values of the police departments in which they work.

Colleges and universities should partner with law enforcement to come up with better ways to understand and address the challenges, such as racial profiling and excessive use of force, that continue to harm relations between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Rev. Barber: ‘Systemic racism is choking the life out of American democracy’

Rev. Barber: ‘Systemic racism is choking the life out of American democracy’

Protesters in Nashville hold up “I can’t breathe” signs, in memory of George Floyd, on Saturday, May 30. RNS photo by Bob Smietana

On Pentecost Sunday, after a night of unrest that swept the country in the wake of the brutal death of George Floyd at the hands of police, the Rev. William J. Barber II delivered what he called “a pastoral letter to America” urging that leaders hear — and heed — the calls for justice from blacks and other minorities.

Barber, a North Carolina Disciples of Christ pastor and co-leader of the Poor People’s Campaign, said Pentecost, which commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’ apostles, is a time of discernment.

Floyd’s May 25 death is a moment when Americans ought to wake up to the ways systemic racism is “choking the life out of American democracy,” he said. He urged immediate reforms to make America more just, including universal health care, a living wage, sick leave and affordable housing — part of the platform he has long championed with his Poor People’s Campaign.

Speaking from the pulpit of an empty Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina, Barber delivered a 40-minute message to cameras, connecting the death of the unarmed 46-year-old African American man from Minneapolis to the

The Rev. William Barber II, co-founder of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, speaks on Feb. 4, 2020, at the Congressional Black Caucus’ 2020 National Black Leadership Summit in Washington. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

COVID-19 pandemic that has disproportionately killed African Americans and led to widespread unemployment and economic hardship.

“More than 100,000 people have said, ‘I can’t breathe,’ as this disease choked them to death,” Barber said, linking Floyd’s last words as he lay dying while a white police officer pinned him to the ground and pressed his knee to his neck.

Over the weekend, images of Floyd’s death captured on video sparked anger, protests and vandalism as clashes have erupted between the police and protesters in dozens of cities.

Barber said the image of the police officer with his knee to Floyd’s neck reminded him of game hunters posing in photos kneeling on their prey, triumphant in their success.

Over and over, he returned to the metaphor of gasping for air in referring to the protests that have wracked the country, describing them as “the inevitable reflex of a people who cannot breathe because their life is being systematically snuffed out.”

Barber urged prosecutors to file charges not only against the officer who directly caused Floyd’s death, but the other officers who stood by and watched.

But more urgently he reminded political leaders that moments of crisis require structural changes — such as those that ended slavery, gave women the right to vote and extended voting rights to African Americans.

He ended his talk urging elected officials to take the time to see and listen to the people’s cries rather than urge a quick return to order.

“We cannot try to hurry up and put the screams and the tears and the hurt back in the bottle, just to get back to some normal that was abnormal in the first place,” Barber said. “Hear the screams. Feel the tears. The very people rejected over and over again are the ones who have shown us the possibility of a more perfect nation. They are telling us these wounds are too much. This death is too much.

“If we listen to America, if we listen, then now is the time for us not to stop mourning, but to mourn and refuse to be comforted, to unite our collective moral power and demand transformative change right now.”