How to put your faith to work in response to today’s violence

How to put your faith to work in response to today’s violence

Last week’s violence in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Texas left two unarmed civilians and five police officers dead. Media coverage continues to dominate our airwaves as outrage grows across the United States. Everyone from our neighbors to some of the world’s biggest celebrities continue to emphasize that “Black Lives Matter” at the Espy Awards and all over social media. But the truth is only a few feel that our cries are truly being heard.

No one can deny that our nation is angry, hurt and frustrated due to the senseless violence that continues to plague us; however, the way we address today’s issues is absolutely critical, particularly for us as Christians. Here are a few suggestions on how we can respond to the violence and outrage through active faith instead of irrational retaliation:

Local Victim Remembered at Orlando Massacre Vigil in Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaPray in unity.

Now, more than ever, the church is commanded to pray in unity. In Matthew 18, Jesus emphasizes the importance of collective spirituality by saying, “If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.” Yes, times are tough and you may find it difficult, but praying together not only obeys these words of Christ, but also serves as a powerful tool of encouragement and reminds us that we are not alone in the struggle. Besides, Christianity is a communal faith, and historically, many African and African-influenced cultures have always valued collective spirituality. Most importantly, we must remember that we serve a God who answers prayer, not always in the ways we expect, but always effective according to His will!

Educate yourself and others.

Hosea 4:6 declares, “For my people perish for lack of knowledge.” In order to actively address today’s issues, it is absolutely critical that we are prepared, both spiritually and intellectually. Take the time to educate yourself on the laws, procedures and government systems that affect both you and your family. However, it is just as important to equip yourself with Scriptures that will assist you in learning strategies that respect government while actively advocating against injustice. Throughout the Bible, Jesus teaches us the importance of knowing your rights as both citizens of your home country and citizens of God’s kingdom. (Matthew 22:15-22, Luke 4:38-53, Mark 3:1-6) It is imperative that you know your rights in order to prevent them from being violated.

Be persistent and hopeful in seeking justice.

In Luke 18, Jesus tells a parable that is not often shared among members of the Church. It is a parable about a persistent woman who goes to a judge to receive justice. Although he is not righteous, the judge gives the woman justice because of her persistence. As Christians, will we have enough faith to be persistent and seek God, even when dealing with an unjust and unrighteous government?

The call to action here is clear. Keep seeking justice, even in an unjust system, because the persistence will eventually bring about change.

Love your neighbor.

In the midst of all that is going on, this is the key. We have to choose to love our neighbors the way God loves (Matthew 22:38-39). We must love because we have been shown love, even when it is uncomfortable and inconvenient. Showing acts of love to our neighbors, particularly to those who historically have not always shown love in return, will begin to build the bridges across the ravines of fear that divide our nation and lead to the violence in the first place.

It is important to see here that love covers a multitude of sins, the sins that separate us from one another and God. Fear drives a lot of the sin of violence in this nation. The fear of being killed is the burden of proof that police officers use to justify their use of deadly force. The fear of being killed is the reason why many Black people have bad relationships with the police today. It is the fear that we will keep killing one another, fear that things will not change, fear between races, and fear within communities. However, it is perfect love that casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

 

Share your thoughts on the recent violence and your plan of action as a Christian in today’s society below.

Why Jesse Williams’ Speech Demands an Active Faith

Why Jesse Williams’ Speech Demands an Active Faith

Before Sunday night, you might have recognized actor and social activist Jesse Williams, 34, for his role on ABC’S “Grey’s Anatomy,” or perhaps you’ve come across news coverage on his active participation in recent protests that began shortly after the death of Michael Brown. However, it was the speech Williams gave while accepting the Humanitarian Award during Sunday’s BET Awards that catapulted him to a new level and shed light on his genuine passion as a social activist.

The brilliance of Williams’ speech is that it simultaneously inspired, convicted, encouraged, and indicted his mostly black audience. His overall demeanor and diction created a didactic environment that impacted all who were listening, including some of the biggest entertainers in the world, the media, and the thousands of viewers who tuned in Sunday night. No matter who you were, on Sunday night we received a treat when Williams took the stage to deliver such a powerful message.

Although Williams took the time to address a number of things that were long overdue, it was the below points that created opportunity for some serious reflection on how faith has been misused in the black community and how we can use that same faith to actively gain the freedom we were given by God and promised by the American enterprise.

Many of us have been praying for the wrong things.

BondageAll of us in here getting money—that alone isn’t going to stop this… Now, dedicating our lives to getting money just to give it right back. [We] put someone’s brand on our body when we spent centuries praying with brands on our bodies, and now we pray to get paid with brands for our bodies. —Jesse Williams

This point was directed particularly towards the celebrities in the room, but it applies to everyone in our culture that makes the concept of “celebrity” something to strive for, the measure of success. In just three sentences, Williams highlights the complex relationship between black people’s enduring faith in the midst of slavery and the travesty of so many of our people twisting the American dream today. They have taken advantage of the freedom that the slaves prayed for in exchange for socioeconomic slavery. This new-age slavery comes in the form of corporate branding and the dollars that are attached as a measure of success.

How many people do you know that are praying from an impoverished, prosperity theology? Perhaps you also know a few people who measure their success and “favor” by material wealth, selling themselves for money, attention from “the right people,” and likes on social media.

Williams’ statement reminds us that the success we should be praying for and working toward is measured by the freedom of self-determination and liberty for our communities, not dollars in our bank accounts and designers on our bodies.

We can’t just wait to die and go to Heaven to be free.

Now, freedom is always coming in the hereafter but, you know what, though, the hereafter is a hustle. We want it now.—Jesse Williams

Jesus prayed for the Kingdom of God to come and the will of God to be done on Earth as it is in Heaven (Matthew 6:9-10). Then, Jesus took action everywhere; He went to correct the earthly things that were at odds with Heaven, from sickness to disease, to demonic attacks. He addressed everything from the exploitation of the poor to self-righteousness, to pride, and all of the impacts of sin that separates us from the power of God’s presence in our lives.

Jesus did not die only for us to focus on the afterlife. Instead, He promised the disciples that those who follow Him would receive back what they have left to follow him (family and land) in both this life and the life to come (Mark 10:29-31). Indeed, whom the Son has set free is free indeed!

Williams’ speech reminds us that we must have an active faith in order to see God’s work through us in our communities. Praying for individual success without praying for collective liberation is not a true reflection of God’s kingdom as followers of Christ.

Waiting for freedom to just be given to us by those who oppress us is not the answer and neither is putting it off until the afterlife. Jesus taught us to believe in the ultimate justice of God and pray for God’s will to be done on the earth. Then, we are to ask God to use us as his vessels to show love and justice as Christians here on Earth. Jesse Williams reminds us that faith without works is dead, so let’s heed the call and get to work in our faith for freedom.

 

Check out Jesse Williams’ entire speech below:

 

Share your thoughts on Jesse Williams’ call-to-action during Sunday night’s “BET Awards” below.

Reading by Example: Promoting Literacy in America

Reading by Example: Promoting Literacy in America

March is Reading Awareness Month, and a fitting time to discuss the literacy in the United States, particularly among urban and minority families.

The impacts of literacy begin at a very young age—reading to children increases their vocabulary skills and improves reading comprehension. Faltering literacy rates among youth have a dramatic impact on where we end up later in our lifetimes.

Statistics provided by the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, say that two-thirds of kids who aren’t reading well in fourth grade will end up on welfare or in jail and have a 78% chance of not catching up to their reading benchmarks. Sixty percent of juvenile delinquents and 80% of adult inmates are illiterate.

The Value of Education

Mother reading to daughterAlthough learning disabilities (such as Dyslexia and ADHD) can impair one’s ability to read fluently or at a higher grade level, Clark Atlanta University professor Torrance Stephens says poverty often leads to illiterate youth and adults. “[One of the] main misconceptions is that these people don’t value education,” says Stephens, who has worked in public health and education and with minority literacy in the US and Africa for 30 years.

“What I have found is that from the elderly black and white women I worked with in my earlier years, to the women of child-bearing age I worked with in Nigeria, to the ex-felons, they all valued education and knew its importance. But in each case, economic factors led them to leave their formal education.”

Stephens, who has published several books including The Legacy of the Bush-Obama Keynesian Dialect and Income Inequality in America, remembers an elderly African American woman explaining how she left school in fourth grade to sharecrop and help her family. Her story is similar to that of many ex-convicts he has worked with who indicate, “they had to assist in providing for their families, thus school would have to be a loss and they hit the streets hustling.”

The National Commission on Adult Literacy says that reading from a young age is one way to keep our society from losing the important skill of reading. A report published in March 2015 by the Pew Research Center on Hispanic Trends showed that 80% of blacks had visited a library or bookmobile in their lifetime compared to 83% of whites. But with high school graduation rates topping out at roughly 50% in urban areas, it’s clear that frequency among racial and economic groups are not the same.

Money Matters

Getting a head start on our studiesCollege graduates and those with household incomes over $100,000 are most likely to frequent a public library. Children who don’t have examples of avid readers in their life are less likely to become literate on their own.

It may appear strange that literacy is still inaccessible to some Americans in an age where the Internet has brought so much content to our fingertips—content which usually must be read. The vast majority of Americans from the poorest urban areas to high-scale suburbs have cell phones, granting them access to a gold mine of information, but Stephens suggests that real-world examples are still missing.

“In this instant culture dominated by emoji’s and 140 character thought spaces, reading—real reading—that requires thinking and comprehension takes a back seat. The challenge of getting people to read in an increasingly television-dominated culture is a major difficulty,” he says.

“I saw everybody around me reading daily; everyone had a library card and we were in the library weekly. I know parents tell their kids to read, but I don’t know if we as African Americans really encourage our kids to read, or even set the example. I suspect if you tell your kids to read, and watch the NBA or some music awards show, they will replicate your behavior and learn by example, especially if they never see you pick up a book.”

Making a Difference

Male Teacher and StudentThe Read Aloud campaign challenges parents to read to their kids for 15 minutes every night before bed, something that 13 million children won’t experience on a daily basis. The 10-year campaign challenges families to “Read Aloud for 15 Minutes. Every Child. Every Parent. Every day.”

It’s an important task that sounds simple but can be incredibly difficult in an urban home where one or both parents may not be present and problems in the surrounding area can negatively affect the learning environment. There are also countless programs geared toward reading awareness and combating illiteracy, including AmeriCorps, Literacy Partners, The Wallace Foundation, and local programs run by state and city governments.

Over 2 million New Yorkers alone cannot read, which limits employment opportunities, quality of life, and makes it virtually impossible to pass good reading habits to children. Stephens says that many people believe literacy programs are daunting, but taking classes at a local program is a great way to overcome the challenge of illiteracy. Many programs are volunteer-run, and always in need of more hands.

Now What?

This March, contact your local library or government and ask about ways to get involved with your community’s literacy efforts. Help promote a literacy campaign, give to a reading organization, or become a tutor. The Literacy Information and Communication System has an online directory that lists reading advocacy programs in your area.

Why is reading awareness so important? “A country’s wealth is almost directly related to a country’s literacy rate,” Stephens explains. “Literacy is the ability to read and write, which are strong predictors of individual monetary worth and future lifelong earning potential. Two, literacy is a very strong protective factor against getting arrested and/or involved with the criminal justice system. On an individual level, greater literacy is positively associated with increased cognitive development such as better problem-solving ability which means the more reading exposure the longer brain activity will remain robust.”

For more information about Reading Awareness Month and literacy programs in the US visit www.readaloud.org or www.national-coalition-literacy.org.

 

What do you think about the current literacy rates of African Americans in the United States? Share your thoughts below.

The Brazen, Beautiful Humanity of Malala Yousafzai

The Brazen, Beautiful Humanity of Malala Yousafzai

CIVIL RIGHTS CHAMPION: Malala Yousafzai in Islamabad, Pakistan, on March 8, 2012. Yousafzai, won international praise for advocating girls’ education despite Taliban threats. She was shot and wounded by Taliban gunmen in Swat on Oct. 9. (Photo: T. Mughal/Newscom)

It is easy to imagine Malala Yousafzai gracing the cover of TIME magazine as its Person of the Year. Her soft brown eyes peek at us from pictures that have surfaced from the ripples of a sudden plunge into the spotlight. Her story is so dramatic, so much the essence of the human rights struggle that the it continues to fascinate and inspire worldwide. Her hair, side-parted and modestly covered, Miss Yousafzai demonstrates a hunger for peace well beyond her 14 years. In 2011, she was awarded the National Peace Award by the Government of Pakistan for her courage in seeking restoration of peace and education services. In a short span of time, this tiny girl has become a towering figure in her pursuit of justice for herself and 50,000 other schoolgirls who lost the right to education in their Pakistani communities.

Millions more are now familiar with Miss Yousafzai, who was forced off of her school bus, shot in the head, and critically wounded along with two other young schoolgirls at the hands of the Taliban. She continues to heal in the safety of a UK hospital, the government and the world watching over her as if she were the little sister of us all.

Since 2009, when Miss Yousafzai was a mere tween in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, the hope for education has burned in her heart. While other girls in freer societies tweeted their obsessions with fashion and musical heart throbs, Miss Yousafzai dodged daily threats to become internationally known for her blog that promoted the restoration of the education stolen from her and her classmates.

Her opponents brazenly confessed planning her demise for at least a year. This time they were mercifully denied satisfaction, though they threaten further attempts will be made until her voice is silenced. With ironic justice, the public magnification of her courage has likewise magnified her opponent’s cowardice, exposing grown men who will go to such lengths to snuff out any beacon of light that pierces the darkness of their own souls.

Nothing New Under the Sun

As a Christian woman, when I think of the social conditions that were in place when Christ walked the earth, I am forced to see how little a young girl’s plight has changed in many areas of the world. Centuries may have passed, but the fundamental flaws in our human character remain the same, and they are often unavoidably woven into the fabric of our societies, both free and restricted.

MARCHING FOR MALALA: Pakistani students carry placards with photographs of Malala Yousafzai during an Oct. 16 protest in Lahore, Pakistan, against the assassination attempt by the Taliban on Malala. (Photo: Rana Irfan Ali/Newscom)

Knowing this, Christ’s counter-cultural treatment of women stands out in relief. In the first-century Roman Empire, a woman held very little sway on matters political or civil; their social plight two thousand years ago foreshadows the Taliban’s restrictions on a woman’s movements today, be they physical, psychological, political or intellectual.

Converse to these gaping holes in our societal fabric, the Bible’s high esteem for women and girls is recorded throughout its narrative. Indeed, many accounts in the Gospels tell us that Christ’s constant consideration of women was radical indeed for its day — His high view of women is perhaps best displayed and recorded in Luke 24 in the first witness of His resurrection and victory over hell, death and the grave; His greatest triumph was first revealed to a group of women (Luke 24:1-12).

These women gathered at his empty tomb were entrusted with the first knowledge of the risen Savior; an affirmation of God’s high estimation of the word, witness and worth of a woman (Mark 16:1-8, Matthew 28:1-10). There is one sole Entity who could first assess, and then restore a woman’s social worth properly as beings who bear the very image of God; that is the Creator of that image, God, Himself (Genesis 1:26-31). These women were divinely commissioned to tell His disciples that Christ had risen, and the news of Hope for all humanity began to spread.  “Go, tell the others what you have seen….” What a humbling honor, indeed, to be charged with bearing what has become a life-altering message for so many — including myself.

Salute

Today, Miss Yousafzai’s story is known worldwide; it was a proverbial “shot heard ’round the world.” It’s doubtful that life for this young woman will ever be the same, yet she and her family have accomplished more as ordinary citizens than many politicians have been able to do collectively. From her tormentor’s perspective, she must seem as one of the foolish things of the world that has confounded the self-proclaimed “wise.” In her courage, she has shown wisdom that they cannot comprehend. A mere and simple girl, who should have been easily silenced, now heals from her wounds with the protection of the world. She stands defiant in her innocence, large in the power of her perceived weakness.

I salute the courage of Miss Yousafzai and her classmates; they have stirred a passion in the world, and made us consider and confront our own humanity. May they be victorious in their quest not only for education and a just society, but also in their larger quest for recognition and in understanding the fullness of their humanity. May they also receive the full dignity and significance that is their right by the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, and may they come to know the One in whose majestic image they are made.

Standing Up to Power: A Chicago Teacher Speaks Out

Standing Up to Power: A Chicago Teacher Speaks Out

SCENES FROM THE CHICAGO STRIKE: For seven days, Chicago teachers went on strike for a fair contract as well as better learning conditions in the city’s most under-resourced schools. (Photo by Jen-Morales Crye)

When I moved to Chicago from Onalaska, Wisconsin, to begin my teaching career, I chose to move into the Westside neighborhood where I taught. I figured it just made sense to be part of the same community as my students. Soon I realized that being part of a community isn’t just a one-sided choice. I was humbled and blessed to see that the families of my students chose to welcome me into their community. With that acceptance came a new responsibility to learn about and represent our mutual needs.

As a math teacher and member of the Chicago Teachers Union for the past eight years, I’ve learned a lot from my neighbors about what they want from their schools. Consistently, parents wanted schools that provided quality learning opportunities, stable places for their children to grow, and challenging and supportive environments that prompted academic, social, and moral development. The community wanted and needed schools that encourage the ripening of all the potential stored inside each of their children.

Unfortunately, I saw a system of schools that focused on students and their teachers only as statistics. Priorities have focused more and more on raising test scores at the expense of the growth of our children. The system has ignored so many of the needs of our students and when we attempt to meet some of these needs, we are chastised for not focusing on academics. My colleagues and I feel isolated by this system. Imagine how our students and their families feel!

Standing Up to Authorities and Powers

Every day, I try to remember the source of my hope. In Colossians 1, Paul writes of Jesus Christ: “By him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him.” Later Paul writes that Jesus reconciles all things to himself “whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”

TAKING IT TO THE STREET: Over the past week, Chicago teachers marched in support of the city’s first teachers’ strike in 25 years. (Photo by Matt Crye)

As a follower of Jesus, I know that he is the ultimate hope we have for the reconciliation of all things in heaven and on earth. Jesus Christ cares about systems like the Chicago Public Schools and wants to reconcile them back to himself — to bring them back into their proper role as systems that empower and improve our communities.

I now live with the responsibility to be an agent of reconciliation in my role as a public school teacher. In Chicago, I believe the public schools are a part of a system of power, run by the mayor and the school board, that is unjust. It hurts our kids and their families. When the rulers decide to give the taxes collected from our communities to corporations so they can remodel their bathrooms, something is wrong.

This system needs reconciliation back to the priorities of families and students. And now as a member of it, my duty is to stand up and fight on behalf of the voices of my community. My community wants their kids to be given the same resources and opportunities as those from wealthier zip codes.

Learning from My Students’ Lives

As I stood on the picket line joined by parents and students, I realized more and more that our fight for a fair contract really is about fighting for better schools for our students.

A few years ago, I had the unique opportunity to co-teach an enrichment class exploring hip-hop and social-emotional health as part of our school’s service learning initiative. Though I had many of the same students in my math class, I saw the students and they saw me in new ways.

My students shared many struggles, including harassment from police, anxieties about body image, fear of crossing into other neighborhoods for fear of encounters with gangs, and trying to develop their own identity as teenagers. I’ll never forget the day we studied research about the power of forgiving those who’ve hurt us. As everyone wrote letters of forgiveness to someone who had hurt them, some that couldn’t even be delivered, I sat with one student and we cried together as she struggled to forgive her absent father for just one layer of the harm he had done to her and her family. That letter became a poem that she now performs throughout Chicago with power and confidence. Seeing her bravery and pain, never again could I measure my success as a teacher simply by a student’s performance on a test. Schools must be so much more than that! For me, I see this struggle as part of Christ’s reconciliation of this system back to himself.

As teachers we want fair compensation for our work, but we also want working conditions that create good learning conditions for our students. I want class sizes that allow me to be effective and give each student the attention they deserve. I want wraparound services, like counselors and social workers, to serve the holistic needs of my students. I want equitable resources for all Chicago students so that all have the same opportunities to learn and become successful citizens. I want schools where parents and families have a say in what happens in their school — not just some politician Downtown, or in Springfield, or Washington.

Our students were created in the image of God and they deserve a lot better than what they’ve gotten from this broken system.

The Struggle Continues

Though the Union voted to end the strike today, our fight for better schools continues. As I write this, I look ahead to struggles at my own school. Even after we officially settle the details of the contract and head back to the classroom, we face the threat of a school takeover that began before the strike. Less than a week before our students came for their first day of class, the system removed our principal without warning and without offering a reason. Our new interim principal was introduced to us that same day, even while they changed the locks on all the office doors.

MORE THAN A MONEY MATTER: From the beginning, the Chicago Teachers Union has maintained that their work stoppage goes beyond matters of wages to include issues of job security, teacher evaluation, and school conditions. (Photo by Jen Morales-Crye)

On the first day of classes, students and teachers showed up to school to find three Advanced Placement (AP) classes had been canceled and that their schedules would be different from what they were originally told. Since then, office staff and our English department have been fired; teachers and students have been reassigned into remedial classes without curriculum; several classes have been taught by substitutes because of the holes created in the schedule; and we continue to fight the effects of this destabilization every day.

On the third day of classes, almost the entire student body participated in a sit-in demanding reinstatement of their AP classes. At a full community forum and several Local School Council meetings, parents have demanded answers for these actions, but have heard almost nothing. Now, a group of parents have written a petition and are collecting signatures demanding the reinstatement of our principal and a return to August 6th, the day before all the destabilization occurred.

But despite these obstacles, I know there is hope. As a result of pressure from students, parents, and the Union, our English teachers have been reinstated and the return of the AP classes has been promised.  These victories embolden us to still push for the complete restoration of our school.

The battle for better schools, shaped by the voices of our community, continues. And I am honored to take part in this struggle alongside parents, students, and my fellow teachers.