(RNS) In one of his last official acts, President Obama has designated Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and other civil rights landmarks in Birmingham, Ala., as the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument.
The designation protects the historic A.G. Gaston Motel in that city, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders had their 1963 campaign headquarters, as well as Kelly Ingram Park, where police turned hoses and dogs on civil rights protesters.
And it includes the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where four girls died in 1963 after Ku Klux Klan members detonated more than a dozen sticks of dynamite outside the church basement.
“This national monument will fortify Birmingham’s place in American history and will speak volumes to the place of African-Americans in history,” said the Rev. Arthur Price Jr., pastor of the church, in a statement.
Obama’s proclamation also cites the role of Bethel Baptist Church, headquarters of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, and St. Paul United Methodist Church, from which protesters marched before being stopped by police dogs.
In his proclamation Thursday (Jan. 12), Obama said the various sites “all stand as a testament to the heroism of those who worked so hard to advance the cause of freedom.”
In other acts, all timed to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which will be observed on Monday, the president designated the Freedom Riders National Monument in Anniston, Ala., and the Reconstruction Era National Monument in coastal South Carolina.
He cited the role of congregations in all three areas — from sheltering civil rights activists at Bethel Baptist Church to hosting mass meetings at First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., to providing a school for former slaves at the Brick Baptist Church in St. Helena Island, S.C.
The designations instruct the National Park Service to manage the sites and consider them for visitor services and historic preservation.
“African-American history is American history and these monuments are testament to the people and places on the front-lines of our entire nation’s march toward a more perfect union,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.
When will this nightmare end? On Monday, our nation added another hashtag to our timelines and newsfeeds after learning of yet another unarmed Black man being gunned down by police.
But, Terence Crutcher was more than just another hashtag. He was active in the church choir, a father of four, a son, and a twin. In fact, he and his twin sister celebrated their 40th birthday a month ago, but you probably won’t hear about much of this on the news. Instead, for the next several weeks, our lives will be inundated with media coverage of Terence’s final moments at every turn.
History shows that we are only left with two options here. We can either watch the video footage that has already been shared thousands of times on social media or continue scrolling down our feeds, only to find an abundance of statuses and memes addressing the incident.
Although this story is still developing and we do not have all of the details on exactly what happened this week, I think we can all agree that this scenario is becoming all too common.
Recent studies show that although Black Americans make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population, we are 2.5 times more likely to be shot and killed by police officers. But instead, we have turned our attention to burning football jerseys and waiting to see who will be the next athlete to join Colin Kaepernick in his quest to bring awareness to the social injustice that is plaguing our nation.
Acts 17:26 says, “ From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth.” Yes, we are all created equally in God’s eyes, but the above statistics paint a different picture.
Kaepernick addresses his supporters in a recent Instagram post and ends his caption by saying, “I believe in the people, and WE can be the change!” We may agree with his statement, but how many of us are really willing to do something to see that this change is manifested?
Instead, many of us seem to be losing sight of what really matters.
Yes, Kaepernick made the decision to exercise his freedom and leverage his platform by kneeling during the national anthem, and no, some of us may not agree with it. However, I think we can all agree that something must be done to show that enough is enough.
But, the lingering question is, “What?”
When will we, as a nation, get to the point where we say, “Something has to be done,” and work to find a solution that truly does provide liberty and justice for all, regardless of their race?
When will our voices be heard? And, what can we as individuals do in order to help bring justice to Terence Crutcher and so many others whose lives have been reduced to yet another hashtag?
Colin Kaepernick and many others have found peaceful ways to express their frustration with the recent injustices that plague our nation. And, although Kaepernick is one of the more famous figures who have decided to use his platform for social justice, hundreds, and even thousands, of people of all races are working tirelessly to bring awareness to this ever-growing, national problem.
So, instead of only opting to be vocal on social media about the death of Terence Crutcher and so many others, what do you plan to do to ensure that your voice is heard?
Share your thoughts below. We’d love to hear from you!
Urban Faith would like to introduce our newest columnist Dr. Minnie Claiborn, Ph.D. The licensed counselor, life coach and author will publish a new, monthly column called “Ask Dr. Minnie.” Feel free to submit any questions on a topic of your choice to [email protected], and your question may be answered in a future column! Check out what Dr. Minnie has to say about self-love below and come back for her monthly column later this month.
There are seven basic areas wherein all human challenges lie. One of these is our relationship with self. We form many of our opinions of ourselves based on what others around us say to us and about us, or how we interpret what they say and do.
In some respects, we do come into the world with a “blank slate” and we write on it based on how we are treated. Some of us encounter rejection, abuse, abandonment, and many other hurtful experiences from our primary families or caregivers when we are young. From these experiences, which may be accompanied by ugly words, we often form unhealthy opinions of ourselves.
I had a young woman client once who in her mind and experience did not fit the societal standard of beauty. When she told me that she had been raped, she asked with incredulity, “Why would anyone rape me?” Her opinion of herself was so low, she felt so unattractive, that she was amazed that even a rapist would want her.
On the other hand, I observed a young lady whose body shape and physical features also did not meet the society standard of beauty, yet she exuded self-confidence. I discovered that she was a daddy’s girl, had a loving, doting mother and had married a man who also adored her.
Many young men who were not affirmed by their fathers suffer from a sense of insecurity, fear, rejection, lack of self-identity and a lack of belonging. Other people contributed to our being broken, but God can heal us (Luke 4:18). We can’t go back and change what was said or done to us or about us, but with new information and truth, we can change how if affects us.
Truth trumps facts. Divine truth (truth from God’s perspective) is greater than the facts of our experiences and thoughts. If you were not told that you are beautiful, or handsome or valuable by anyone else, know that God made you and He thinks you’re all of that (Psalm 139).
How do you change a wrong or bad opinion of yourself? Put God’s Word in your mouth and speak it to yourself out loud. A good place to start is by saying, “God loves me.” The entire Bible bears witness to that truth. I have witnessed the power of Scripture-based affirmations. An affirmation simply means that you affirm and agree with what is being said. Here is an affirmation that you can use every day that will help you to begin to have a winning relationship with yourself. You might know it in your head, but you need to SAY it over and over so that your subconscious will receive truth and your conscious thoughts and behaviors will begin to change. God told young Joshua to meditate on His word day and night and he (Joshua) would have prosperity and good success (Joshua 1:8). I suggest that you say this out loud at least five times per day until you know in your soul that it is true.
AFFIRMATION: God loves me. God accepts me. I love and accept myself. I invite God to change the things that do not please Him and things that are detrimental to me.
READ:Psalm 139, Joshua 1:8, John 3:16
Do you or someone you know struggle with intentional self-love? Share your thoughts and experiences below.
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.
All 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.
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me takes its title from a Richard Wright poem, but its more direct inspiration is James Baldwin’s letter to his nephew in The Fire Next Time. Coates’ book is in the form of a message to his son, Samori—but his prose throughout is also inspired by Baldwin’s rhythms, and sometimes even by Baldwin’s turns of phrase. “…the host wished to know why I felt that white America’s progress, or rather the progress of those Americans who believe that they are white, was built on looting and violence. Hearing this, I felt an old and distinct sadness well up in me. The answer to the question is the record of the believers themselves. The answer is American history.” The construction “those Americans who believe that they are white” comes from Baldwin; the Chuch cadence of that repeated “The answer” comes from Baldwin, the way that careful qualification becomes emphasis and exhoration is Baldwin. For Baldwin fans, to read Coates’ prose is to experience a delightful recognition; here is someone who loves the same person you do.
Coates takes a risk drawing such a strong comparison with America’s greatest essayist. In trying to capture Baldwin’s power, for example, he sometimes resorts to repetitive capitalized portentous abstractions —”the Dream” or “the Mecca.” The strain is visible and distracting; a reminder that Coates (like just about everyone else) isn’t as sure-footed as his model.
But Coates isn’t using Baldwin to demonstrate his own sure-footedness. Literary influence is often seen in the context of anxiety; Melville throwing his spear into the eye of Shakespeare, or Baldwin wrestling with Richard Wright. Coates, though, rejects that vision of adulthood via beating your parents. He recalls his grandmother telling him that his son would “one day try to ‘test me'”. He responds, “I would regard that day, should it comes, as the total failure of fatherhood because if all I had over you were my hands, then I really had nothing at all.” Fatherhood is about love, not testing—and that’s Coates’ relationship with Baldwin as well.
And not just with Baldwin.
Though The Fire Next Time may be the most obvious blueprint for Coates’ work, Between the World and Me is filled with other fathers and mothers. The schools he attended in Baltimore were “concerned with compliance”, not teaching, Coates says, but despite his dismal experience with public education, he developed a lifelong passion for learning. He listened to Malcolm X’s speeches over and over, “because Malcolm never lied, unlike the schools and their façade of morality…I loved him because he made it plain.” He played Ice Cube’s Death Certificate “almost every day.” He went to Howard where he hoped to find a coherent Black nationalism and instead was gifted with “a brawl of ancestors, a herd of dissenters, sometimes marching together but just as often marching away from each other.” And from his wife he learned, among other things, how to raise a child without the belt his father used. “Your mother,” he tells Samori, in a quietly heart-breaking passage, “had to teach me how to love you.”
Most reviews, positive and negative, have focused on the heartbreak in Coates’ writing, and there’s good reason for that. Between the World and Me is a painful book. It starts with Samori crying in his room when he learns Michael Brown’s killer won’t be indicted; it closes with Coates talking to the mother of one of his Howard friends, Prince Jones, who was murdered by a policeman who was never held accountable. These aren’t isolated incidents, Coates’ book makes clear. They’re part of a pattern of terrorism and violence stretching back to slavery, through Jim Crow and redlining, and on up through the neglected, violent streets of Coates’ Baltimore childhood. Police brutality isn’t an accident, or a few bad men acting recklessly. Rather, police, Coates says, are “enforcing the whims of our country, correctly interpreting its heritage and legacy.” In order to keep thinking of themselves as white, Americans who think of themselves as white kill black people. So it has been, and so, Coates suggests, it shall be, if not for always, then at least as far into the future as you can see from here.
Mainstream reviews at the Economist and The New York Times were quick to chastise Coates for his refusal to acknowledge How Much Better Things Have Gotten, and his lack of hope. And Coates certainly doesn’t have much hope that white people will give up pretending to be white, or that they’ll start treating black people as human beings.
Coates doesn’t offer absolution to white people for the crimes they’ve committed, or, more importantly, for the crimes they’re continuing to commit. But that doesn’t mean his is a hopeless book, or even, for all its hurt, a sad one. On the contrary, Between the World and Me is filled with love—for Coates’ son, first of all, but also, in its language and structure, for Baldwin, as a particular mentor, and as an iconic representative of black heritage and struggle.
“…black power births a kind of understanding that illuminates all the galaxies in their truest colors,” Coates writes. He’s not a Christian, and mentions many times throughout the book that (like Baldwin) he does not find the comfort in God that many black people have. But he finds comfort, and strength, in black people themselves. “Struggle for the memory of your ancestors,” he tells his son. “Struggle for wisdom… Struggle for your gradmother and grandfather, for your name.” The cadences are still Baldwin’s, because Baldwin is Coates’, just as Coates is Samori’s. “We have made something down here,” Coates says, and what he, and his son, and his teachers have made is struggle and love.
Between the World and Me isn’t just a letter, It’s a tradition and a community, a set of tools and voices which Coates found, and which he’s passing on. The book is a gift, and you’d have to be in the grip of a particularly bleak delusion to think that it’s given in despair, rather than in joy.