Last night, I attended a Community Action Meeting at Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant MO on behalf of the congregation I serve, Emerson Unitarian Universalist Chapel (www.emersonuuchapel.org) . On Saturday afternoon an unarmed African American teenager was shot dead by a police officer in North County. Witness accounts of the incident vary, but the circumstances are very familiar to this largely African American community. Once again, a young black man is killed. There will be one more funeral for a young man who should have had his whole life ahead of him.
Since Saturday afternoon, there have been demonstrations and protests night and day, some peaceful, some not. Looters have destroyed some local businesses. The police have responded with riot gear, dogs, and tear gas. From the beginning, local clergy have played a very visible role, hosting prayer vigils, peace walks, and community meetings.
Regardless of the particular circumstances of the shooting of Michael Brown, something is not right and most of us know it. The systemic poverty, the school to prison pipeline, racial profiling, the disparity between the inner suburbs and the outer suburbs, the segregation of our city – these patterns are prevalent in every American city and they are prevalent in ours. The shooting of Michael Brown has become like a bolt of lightning in a dry forest. It has set something off. It remains to be seen whether this situation will bring about true healing, reconciliation and justice, or if it will be lost in the 24 hour news cycle, with the status quo taking hold as soon as the TV cameras go away.
That, my friends, is where we come in.
I have been asked by many of my congregants what they can do. These are my thoughts so far:
- Given that most members of our congregation are white, we should accept that we cannot be in the drivers seat in terms of how this situation is responded to. We have to take our direction from the community that is in turmoil. This means listening more than speaking and sometimes staying out of the way, literally and spiritually. It is our place to be open and receptive.
- Keep educating yourself about the way race works in this country. Read everything you can. Learn as much as you can about the reality of being black in America. Learn how to identify racism in the 21st Avail yourself of any opportunity to engage in multiculturalism and diversity training, especially if you can do it in community and in a multiracial context because there is more accountability that way. Welcome that accountability.
- If you are white, your job is to be a witness to racism, even and especially when it’s risky. Don’t be afraid to say what you see, especially to other white people. This could mean a one on one conversation, speaking up in a group, writing a letter to your elected politicians, signing petitions, and posting on social media. Because of the way race works in this country, many white people (even liberal white people L) will be able to hear from you what they couldn’t hear from a person of color. This will help other white people to understand what they are seeing. And maybe, it will give them the courage to speak out as well. White silence, white denial and white ignorance gives systemic racism a lot of power. You have to model a different way and do your part to create the critical mass needed for real change.
- There are tentative plans for a prayer vigil and walk at the Canfield Apartments in Ferguson MO on Saturday at noon, the neighborhood of Michael Brown. Keep an eye out on social media for any updates.
- Come to church this Sunday. Lauren Lyerla, Mark Fish, Jake Lyonfields and Mary Murphy, members of our congregation, are dedicating the service to racial justice. Lauren, Mark, and Mary were all facilitators in Building the World We Dream About, a program curriculum that our congregation engaged last year on multiculturalism and diversity. It is important to be together during difficult times. Come connect to your community.
- Come to the Love First Meeting on Wednesday, August 20, 6:30 p.m. at the church office (16233 Westwoods Business Park, Ellisville MO 63021). Love First is Emerson Chapel’s social justice team. We will talk about what has happened this past week and how we as a community will witness to our values of compassion, equality and justice at this time and become allies to those who are hurting so much and need justice so badly.
Let us hold Michael Brown’s family as well as the office and their family in our thoughts and prayers. While the damage and the pain is more acute and feels closer in their circles, we are all damaged by the poison of systemic racism. It remains to be seen if we are strong enough to feel the truth of how close this pain is to every one of us.
Yours in faith, Rev. Krista.