Today commemorates the fifty-seventh anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, commonly known as the March on Washington. It was at that march, on Wednesday, August 28, 1963, that a thirty-four-year-old Baptist preacher from Atlanta, Georgia, named Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered a prophetic message in front of the Lincoln Memorial that has historically been entitled as the “I Have A Dream Speech”. His leadership has attributed to the passing of several civil rights bills and voting acts. In fact, just a few years after the march, The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law on August 6, 1965, by President Lyndon B. Johnson, prohibiting racial discrimination and further enforcing the voting rights guaranteed by the 14th and 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution. It is my prayer and hope that we never forget the words that Dr. King prophetically uttered in August of 1963 to challenge the nation to openly face her racism.
Forty-five years after King’s speech, Illinois Senator Barack Obama accepted the nomination for the Democratic Party on August 28, 2008. As history reflects, he later became our nation’s first Black President. Today is August 28, 2020. A week ago, California Senator Kamala Harris became the first Black woman nominated and accepted as a Vice Presidential running mate to the nominee of a major party. History was made in August once again.
However, just days after Harris accepted the nomination, two more police shootings of Black men have occurred in Lafayette, Louisiana and Kenosha, Wisconsin, sparking more outrage. Days later, several demonstrators in Kenosha were shot while protesting and demanding justice. Jacob Blake of Wisconsin is now paralyzed according to his attorney. Trayford Pellerin, who was shot at by police in Louisiana at least ten times died, now joins a long list of Black people killed by law enforcement including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and far too many others. The senseless, race-based acts of violence that we see in our day is horrific. The killing and modern-day lynching of Black men, in particular, is not new, but has become more widely known due to the presence of social media and a twenty-four-hour news cycle on television. Cameras are now exposing what has been a reality for a long time. There were no camera shots or videos of that hot August day in 1619 when a ship arrived in Port Comfort, Virginia carrying a couple dozen enslaved Africans to this country to be treated as property, thus marking the start of slavery. Yet, that non-captured event still impacts our world today.
This August, I ask the question, where are we? August is the eighth month of the calendar year, and in the Bible, the number eight symbolizes a new beginning. I sure hope we get one, because we need it. Too many white police officers are killing innocent Black men and women, too many Black people are killing themselves, and we still live in a nation where people are being judged, and even killed, because of the color of their skin. Dr. King’s dream called for this to be changed nearly six decades ago.
Black people are still the target of unfair laws, lynching, police aggression, voter suppression, and the lack of sensitivity in the classroom and on the workforce. Concerning racial profiling and police brutality, the plea for people to respect Black life is still necessary. I sure hope we understand that valuing Black life and confronting murder at the hand of White police officers is not an attack on all police. All police are not bad or racist, just like all Black people, protesting their outrage due to social unrest, are not riotous. Like King, I have a dream too. I have a dream that one day the respecter of Black life and the supporter of local police can be the same person. I am there personally, but for many, it is still a dream.
Our race problem is not just national, but local as well. The words “kill niggers” have been found spray-painted on several streets in Hamilton Township, nooses have been found hung in Hamilton schools, anti-racist books still need to be added to our educational curriculum, and a number of candidates for office, as well as business establishments in town, have been connected to racist, sexist, and bigoted social media posts. One restaurant establishment, in particular, even compared a black baby to a black monkey. Even more alarming is the fact that many people are still under the assumption that being a white male is the dominating qualification for service.
Where are we? We need both a local and global inspection. Obviously, some things are different and better. For example, I thank God that I have never had to drink from a water fountain labeled “for coloreds only”. However, how much is still the same in comparison to our pre-Dr. King speech and post-Obama presidency world? If your answer centers on how many friends, classmates, neighbors, or co-workers that you have from another ethnic group, then you still have much to learn. I hope your answer is also not based upon the skin color of a candidate you support or of a celebrity that you admire. The answer to that question even goes beyond the salute to the red, white, and blue, or the pride of the red, black, and green. It is also more than wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt or attending a pro-police event.
This is why on June 30, 2020, I wrote a letter to many elected officials, as well as community and organizational leaders throughout Hamilton Township and beyond. The purpose for my letter was to see where they stood regarding the unacceptable disregard for Black life in our land. After much prayerful thought, I also wanted to see their track record and willingness to partner with me and others in becoming an anti-racist community and society. Copies of the letters received are available for public view at www.bridgedisciples.church, which is the official website of the Saint Phillips Baptist Church of Hamilton. As you read the responses, you will see where many key leaders stand, but you, like me, may also come away with more questions than answers. Some statements look and read well on paper, but have been empty in terms of policy and practice. The issue of race cannot be ignored in our town or region, the silence of our leaders will not be tolerated, and the accountability from those elected to serve will be demanded.
The answer to the question of where are we collectively will be best answered when each of us honestly knows where we stand individually. Where are you? I am asking this regardless of your skin color, job title, elected position, or your uniform type and color. Each of us needs to examine our own biases, because the Bible states, there is none righteous, no not one! What happened to the golden rule that encouraged us to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you?” Has the golden rule become a rusty truth? From your perspective, is it a statue needing removal? Is it now forgotten law? No! It’s a biblical concept included in God’s Word, therefore no amendment is allowable. It must be followed in order for us to truly be one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all. Today, I ask where are we, but in my follow-up article on Monday, I want to humbly suggest where we go from here.