Where do we go from here, chaos or community? This question was posed and answered in Dr. King’s last book before his unfortunate death. It seems like an appropriate question for today. This past weekend in my hometown, and a place that shaped me, Chicago, there was 52 shootings, of which 8 people were killed. The first day of summer was yesterday. I wonder if we are in a race with Baghdad to see who can escalate the violence faster.
We have a huge conundrum. Currently, the national statistics state that we have 9.7% unemployment. If we were to peer further, we will notice that such a number would be welcomed in many communities of color. This economic dilemma is not simply a Black issue; Native Americans have unemployment as high as 85% in some areas. We got some problems.
Now is not the time for us to state simplistic answers, because if the resolutions were that simple then it would have been solved some time ago. It isn’t. I am not ready to cast blame externally or internally. Yeah, we have some evil systems. Specifically, the criminal system is corrupt in horrific ways as stated in the book I am currently reading, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. In the past few years, how many stories have we heard about Black men who have spent 20 to 25 years in prison only to be released by new scientific forensics? Read or review the book, Picking Cain.
Yet, we cannot excuse the issues plaguing our community within: fatherless homes, poor schools, nutrition (yeah, for real) and irrelevant churches. Oh, yeah, I said it. For years I directed a program called the Atlanta Urban Project, in which I brought a college students to live in low to moderate-income neighborhoods to serve kids ages 6 to 13 through day camps. Many of the students, thought they were coming to proclaim the Gospel, only to see that many of the children’s families who participated in our camps were Christians and attended church regularly. The problem what they heard in church did not walk with them across the chasm into real life. Don’t get it twisted, it is rare to find churches that do adequately engage the real issues that are plaguing our world today no matter where you are or which ethnic group you represent. I know Jesus has provided a place for me in heaven, but He explicitly talks more about extending His kingdom through His followers on earth a lot.
The issue in Chicago will unfortunately spread to many urban environments around the country, partially as a result of the recession. I am not happy, but let’s figure what needs to change. First of all, we need to recognize there exists some good news from people and some programs that are there to assist kids of color and lower income whites, Job Corps, Posse Foundation, Year Up, and Inroads to name a few. Of course, they are some great schools like the ones in the Englewood community on the South side of Chicago that graduated 125 black boys to attend 4-year schools. Do you remember when that young man was killed at Fenger HS in Chicago? It was just a few blocks from where I grew up. A friend who is an artist called together the community to engage the problems that arose that led to his untimely death. She worked with the new principal, called her alum friends and gave her talents to make a change for the better.
Yet, that is not enough. If you are reading this then you are responsible! Yes, you are. Though we are in the downturn of the health and wealth message, the culture of “pulling one up by your boot straps” and individualism is still strongly present in the psyche of many people, yet it is a lie. We need folks that read this Scripture and capture the vision of what Shalom, justice, prosperity, harmony and welfare (different from what we know) actually means. “ Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.” (Jer. 29:7) The more popular verse, verse 11, is often captured and understood in individual terms but it was written in communal language. You is also plural and not only second person singular.
I am upset. I have 3 Black boys that I fast and pray will grow into Black men who love God. I don’t want to hear it. “Jimmy, you and Genie are doing a good job. Your boys will not turn out this way.” I am attempting to write this without profane language. It is not true. Nothing can prevent my sons from falling victim to the issues plaguing our cities. And if they do happen to survive it, graduate from HS and college, attain a vocation/career, and maybe have a family, am I happy still? Yes and NO! I want other boys to make it. Should a church with a school or home schooling parents be happy and not be concerned for the families who don’t send their schools with their children? No! Are all kids bad? No! Father Flanagan, founder of Boys town, didn’t believe that, and neither do I. All of my sons are in public school and are doing well right now.
Let me ask my friend Randy is he happy if Young and Redbird go to college, become happily married and follow him into a meaningful vocation, while dozens of other native boys are lost to alcoholism, drugs, obesity, diabetes, violence or early death. Would you be happy? Yes and NO! I don’t believe he would be happy.
I am angry with a lot of folks including God. I say this reluctantly because I still love God dearly. I spent most of my adult life reaching young adults on college campuses to address issues just like this, and now I feel powerless to contribute in the capacity I once did. I am also angry because we need some folks who will seriously indulge in processes that are not just theoretically based but have meaningful application that will engage people to behave differently and have transformed lives. Even I did return to my previous capacity, I could not do it alone. I need to work with my neighbors, teachers, businessmen, pastors, friends and others. We need to really garner a network that prays over schools on a daily, and weekly basis.
I read about a local church here in the Atlanta area, which regularly hosts two different breakfasts. One is for politicians, fire fighters, and police and hopefully judges to pray for them. The other breakfast invites the principals and some faculty for breakfast. It is not evangelistic, but it is. They just offer prayer, good breakfasts, an ear to listen and a heart to ask how they can serve. It’s not that hard y’all.
I will end with a couple of stories I stated a few weeks ago with one I heard from a friend who is a principal. The first one is the volunteer luncheon my wife and I attended at my youngest son’s school. It was diverse with Black, Whites and a few Latinos, but no known Natives were present or Asian, unless you count me a mixed blood descendant of the Cherokee. A few businesses and nonprofits were present, but NOT ONE CHURCH!!!! Not one.
The second story, a friend who is a principal at a middle school told me a pastor came and gave him $500. 00 gift to the school. He said I have over 1000 students here. What I really need is some of your parishioners to come and volunteer some time. Do you get it? Yes, we need monetary resources, but it takes a village to raise and bring a positive affect on issues like what is going on in Chicago. Do we need the police in some cases, but certainly not all? In many ways we need them to re-capture the role of the friendly neighborhood patrolman, which many have not experienced in their lifetime.
So, what are you going to do? I am volunteering at all of my sons’ school, because I want them to make it, and I want them to look around and see some of their peers are graduating with them. I can’t be in every home, but I can compete for their attention elsewhere.
We are in trouble. What are you going to do? All right, if you are a pastor, don’t be so defensive. I know you may be doing some things well, but you are not representative of all churches, just like I don’t represent all thoughts of Black men or black people. No doubt some black folks will feel differently about what I wrote. Nevertheless, the question still remains, what will you do? I am not doing enough myself.
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
The Bitumen Group
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