There could not be more explicit examples of our nation’s lack of progress on social-justice issues than the current state of affairs in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City. The reaction to two grand juries’ decisions not to indict the police officers in the deaths of two unarmed men has been fueled by the same rage that led to the burning and looting of America’s urban centers after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. It is a rage that is characterized by the same inequality that motivated hundreds of thousands of people to March on Washington more than 50 years ago. Back then, King could only dream of better circumstances for the nation’s marginalized communities. Shamefully, his vision remains a dream deferred.
But the many reasons that King’s dream has yet to become a reality are no secret. African Americans are unemployed and underemployed in record numbers. African-American children are forced to shoulder the burden of an inadequate education system that is manifested in our nation’s majority-minority underperforming schools. Our nation’s prisons are overpopulated with African-American fathers. One study found that 78 percent of those killed by police are black men and boys. The list goes on and will persist—enabled by a lack of national will to address systemic racism.
As a black man, father and pastor, I am committed to solving these intractable problems. These are my people and my communities, and we in the black church are rooted in a prophetic tradition that compels us to pursue justice and mercy. They are essential to the building of the kingdom of God.
That’s why the Black Church Center for Justice and Equality hosted a convening of like-minded black church leaders, civil rights leaders, theologians, social-justice activists and laypeople over the last several days. We gathered hundreds of people just outside of Washington, D.C., to consider a path forward for our communities that will prevent the untimely and unnecessary deaths of future Michael Browns, Eric Garners, Tamir Rices and Trayvon Martins.
In the spirit of protest, our theme was “Taking It to the Streets.” We provided black pastors and parishioners with tangible resources they can take back home and immediately put to use in their efforts to fight crime, poverty and police brutality; hold elected officials accountable; and foster healthy, thriving communities. We held workshops on LGBT equality, public policy advocacy and mental health. We analyzed and discussed the black church’s theological mandate for social-justice advocacy. And we developed a set of progressive principles that will serve as the foundation for the Black Church Center for Justice and Equality’s social-justice work going forward.
We could not be in a more urgent moment to preach and teach the social-justice gospel. As King once said, “Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about economic conditions that cripple them and the social conditions that damn them is a dry-as-dust religion.”
One of our goals is to make sure that what has happened in Ferguson, New York City, Cleveland, Sanford, Fla., and countless other American cities never happens again. If King’s inspiring wisdom resonates with you and you have a desire to harness the nation’s rage into constructive action, please contribute to the conversation, and collaborate with us to make his dream a reality.
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