|From the entrance to the National Civil Rights Museum|
Friday, August 28, 2015
Today, as yesterday, a movement of many people, driving in many lanes.
As I saw young Diane Nash and Bernard Lafayette, Ella Baker and James Lawson and Stokely Carmichael, I saw the faces of Brittany Ferrell and Alexis Templeton, Traci Blackmon, Starsky Wilson and Osagyefo Sekou.
When I went through the museum 20 years ago, I heard the gunshots, this time I felt them in my chest.
When I went through it before it felt like a museum. When I went through it today, it felt like life.
There were things that were very different .. things that are wonderful. In the 1960s the involvement and leadership of women was the exception ... today it is the dominant force. In the 60s, there was no mainstream LGBT presence. Today, the movement is actively queer and that is part of its strength.
Then there were things that were eerily familiar. Not just the tear gas and the riot gear and the songs and the chants. Today's movement leaders draw from both the Black Power movement and the Civil Rights Movement and there are echoes of both.
There was something else that was familiar, though.
Both then and now, it takes many different people using many different methods to effect change.
Back in the 1950s and 60s, the NAACP and more "respectable" organizations believed in working through the courts -- and were often in conflict with the protest movement. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee often were at odds -- many times over what we've come to call "respectability politics" today.
But all were necessary. We needed the NAACP or the Supreme Court never would have heard Brown v. Board of Education. We needed the SCLC or we never would have had the leadership of people like Dr. King. And we needed SNCC or we never would have had the lunch counter sit-ins or the freedom riders or the amazing power of Diane Nash and Bernard Lafayette.
That's true today, too. We have incredible leaders like Brittany and Alexis on the front lines of the protests in the streets. We have equally as incredible leaders like Traci and Starsky and Rasheen Aldridge serving on the Ferguson Commission and sitting in boardrooms and courtrooms.
And we have lots of people on the ground doing amazing community development work in majority black neighborhoods. I'm on the board of Grace Hill Settlement House -- and the work Rod Jones and his staff have been doing there is unparalleled.
A few weeks after Mike Brown was killed, Shirley Washington had me as a guest on The Pulse of St. Louis on KPLR and one of the other guests was Malik Ahmed from Better Family Life. I heard Malik talk about the redevelopment work BFL is doing in North St. Louis on so many levels and I was just blown away by his dedication and love.
Later that week, Brian Hall of the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission called me. What was happening all around us was changing the landscape and Brian -- courageously -- was determined not to sweep it under the rug but to try to use it as an opportunity not to say that St. Louis was a place without problems but that we were a city who faced our problems of race and class, and we were going to be a model for what that looks like in this country. I love that kind of hope and told him as long as it was honest I wanted to be a part of it.
He asked me for something that was good and I told him about Better Family Life and set up a meeting and a tour for him and some others to meet Malik and learn more about their work. Not as a way of saying "we've got it all covered" but as a way of saying that we have incredible people doing incredible work on the ground here ... and that this is a part of how we are going to make a more just city for everyone.
Brian came up with the idea of gifting Better Family Life with a film describing the work they are doing. It was released yesterday, and you can watch it here:
The stage we are in of this movement is that there is sometimes a lack of understanding and trust among people who are (as Starsky Wilson says) "driving in different lanes" in this movement. I've heard people who work for organizations like BFL criticize the protest movement and I've heard the protest movement criticize BFL and the "We Must Stop Killing Each Other" signs.
But the truth is, just like in the previous civil rights movements, all of these people have their place. And we are stronger when we all recognize each other not as a threat but as important pieces of the whole. Without the protest movement, we wouldn't be having the legal reforms and political mobilization we see happening.Without community development organizations like Grace Hill Settlement House and Better Family Life we would be incredibly impoverished by absence of the foundations for community they are building.
I'm grateful to have been a small part of making this connection. Making connections is what Cathedrals do. I'm grateful for Brittany, Alexis, Starsky and Traci. I'm grateful for Brian, Rod, and Malik. I'm grateful that it's going on 13 months after Mike Brown was killed and so many people are still working so hard and struggling and we haven't allowed this to be shoved under a rug.
And I'm grateful to be part of a Cathedral community that knows that Jesus calls us to be in the middle of it all.