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The Impact Movement Announces Jimmy McGee as New President.
“Not again?!” Has the fear of Black people become so ingrained, has the value of a Black life become so insignificant that the automatic reaction is to use deadly force? What ever happened to tasers? The frequency of deadly shootings of unarmed black men has been well documented.
Having reared four black sons, I am well acquainted with the fear of what might happen when one of them encounters a law enforcement officer. I know the outcome of any chance meeting could be tragic…even deadly.
I feel anguish at what Michael Brown’s parents are going through. Michael had finished high school. No small thing for a Black male in this country. He was on his way to college–an even bigger thing for a Black male to accomplish. All of his parents’ pride, hope, optimism, anxiety and concern collided with the stark image of Michael’s prone and punctured body lying in the street for hours. What can possibly prepare a parent to grieve such an intimate and personal loss with media crews waiting to pounce, poking cameras and microphones in their faces every day while the neighborhood erupts with a roiling, destructive unrest?
That unrest fulfills yet another of my fears – that the protests that began last summer would morph into yet another black community lying in ruins. That last point was prominent in my mind because I happened to be in Washington, DC when the first wave of looting occurred in response to Michael Brown’s tragic death. I was reminded of the riots during the 60s when the “14 Street Corridor” was torched by rioters, essentially destroying the Black business district of Washington DC. It took 40 years for the area to “recover”. And that recovery was a product of gentrification, not the re-opening of black-owned or other businesses that served our community. The area has never been the same.
Three questions continue to haunt my mind as I watch and pray over these events:
1. What is the end game of the protesters?
Or, more to the point, is the call for justice for Michael Brown enough? Is it adequate accountability to hold our criminal justice system accountable for its unfair treatment of Black people–Black males in particular–by reacting when another unarmed Black person is shot? The answer is obvious. No, it is not enough. There must be a more proactive, nuanced and multi-faceted approach to the quandary.
The statistics are clear. Black males are arrested at much higher rates, convicted at higher rates, and sentenced to more time for the same crime when compared to their white counterparts. “Driving While Black” is still enough reason to be pulled over in entirely too many jurisdictions in 2014. It happened to me—a grown professional man in ministry all of my adult life–in Cocoa Beach just a few months ago.
So, we call for an approach that does not start and end with a White House investigation, not merely protests and certainly not riots in the streets of Ferguson.
2. Where is the white evangelical church?
I have heard and seen very little about this tragedy from my brothers and sisters of a lighter hue. Clearly, the black churches in Ferguson and adjacent St. Louis have tried to bring comfort to the hurting and order to the understandable impulse to cry ”enough!” on the part of their parishioners. Perhaps I have missed it, but where are those who claim to represent Jesus Christ and are white in Ferguson? Are they, like their counterparts in so many other communities unwilling to speak to the structural, systemic problems that produce communities like Ferguson, where the police force’s ethnic composition is so discordant with that of the community they are sworn to serve. Who in the white Christian community will decry policies that put this same police force in possession of militaristic weaponry?
As we have seen, these powerful weapons have no ability to resolve real domestic tensions. They are not designed to protect property but to destroy obstacles while protecting military personnel. Can we not find spiritual leaders, Black and White, with whom we can partner to effectively engage these issues? There is more at work (and more at stake) here than the facts of Michael Brown’s and Darren Wilson’s behavior in the confrontation that left Michael dead on the street. When will the church, black, white and other, work together to address the subtle incipient racism, move beyond an emphasis on personal piety and address the need for corporate righteousness and even handed justice? This leads me to my overriding nagging question.
3. Who will invest in organizations that are addressing the need for leadership and development of the black male population in this country?
It has been my privilege and challenge to lead Christian outreach and mobilization efforts for the entirety of my adult life. My personal emphasis is Black college students. Yet, since I began in 1981, my most consistent struggle has been to secure the funding to enable our efforts to engage young emerging leaders, help them understand the need to be spiritually focused, financially responsible and morally fit, and to commission them to serve in our communities and around the world. What is clear is that people would rather invest in prisons than after school programs.
Organizations like The Impact Movement are too Christian for government funding, too black for White Christian funding, and too non-traditional for Black Christian funding…and the Michael Browns keep dying. Even if Michael had made it to college, he had less than a 50% statistical probability of graduating. Too many black men are undereducated, underemployed, and untaught as to how to secure a future any different than what is seen on hip hop videos or reality shows.
Michael Brown’s death and the events that led to that fateful night in early August leave me disconsolate. It underscores the challenge I have been trying to address for 30 plus years, yet offers no hope for change. People are more entertained than engaged, more curious than compassionate and more fascinated than motivated to fix the problem. And organizations like ours continue to flounder because the “powers that be” would rather finance prisons than fund people who are willing to make a difference.
I am also indignant. I share the simmering frustration of so many that our country dehumanizes young black men. Darren Wilson claims that in his confrontation with Michael Brown he felt like “a five year-old” wrestling with “Hulk Hogan” and that Michael Brown looked like a “demon”. Meanwhile, white mobs riot in New Hampshire (google Pumpkinfest) and West Virginia (after WVU beat Baylor in football), with those arrested being kept in jail overnight to “sleep it off”. White youth is seen as “rowdy” or “unruly”. Young black men are seen as life threatening.
Nevertheless, I will continue to pray. I will continue to work.
I will pray and work for a day when it is no longer acceptable that our schools are failing. I pray and work for a day when we no longer tolerate economic forces, represented by the music and film industry, recasting black culture as a thug, drug and misogynistically sexualized one – a message that our own young people are internalizing. I will continue to pray and work for tenable solutions to economic dislocation and educational alienation– solutions that stand in stark contrast to law enforcement militarization and industrialized mass incarceration.
I am grateful for all who stand with us in this struggle. Let us pray and work together.
Dr. Charles Gilmer
President of The Impact Movement
November 25, 2014
Many people in the city of Ferguson, MO are hurting deeply today. We understand their tears and we see their pain. The pain goes deep. The misunderstandings and apprehensions in these situations even deeper. The root of race and understanding is real. As a movement that envisions seeing each community of African descent fulfilling its destiny as a reflection of the redemptive power of Jesus Christ, The Impact Movement is burdened by the current reality of Ferguson and communities nationwide.
In moments like these, we in the household of faith, must remember who God is and what is true to guide us through these turbulent waters. We are called by God to be salt and light in such very dark times. We encourage you to consider engaging in the following responses:
Take some time and pray to the Lord.
Invite him into your heart process as you internalize what Ferguson means to you, your campus, your community, your church, your workplace and beyond. If you’re angry, be honest with the Lord and tell him why. If you’re hurting and disappointed, be vulnerable and tell him why. If you don’t know what you feel, convey that to him as well. In any response you have to this situation and other moments in life that are difficult to understand, please embrace the truth that God cares about how you feel. He wants to walk with you in the journey, raw emotions and all. Be open and be honest with him so you can encourage others to do the same. The world doesn’t always feel like a safe place, but there’s safety in the only true and living God who is trustworthy and gracious with us in our weaknesses.
Be quick to listen.
As many of your peers, family and friends discuss how they feel about the grand jury decision and other themes connected to this situation, be an active listener. Let people be honest with you. Be quick to listen and prayerfully consider how God would have you to respond to what they are saying and how they are feeling. Many people in communities of African descent are angry and hurting. Anger always has a deeper root cause. Invite people to share why they are angry. And listen to them. And share how you feel too. Look for the gem opportunities God provides you to weave the gospel and hope and Jesus into these delicate conversations. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you in wisdom. He will faithfully do so.
God’s love covers all.
In such a polarizing situation like Ferguson, many people have taken sides, vehemently fighting for causes and the struggle they feel they must not let die. There’s a lot of disunity and separation and in such places we miss the point of who is truly at work and stays constant as the enemy of our souls. Satan uses opportunities like these to accomplish what he’s committed to: killing life, stealing joy and ultimately destroying the human race. Before there was a Ferguson, there was Garden. And in this Garden God made human beings, fashioned in his likeness and made in his image. When you engage in what’s happening in Ferguson in your conversations and your prayers, please remember that God’s love covers all – it covers us, our brokenness, our mistakes and so much more. Pray for this love to heal hearts and be a balm to agitated souls today and in the days and weeks to come.
Praying for peace and healing,
The Impact Movement