Friday, April 04, 2008

Where Do We Go From Here - Rebuild

Today marks the 40th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination in Memphis TN. Many will take part of this day to reflect on Dr. King’s life and legacy along with assessing where our country was then and now in terms of ethnic relations. And more than likely the usual suspects will man the posts of their ideological battlements and interpret and reinterpret Dr. King’s life in terms of where we are today and what we need to do now. Since I’m sure you can find that in various places on the web I’d like to cast a different vision. This is not a comprehensive reflection, only a snapshot of one possible future for both blacks and whites.

Imagine the year is 2048 and the country is commemorating the 80th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination. You wake up, greet your family and prepare for another day of work. Leaving home you take a short trip to the small business that you and a number of family members and friends began about ten years ago. While there you talk about the usual things until the conversation inevitably leads to Dr. King’s death and the events of 2008 that spurred black folks all over the country to take charge of their communities and reverse the decay that festered within them for decades. Your co-workers note how the 40th anniversary of Dr. King’s death coincided with the candidacy of Senator Barack Obama, which led to an unexpected change of mind and turn of events for the greater black community.

As you talk together your friends recall how not one leader but hundreds, perhaps thousands challenged and influenced African-Americans to marshal their resources, arrest the decay of our communities and commit to rebuilding them for our children and children’s children. Somehow these leaders were able to get black folks to jettison the mindset of leaving their neighborhood for a better (translate ‘white’) one and invest themselves and resources in the places they, their parents and their grandparents had lived for decades. At first many from both within and without the black community scoffed believing that this was a fools errand. But the leaders of the second Civil Rights Movement wouldn’t be deterred. They convinced black people that neither the government, the corporate sector, the world of academia or even the white evangelical church had any real intention of encouraging or investing resources into our communities. They spoke boldly and brought the truth home to us. We could either change the way we thought, do for ourselves and thrive or wait another forty years for white people to ‘do the right thing’ and slowly allow the pathologies that afflicted us to choke the life from our communities and our people.

And now communities that were on the brink of collapse 40 years ago thrive with a vibrancy of families young and old who enjoyed living in neighborhoods that feature nice well kept homes, superb schools, a variety of recreational outlets, good restaurants and trendy shops. Most of all though you live in a neighborhood that people love to call home. From your perspective and those of your co-workers the work for equality began 400 years ago by your enslaved ancestors has finally reached its fruition.

You complete the day’s work, return home and over dinner discuss with your family Dr. King’s legacy noting how many commentators spoke of how proud he would be of black people. During this time your wife mentions that her sister’s pastor recently challenged his congregation to refuse to rest on our laurels of achievement and press forward to the next frontier of the civil rights battle. She spoke of a message he preached that rebuked an attitude found on a bumper sticker and was growing in popularity among young black people. The bumper sticker read ‘Separate, Equal and Successful’. It conveyed an attitude among many younger African-Americans who were completely at home with an existence devoid of genuine relationships with people from other ethnicities. And it wasn’t confined to secular people. A recent poll conducted in a number of black churches found that while African-American believers bear no animosity toward white people in general and white evangelicals in particular they also see no urgent reason to push for integrated churches and communities.

The attitude among both black Christian and non-Christians is ’where were they forty years ago’. One pastor was quoted saying that evangelicals always seem to be forty years late and forty dollars short when it came to ethnic issues. In his message your sister-in-law’s pastor noted that while much had been gained in the last forty years an unintended consequence was the further separation of black and white people. Thinking through this you muse on how you grew up in an all black neighborhood, went to all black schools, graduated from a black university that was about 3 to 4 percent white, work at an all black business and of course attend an all black church. Your entire professional and social network consists of black people and though you have a few tangential relationship with whites they are just that, tangential.

It’s not that you have anything against white people. And though ‘racial reconciliation’ (interesting term you think) sounds good you have no idea of where to start. But even deeper than that you wonder why you should even bother.

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance

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