I can't stop thinking about my neighbor. She's an 83 year old African-American wonder who spent many hours this fall going to high schools in order to help 18 year olds register to vote. Then, on Election Day, she spent the day at local hospitals giving voting access to people who had been hospitalized within 48 hours of November 8.
I was marveling at her commitment the other day, and I decided to go back and look at a bit of history. In Divided by Faith, I read about the Reconstruction Period 1865-1877. Four millions former slaves were now "freed" but owned no land and were living without much for resources or educational experience. Many white folks were angry with the abolishment of slavery, and a new type of oppression emerged- sharecropping. Still, with that all of that being true, this was happening:
"Blacks and whites were seen going to school together, and even in politics together. As northern reporter James S. Pike reported on his visit to the South Carolina House of Representatives: 'The Speaker is black, the clerk is black, the doorkeepers are black, the little pages are black, the chairman of the Ways and Means is black, and the chaplain is coal black.' This was a shock to white southerners, and northerners too. After hundreds of years of white domination, suddenly, within just a few short years, former slaves were holding seats of power.
In addition to the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, African Americans in the South were able to capitalize on their numbers. According to the 1860 census, African Americans constituted 35 percent of Virginia's population, 36 percent of North Carolina's, 44 percent of Georgia's, 45 percent of Florida's and Alabama's, 50 percent of Louisiana's, 55 percent of Mississippi's, and 59 percent of South Carolina's. Assuming voting along racial lines, those proportions made winning elections not only possible, but likely.
All this was too threatening for most white southerners, and for many white northerners as well. They feared for their way of life, their sense of group position, and their vision of a Christian America, which, as the leading evangelical social reformer of the time, northerner Josiah Strong, clearly expressed, was to be an Anglo-Saxon society. The former slaves were not properly Christianized nor educated to be holding elected offices and running the nation. More directly, the economic and cultural threat of the African Americans was very real, and southerners responded by instituting the increasingly harsh realities of the now well-known Jim Crow laws, designed to separate blacks from whites and subjugate blacks in social and economic life."
I spent some time the other night trying to answer questions to a sample literacy test found here that was used to turn away African Americans from their right to vote during the Jim Crow era. I, of course, failed big time. And, I considered deeply how the Voting Rights Act wasn't signed until the year I was born, 1965. Crazy. Unjust. Not okay.
This to say, that I've been impacted this year in a way I had not been before regarding the privilege and right to vote and the struggle for so many in what I have previously taken for granted. I so appreciate my neighbor's commitment and what she's shown me this year through her tireless work to honor those who have struggled before her and to use her voice to help others use their voice. She makes me want to fight the good fight alongside her. Thank you, W.M.W. Your faith in Jesus, your life, and your commitment to justice work makes our community a better place.
Friday, November 25, 2016
The power of a story. I got up early this morning to watch Dakota 38 (1 hour, 18 minutes) . In my opinion, it's a must see.
*I need to look at real history.
*I need to grow understanding.
*I need to grow empathy.
*I need to learn stories of healing and reconciliation for my own heart's journey of healing and reconciliation.
*I need to feel with and pray for Native brothers and sisters whose land is still being threatened. (ie: Standing Rock, North Dakota)
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Over the past month, I have worked with a handful of individuals who are seeking to understand the mission and vision of Link and its initiatives. I am finding that people have a common story in their mind that needs to be challenged.
We white American Christians have developed a storyline that lives deep in us regarding mission and community transformation. It's a story that usually reads something like "Resourced church starts program to help poor children get out of poverty." That is not our story. Certainly, Link’s goals include working to help people overcome material poverty, but just as important is the goal for people like me to overcome spiritual and relational poverty due to my neglect of justice and the sin effects of segregation.
Link is a story of building a community together where all people and gifts are valued, where we each give and we each receive so that we might all experience more of the fullness of life that Jesus promises. I am finding that regardless of our race or class, we have all been damaged by racism and classism, and we need healing.
I think the hardest page for folks to turn in this uncommon story is the pressing need for people like me to engage with the marginalized and the poor not because of what we have to offer them, but because of what they have to offer us for our own development.
The bottom line of Link is relationship. Jesus the Reconciler offers to make us right with God and with one another. If we can begin to live in the power of Christ as neighbors and friends across lines of separation, then I believe our worldly power structures could begin to reorder so that our caring and sharing together might just produce a model that looks like reconciliation and justice….that looks like Jesus.