(This continues a series. See the earlier posts in the series for background and context.) Our lunch speaker is a Black man I code as about 40 plus or minus 10 years. He has a staff job with a college in another state and is also a Baptist minister. His style is passionate Black ministerial oratory interweaving politics and God, interweaving joking and anger and challenge, ranging broadly across a lot of issues and pulling in quotations from many writers. He says his goal is to challenge and upset people. The talk is free-flowing but planned out; there are extensive quotations from religious and political sources. I’ve tried to capture the feeling of the speech/sermon in my notes.
My goal is to make you upset and angry today. People need to stop being PC and talking about “institutional racism” as a cover and being afraid to call out individual racists. We should demand justice. But instead of demanding, we are sitting complacent and saying we are doing something, but we are not doing something. We should demand drug treatment and job training. Socially responsible businesses should offer training at their own cost, benefits to community. We should go back to Operation Breadbasket, when leaders demanded businesses to sponsor jobs. We should call out the Urban League for distancing itself from other side of the tracks. NAACP needs to study Black on Black violence. Police Departments need viable community review boards to challenge discrimination and police brutality. We need alternatives to prison for non violent offenders, there is no reason for prison for nonviolent offenders. We need a meaningful curriculum for offenders so they avoid repeating their crimes. The tough on crime era was grounded on racism, unconstitutional, denied right of due process, moved people into the federal system. We need to challenge individualism and competition, and bend our ears to hear the suffering. We much challenge the idea that people at the top have God’s grace. Everyone has God’s grace, including the down and out. We must say with Eugene Debs,
“While there is a lower class, I am in it;
While there is a criminal element, I am of it;
While there is a soul in prison, I am not free!”
Disproportionateness screams for repair, we cannot take a myopic one sided view like Cosby and Obama, we have to go to root causes, rescinding racist policies, revolutionizing values, redistributing wealth, educating the young, inculcating principles of altruism, compassion, conscientiousness, and unity. We need to believe that America will change. We cannot deny we are oppressed. There are three responses to oppression: acquiescence, violence, or direct confrontation. We need to do direct confrontation. We need a mass movement for equity and justice, we need militance. We must be relentless, turn a world upside down that would be right side up for God. God give us leaders. A time like this requires leaders who have honor, who will not lie, who will stand against a demagogue. We need leaders who emerge from an environment of faith and courage, virtue, conscience. Not cowardice, is it safe. Not expedience, not vanity. Conscience asks the question “is it right?” We must take a position because it is right. Our thinking makes our future, our actions pave the way; We build a new tomorrow on plans we make today. Let’s start causing trouble. To forge a society in which justice rolls like water. To make our people full participants in all aspects of society. This is the only way to get some sleep. Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and organize. Get something done each day. Build a new legacy. He ends with: If you can’t be a pine on the top of the hill, Be a shrub in the valley—but be The best little shrub at the side of the hill; Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. . . . Be the best of whatever you are.“
Well, I like this sermon/speech a lot. I have heard Black sermons and oratory before, and it is a style I appreciate. My own political/religious views align with the speaker’s, and I like the interweaving of issues and inspiration, the emotional tenor and passion of the talk, the call to action. I reflect, as I have before, that inspirational oratory wasn’t such a lost art in my ethnic group.
There are initially not a lot of questions, so I ask one. I say I liked the talk a lot, but I question his use of apathy or laziness to describe the loss of movement. I say that it is important to remember that people can fight hard but lose, and that trying hard and losing is what makes people lose heart and become despairing. Some others in the audience nod in agreement with me. He concedes my point, but won’t concede to despair. He responds with another mini-sermon. It is important to keep moving, we have to be socialist and share. He says he is criticized by his employer for being involved in the community, but says you have to do it, you have to be involved. You must have confrontation, you have to be in their face, all the time.
Then he tells a story about a young man who was tased unfairly, despite repeatedly offering to cooperate with the police who stopped him. The kid’s actions and statements were recorded on the squad car video, but then the police shoved him out of the range of the camera and started tasing him off camera after they had handcuffed him, shouting “stop resisting” periodically for the benefit of the camera. Then they take the kid to jail and hold him. He talks about being downtown and confronting and confronting the people until they got the kid out. He says you have to be in their face and cry out injustice. You gotta do it, you are not going to win all the time, you have to do it even if it hurts. He says he gets in trouble with his employer because he helps people in the jail who are being beat up. But, he says, “You just have to do it. You are a member of the community, you have to help out if you can.”
From the audience, another speaker, a Black man from Farmtown, says we need another mass movement, it is time for the student movement to start a new civil rights movement. There is an exchange about dealing with Whites and about making change. Then a young man, a student, says he is half black and half white but identifies as white, and talks about how hard it has been, he does not know why he has succeeded; he complains about people looking shocked when he gets an A because he is black, he says “It is just a grade.”
The goal is to inspire us to action, to be willing to be confrontational, to re-create a mass movement. I am both inspired and very aware of all the structural reasons why it is so hard to get a mass movement going now. These are very hard times.
Next: group reports and wrap up