Sunday, May 24, 2015

Learning from the Students: Activism Past and Present

Black students sitting at the counter at Woolworths in GreensboroThis post originally appeared on the blog of UMC Collegiate Ministry:

There is a great tradition of student- and youth-led activism in the United States. But we are often tempted to romanticize bygone eras, thinking today's efforts are lackluster in comparison. But there are striking parallels between today's student racial justice movements and those of our history--including in how they are perceived by the dominant culture of their day.

On February 1, 1960, having stayed up late in their dorms discussing recent personal racial indignities they had faced, four college freshmen decided to stage a lunch counter sit-in in Greensboro, NC. That evening, they returned to campus and recruited even more students to join them at the Woolworth's five-and-dime the next day. The movement grew daily with students from the many surrounding universities taking part. By the 4th day, more than 300 people had joined in, and the tactic had caught on across the country.

Comparing images from the 1960s and today
Click to enlarge
Shortly thereafter, inspired by the efforts in Greensboro, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was founded (though to that point many independent actions had been staged without the need for a formal organization). The student movement was careful to maintain its independence from the established leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), They partnered on many events, but they were their own organization. SNCC, and other student groups like it across the country, placed a high value on consensus building and participatory democracy, avoiding centralized leadership and 'top down' control.

When the Freedom Rides began, they were initially sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality, but when the buses were violently attacked in Alabama, the action was put on hold . It was the students that resolved to finish the ride, at great risk to themselves, allowing the movement to grow.

Time and again over the years of their work, the youth were told that their methods were foolish, that they were being too radical, that they should be more patient and work within the system. They were often told to tone down their language and to speak and act calmly. Instead, they continued to disrupt daily life for every-day citizens across the country. They tormented local businesses, costing them significant revenue. They broke laws, they disrespected authority.

Students gathering at a planning meeting in the 1960sTo show the outrageous use of force that the established power was willing to inflict, these youth risked prison, police violence, and death. They leveraged new media technology so that the nation could see these actions play out in living color on their own television sets.

Of note, even though SNCC eventually came to see him as the 'old establishment' of the movement, Dr. King himself was only 26 when he led the Montgomery bus boycott, having only just finished graduate school earlier that same year. What if the Church had decided he was too young to lead? What if they had dismissed him and asked him come back when he had more experience?

Dr. King wasn't even 30 years old when he helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Indeed, he was 27 when his house was bombed by the KKK. Malcolm X was 28 when he was appointed to Mosque No. 7 in New York. The same Civil Right movement that we sometimes remember as mature or stoic, was in reality young, passionate, and vibrate. Much like our youth movements today.

Crowd of students with hands up. Sign: "I am a human. Don't shoot"
Today, we have groups like the Ohio Students Association, which has led the protests for John Crawford (as well as for police reform across their state).  We have Ferguson Action, which leverages the emerging media of today's world to spread the growing protest movement.

Instead of sit-ins, they're hosting die-ins. Instead of buttons, they're using hashtags. And like those four freshmen in Greensboro, their actions are not the result of years of training, but rather spring out of felt need in the moment. Like their predecessors, they too are also being told they are too radical, too disruptive. They too are being told to step down and go quietly.

Like SNCC and others, our young activists today also express a wariness of the establishment and of the old methods of protest that may have run their course. Their fresh perspective is helping innovate and to creatively construct next steps for us to take as a nation.

Medical students in white coats lying on the floor in a 'die in'And like those that came before them, today's students are making tremendous personal sacrifices for the sake of the movement. We must remember to listen closely to what they have to say. After all, the very Lord and Savior who died for our sins, was barely 30 when he did so. Was He too young to lead??

We must trust the observations of our young movement leaders and learn from their lived experiences. Otherwise, we might never even realize we've let the movement pass us by.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Don't Habituate.

Faces of the many people of color who have been killed by policeDon't habituate.


Don't get used to it.


Don't become accustomed to the next hashtag, the next memorial, the next video.

#MeaganHockaday, #MyaHall,

It's just too much. It's easy to become immune. It's easy to want to ignore the pain.


But don't ignore it. Don't habituate.

The scale of our crisis is even more daunting when we remember that deaths at the hands of the authorities have continued for years, decades, centuries. This is not a new phenomenon, just one that only recently was so easy captured and disseminated. How many have been forgotten? How many hundreds have gone unnoticed, unprotected, un memorialized?

We have seen videos and have believed, but "blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe."

Rodney King and Eric Garner
Video isn't always enough
And in reality, these recording might not even make that much difference. Too many times we've seen injustice served up fresh in the face of damning video evidence. As long as there are systems are in place to maintain the status quo, no amount of "proof" will sway the tide.

Indeed, as the flood of evidence accumulates, we are at risk of habituating to them, losing them in the swirl of a fast-paced world. We will continue to uncover more videos, more testimonies. But they will do no good it they don't propel us to greater systemic change.

And how many will it take? How many before we will connect the dots? How many until we expand our view from looking at a single drop of water, to stepping back to see the entire ocean of institutionalized injustice that is before us?

And even should the mountain of evidence grow to compel an arrest, a trial, a sentencing, it is a small comfort until we can affect the sort of change that will prevent these deaths from ever happening in the first place. Because an indictment still leaves an empty seat at the dinner table, and a conviction won't bring loved ones back.
Black man holding sign: "How many more????"

As we've experienced this flood of testimonies, we quickly become numb. We've tried to tune it out, to move on. And we've habituated. We've habituated to death.

But we can't afford to do that. We cannot afford to turn our backs. As the Body of Christ, we cannot afford to lose one more limb, one more essential member.


Don't let these names become meaningless. Instead, bear witness to the toll it takes on your soul.
Yes, it's overwhelming. Yes, it exhausting. Yes, it becomes too much to bear.

That's the point. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Friday Fruit (05/15/15)

Two men with large sign: "Do not kill in my name. Abolish the death penalty"
Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images via Colorlines
On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, and for me to give props to the many voices leading the way...

Weekly Round Up:

These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Born into a Family of Fighters

Papi grew up in the streets of Chalatenango, El Salvador;
photo cred: Papi, April 2015
Please welcome back guest writer Drea Chicas, learner, artist, youth educator and community activist now working in full time urban ministry in Seattle, WA.

I was born into a family of fighters. Papi and his family were raised fighting injustice during the Salvadoran civil war. My brother learned to confront adversity with rage both in the street and at home. My sister used her voice and fists to protect herself. I actively threw left hooks of silence and Mami fought on her knees. Still, we descended from lineages of revolutionary warriors.

So when the youth of Baltimore rise and fight back with slogans of justice and closed fits, it makes sense to me. My spirit remembers my two uncles and aunty who fought to shift the locus of power in their land. The oligarchy known as "The Fourteen families,” owned the majority of El Salvador and brutally oppressed the field-workers. By the 1980s, these inequities inspired revolt across the land, led mainly by youth. Among them was Tia V, who armed herself and organized her pueblo. My two uncles, Jesus Chicas Cartagena and Norberto Chicas Cartagena, followed suit, and joined the uprising as guerilla soldiers. By the time the war "ended" in the early 1990s, the Salvadoran government had murdered and memorialized my uncles. And Tia V reluctantly fled as one of the few surviving luchadoras from her village.

Strapped with this legacy, my father and two of his sisters immigrated to the US carrying invisible knapsacks; heavy with stories of their traumatic yet heroic past. But trauma always has its aftermath; and growing up in the crossfire, with two murdered brothers, weighed Papi down. While survivors of violence need an outlet to heal and process the past, there was no healthy escape for my father. So the home became ground zero. As children, we learned from Papi to stand up to the weapons that came for us. I was born and bred to fight.

"Prayer in action is love, love in action is service. Mother Teresa"When cities like Baltimore rise up, my rebellious spirit activates. Under this climate, the urge to fight and defend resonates with me. I too want to grab my armor of rage and join others in this growing revolution; to fight alongside the masses, who are sick and tired of the inhumane racist practices that aim to destroy us.

Yet, before I walk out the door, girded and ready, I remember to use another weapon, prayer. I remember, Mami fought too. On bended-knee, Mami showed that prayer and meditation were powerful weapons that yielded results.

Others used influence, superiority and charged power, to face oppressive forces. But God’s strategies are different: 'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty.” (Zechariah 4:6) To a fighter, every weapon counts, especially if it's effective.

While Baltimore makes sense to me, I ask the Great Spirit to shift something in me--to assuage the rage I feel for this beloved country. Because this rage can equally destroy me. With the hope of becoming a strategic fighter, I read more scripture: “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” (2 Cor. 10:4) Armed with these sacred reminders, I am left with no other option but to continue fighting.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Friday Fruit (05/08/15)

Black woman with sign "Jesus was a victim of police brutality too..."
Photo: InterVarsity MEM
On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, and for me to give props to the many voices leading the way...

Weekly Round Up:

These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged.
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By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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