Do not think we are finished.
Oh no, we will never be finished, never just done
until the light of justice is lit behind every eye.
I was thinking of those words from my colleague the Rev. Audrey Fulbright this past week as I read coverage in the Asheville Citizen-Times of the assault of Johnnie Jermaine Rush last August by a City of Asheville police officer. Even though the city reported Rush’s injuries as resulting of an arrest, videotape from the officer’s body camera make clear that it was nothing less than an assault of a black man by a white officer.
That’s not an especially new story. In fact, it’s a very old story arising from the legacy of white supremacy in this country, this city that is visited upon people with black or brown bodies. Day by day more details emerge about that encounter – what Mr. Rush is said to have done, what various officers are said to have done, how the chief, district attorney, and various city officials responded. The details matter, in the sense that they help people investigating this incident figure out how to respond. But in important ways, the details don’t really matter. They are just variations on a theme: how the pervasive poison of racism continues to tear at the fabric of civil society.
And each time we see it we are forced to confront again the racism that resides in our own hearts, in the interstices of our daily lives, in the institutions we take part in, our workplaces, our neighborhoods, and, yes, our churches, too. As people of faith who affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person, we disavow any way of thinking or feeling that diminishes any person or people. And yet, as people living in a deeply racist country it’s hard to avoid having it color our perspective. That means that if we are to be true to our values we need to be vigilant about examining our own thinking and about organizing our lives in such a way that contradicts what racism teaches.
A couple of years ago we as a congregation affirmed where we stand on this by adopting a resolution declaring “Black Lives Matter” and committing ourselves to “educating ourselves about and deepening our understanding of white privilege and oppressive systems” and to partner with local organizations “to harness the power of love to combat racism and oppression at all levels within our communities.”
We have made some headway in these goals. Members of our congregation have become active in groups advancing this work – including NAACP, ASURJ, Building Bridges and trainings by the Racial Equity Institute. But attending a meeting or training is only the start. The harder part comes with putting ourselves in places where we can take part in the concrete work of dismantling racism.
Some of us joined in the Hillcrest Motheread Program, where they meet weekly with women in Hillcrest Apartments to talk over stressors in their lives and offer support. Others are taking part in tutoring in public schools. If that sounds interesting, you might look into a new program called the Marvelous Math Club.
At a recent Wednesday Thing, we heard about a program with the Asheville Housing Authority inviting people to own rental property to make apartments available for Section 8 housing. Here’s a link about that.
And that’s just a start. Others are at work elsewhere, and there’s more to do. Where will you find your work? Because, friends, we’re not finished!
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister