Friday, December 30, 2016

Nia: Everyone Must LIVE Their Purpose

Habari Gani! Alanna Naledi has been running me around with her tired hyper activity since arriving at my father's house in Ann Arbor. That's how she is after 10 hours in the car, just wanting to run around in circles, because she slept most of the ride. But it means that it isn't until after she crashes and I am on the verge myself that I can write this.

I've been thinking all day about today's principle though, the principle of Nia, our purpose. I think of priest Malidoma Some of the Dagar tribe in Burkina Faso in Western Africa. He teaches that everyone comes into the world with a purpose, and that the elders ask that purpose while the child is still in the womb, so that they can prepare the path for that purpose. Malidoma also says that all evil action comes out of the forgetting of one's purpose. Furthermore, when this evil action occurs, it is considered the responsibility of the community to right the wrong by bringing individuals back to their true and original purposes. It is for this reason that we must always remember and live out our purposes and help others so that we can re-member the lost. May it be so. Ashe.

KUUMBA: Make Something Unforgettable

Habari Gani! I spent my last night in South Jersey/Philly listening to a hip hop journey with my brother, an emcee named Mai Sankofa, while my daughter Alanna Naledi played different percussion instruments on the floor and my mother and Alanna's mother took a Kundalini class with my Aunt Mimi down the street. We were going through what he thought I should know and take home with me when we stopped on one of this top 5, an artist named Oddisee. I was asking him if he was going to get a big record contract sometime when he said, "Nah, he doesn't want one, he says he's good. He got a family and he making money and he doesn't want to get bigger." I couldn't really say anything to that. I am perpetually a hater of radio rap unless it's a great mind like Kendrick or Nas or something. But still, I had no words for this. My subconscious did though.

I was laying in my bed, having a good time watching my dreams, until around 4 AM I had one filled with hip hop and samurais and ninjas. One side was the samurai and one side the ninja, I can't really tell you who was who, but my samurai mind says that probably the true heads were represented by the samurai, because they at least had some honor, even though they stole and pillaged like the good militaristic class they represented, but ninjas, ninjas were said to have no code. My ninja mind says that the distinctions were built upon class, the samurai being a "noble" class while the ninja being of lower class, as such, the code was built upon privilige and exploitation and the ninjas did whatever they had to to survive, which sounds exactly like hip hop to me. In the end, this is why I don't get down with one side vs the other side, because all paths lead to God OR the devil. At any rate, I was find watching my mind's movie until one of the characters said, "They want to make the movement forgettable." What was that supposed to mean? I didn't know, but trying to figure it out just took me completely out of the dream until this point right now, where as you can see, I'm sitting in the bathroom at 4:12 AM trying to write down my thoughts because I'm afraid I might lose them.

They want to make the Movement Forgettable. Oddisee doesn't though, Oddisee knows what will happen. They want to make The Movement forgettable. How do they do that? They take away our creativity. I knew before I even started this meditation on the Kwanzaa Principles that this was going to be the one where I talked about the empire and how it has struck back by "electing" a mad man and how we can't use the master's tools of division no more, but how we need to bring out the heavy artillery of unification and underground collaboration like never before. And then this dream, They want to make the Movement Forgettable. That's what has been done over and over again, that's what's being done right now. From the Black Power Movement to the Flint Water Crisis to Standing Rock, from the Dakota Pipeline to the School to Prison Pipeline, they want to make the Movement Forgettable.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Ujima: True Solidarity

Habari Gani! No sleeping in with Alanna Naledi today, she was ready! Apparently spending the morning at the Please Touch Museum in Philly, celebrating Kwanzaa with a performance by the Universal African Dance and Drum Ensemble and then walking around West Philly's Drexel campus for several hours with Aunt Mignon didn't tire her out like it did Mama and Papa. Now I'm left with an achy back and she wants to bang baby food jars together. That's how it goes huh?

Today is the Kwanzaa Principle Ujima, Collective Work and Responsibility. This concept is best reflected in the phrase, "It takes a village to raise a child." This phrase has increased in popularity throughout the years but its observance is actually lacking. I mean, when's the last time you saw a village actually raising a child? Even orphans in this country mostly become wards of the state and live their lives in residential facilities run by state employees.

When I was in high school, I was a part of a group of Christians who thought our only responsibility was to save souls from hell. We didn't care about feeding people's bellies or making sure they had adequate housing and wages. We only cared about the soul. Then, when I graduated, I discovered that Christians didn't have a lock on doing good in the world. I realized that Muslims, Buddhists and Atheists were responsible for much of the justice movements in the world and the Christians were responsible for much of the degradation. And so I sought not just to be a good Christian but to actually change that which was unjust in my community and in this global society.

I also realized that if I was going to change this world I had to take responsibility for the harm that has been committed. I learned of the femicide in Juarez, Mexico and realized that sexism had created hostile and violent environments for women and who were the main perpetrators? Men. So if femicide and misogyny were going to end, who would have to be the one to end it? Men. That I saw as my responsibility. I could no longer just sit back and watch as women marched to end misogyny and sexism, I had to be in solidarity.

Right now in the Black Lives Matter movement where I live, there is a lot of emphasis placed on Letters of Solidarity from business for Black Lives Matter Movement and its intersectionalities. But true solidarity is more than a letter, it means standing with pain and oppression so that it becomes your pain and oppression. It means that if my sister or brother is being oppressed then I have to stand next to them because their oppression becomes linked to my own.

My Sister, Angela Davis, reminds us of how oppressions are linked in her new book, Freedom Is A Constant Struggle. She reminds us that we have to see the local and the global linked, and so I end today's reflection with a quote from her book. She writes, "The militarization of the police leads us to think about Israel and the militarization of the police there--if only the images of the police and not the demonstrators had been shown, one might have assumed that Ferguson was Gaza." This is what we have to fight against, a universal threat of violence calls for a universal village of Freedom Fighters. May it be so. Ashe.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Kujichagulia: I Define Myself!

Habari Gani! The rain is falling in South Jersey as I write on my phone next to my sleeping family. I'm cared to look at the kitchen at the carcasses of the dishes we devoured on our first night of Kwanzaa, but excited to walk through the echoes of songs, poems and stories shared, kisses, hugs and praises. I'm reflecting on the second principle of Kwanzaa on this second day, Kujichagulia, which means self-determination. 

I've heard it said that people will become what we define them as. If someone is defined as a kind and smart person by others than that is what they will become, if someone is defined as a monster then that is what they will become. Well, in my life I've been defined in many ways. What most comes to mind of course is the negative. When I was younger, a lot of my Black peers didn't like how I talked or acted. They would say I was an Oreo, Black on the outside but white in the middle. While it hurt, it mostly was confusing, because even if I didn't talk like them, I still effected by the acts of racism which was New Jersey in the '90's. I still looked for truth in hip hop. I still locked up my hair and I was still Black.

Interestingly, recently I was told that someone had called me an Uncle Tom, all because I don't yell on FaceBook at business owners in the town I live in who haven't written a letter of solidarity to the local chapter of Black Lives Matter. First off, anyone who knows me knows that yelling at people is not really in my spirit. The hearing of this news hit me in a strange way, the 5 year old Tai Amri was probably still hurt by the news, but 36 year old Tai Amri's basic self was mad and wanting to fight. Like, say that to my face and watch what happens, I'll show you Uncle Tom. 36 year old Tai Amri's Highest Self however thought, "Who cares, just keep being your Highest Self."

Now maybe if I didn't have the Highest Self voice, I would revert to my basic self and to find the person show them how loud I can yell. Or if I didn't have the basic knowledge of self I could take those words as my definition, say to myself that I don't belong in the Black world, it won't accept me and I should stop trying. And then I wouldn't be calling people together to meditate on the principles of Kwanzaa, I wouldn't be helping to build African altars, calling to remember Black ancestors, reciting poems of love to the Black Lives that I love around the country, reminding people on who's backs we stand on and to helping people to understand the African deities of the Yoruba people and the teachings of African priest Malidoma Somé. But no see, I know who I am and I know I get to define myself, and I am a Black freedom fighter and my ONLY weapon is love.

And when people try and tell me that the Black Lives Matter Movement is a misguided movement, filled with negativity and misguided anger, I will tell them no, I AM Black Lives Matter, and I am filled with the love and pain of my ancestors. We are the Actors and Co-Creators of our reality, nothing comes into being without us. Don't let anyone else decide what you are, throughout every fiber of my bones my ancestors tell and remind me of my Ashe, which is, my Power To Be. Ashe.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Umoja: The (R)Evolution is Unity

Habari Gani! (What's the News in Swahili, the greeting during Kwanzaa) Christmas Day in Willingboro, South Jersey-right outside of Philadelphia-was spent recovering from the road trip from Lawrence, Kansas and gearing up for the first day of Kwanzaa, the Principle Umoja. No gifts, no tree, barely any Christmas songs, we didn't even cook, just ordered some bomb Indian food. No, today is the day. We got soul and blues music blasting in the kitchen while the collards simmer and the sweet potato pie cools in the back room. Mama is making her African dishes, peanut stew and the like, the Kinara is waiting to be lit, libations are waiting to be poured, and in about 45 minutes, friends and family arrive with their non-tangible, non-capitalistic gifts to be shared. What I'm trying to say is, this is the most Black Lit season I've ever had.

Don't get me wrong, I love Jesus, but this year called for something a little more (r)evolutionary. I got my 10 month old daughter, Alanna Naledi, strapped to my chest while she gets some rest so she can beat whatever cold she's trying not to catch and not be so cranky for all the folk she gets to meet for the first time, and I want her to know that Christmas can be white and Kwanzaa can be Black, it's all good.

The year 2016 needs Kwanzaa, because the year 2016 has been #woke but it's also been #problematic on all sides of the fence. Umoja, the first principle of Unity out of the 7 Principles and days of of Kwanzaa, has been one of the most lacking of principles in the world. True, some Black folk have come together, some white folk have joined the fight who weren't a part of it before, but in other ways there has been more division in 2016 than ever before. So this year, I wanted to write on the principles of Kwanzaa as a meditation, a dedication, to what's real. Let me tell a little story about Unity:

In the Black community there has always been a struggle for unity, since we got to this land we've had to deal with the different languages and different ways of doing things. During the Civil Rights Movement, this struggle continued. Our ancestors, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bayard Rustin, had to deal with their own struggle to be unified. Dr. King was a fiery, gun-toting, southern preacher when he met Rustin, a communist sympathizing, gay, Quaker pacifist. Because of Rustin's knowledge of Gandhian nonviolent activism, King needed him. But because they were so effective together, the counterrevolution sought to tear them apart. They told King that if he continued to work with Rustin they would start a commie/gay rumor. In fear of the movement, King was forced to deny Rustin and Bayard was forced to the sidelines. That was, until March on Washington needed someone with Rustin's skill. When it was time to march, Rustin stood up and so did King. Now, King could have given into his homophobia and said there was no way that he could work with Rustin's brand of radicalism and intersectionality, and Rustin could have said that King wasn't intersectional enough for him, that in order for him to work with King, King would have to acknowledge his ignorance publicly. But they realized that not only what they were fighting was bigger than their own individualism, but also that they needed each other. So they unified.

Let's move forward to the inception of the Black Panther party. Many of us know that the counterrevolution helped to bring them down with a mixture of drugs, infiltration and violence. But the lies may have been the most insidious weapon against them. Once people start to see their brothers and sisters as potential enemies, the battle is all but lost. Of course there are always going to be informants in the movement, but it is actually the fear of informants that causes so much disunity within the movement.

Let's move ahead one more place to the Occupy Movement. In Oakland's Occupy Movement I saw it with my own eyes, the fear that someone was a police officer made it impossible to trust and impossible to work together. But the truth of the matter is this, informants can be turned, it happens all the time. Letting go of fear and hatred and moving in unity and love is the greatest weapon against infiltrators, because in unity and love and acceptance, infiltrators realize that they are on the wrong side of the movement.

I look today at our own movements, the Black Lives Matter Movement, the No DAPL/Mni Wiconi Movements, and I see how important Unity is. We can spend our time infighting, outfighting, labelling some enemies and some comrades, but it is disunity that will bring down the struggle for freedom.

This is why, on this day, I choose to never allow anyone to sow and water seeds of discord between me and others. I will not accept claims of who I should and shouldn't work with and will not align myself with counterrevolutionary divisiveness. I will work on creating a culture of calling people into Unity rather than calling them out of disunity, and invite all to stand on this principle Blackness with me. May it be so. Ashe.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

thanks-taking/Mni Wiconi v the black snake

to the Water Protectors,
 in the Wombs of Olokun,
genocidal cries
rise against the chains on their remains
Tatanka-Iyotanka rides
  his buffalo rumble in the distance
waiting for their day of vengeance
60 million
they killed 60 million buffalo
just 40 million less than MAAFA
black blood
in the bottom of the sea
mni wiconi
speak Water Protectors
against the snake’s water canon
  La Madre
cradles the suffering
but for those who cause suffering
she holds death in her hands
slow-flow-through-umbilical kind
  need I remind
if all are one
  then we pump out our own ancestors
 to burn under the sun
to get our lattes
a little faster
Water Protect-us
from our self-
  guzzling ways
Mni Wiconi
  never be thirsty

to the Fire Protectors
stomach churns of Pele
 don’t die of hypothermia
burned into the pavement
    of your mounds
in shopping malls
eyes of blue flame
when you call out the name
of the lost tribes
and they came
shrouded in animal skins
signing like Koko
let the truth in
puke the lies out
study their features
in the bucket before you
then scroll their deeds
so our prophecies can be freed

to the Nature Protectors
my Kali says
 the holy dark is moving too
and we were not ready
     may the athame/cuchilla be quick
an opening
Nana Buruku
to our true egg
a rebirth with streams in hand
mountain in mind
trees in hair
hurricanes in eyes
this ending will be a beginning
      morsels of our oppression
  ground to breath
most fouled in smog factories
most cancered epigenetically
filtered lead-filled springs
will burn from the faucet
all that destroys us
 is transmutated in our intentions
    and you are again
        the naked
        the sacred
    communing decolonized
with Divine

to the Mineral Protectors
Medusa’s might through blight and retribution
barbarians wanting trophies of the impossible
woman power
the stone people always win
      only we know at who's expense
 Griots tell tales
cellular memory
  post traumatic empire syndrome
severed roots
smothered branches
gmo’d histories
 to organic mysteries
to rites of passage destinies
     to Red Tent cities
matriarchal blood warriors
 5 gendered god-talkers
15 year old prophets
primordial grandmother ruler
to re-member again

And to the Earth Protectors
  Shekhinah fill your lungs
to walk the Guadalupana
from East Oakland
to the deserts of stolen Mexico
to embrace
two little girls
in a minute men dungeon
to silence their claims
on 7 generations of treaties
in blood bonds
the washed sack of Yemoja
the cradle her arms
where any warrior
would be proud to die and rise
rise and die
and sit
beneath Quan Yin
to learn of love
until the world ends

- Dark Prophet

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

To The Youth A Day After The Election: Another World Is Possible

Dear Youth,

On this day after the election, many are asking themselves how this could have happened. Regardless of who anyone close to you voted for, and regardless of how you yourself might vote, in a democratic country, the questions still remain: How could so few be allowed to vote? Why do so few who are eligible vote? How can we call ourselves a country when there seems to be so much hatred between those with differing ideologies? Do we care at all for people who are not like us? These questions can be maddening, but I beg you, don’t give up hope. I promise you that just the thought of you gives so many of us so much hope. Especially me. And also, please don’t fall into the temptation to hate those who may hate you. These times we are living in are reminding me, oddly enough, of the Empire Strikes Back. Luke, reacting to the violence of the world tries to combat it with more violence and ends up getting his hand cut off. It’s only after he goes and studies the intricacies of justice that he is able to confront Darth Vader and the Emperor in triumph. If I were to pick a Grandmaster Jedi of our world, it would be Dr. Howard Thurman, the “pastor” of Martin Luther King. Dr. Thurman wrote of hate, “The logic of the development of hatred is death to the spirit and disintegration of ethical and moral value.” While hatred is a natural emotion, acting from it and allowing it to take root will never accomplish the goals we want them to.

I call you StillSpeaking Youth to combat what I have seen older generations do to younger generations throughout my lifetime and into history. Each generation seems to think that their generation was the one that knew how best to fight. I’m afraid that the older I get the more I might start saying to younger folkx, “At least MY generation had the Occupy Movement.” or “At least my generation was involved in the Black Lives Matter Movement.” But the truth of the matter is that every generation gets their chance to shine and be a part of creating what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called, The Beloved Community.

We hear a lot about Dr. King’s Dream, but what we hear are the little specifics, white children and Black children holding hands and blah, blah, blah. We often miss the big picture. The big picture was that Dr. King believed, as I do, that there is a world possible right here that is far different than the world we live in today. In that world: there is no hatred over religious and political differences; everyone is loved and cherished for who they are, no matter the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, their gender expression; and people aren’t treated differently because of how much money they make or what job they work. That Dream is possible, but only when we all put our hands into making this Beloved Community come true.

I love each and every one of you so much, even when you get on my nerves I want to protect you from every harmful oppression. But the best way I know how to do that, is to try and help you be survivors in a world of hate. I always want to show you the survival tools I learned, and also the tools I’ve learned to help create a Beloved Community. Because I know, that just as I will someday be among the eldest generation of this world and that I hope to eventually be an ancestor that you call upon in your struggles, you will someday have to step up to the responsibilities of creating the Beloved Community in your own world just as me and my generation have. You don’t have to do it like us, in fact I really hope you don’t, we’ve made a lot of mistakes, but I want you to be those Love Warriors, I need you to be those Love Warriors, and I vow to be the Elder that you need. Just keep holding on and know this, the ancestors, including Dr. Thurman and Dr. King, are ALWAYS there when you call.

You know I love you,

Tai Amri (Baby Pastor and Jedi Master) Spann-Wilson

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Living Authentically: A Sermon by an LGBT Youth

by Tai Amri Spann-Wilson (aka Baby Pastor)

I hope you came to church today to be inspired by the messages and experiences of our StillSpeaking Youth Group from their trip to Florida for the National Youth Event that this church and denomination helped make possible. I want to say a few words about why what they do is so important.

When Alanna Naledi was born, Pastor Caela felt so excited to first meet her. I thought that she just wanted to see a cute baby, but as she held her in her arms, she looked into her eyes and said, "I know you are being born into a crazy world, so maybe you came into this world to help fix it." I believe that it is the hope for every young person in our midst from every adult that they will be agents of change. And young people, on behalf of all of us adults, I'm sorry. This is not the world we hoped for you. A world where presidential elections look more like reality television. A world where, for more fossil fuels, governments spend trillions of dollars and are willing to risk earthquakes and climate change. A world where states are willing to lose millions of dollars just to decide who gets to use what bathroom. A world where Black people still have to create mass movements to prove that their lives matter. I also don't believe that this is the world that G-d wants for us.

I know that in today's world it is hard to believe in G-d. How could there be a G-d when there is so much suffering, so much injustice, a world where there is teething? (Well at least that's what I stay up late at night wondering about.) And then I look out into the eyes of young people, and then those young people open their mouths and speak words I never imagined, and I say, "Oh, that's how." You see, I don't really believe in a dude up in the sky looking down on us. I don't believe G-d has any body, but ours, I don't believe G-d has any voice, but ours, I don't believe G-d has any hands, but ours. So when people say why does G-d allow evil, I say, because we do. When people say, when will G-d come and create a world of justice? I say, when we do. That is why, young people, when I look at you, I see G-d, in G-d's strongest, most creative, most energetic form. That is why, when you speak, I hear hope. Speak to us now, we need your hope.

Memories of a Lifetime
By Dean Kinderknecht

LGBT youth and their allies are confronted almost daily with messages of hate and misunderstanding. We are marked with a scarlet letter, called terrible names, given dirty looks, and preached at with messages of hatred. In sending us to the National Youth Conference, you as a congregation gave us a chance to feel normal.
One of the classes that I personally gained the most from was a course called “How Not to Use the Bible as a Weapon”. We were taught how through the power of interpretation the same passages that are used often to hurt the LGBT community can be deduced to take on completely different meanings & just how wrong it is to use the Bible as a way to hurt others. I felt so uplifted by the messages of love and acceptance. I felt proud of who I am, and empowered to go after what I have always wanted. Leaving our session that day I had the courage to change my life. As was said in today’s first reading:

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;

Although I have been living authentically to most everyone in my life for the past couple of years, I have long avoided coming out to my biological dad. I wasn’t sure when, or if, I would ever have the strength to do so. His love for me & my sister has always been complicated, at best; my father is conservative and not the easiest person to talk to. I have been plagued with nightmares of how he would take the news for so long, and it has never been a happy thought. My father has always been very vocal in his hatred of those who don’t share his belief system and for the LGBT community & I knew this was going to be a make-it-or-break-it discussion.
Sailing into this moment on my waves of borrowed courage I texted him. “Hi, it’s Emily. I have to tell you that I go by the name Dean, not because of some nickname, but because I identify as male and I am pansexual, which means if I was in a relationship I would like them for their personality not gender. And I was born this way and it cannot be changed. That’s all I wanted to say and I hope that you will accept me and love even though I know you disagree with me. Thank you and bye”.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;

Then, terrified of what his reaction might be I turned off my phone before he could respond, and took a deep breath. I was shaking from the anticipation but my Still Speaking friends came to my aid. I didn’t know how the day would end, but I felt much better knowing that they were there for me. I went on with my day as scheduled.
Finally, at break I checked my messages. He said he already knew and he loved me anyway. I didn’t know how to feel. I was relieved it was done; I wanted to believe his support was there, but it felt strangely empty. I called my mom and talked it out, wrapped myself in the energy of my friends and sighed. I knew that my life was changed & I was finally free.
This event was life changing in so many ways for so many kids. I know I was just one of many and I thank you all for this opportunity to do so.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;

He truly was and he still is.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Compassionate Bigotry

by Tai Amri Spann-Wilson and Caleb Stephens

“People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state on innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.” - James Baldwin

"I know you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life isn't worth living." - Harvey Milk

Tai Amri: Those who have heard me preach before know that I like to start my sermons with a song, usually The Prayer by Sweet Honey In The Rock. But this morning I need to start with a different song about staying woke. Often times, Brother Caleb and I have the misfortune of being the ones who have to wake people up, people seem so happy and blissful in their sleep and so angry to be woken up. We don’t even have to speak to wake people up, sometimes just being Black causes people to jump out of their seats. But the truth is, waking up is not as painful as we think it is, it actually is possible to wake into a world far better than the one we dream. So I invite you all to sing this song with me if you know it.

(Sings, “Woke Up This Morning With My Mind on Freedom”)

Peace be with you,

That’s how we would start every service in my church in Oakland during the period of my life when I got woke. You might hear that saying a lot, stay woke. What that means to me is that this was the period in my life not when I realized that there was injustice, aimed at me, in the world, I knew that as soon as I knew I was Black, no this was the period in my life where I realized that in order to stop injustice I had to fight. That’s why we have to remind one another to stay woke, because just cause you read the newspaper and know what’s happening in the world, it doesn’t mean you realize that you have to get up and do something. Reading is reading, getting up and doing something, that’s woke. And living in Oakland, it didn’t take much to see in what direction the guns were pointed, mostly in the direction of poor Black and Brown children, so we said peace be with you to one another, as a prayer, as a hope. Lord knows there ain’t no peace without justice, and so I ask you to repeat this hope to me, peace be with you.

I’m going to apologize ahead of time because this sermon is going to be far longer than it’s supposed to be. It won’t be quite as long as the 40,000 word Black Lives Matter policy that was recently released and that everyone needs to read, but it will be long enough. I tried to cut out unnecessary parts, but please bear with us, we have a lot of work to do. Like that policy we have attempted to identify both the problems and their solutions. So let’s get started.

I’m an educator, and I need to come at you like a teacher for a moment and do some educating. I have come to understand that as a Black man, one of the reasons that the Black community has been able to survive through 400 years of the most horrific treatment in written history, is because of the word. I’m not talking about the Bible when I say the word, I’m talking about something that Black folks have referred to as Ashe. Ashe is the African concept that everything, seen and unseen, spoken and heard, has power. I am because of Ashe, and because of Ashe, I can also create. My daughter, Alanna Naledi, is a part of the creation of my Ashe, but I can also create through my words, which is another version of my Ashe. You know that thing that happens in the Black church where a preacher says something and people call out, “Amen!”? That is an act of Ashe. Calling out amen is a way of not only affirming what is being spoken, but an attempt to will it to be and a verbal commitment to actively help it to be. So for the rest of this sermon, if you haven’t already, I want you to participate in the African act of Ashe. Whenever you hear something you agree with or want to see come to be, say Ashe or Amen. Ashe? Amen?

Some people, when I told them that I get to live out a dream to be able to preach with my Brother Caleb, were surprised. If you meet me for a one on one conversation, I appear to be very quiet, peaceful and calm. Brother Caleb, depending on the day, might appear to you very differently. I jokingly said that Caleb and I preaching would be like Brother Malcolm and Brother Martin sharing a pulpit. I told my mother about this event, and how there is a perception that Caleb is angry and I am not. My mother, the embodiment of peace and calm herself, told me that I need to break that spell right away. So Brother Caleb, can I break it?

You see it’s like this, as an educator, for the past two years I have been educating very small children, 3 and 4 years old. It takes a certain temperment and patience to teach a child that age, and I have that temperment and patience. I’ve taught children as young as 2 and as old as 18 and what I’ve seen is this, some of the foulest oppressions in America are doled out on the young. If you work with youth in the system, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Poor children are forced fed the least nutritious food while rich children are treated like the puppets of capitalism, constantly having their desires manipulated by materialisic desires, and then you have Queer and Trans children and youth, on whom we target all of society’s most homophobic and transphobic tendencies, Brown immigrant children get labeled as anchoring leaches, and if you are a Black child, boy, girl or non-binary, you are considered a monstrous suspect as soon as you are born. If you think working with young children is all about fun-loving innocence and peace, then you have never had an undocumented child beg you with tears in their eyes not to vote for Mitt Romney because they don’t want their family to be deported, you have not heard the screams of orphaned Black boys and girls in locked rooms in our governemnt’s “improvement” on the orphanage system, girls and boys who have grown up locked in attics by neglectful caregivers, telling you stories of surviving from eating spiders, you have not had to explain why the next town over get’s new text books every year, but your class, you can just make do with the burnt rags of books that they hand you.

So let me tell you about the rags that they handed us. The rags that Brother Malcolm was nothing but violent, and Brother Martin was nothing but peaceful. No, it didn’t go down like that. Brother Malcolm utilized a multitude of nonviolent tactics in his struggle, and Brother Martin brought down fire when fire was needed. Like in the following quote, which he wrote after the immensely destructive Detroit Rebellion:

““I am not sad that Black Americans are rebelling; this was not only inevitable but eminently desirable. Without this magnificent ferment among Negroes, the old evasions and procrastinations would have continued indefinitely.
Black men have slammed the door shut on a past of deadening passivity. Except for the Reconstruction years, they have never in their long history on American soil struggled with such creativity and courage for their freedom. These are our bright years of emergence; though they are painful ones, they cannot be avoided…In these trying circumstances, the black revolution is much more than a struggle for the rights of Negroes. It is forcing America to face all its interrelated flaws–racism, poverty, militarism, and materialism.
America has not yet changed because so many think it need not change, but this is the illusion of the damned. America must change because twenty-three million black citizens will no longer live supinely in a wretched past. They have left the valley of despair; they have found strength in struggle. Joined by white allies, they will shake the prison walls until they fall. America must change.”

If you think that being peaceful means that you can’t be angry and fight, you’re wrong. If you think being angry means that you don’t want peace, you’re wrong. Me, I’ve looked in the eyes of a child and I felt fire. Brother Caleb, he’s worked with some youth as well, though in a different capacity than me, and so his expression is different. I want you to hear his words because we need Brother Martin, Brother Malcolm and all the sisters, brothers and others who are woke to stand up. Brother Caleb, tell ‘em somethin’.

Brother Caleb: Compassionate Bigotry is a term I have begun to understand throughout my time as an activist, and since I have woke up and Journeyed into my solidified identity as Black. The fear of the Journey is real, because of the weight the realities hold. My life has been a mirror of greatness, wealth, and prosperity, while being dead, decayed, and diseased on the inside. My Compassionate Bigotry was birthed at home, and lived throughout my life, be it from my experiences as a young black child in a white family, to when I was brought up in the realities of whiteness, something that I have never been able to fit Safely nor completely into. I have always been an outsider, always a loner, but always an entertainer, and someone who had to draw from the well of togetherness, so that I could create a place where I could be a part. This was both sovereign and devastating, and it was something that empowered and disassociated me from the Truth, in order to mask the pain.
Compassion is something we are taught from the youngest of ages, if we are privileged enough to be able to learn about something that encourages forgiveness, understanding, and “turning the other cheek.” You see, to understand that there are things that lead up to the way people act is something that is possible, as long as the actions aren’t the things that have already killed you or those you love. There isn’t much that can be done to bring back Korryn Gaines, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Pedro Villanueva, Melissa Ventura, Anthony Nuñez, Raul Saavedra-Vargas, and yes, even Dylan Noble, the white 24 year old, killed by the Police.
You see, we don’t forget those who are murdered by a system that wipes us away like a bugs on a windshield. We are more, and we are memorable, and we are dying.
Compassion is something that is taught to us and is to be applied when we see someone suffering. When we see someone injured, and when we see someone in a place that is painful, gloomy, saddened, or bothered. Compassion is something that we apply to those who have been injured, damaged, dismissed, hunted, and destroyed. Compassion is something that we apply like a bandage to the soul, one that covers the cuts, and compassion is sent in to mend the proverbial bones. Compassion is taught to us as something that is childlike, because it’s taught to us as children, to be utilized for children that we interact with. Compassion is the first step of caring for others, once we are able to recognize the emotions and behaviors of those around us.
Compassion is not something that we are brought into, understanding full-well that it’s going to fix something, because it is the introduction to the healing process, not the fulfillment, nor the end. Compassion is the warmth of a look, the touch of a hand, and the meeting of lives in a moment. Compassion is merely the beginning. Compassion does not heal, compassion begins the thought process.
There are many different ways of understanding compassion, and there are many ways that people get it wrong. To me, with the intersections that I carry, compassion is something that is devoid of my life by so many people. I see people with the same intersections that I have, Black, cishet, Male, who are not given anywhere near the compassion that we are expected to give out, much less the life expectancy of a cishet white male. I see the beginning of compassionate bigotry when I cry out in my room as a child in anger, feeling alone, desolate, and encumbered by the stillness of the loneliness and disconnect from the Love that we are taught to expect and explore in the world. I find myself feeling the same kind of compassionate bigotry when I share the death of people that look just like me, and I share how angry and how TIRED I am of dying each time I see one of us die.
I experience compassionate bigotry when I share my rage and my pain and those SAME people who have taught me so much about how Love is everywhere not understanding that my Love died out on the streets at 12:01pm on August 9, 2014, and was left out in the street for 4 hours.
My Love died when it broke its own neck on August 12, 2015. My Love was shot through its child on August 1, 2016. My Love died when it was shot, after running into fear on February 26, 2015. You see, my Love dies over and over again, in front of those who say they Love me, traumatizing them. But my Love dying isn’t enough to prompt the teachers of that Love to move to sustain my Love. My Love dies because your Love is more important. And I’m not talking about more important as in more valuable in reality, but your Love is more important because you are both the teacher and the sustainer of a Love birthed within Compassionate Bigotry, a lovechild of White Supremacy. You see, under the guise of Compassionate Bigotry, you’re welcome to care about me with all of your heart, to shower me with compliments, and to hold my body close to yours.
But, if you do not move, if you are not willing to move and be moved by MY LOVE, then your Love will also be what’s holding a body where I used to live, and a Love that I used to hold within the walls of this body. If you are not willing to move out of your Love, recognize the differences in the Love that I require, your actions will always be too late. Because if you move you think you need to move, you will continue to miss the call, and you will continue to watch as those who you Love with the Love that YOU know, are swept away. And I’m here to tell you that you DO have a say, you DO have power, and you DO have control.
You see, though my Love died all those times, though I have become a stomping ground for death, despair, and traumatic departures from those who I love so dearly, the absolute rage has become a catalyst for the fight for our lives. Compassion is taught to those, as a way of replacing the anger that we may understand. But the Rage is not to be pushed away any longer. Compassionate Bigotry tells us that we can care, and we can care for just the right amount of time, until we don’t need to anymore, and certainly not long enough to act on it.
You see, there is no escape from the realities of WHAT COULD get us killed. There is no half-truth that is going to be able to explain yet shield your child from the realities of this, if you are in any kind of caretaking position with a child. Compassionate Bigotry keeps those who are young in the dark, and then kills them instantly like Tamir. If you believe that it can’t happen in Lawrence, you don’t understand the ways that we are able be murdered. Spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, and physically. To strangle us with the convictions of “goodness” and “opportunity” as the city of Lawrence does, while not teaching us anything about who we are, and rather, teaching us the opposite of who we are, while showing us the captivity that we have been brought up in, and having to research those who raped, pillaged, murdered, and assimilated our ancestors is devastating. The police aren’t the only professions that are committing genocide. Teachers, doctors, clergy, librarians, counselors, dieticians, professors, speakers, parents, partners, and individuals of influence in our lives. We are living lives where a good day is when we see someone who looks like us at the bus stop, flipping through an article, or on TV, and they aren’t dead or in trouble.
You see, Compassionate Bigotry is what keeps you satisfied as having done enough, when what you did was acknowledge that someone was hurt, keep yourself away from the problem, and then go on about your way. Just because you turn your back doesn’t mean I’m done bleeding out. Compassion is not enough to keep the bigotry from killing me. So as you cry with me and do nothing, know that I will die alone, if you refuse to act in accordance to solidarity in the fight that I am having with this world. Compassionate Bigotry is not in big acts of calling me a Nigger, it’s in bringing me in close so that I expose my heart and my pain, and you giving me a pat on the back, as if to say that you’ll either make it or you won’t, but I won’t be there with you, because it costs me too much. And in that moment, you both condemn yourself to life, and you condemn me to death.
Compassion is not my hero, you will not save me with it, you will walk me right up to the death that has been created for me. And, as I believe in the realities of Truth, as much as it hurts and is alarming to hear that in a church, understand that we’ve been dying in the back of places just like this for 500 years. It hurts me to speak on this, it hurts me to be real with this, and it hurts me, because I know that the vast majority of you will be hurt by this, rather than engulfed in the passionate resonance of your call to stand with the marginalized and oppressed, as your calling as a person who teaches about Love, but also as a person who is called in Love by the Universe. But don’t mistake Love for sedentary revolution. My Love was born of the ashes leftover from the fire that engulfed my innocence, those days, when I was crying myself to sleep in my room. So here I am, this is me. The grown up crying Black child, speaking out to his family, requiring that the fight doesn’t begin and end with me.

Tai Amri: As a teacher, I’ve seen a lot of problems with how our children are being raised. One of those problems is that many of our children are being raised without any knowledge of racism whatsoever, as if not talking about racism with our children will somehow prevent it from existing. I guarantee you this is not the case. Think back to your own education, how many times can you remember talking about racism in any of your classes, including history? If you’re like me, you might have read about a paragraph on slavery in the 10th grade. Now, look around you, how much racism have you seen in America, in Kansas, in Lawrence? Our children are being underserved by our refusal to talk about the issues.

The second thing I find problematic with how our children are being raised is this, when trying to explain and understand Black people, we need to stop starting with slavery, that is NOT where our history begins. This idea had not become so clear to me until I heard an interview with The New Jim Crow author, Michelle Alexander, where she shared the difficulty that her daughter had in school during the portion of history class that slavery was being discussed. Do we need to talk about slavery? Of course. But if the only time we talk about Black people is when we are explaining our subjugation and traumatization through chattel slavery, or when we are being murdered, then we need to just stop talking about Black people all together. This is not helpful. We need to talk about the love and beauty of Black culture, and I’m not talking about celebrity Black culture.

One way we see Ashe at work in the Black Lives Matter movement is when we are asked to say the name of someone who has fallen due to police violence. All of these people were beautiful, and all of their deaths are tragic. There is a Sanskrit word,Smriti, that describes this act perfectly, it means, “That which is remembered lives.” This is why we vigil, we honor our ancestors, the new and the old, so that they won’t be forgotten, so that they can live through us. So I invite you, let our ancestors live through us now, after I say a name of someone who has died of police violence, I want you to participate in Ashe and repeat their name back to me:

Amber Monroe (say their name), Detroit, Michigan, a transgender woman and beloved member of the Palmer Park community where she was known as a lover of dancing who wanted to educate her community about HIV prevention and treatment. Shot and killed in 2015 her murder is still unsolved, but we know that this was the third time she was shot and the first two times went unreported because she did not trust the police who misgendered and misnamed her after her death, making her more difficult to find by loved ones. We remember her first as we remember that there is no identity more targeted than trans people of color.
Kayden Clarke (say their name), Arizona, a 24 year old autistic transgender man, who in December of 2015 was ecstatic to find out his health insurance would cover 100% of his gender reassignment surgery. In February, police were called to his house as he was having a suicidal episode, and knowing that he was suicidal and autistic, used excessive force when he came at them with a knife. We remember him because like the case of, Charles Kinsey and Arnoldo Soto, autism is used as an alibi for the use of deadly force
Korryn Gaines (say their name), Baltimore, Maryland, a 23 year old mother who raised her 5 year old son to be free an independent. Both her and her son were shot by the police in August 2016 after refusing them entry for a traffic warrant, she was shot and killed.
Deanne Choate (say their name), Gardner, Kansas, grandmother and factory worker. Shot and killed by police in 2015 after being woken up and asked to produce a gun when her boyfriend called police during a domestic dispute. We remember her because excessive force is also used against white people and not just against people far, far away.
Joseph Jennings (say their name), Ottawa Kansas, an 18 year old suicidal teen. He was shot 16 times in 2014 after his aunt called police to help stop him from committing suicide. We remember him because when teenagers want to die, police shouldn’t help them.
Amadou Diallo (say their name), Bronx, New York, asylum seeking African refugee and prospective college student. In 1999, police fired 41 shots killing Diallo who they claimed fit a description of a rapist, after Diallo pulled his wallet out of his pocket. We remember that immigrants often receive the full brunt of criminal justice oppression.
Oscar Grant (say their name), Oakland, California, he was a father who was trying to support his family legally despite not having any college education. In 2009, on New Year’s Eve, he was shot by BART public transportation police on a train platform with his hands cuffed behind his back. We remember him because even immobility does not stop excessive force.
Philando Castille (say their name), Falcon Heights, Minnesota, a 32 year old nutrition services supervisor at J.J. Hill Montessori School. He was shot four times by Minnesota police after being stopped under suspicion of a robbery because he had a “wide set nose” (like most Black people) as he was reaching for his license and registration and informed the officer he was carrying a licensed gun. He died in front of his girlfriend, her four year old daughter, and a live stream on facebook. We remember that even though he was a “good” Black man who followed the instructions of the law, he still died.

All that is remembered lives. Ashe?

I don’t want to give you the impression that the only problem is the police. The problem is the entire justice system, from police to social welfare, from legislators to lawyers and judges. From “the man” to us.

We need a re-imagining of law enforcement. What we have now is not working, no one is safer, not the civilians or the police. In order for this re-imagining to happen however, I believe that three things are necessary:

1) We need truth and reconciliation between Police and Civilians
2) We need to heal from the traumas of violence
3) Community Control of Law Enforcement

I know that many people in this country praised the work in Wichita where the local police department invited themselves to a rally against police violence by offering to cook food and spend time listening to activists. But for many more of us who have, as activists Shaun King said, hit our tipping point with police violence, we are not at the place where having a barbecue with an entire police department sounds like a good idea. Besides the fact that there is still so much broken within the criminal justice system, the fact that there has never been any effort by local and national police departments and political leadership to even take the first step of admitting to that brokenness, means that on a national level, we have a lot more work to do. How can you ask a mother, a brother, a lover, who has lost someone to police violence or has been violated by the police, to have a party with them? This is akin to asking a survivor to go out on a date with their abuser.

For this reason, I agree with Fania Davis, half sister of Black activist Angela Davis and a leader in the seminal restorative justice movement in Oakland, California, who suggests this country needs a truth and reconciliation commissioning. This process, used in South Africa by President Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu after the fall of apartheid, was used to allow the voices of those who suffer oppression to be amplified in community spaces when their perpetrators were present, and it allowed perpetrators to be able to admit and deconstruct their own roles in community. As one brother at Lawrence’s last march for justice put it, how can we trust the police when they won’t call out a single mistake by another officer or department, whether or not that mistake was purposeful or accidental? How can we ever be asked to care about blue lives when blue lives so rarely show any care for the lives who have been harmed and destroyed by excessive force? Once we see a national acceptance by law enforcement, and not just police, for their role in harm and destruction, and once law enforcement and political leaders begin to listen to our long list of grievances, then we will begin to see a world where police and activist barbecues are possible.

But right now there is far too much grief and trauma in this world to get to that place. Here’s the thing about healing and violence, Black people have been healing ourselves and one another for thousands of years, and you might be shocked to hear that Facebook is not a traditional African remedy for physical and emotional trauma. The problem is two-fold, first, Black people in particular suffer from over 500 years of collective trauma, from the false promises of those who “bought” and sold us, to the exploitation and genocide of African colonizers, to the ten million thrown overboard during the Middle Passage, to the babies who died along the way, to the rapes and murders of our mothers, sisters and daughters. But secondly, the methodology for grief in this country does not fit the Black experience. Black grief is a purge, a wringing out of everything toxic within us that has no timeline, at a minimum it lasts hours, but mourning can continue for years. The way we grieve in this country, is to take a “moment” of silence. It does not matter how many posts you make on Facebook, you cannot purge the toxicity of oppression through an update.

Recently I wrote an article explaining how I do not believe police officers are the problem, the problem is far bigger than them. Our police officers also experience trauma whenever they are witnesses to or complicit in heinous crimes and violent accidents. Indeed, many police officers come into the force already traumatized, some from their own experiences of racism and others from experiences in America wars. Yet few are given any resources to heal their traumas. And thus all of us have the potential spread our trauma all over the globe as we have.

The spiritual teacher, Malidoma Some of the African Dagara Tribe described the funerals for individuals within his tribe as including all of the Dagara people, whether or not they knew that individual. The funeral rites served as a way to allow every ounce of grief from every realm of life to be present, for multiple days. To forego the grieving process was seen as a detriment to the entire community. An individual who does not properly grieve loss and trauma was seen as an individual who had the potential to commit dangerous and evil acts. The African in Black people still knows this grieving process to be a necessary part of our survival, but the American part of us often does not allow us to participate fully in this process. What is more, if all people, Black, Euro, Native, Asian, Latin@, do not learn methods of fully purging the traumas of our history of oppression in this country, we will never be free, we will remain slave to it. Knowledge of our oppressions is the first step, but the second is to ACknowledge, in physical community rather than virtual ones, that this trauma exists within us and because of our unwillingness to fully deal with it. We can fully heal once the community physically embraces us and lifts us up.

And while police work on taking accountability and undoing the harms for the injustices that they perpetrate and witness, and while those who have been traumatized by law enforcement work on healing that trauma, our national and local political leaders need to work on placing the control and review of law enforcement back into the hands of the people. For too long police have been allowed to police themselves, allowing the bad apples to get off and often times get promoted, when they damn well shouldn’t be. While some people, namely the wealthy and the white, might benefit from the protection of law enforcement, too many are terrorized by the criminal justice system, with impunity. This reality can only function when the people have no say over how or who polices them. Lawrence likes to call itself a liberal and progressive bastion in a “Free State”, but how can we be free if we can’t even control our own police department?

Newark, New Jersey, my mama’s place of origin, a city that has been known for corruption and racism since long before the 1967 rebellion that left 26 people dead, now has an independent community board that oversees all police complaints. This is in alignment with the Black Lives Matter policy statement that states that communities should have hiring and firing abilities and the ability to affect the policies of everyone in the police department all the way to the chief. There is no reason why we in Lawrence should not have a say in who we want to police us and what weapons they use, there is no reason why we should not be able to ban police trainings that encourage racial bias and excuse all forms of excessive force, there is no reason that we not be providing multiple resources for police to heal from their traumas. Instead, we need to create a police force governed by truth, justice, and the healing of communal traumas. Ashe?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

love poem to the black lives matter movement

the fire next time
he said
the fire next time

mother of the movement we see you
hold this federal fallacy of ferguson's
feet to the flame
on the names of your slain babies
we see you

baton rouge we see you
political prisons to cut off
the breath of your fire
we see you

south africa to dublin we see you
we all one black
struggling to get the scars off our back
we see you

florida we see you
breaking guns off
in autism's guardian
back down hands up in the fire
we see you

trans folk we see you
first one to the gun
last song sung
and if flames couldn't help it
we see you

oakland we see you
one blood strong
you shut it down
let it burn to the ground
we see you
breaker of police chiefs
suffer all mayors
we see you
vanguard of the (r)evolution
gentrifyer wet dream we see you

san francisco we see you
shirtless warrior women we see you

philly we see you
in the rubble of the MOVE of Africa we see you
in the wrist burns
of mumia we see you
in the talons of rizzo we see you
you quake the roots of justice
you shot bells of freedom
libate our ancestors ms. sanchez
libate sankofa
we see you

detroit we see you
from ford corrupted lands
we see you
through leaden waters
we see you
through riot smoke
a voice broke
grace lee boggs leading to (r)evolution
don't die
we see you

mother emanuel we see you
on slave floors in charleston we see you
hiding from fires like the
good girl grandma raised
we see you

black lives matter movement we see you
burning all reserves on picket lines
we see you
multicolored movement we see you
rageful love we see you
come back alive
we see you
don't lose one more
we see you

7th generation we see you
sold off in fraudulent bids
we see you
down enemy scopes we see you
our last and only hope we see you
drink the milk and run
we'll take their bullets
we see you

my people we see you
from the burning prairie
lawrence, fiery kansas
we see you

Friday, July 22, 2016

My Fight To Save America #blacklivesmatter: Police, Moral Injury and Activism

I am one voice in a movement to make Black Lives Matter beyond rhetoric and platitudes. I am a Black father who doesn’t want his daughter to grow up in a world where she has to fear for the safety of her body because of the color of her skin. I am an educator who has walked through the worst neighborhoods of Oakland with fear in my heart, not for myself, but for the children I taught. Fear that they will be the next body in a forced prostitution ring, rampant on International Boulevard and exposed within the Oakland Police Department. Fear that they will catch the next stray bullet from a dispute between neighbors and police. Fear that not only will they find no protection from the police, but that the police might actually be the ones they need protection from. I am a minister, who has held the hands of a crying mother, asking me to help get justice for her son, Alan Blueford, shot and killed by the police in his senior year of high school in Oakland, California. His last words, “I didn’t do anything,” will forever ring in my ears. I am a Black man, who wonders, every single time he is in a crowd, where all the other Black men are, and remembers, every single time he wonders, just how many of them are prisons and morgues unjustly. This burden I carry is not a new one, it is not even unique to me. I believe that everyone whose ancestors were held in chattel slavery carries some version of this burden to varying degrees. This is why I am one voice in the Black Lives Matter movement, who wants to see true change, and wonders what that will look like.

I believe that the anger that I have towards institutionalized racism is justified. I believe that action is required to change the conditions of marginalized and targeted communities in America, and that nothing changes without action. I have studied with activists like the 100 year old Chinese American Grace Lee Boggs and the Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, I believe that marches and protests are necessary but not enough to bring about change. And because I implore a strategy of Kingian Nonviolence, I believe that our enemies are not individuals but systems of oppression. We have a right, as a people, to express our anger and grief publicly. We also have a responsibility to not continue to perpetuate the same systems of oppression.

When I was a pastor in Oakland I was asked to take a training on a condition called Moral Injury for veterans. Similar to PTSD, moral injury causes psychological and emotional distress, but unlike PTSD, moral injury must include the participation and/or witnessing of actions that transgress one’s conscience or personal morals. In treating and ministering to veterans then, it was seen as imperative to understand whether or not they feel like they participated in an inhumane or unjust act, and to help them see how their current actions may be affected by their belief in diminished values because of these acts. Unfortunately, while we live in a world where it is acknowledged that those who have experienced extreme trauma may have after effects from that trauma that cause them to hurt themselves or others, there is very little acknowledgement of how participation in causing trauma and harm to others might have a similar effect on their actions.

The other day, listening to a podcast interviewing Thich Nhat Hanh and remembering how he has aided Vietnam Veterans, I was reminded both of how disgracefully veterans were treated in our country after they returned, and how wounded our police officers are. It’s like this, it has been shown that the leading cause of death for our police officers is not Black men shooting them or wrecking during high speed chases, it’s suicide. That’s the same leading cause of death for U.S. veterans. We need to talk about this in our communities, on our blogs, and in our protests. The cops are not my enemy, they are tools of my enemy, one tool, in a huge assortment of tools to oppress and suppress. But unlike systemic tools, cops are human beings, and thus they get the full brunt of damage from being used as tools. They witness the most horrific murders and accidents, they are forced to contain and participate in domestic abuse, and they are required to be soldiers in the war on the poor. What’s more, often times if they speak out against injustice, or simply state the obvious, that they need help with their own psychological problems, they are ostracized and crucified by their own departments. And finally, within the general population, cops are demonized and treated as if they caused the very conditions that they are forced to uphold. Because of this, cops are the perpetrators and also the victims of unspeakable acts of violence.

Now I’m not in Oakland anymore, I’m in Lawrence, Kansas, not too far from Wichita. Trust me when I say I am not advocating for a barbecue, as if everything is good between the police and the people. The truth is, no cop has ever tried to make friends with me, so I don’t believe that community policing is something I have very much experience with. I know that part of the reason that I am viewed as a threat to the police is because of racism, but I also know that another reason is because police have experienced actual threats, and that they are trained to perceive everyone as a potential threat. That’s the problem right there. Why are we training our police to perceive others as threats and not as community members?

I remember being in Oakland when Oscar Grant was murdered on a train station, without a weapon, in front of friends and bystanders, by Oakland PD, leaving behind his precious baby girl. I remember hearing the cries to lock up Johannes Mehserle, the cop who shot him, and wondering, will that work? And then the entire city erupted after the non-indictment, and I wondered again, will that work? And now fast forward 7 years and we’re still marching and police are still shooting us. So I have to ask again, is it working? Is the best approach a hard stance towards the police or a compassionate stance or a mixture of both?

What I believe is this, until police officers can sit down and listen to the pain and anger of people of color, of transgender and Queer folk, of immigrants, of sexual assault victims, then no laws will ever change. But until US civilians ask police to start sharing their emotional and psychological wounds, the laws may change, but the police never will. And that’s my word. Peace.

#blacklivesmatter #restorativejustice #ftp #moralinjury #ptsd #thichnhathanh #thay #cherimaples #posttraumaticslavesyndrome #vietnamveterans #charleskinsey #justice4alanblueford #counterrevolutionary #staywoke #restinpower #graceleeboggs

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Why #blacklivesmatter Is About Making ALL LIVES SAFER

It seems like every day there is some new tragedy on the news. Today's tragedy hit close to home. A cop in Overland Park, just a 30 minute drive from where I live in Lawrence, Kansas, posted a veiled threat on a 5 year old black girl in Dallas on her mother's facebook page ( This makes me physically nauseous as I'm sure it would make anyone feel psychological pain, whether or not they are a parent. But when I look at my 5 month old Black and multiracial daughter, it is all I can do not to let fear overtake my thinking. This is the very definition of terrorism.

I want to pause for a moment and say that I recognize that being a police officer is the most dangerous job in America (after being a sex worker), but I am also aware that being a Black man in America is far more dangerous. If you don't believe me, then I don't know how much more evidence you need. But this recent tragedy has got me thinking about two things, first, what is actually the bigger tragedy, that another Black man, Philando Castile #sayhisname, was executed publicly, or that his 4 year old daughter had witness his murder? The second thing it's got me thinking about, is just how far reaching this whole #blacklivesmatter Movement really is.

You see, my daughter's mother is White. But today, when she looked at me after reading about this little girl in Dallas, she had the fear in her eyes that I have lived with since I could conceive that I was Black. She realized in that moment, that someone might want to take our little girl away because of the color of her and my skin, and presumably because she was a "race traitor." And I could see all of that fear begin to overtake her, that fear that Black people struggle with every. single. second. of. every. single. day. And I knew that I had to do something. Speaking out like this, this is doing something. But I also had to intervene in that moment. I held her close and I told her, no, this doesn't mean that we can find haven in some other country, because White Supremacy is everywhere. And no, this doesn't mean that we should never go to another vigil, because there is no safety in silence. And no this doesn't mean that we should live in constant fear. Because that is not living.

I learned a long time ago, as all Black people do, that our lives are fragile, as are all marginalized lives in America. It only takes one bullet, one racist, homophobe, sexist, out of the many. But I also learned that this why every moment should be precious, why I hold my daughter tight when she laughs and I'm dying inside, why I want to have a nice dinner when the Klan waits outside my door. I've also learned that the fear is transformable into courage.

I used to work in East Oakland, where guns are a dime a dozen, pimps and crackheads crowd the streets, and the cops are the scariest gang in the hood. I worked with elementary school children, and it was there that I learned that I have to be the one who stands in front of them, does not let them be harmed by those streets. Was I afraid? Yeah. But that fear was my shield against those streets, and I knew that fear would push me to lay down my life for those children.

That's what #blacklivesmatter means to me. Not that my life matters more because I'm a Black man. But that because I'm a Black man who has to convince myself every single day that police murdering me with absolution doesn't mean that I am not worthy of life, then I know that every life matters. And if you can't bring yourself to say it, right now, that Black Lives Matter, no matter what color you are, then what you don't get is this. If my life gets snuffed out, it's not me who suffers, it's you, it's my daughter's, it's my White partner's and all of her White family. We are not separate.

Tragedy is going to happen tomorrow, that's why we love today. If not, the terrorists win.


Tai Amri

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Young Lives Matter II: The Growing Edge

Preached at First Congregational Church of Manhattan

It is my honor to preach in a church with a history of anti-slavery. Feeling our abolitionists ancestors sitting here with us, silently and invisibly encouraging us to keep on walking towards Zion, towards justice. And it is my honor to be called a youth worker, in this time. Because Whitney was right, the children are our future. I don’t take much of the Bible literally, but when Jesus said a little child will lead them, I take that passage as literally as possible. I get to spend almost everyday with the future leaders of the world, children so beautiful it makes my heart break. The young people in my life have given me the hope that there can be an end to the small mindedness and homogeneity of our thinking and decision making. They have found ways through the madness when we adults have given up. They have shown me their resilience against the incessant violence this world offers as they laugh and play through pain and loss. They have shown me what unconditional love is in their defence against any injustice, even injustices against perpetrators. The youth are what keep me going when I want to give up.

It’s a general rule in scripture, especially in a letter like we read from Paul to Timothy, that they are fairly reactionary texts. Therefore it should be assumed that if Paul says let no one despise you for your youth then his reasoning must be because the youth in Timothy’s church were looked down upon. This should come as no surprise, some of our laws may have changed, but youth in our society are still an ignored and misused class. There are two roots to why I find myself being a youth advocate. The first is because of my parents, who are Quaker, who raised me with the Quaker belief that all voices and experiences are equal. They taught me that there is truth and G-d in every person, and thus the truth of even the youngest child was treated with seriousness and contemplation. If during Quaker worship a child were to speak and give a message, everyone would be attentive. And so I knew I had a truth and that G-d was in me at a very young age. The other side of my experience growing up though, the firey anger that makes me so passionate about youth work, was that I knew what it was to be despised for being young, for being Black and for being male. I knew it from teachers, from classmates, from business owners and from police officers. It has been my work to make sure that no young person ever feels that hatred from me, but rather that they know they have a protector and friend who knows their beauty and wants to help them share it and bring it out.

Sometimes though, sometimes that beauty can only be released through the hard places, through those places that make our hearts break. The late Maya Angelou once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” I’d like to think that there are no stories of agony for me to share, but the truth is there are many, and that truth resides in them. Early in my life I was less aware of the difficulties I inherited in being a young Black male, because the love and respect from my parents and religious community worked as an innoculation against the dis-ease of the lies of superiority and inferiority. They helped me to see everyone as being as equally worthy of love as I was. But still I found that I was never fully immune to what society saw me as.

I remember being a young child, maybe six or seven, watching some Michael Jackson music video with my cousin. Naturally we were confused by his “transformation”, and my cousin turned to me and said, “You know when we grow up we’re going to be White.” I don’t remember what I said in response or if I said anything, I just remember the feeling I had. The feeling like life was going to be so much better when I got older if this was true. I don’t know how I had this feeling at such a young age, all I know was that if I saw a Black youth on tv it was either because some nice White family had adopted them onto their sitcom or because he was being portrayed as the very reason that America wasn’t great anymore. He was never the superhero, never the knight who saves the princess, never the kid who got to make a wish and become Batman for a day. He was the real life boogeyman. Not the supervillain with the sinister laugh, no, the young Black man on tv was the guy who would actually steal your wallet and kill you, in real life. I did not want to be the boogeyman, I wanted to be the hero.

In my last sermon I pointed out how Jesus knew what it was to be despised. How from the moment of his birth the government had mandated that all Jewish children under the age of two in the town of Bethlehem be murdered. This hatred for the Rabbi Jesus continued into his adulthood as he was forced to hide his ministry, but he could not hide his ethnicity, and it was clear that he was also despised in no small part because he was Jewish. To make matters worse, Jesus had the habit of going into places he wasn’t wanted, and leading people to stand up against systems with intricate power structures. I’m sure that Jesus was used to walking into a room and seeing people roll their eyes or turn their back to avoid any Jesus trouble. This is one of the reasons I believe that Jesus beckoned children towards him, he noticed his disciples rolling their eyes with the same disdain. As a child I’m sure Jesus had many questions about why he and his people were despised, but by adulthood Jesus knew and fought to innoculate both the youth and his disciples against it.

By high school I didn’t really need anyone to explain to me why it was that people rolled their eyes when I entered the room. My best friend in high school was a quarter filipino and three quarters white. I remember one day his mother took us out to roller skating rink in South Jersey. Unfortunately while we were there she noticed that some of the money was gone from her wallet. I don’t remember the accusation, all I remember was the apology, when she told me she shouldn’t have blamed the Black kids at the rink. But I also remember the disdain in the sigh with which she said it, as if she was more upset that she had to take back her racial prejudice, as if me being Black and not a thief was an inconvenience to her beliefs. I don’t remember her accusation because the accusation was an expectation. By that point in my life not only had I been openly followed in retail stores, I’d been denied service and entry while youth of different skin colors were admitted. By that point in my life I knew that it didn’t matter that I attended a Christian high school, went to youth group twice a week, led the worship band for chapel and never missed Sunday worship even if my Christian punk band didn’t get home until 2 am Saturday night, the local ice cream shop still wouldn’t hire me because I would make the customers “feel uncomfortable” and I knew that most of the girls in my church weren’t allowed to date me because their families didn’t approve of my race.

We know that Jesus was despised when he spoke out. But we also know that he didn’t have to speak out in order for his oppression to be real. In the mock trial before his lynching, Jesus really doesn’t say much. It’s his presence, his promise, that there will be an accounting for the subjugation of the Jews, that the Empire will fall. We also know now the hell that youth catch daily in this country at the hands of racism in law enforcement and court systems. It is often not because of something said or done, but because of what is represented. In high school I never spoke out against racism, never led marches, I didn’t even curse. I was about as good as they got. But I was a reminder of the evil that had been and continues to be done to my people, a reminder that some day America must reckon with that evil. And my young age meant that America had many more years of looking into that mirror, into that reckoning. Our youth are that reminder today. They remind us that we haven’t ended racism or even segregation. They remind us that we didn’t deal with the real questions of sexuality and gender. They are reminders that we have failed the poor and the outcasts. It’s why there is an epidemic of gay and trans suicides in our schools and why bullies can literally get away with rape and murder. It’s why there is malnutrition and starvation in the richest nation in the history of the world. It’s why Black boys are the demographic most likely to get suspended from preschool and locked in prisons.

It took me until I was 21 years old to realize that Jesus was among the despised people. I took a class with a professor named Sudarshan Kapur who came from India to study and teach the Civil Rights Movement. In his classes I realized the different ways that Black people had been innoculated to survive the horrors of being stolen from their homeland and forced into chattel slavery. I learned in particular how Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. had his own source of strength and inspiration through the Black teacher and mystic that he called his pastor, Dr. Howard Thurman. Dr. Thurman wrote many books, among them was one the one that King carried with him in his travels called Jesus and the Disinherited. The book was about how Jesus spoke for the oppressed and the disinherited, those whose livelihoods had been stolen, because Jesus, as a Jew, was of the disinherited. I knew then, that not only was I of the disinherited people, but that if I walked with the knowledge of all of those who were in my company, then I could affect change just as they had.

After a college career spent trying to address privilege and oppression in my university, I had the opportunity to go with a group of high schoolers to Nairobi Kenya in a cultural exchange. This was before violence had erupted there and so things were relatively quiet as far as destabilized African nations go. But still there was the undercurrent of the AIDS epidemic, an epidemic that to this day creates an orphan every 18 seconds. While I was in Nairobi I had the opportunity to visit an orphanage, filled with children with AIDS who had either lost their families to the virus or were thrown out of their homes because of their positive status. These were some of the most despised children on all of the planet, yet one small boy’s smile caught my attention and convinced me there were more important concerns than the droning of our boring tour guide. The child beckoned me and I followed him to the playground. As we walked he told me that if they can catch the virus before the age of 5 then the effects might be reversed and children with AIDS can live long lives. I asked him when his status was detected, he told me at age 8 and my heart began to break. But then I looked at him, placed him on my back, and we danced in the African sun. Far too soon our time was up, the group leader called us onto the bus and my shoulders slumped and my eyes filled with tears as I trudged towards our ride, when I felt a small tug at the back of my head. I turned around and saw this small boy, with a grin across his face, holding in his hand a dreadlock from my hair. It was my innoculation against ever allowing any of our children and youth to be despised. As I collapsed into tears I knew in that moment that my job was to create love and joy in the lives of all youth.

The truth of the matter is, when youth lead, they will face hatred. It is what happens when we stand up against injustice. As we come up to MLK Day it’s important to remember that contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t just White people who wanted to maintain the status quo that hated King, though that was the majority, it was also black people who didn’t want to ruffle feathers, and who were also the vast majority. How did he survive so much hatred? Through the innoculations of his family, his community, and his pastor, Dr. Thurman.

That is the beauty that I get to experience working with youth. I get to pass on the innoculations. The innoculations of Jesus, that they can kill your body but not your spirit or your message. The innoculations of Dr. King, that you are somebody who can change the world for the better, no matter if you are the child of slaves or you are the child of slave masters. The innoculations of my parents, that EVERYbody’s voice matters.

I’m going to end with the words of Dr. Thurman, but before I do I want to reiterate that my message is simple, youth, it is your job to lead, and adults, it is our job to make room for them to lead and to innoculate them with the belief that all of us, no matter what, are worthy and equal. And lastly, it is the job of us all to look towards what Dr. Howard Thurman called, The Growing Edge

Look well to the growing edge. All around us worlds are dying and new worlds are being born; all around us life is dying and life is being born. The fruit ripens on the tree, the roots are silently at work in the darkness of the earth against a time when there shall be new leaves, fresh blossoms, green fruit. Such is the growing edge! It is the extra breath from the exhausted lung, the one more thing to try when all else has failed, the upward reach of life when weariness closes in upon all endeavor. This is the basis of hope in moments of despair, the incentive to carry on when times are out of joint and men have lost their reason, the source of confidence when worlds crash and reams whiten into ash. The birth of the child--life’s most dramatic answer to death--this is the growing edge incarnate. Look well to the growing edge!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Rest In Love Tamir Rice

I preached today in Topeka, it was an experience. Let me just say that Kansas is still bleeding. I didn’t expect to be preaching at a church that Westboro Baptist pickets, mostly for their open and affirming status. But it reminded me of the deep wounds around the slavery divide in this state that still linger in ideology. The comment after church by one of the parishioners that my sermon was the most depressing she’d ever heard and that I should have said more good things about cops since there was law enforcement in the congregation made me second guess myself. That was until I realized why I had invited friends and loved ones in the first place. They all looked into my eyes and reminded me of my purpose and all of the prayers of friends and family around the nation gave me the strength I needed to preach my sermon. I hope you don’t find it too depressing, but it’s a commemoration to a 12 year old, so it’s not supposed to be happy, it’s supposed to be inspiring. And I hope you realize that I love all people and that our fight is not against the cops, or the right wing or Republicans, it’s against oppression of all peoples. But I’ll let you decide for yourself what you see. Peace and love.

Young Lives Matter

Happy New Year! As we come out of the Christmas season I see, spiritually, reason to celebrate. It was said that in the birth of Jesus, The Divine became human so that humans could become divine. I also know, for some, the time of Christmas can be difficult, it can remind us of the good and the bad from our pasts, it can remind us of how petty and materialistic we have become, it can remind us of how ridiculous and sometimes scary religious zealots can be. But for me, Christmas has always meant time with family and loved ones, the joy of sharing and receiving gifts, and eating some seriously good grub. And on a spiritual level, it reminds me that even in the dead of winter, when things are at their coldest and darkest and sometimes most depressing, there is a light, a little child is born, a mother nurses and swaddles him, and an anxious young man plots how he is going to be the greatest father he can be. It is a beautiful story told again and again, yet somehow the happy moments are so very brief. After that child is born, after the parents get their bearings, they receive news more disastrous than can even be imagined, their precious baby boy is a target for the government, they want him dead, and the only way to save him is to go on the run, and to leave all of his peers behind to be slaughtered, assassinated, in their second year of life. We are often taught that the Greatest Story Ever Told has the most tragic ending, but truly, it was tragic from the very beginning. It begins with the genocide of innocent baby boys. I’d like to think that Jesus, the one who reached out to young people when others were trying to shoo them away, was aware of the tragic circumstances of his birth, and was all the more sensitive to children because of it. This is something that Jesus and I have in common, we tend to think that young people matter.

That’s one of the reasons I got my nickname, Baby Pastor. So let me tell you about this Baby Pastor that stands before you. When I was a student minister in Oakland, California, I was showing some classmates the church where I was an intern and we ran into one of the homeless who was living on our steps. She said, in a slightly drunken drawl, that there was a pastor of the church, but that I was the baby pastor. My classmates laughed and the name stuck after everyone around me realized the combination of my cheeky sense of humor and the fire that I had in honoring and protecting the lives of young people. Even after I became the pastor of that church, I spent the majority of my time taking care of youth in an after school program in East Oakland, notorious for its poverty, gun violence and forced prostitution. This passion for the lives of the young is one of the reasons I chose to attend seminary at Pacific School of Religion, because I knew the poor care that religious leaders took of my soul during my youth, and I wanted to learn how to provide spaces where young people could question themselves and their traditions without persecution.I believe that the most important lesson I learned in seminary was that in every passage in the Bible, and indeed in every moment in history, there are interpretations of liberation and interpretations of oppression. This is an idea that has never left me.

Another important fact of me that you may have noticed, is that I am a Black man. I used to think that this was an insignificant characteristic, being a Christian who believed in no divisions, but it does mean something. It means I have an experience and know something of necessity. I do not know everything about what it means to be Black, I have not experienced everything that every Black person has experienced. But I do know what it’s like to have to fight to see my beauty through all of the ugly ways Black boys and men are portrayed in this society, and I know what it is to feel hatred and experience oppression from others for no other reason than the color of my skin combined with my gender expression. Why is this relevant to a sermon in a church of G-d? Because the church of G-d has often been seen as being indifferent to issues of racism and the livelihoods of the young after they have been born. In my church in Manhattan, KS, every time we post a sign that says Black Lives Matter, it gets torn down. The other day someone came into the church to question why we thought it necessary to hold an anti-racism training on MLK Weekend, because we’re a church, and churches aren’t supposed to care about racism. Something in that story is missing.

This is the time of Christmas, a celebration of the joy of birth, with mangers and animals and wise men who are sometimes ⅓ darkskinned. We “fa-la-la-la-la”, and where bright colors and then party like it’s 1999, or we sit sadly because we wish for a happier time or those Christmases that are portrayed in movies and television. But always central is that precious baby Jesus, or that big screen tv that you want for Christmas, depending on your mood. That’s what we reach for. To retell the story, even though they didn’t reach the inn, the baby was born healthy anyway. Why is it that we forget to ask the question, what happened after the birth? A little family, too poor to afford shelter during labor, has a baby boy. A powerless child under the boot of an empire. An empire so afraid of losing their power that they go to the hometown of this child and kill every Jewish baby boy under the age of two. An act so murderous, so despicable, that the family of Jesus has to become refugees in the country of Egypt. Why don’t we hear this part of the story? Because it’s just a legend, mythological, perhaps. Or perhaps it’s because in an Empire of millions, the story of the murder of 20 possible boys in a town of 1,000 just wasn’t really that important. Perhaps it was because they were Jews, and how many millions of stories of murdered Jews have we not heard? But this is the Christmas story, this is the whole story, and what happens when we forget to tell the whole story? We continue to play it out, not knowing how to protect the world from oppression.

When we don’t tell the whole story we forget that Jesus lived in the world of Palestine and Syria, that he was on the run from the authorities, that he experienced a political assassination through crucifixion, so public it exceeded our own country’s lynchings. We forget that Jesus was marked by the color of his skin and the names in his prayers. We forget to tell our whole stories or even to ask about the details.

Instead the stories we are told are, “A black person with a gun was shot and killed by the police in Cleveland.” This fits into the story that what police do is use their power and authority to protect the public from violence. What happens when we fill in the details? When we find out that Ohio is an open carry state, when we find out that the Black person was a 12 year old named Tamir Rice, when we find out that the gun was a toy, when we find out that the cops shot him within 2 seconds of exiting their car, when we find out that one of the police officers who shot him failed the police academy because they were emotionally unstable. What happens when all these facts are given and we find out that the Grand Jury still decided to acquit the officers? What happens is that the world starts to look a little bit more like an Empire, and I start to question if it’s better for our young to flee to Egypt rather than face genocide.

Part of my story as the Baby Pastor is that I get to bounce children on my knee to make them smile, I get to tell them it’s o.k. when they fall, I get to laugh when they make bad jokes, I get to squeeze them when they need a hug. The other part of my story is that as a person of color, I know that children are often times targets of violence, and that children of color will need certain information to keep them alive and to keep them sane. I’d think that since the time of Jesus we’d learn that it is barbaric to murder children, I’d think that since the time of Emmett Till we’d learn that there is no reason that a child should be tortured and murdered, especially not for the crime of whistling at a white woman. But I find myself searching for the words that will keep young people of color safe. If you put your hands up they won’t hurt you? Mike Brown. If you stay behind these gates you’ll be safe? Trayvon Martin. If you surrender the weapon you’re playing with they’ll see it wasn’t real and let you keep playing? Tamir Rice. Don’t worry if they take you into custody, you’ll be fine, I’ll just come pick you up? Sandra Bland. If the police jump out with guns blazing, run if you want to live? Alan Blueford. I’d like to say that girls don’t experience police violence, but I know it’s not true. I know that at any moment the life of people of color can be snuffed out, and what can I do about it? I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but there are a number of people out there who do not want Black people, especially Black boys and men, to survive, and a number of those people carry guns, some with badges. I’d like to tell you it’s getting better, but it’s not, it’s getting worse, far worse. Herod has it out for us, and even though the spotlight is on his genocidal ways, the deaths keep mounting.

So when we continue on with the Jesus story, we have our Christmas, and then we have the story of Jesus having to flee as a baby because the government wants him dead, but Jesus returns. I’m going to assume there were good moments, I’m going to assume it because Jesus tries to spread those good moments to others, even the young, and it makes me think that he must have had some good young moments and he wants all young people to have those moments. But I must assume something else, something that transpired between him and his father Joseph around the time that he was deciding whether or not it was time for him and his family to return to Israel. Before that day came, Joseph would have to have a talk with his little boy, his sweet little boy. He would have to look him in the eyes and say, “Son, I love you, I’m with you, I’m your father and you’re my son and I’m proud of you. You are good and strong. We are going back to Israel, it’s where you were born, it’s where your people were born, it is a holy land, but there are people there who will not see you as holy. They will want to hurt you. They will want to destroy you and your culture. You have to watch out for these people, or you will die a horrible death.” I know that Joseph would have to have some conversation like this with Jesus, because you can see it, when he performs a miracle, when he forgives sins, he says, “Tell no one,” he flees before they can find him, and string him up. Because he’s a Jew who subverts their authority by his mere existence.

This is the story that I hold in my heart as Baby Pastor. You see as Baby Pastor, my work is to love the youth. How beautiful it would be if all loving them meant that I got to make them happy all the time. But that’s not the whole story. The whole story that loving youth means is that at some point in their development I have to tell them that young people in this country are murdered for nothing. I don’t mean I have to because G-d told me to, or because I can’t keep it in because it excites me to tell it. No, it tortures me to. I have to because I want them to live.
When I was in Oakland, teaching young people, the news told me a story. It told me that a young Black man had shot at them on a street corner, striking one of them in the foot, and so they killed him. But his mother told me the whole story which was later corroborated by an investigation. Alan Blueford was 17, about to graduate from high school. He stood on a street corner when the cops came out of their cars with their guns drawn. He ran, they shot at him, one police officer shooting himself in the foot. When they caught him he screamed, “I didn’t do anything,” and they shot him in the back as he lay on his stomach. No indictment. This was blocks from the school I worked at. If I didn’t tell my youth the whole story, all they would know is that people in their neighborhoods hate and fear the cops, they wouldn’t know why or if it was justified. But most importantly, they wouldn’t know that there is more than just hatred and guns pointed at them just for being, they wouldn’t know that people love them just for being.

I am Baby Pastor, but soon I will also become father Joseph, and I will get to hold my very own baby Jesus or baby Mary. I can’t wait for that joy that exceeds any big wheel that I always wanted for Christmas. But it’s not the whole story. The whole story is that I’m afraid of having the talk. Not the sex talk, I’m fine with that. I mean the talk where I have to explain that someone might hate them for the color of their skin. I mean the talk where I have to figure out what to do with the fact that I don’t want anything bad to happen to them, but it might and I’ll be powerless to stop it. I’ve seen too many fathers and mothers crying over their dead children whose murderers get exonerated to believe otherwise. One of the main reasons I moved to Kansas from Oakland was because I knew I wanted a family one day, and I didn’t want my child to be another police murder. But there is not a state in this country where the police don’t murder. I’m not just talking about the murder of young gang bangers. It’s the murder of the innocent, the mentally disabled, the schizophrenic, the suicidal, grandmothers, bystanders. But I refuse to let that be the end of the story. They must know that love is stronger than hate. They must know it because we must live it.

That’s why I say to you all Happy New Year. Because it’s the New Year it means that we don’t just get to start over, we have to start over, and this requires the opposite of forgetting what happened before and starting with a clean slate, rather it requires that we hold what has happened before in our hearts. On New Years of 2009 I was in Oakland, I didn’t see Oscar Grant, father of a little girl, get shot in the back and killed on a BART Train platform while he was laying on his belly and he was handcuffed. But I felt the city seeth and burn, I felt the sting of tears flood the city afterwards. And here we are in 2016, the first year that a tally has been kept of police murders. 1,134? And our government doesn’t even keep count? That means we have to. We have to tell the whole story. Tell the story of Tamir Rice, of Sandra Bland, of Michael Brown, of Alan Blueford, of Oscar Grant. Tell the whole story, don’t skip the part that they were unarmed, that they were people, that they were beautiful. Tell the whole story of Jesus. Not just the pretty baby, but the murder of infants, the hiding in the shadows, the oppression. And don’t just think that these stories need to be told to the targeted and the oppressed.

For one thing, if Black people are the only ones to raise their voices when a Black person is murdered, the police will never stop murdering us. If women are the only ones who march when women are being raped, sexual violence will never end. If trans folk are the only ones who commemorate the murder of a trans person, trans people will keep getting killed. But for another, in the world of the Empire, at some point all of us can be a Roman oppressor and all of us can be Jesus of Nazareth. If the Romans had stood up for Jesus and against the oppressive governmental disgust of crucified lynchings, then maybe Jesus might not have been murdered. In any given situation we can use our power and our bodies to stop a lynching. And why should we? Because young lives matter.

At some point every person of color must confront their fear and figure out what they will do with it, I know. And at some point every person of color who has or knows a child of color must figure out how they will help that child survive racism. I refuse to let my unborn child live their lives in the crosshairs of racism. I need you all to refuse with me, to not allow this world to crucify another Jesus. If you will do this with me, say amen.