Racial Justice: Having the Same Attitude Jesus Had

Jesus was the ultimate privileged individual in history. He was God who gave up His divine privilege to become one of us.

I consider myself fortunate to have been raised by parents who spoke about the evils of racial prejudice. I was rightfully appalled when I heard a racial comment spoken by a classmate in 1st grade. I was deeply affected by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when I was eight, so much that I remember what it was like walking to school the following day.

Dr. King’s death was a momentous event in my life. It affected me profoundly, but the darkness I glimpsed in the moment was as far away from me as the clouds way up in the bright morning sky that day as I walked to school.

As fortunate as I was to have had the good example of my parents’ just position on the issue of racism, I have been very slow to realize, personally, the real impact of racism in the routine lives of my brothers and sisters of color. The racism I understand (very incompletely) has has only slowly come into focus for me from the other side of that world.

I have never experienced racism directed at myself. I have not lived with the ever-present reality of racism bearing down on me from seen and, mostly, unseen sources (now).

I have never walked into a retail store knowing that someone, somewhere in that store, was watching me, suspicious of my every move. I have not driven my car in my own neighborhood conscious of the fact that eyes were following me, wondering what I am up to. I have not been stopped multiple times in my life on a pretense, though I was doing nothing wrong.

I do know the fear of being found out when I was doing something wrong, but that isn’t the same thing. I remember as a rebellious youth the fear that gripped me when I encountered a squad car at an intersection or when a squad car pulled behind me while I had an open container of alcohol in my car. But I could control my circumstances and change my ways to eliminate that fear.


I don’t know what it’s like to live in constant fear of circumstances I can’t control or predict – circumstances controlled by the fate of my birth in modern America with dark-colored skin.

As a child, I had hope and faith that we could truly see Dr. King’s dream come true: the dream that is deeply rooted in the American dream – that this nation would rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

We have made great strides, but the racism in this country is deeply rooted and pernicious than I believed it to be when I was child.

The deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd are just the most recent examples of decades, generations and centuries of this cancer. The rioting that occurred last year is hard to understand from a purely rational perspective by those who don’t personally know the pain, grief, frustration and anger that wells up in response to injustice. Meanwhile, many people like me, people of good will, sit silently by.

We have not, yet, achieved the goal of the civil rights movement that was inspired by the tragic death of Dr. King. Half a century later, we aren’t colorblind. In fact, colorblindness has become a way of denying the racial disparities that still exist. Racial issues have gone underground and have become more insidious.

How does a white guy like me, who once thought that we had overcome racism with civil rights laws on the books, speak to these largely underground racial strains that remain? How do I conduct myself?

Some would say I have no legitimate voice to speak to these issues, but need to speak.

Continue reading “Racial Justice: Having the Same Attitude Jesus Had”

From Where I Sit “Riots are the Language of the Unheard”

Voting is the lowest form of democracy; and not just prayer alone, we need action ….



These are not my words. I am only amplifying them here: ~

A reflection from Richard Townsell, Executive Director of the Lawndale Christian Development Corporation.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has been quoted a lot this week. One quote that has gotten a lot of traction is from an interview with CBS News’ Mike Wallace in 1966 where he said:

“I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard. And, what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the economic plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years.”

This is as true today as it was then. The young adults in my house and the young staff on our team are very angry and some have joined peaceful protests over the death of brother George Floyd. His death represents the latest in a long line of public lynchings at the hands of primarily white law enforcement officials. We wait in anticipation for what happens in this case because we have seen slaps on the wrist before after the heat dies down. As of my writing, the other officers have not been charged. The young people make me wonder if I am too old because I don’t want to join protests or marches. They probably think that us baby boomer types just don’t get it. Are we too comfortable, too scared or too accommodating with this system that we can’t bring ourselves to hit the streets? Or is it something else?

I lived through the riots of 1968 when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. I was not quite four years old but I remember my mother and older brother talking about it in hushed tones. How afraid they were as they heard ambulances and fire trucks all night. The anger was palpable in North Lawndale. Last night was like that. Stores along Roosevelt Road, Ogden and Pulaski and others were looted and burned. Madison and Pulaski stores were also looted.

It has been over 50 years since that happened and the community has yet to recover. There have been some heroic efforts in our community and communities like it around the country to rebuild in the aftermath of Dr. King’s death. In 2011, LCDC and our partners the Westside Federation and Safeway Construction built the $17MM, 45-unit apartment building called the MLK Legacy Apartments, primarily because of Dr. King’s presence in North Lawndale in 1966. He came to protest slum housing.

After he was murdered, the building that he and his family lived in for those months in 1966 was torn down. There would be no memory that he ever lived here. Back in the 1990’s, our church wanted to build a park in his memory. I thought that we should build a building that he would have been proud to live in instead on the site. Despite this and other noble efforts, the amount of resources allocated to rebuild North Lawndale has not come close to matching the devastation since 1968. I won’t quote any statistics because they are so readily available (and because our community has been studied to death by academics the world over), but suffice to say that if COVID 19 has wrought devastation to America in every socioeconomic statistic available then imagine Black folks have experienced 70 years of COVID in North Lawndale from health disparities, unemployment, blatantly racist housing discrimination and redlining, mass incarceration, vacant lots, poorly funded and maintained schools and the list of problems goes on and on. Problems, not issues. I’ll get back to that later.

That being said, I am firmly against rioting and looting. The primary reason is that for the past 52 years since the riots of 1968, not much of scale has been accomplished. Additionally, a lot of the folks instigating and provoking the theft and vandalism are white paid provocateurs, anarchists and professional looters who are opportunistically taking advantage of black grief and rage to cause mayhem at our expense. Why are they driving from the suburbs to tear up our neighborhoods? Fortunately, young black activists with camera phones are catching them in the act and stopping them from gentrifying and hijacking our legitimate and peaceful protests.

So, what do we do? I will tell you what is not the answer from my experience in community development and organizing over the past almost two decades of work and then what we can do. Continue reading “From Where I Sit “Riots are the Language of the Unheard””

The Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

National Civil Rights Museum located in the old Lorraine Motel, site of the Martin Luther King, Jr assassination, in Memphis TN including the balcony on which he was shot preserved as it was on that date

I am about ready to fly back to Chicago from Phoenix, AZ after participating in my first Board Meeting of the Gospel Justice Initiative as a board member. I am humbled to be part of this group that is attempting to implement and carry out in these modern times the words of the prophet:

“What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

It’s fitting that today is Martin Luther King Day. Last night as I drove back to my hotel, I listened to a podcast interview of Frank Viola who wrote books like Pagan Christianity and his most recent book, Insurgence. He pointed out in the interview that both the Pharisees and the Sadducees had a problem with Jesus. The Pharisees were the equivalent of the conservative right today, and the Sadducees were the equivalent of the progressive left.

That resonates deeply with me as I survey the world today in and out of my social media feed. While both sides might claim Jesus in their political platforms (more or less), I have the distinct impression that they would be put off by Jesus face to face in their presence. Jesus didn’t conform to the spirit of this world. His was the kingdom of God.

Followers of Jesus, it seems to me, should reflect the character and “aroma” of Jesus. I think of these things when I remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was hated by the ultra-conservative, called a communist and scrutinized like an enemy of the state. He was also despised by the radical left who criticized him for standing in the way of real revolution, a violent takeover and overthrowing of the status quo.

I see Jesus in Martin Luther King and his legacy – not just because he didn’t sit comfortably with the far right and the far left, but because he exhibited the character and carried the aroma of Christ.

Continue reading “The Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”

I Had a Dream…

We are closer to the Dream realized than the day Dr. King spoke those immortal words, but vestiges of past injustices that insidiously remain threaten to blur that Vision and even to corrupt it.

Perspective

2008 Democratic National Convention: Day 4~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

More than 86 years have passed since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birth. Almost 50 years have passed since his death. Not insignificantly, we celebrate Martin Luther King Day at the anniversary of his birth, not the anniversary of his death. Though I cannot help but remember the tragic day of his death that left its imprint on my young, impressionable mind, I pray that the legacy of his life will draw us back to his message. May the light of his life outshine the darkness left in the void of his death.

I had a dream….” are the words that echo through the halls of history into our present consciousness. We hear those words repeated with the same sense of passion with which they were first spoken, but they seem dulled by the resistance of time. The present passion with which those words were spoken sits now like a…

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