The Farce On Winston: A Remembrance & Analysis of Summer 2020 Protests in Winston-Salem, NC (PART 5)

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

-Assata Shakur

“Abolition is about presence, not absence. It’s about building life-affirming institutions.”

-Ruth Wilson Gilmore

“Abolition is both the horizon and the anchor.”

-Steve Núñez

The Case for Abolitionist Practice  

One might look at the material and spiritual conditions laid out in this series and assume that we should throw up our hands in defeat. Yet, I remain militantly hopeful. Hope, as I understand it, requires that we remain radically pessimistic about the prison industrial complex and the nation-state’s ability to reform itself. Hope requires that we believe in the people, and with the people. For me, it means deepening my commitment to the revolutionary strands of abolitionist practice. Tracing its genealogy, we see Black proto-womanists and feminists like Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth at the very core of its architecture. To this day, Black women of whom the world is not worthy, remain its chief architects. 

Previously a fringe idea, abolition made its way into mainstream discourse in the summer of 2020. For better or for worse, more people publicly assumed “abolitionist” as an identity. We are warned by Mariam Kaba and others, however, that abolition is not primarily an identity that an individual assumes, but a practice a community pursues. It is an ancestral project that calls us to act, create, and resist daily as though a world beyond empire, policing, prisons, economic exploitation, anti-Blackness, white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, ableism, queer and trans antagonism is possible. 

Too often, our kinfolk’s first introduction to “abolition” is through the hashtags: #abolishthepolice or #defundthepolice. While I’m in no way trying to police our hashtag usage, I think we must resist the tendency to put the greatest emphasis on outcomes like a world beyond police and prisons. As someone who came to the end of my belief in the possibility for reform in 2015, I have found that the most effective way to dialogue about abolitionism is to emphasize it as a practice.  For one, talking about it as an outcome makes it more easily dismissed or misunderstood by our kinfolk. As the hysteria around critical race theory reveals, folks fear and/or hate “radical” ideas like abolitionism much more than they actually understand them.

Our people—Black people—have the strongest critique of the police in the U.S. Yet, due to structural violence, we also live in communities that experience interpersonal violence at higher rates. For this reason, people who are vocal critics and victims of policing and prisons, are caught up in the conundrum of “depending” on the very same institutions for safety and accountability when harm happens. 

Yes, it’s true that the police do not stop crime and harm. Yes, the words of Angela Davis are true: “prisons do not disappear social problems, they disappear humans.” Still, folks need more than our analysis of the carceral state. They need to see our abolitionist visions made flesh. They/we need to see it in practice in ways that spark imagination and tap into the unconscious abolitionist impulses they/we already have and practice. As much as a “burn it down” ethic is important, we need to embody a “build a new world” practice with our people! Abolition is not just about getting rid of death-dealing systems. As Ruth Wilson Gilmore has put it: “Abolition is about presence, not absence. It’s about building life-affirming institutions.” I find Dylan Rodriguez’s words helpful in the case I’m trying to make. He writes: 

“Abolition is not an outcome. Rather, it is an everyday practice, a method of teaching, creating, thinking, and an insurgent (“fugitive”) community-building project that exposes the pitfalls of the reformist adventure.” 

We will not overcome the anti-Black violence of policing with reforms.  They are killing, caging, hunting, and sucking up funds that could go to communal well-being, despite the fact they got body cams. Despite the fact they banned a few holds. Despite the fact that they are “diversifying” the force. Despite the fact that they secured the bag to pay for more “training.”  Despite the fact that they are dropping TikTok and Instagram videos of dancing cops.  Despite the fact that they are hosting town halls. Despite it all.

How long are we gonna wait with bated breath for a system rooted in the same genocidal logics that stole indigenous lands and enslaved Africans to somehow become the arbiter of “justice”? How long are we gonna wait on a system that takes our breath, deprives us of resources, destabilizes neighborhoods, and tears families asunder? It is not a criminal justice system. It is a criminal legal system. Legality ≠ justice. 

Justice is the redistribution of resources to the exploited. Justice is the reordering of society away from hierarchies. Justice is the repair of the wounds of oppression—the radical reorientation of society, that requires the destruction of domination systems and death cultures, while building apparatuses of healing and cultures of life that center those who have been cast as “the least” and “the last.” The U.S. system was designed to accomplish none of the above. There is nothing moral, legitimate, divinely ordained, or redeemable about this rotten system. All the data shows that the prison industrial complex has done the exact opposite of keeping us safe. Instead, it has severed families, terrorized psyches, maimed limbs, looted resources, and helped manufacture the kind of misery, suffering, and lack that drives our kinfolk into dangerous extra-legal activities that harm, rather than heal.

We must divest from it in the deepest part of our being. We must exorcise that demon from our souls. We must emancipate ourselves from its grip. We must heighten the contradictions of reformism. We must abolish the cop in our heads and the capitalists in our hearts. It is time to commit to the practice of abolition. It is high time we leave behind the fruitless adventure of reformism and begin tilling the soil in the heart of our communities, planting the seeds of self-determination, and watering and reaping a harvest of community-controlled systems of care, safety, and accountability that will make cops, cages, and capitalism obsolete. As so many feign concern about peer-on-peer violence and crime in Black communities, it’s my belief that the practice of abolition takes this kind of violence the most seriously. It is calling us to redirect resources towards root causes of violence. The largest workforce in the U.S. is the police and policing budgets of some of our cities are larger than the entire military budgets of nations. This is not logical, sustainable, or applaudable. To riff off Martin’s critique of the U.S.’s military-industrial complex, a city that spends more on policing budgets than it does on affordable housing is approaching spiritual doom. Abolition is “the horizon” calling us beyond this doom. The practice of abolition calls us to cultivate a sense and practice of justice that the carceral state cannot give us. As I wrote in a Facebook post on the day of Derick Chauvin’s guilty verdict:

“…the sense of justice i have, the carceral state didn’t give it to me. It can’t give it to me. And it can’t take it away.

I hold space for the family of George Floyd to feel whatever semblance of justice/relief they can from a possible guilty verdict.

However, we the people must indict, try, and convict the entire system that has bore the ‘strange fruit’ of Black death for generations.

Chauvins, Darren Wilsons, and Betty Shelbys may pass away or be caged away, but the death-dealing system remains the same.  

This trial verdict does not determine if Floyd’s life mattered. It doesn’t determine if our lives matter. We, the sunkissed and sacred people of the African diaspora MATTER apart from this empire’s decisions.

This trial doesn’t determine if the U.S. is “just.”

It is not.”

Remembering Our Radical Ancestor’s Song

I often quote the poet who said, “love is remembering the song in someone’s heart and singing it to them when they’ve forgotten it.” For me, the practice of abolition is like singing a forgotten song. An ancestral song. A song that was on the lips of our enslaved African ancestors. A song sowed into the winds of time that has reverberated and given breath to every generation of maladjusted Black folks since. It’s a song that reminds us that we live in the afterlife of chattel slavery and have inherited systems of captivity and punishment, not of care and mutuality. It’s a song that reminds us that our ancestors’ “wildest dream” was not (predatory) inclusion in a settler-colonial empire and its systems of domination. No, the dream was either escape to a new world, or the abolition of those systems. Even then, abolition is about building the new world we want to see in the shell of a dying world that’s trying to take our life and breath. Abolition is a communal act of revolt. As Frantz Fanon put it, “we revolt because we can no longer breathe.” Abolition is, in the words of Angela Davis, “to act as though it was possible to radically transform the world, and to do it everyday.” We can no longer accept the notion that another world is impossible.

[Pictured: Top- Julian Gordon plays djembe during a vigil at #OccupyWSNC, Bottom – JoNiya Lancaster, 11 leads chant at vigil.]

As I close this piece, I want to again own the fact that every critique raised lands at my own front door steps and that my limited perspective requires radical humility. There were situations and events during the summer of 2020 that require more voices than my own to paint a full picture. No one person or organization can tell the whole story. There are details that I may have gotten slightly wrong. As James Baldwin put it, “my memory stammers, but my soul is a witness.”  Let us bear witness together! 

As we move forward in this sacred work of ours:

May love be our vocation.

May abolition be our practice.

May freedom be our rhythm.

May liberation – not accumulation –  be our struggle.

May healing justice be our balm.

May joyful community be our sustainer.

May the radical ancestors be our inspiration.

May the generations coming after us be our motivation.

And may the Creator be our co-conspirator & ever-present help! 

Asé

[Pictured: Father & daughter participate in summer 2020 protest in downtown Winston-Salem.]

The Farce On Winston: A Remembrance & Analysis of Summer 2020 Protests In Winston-Salem, NC (Part 4)

If I could get ‘biblical’ for a second, ‘having blood on one’s hands’ is not just about being the individual that caused direct harm in this situation, it is about collective sin & responsibility. By taking the helm of this system [as sherriff], you are entangled in and accountable for its systemic violence. Even by virtue of being taxpayers, to a certain degree, U.S. citizens have the blood of innocent people who this nation drops bombs on overseas on their hands.”

-Terrance Hawkins

The white man will try to satisfy us with symbolic victories rather than economic [redistribution] and real justice.”

-Malcolm X

“If capital is funding our freedom movements, they are not freedom movements.” 

Joy James

The Farce On U.S.A.: The Emptiness of the Ruling Elite’s Response to Summer 2020 Uprisings

When it was all said and done, Winston-Salem became a tragic microcosm of what happened on the national level. Nationally, the call to “defund the police” was REJECTED and scapegoated. This demand originated amongst Black abolitionist organizers and was taken up in both tactically weak and sound ways by an ideologically diverse group of formations. No one expected the Republicans to be on board, but there were those who held out hope that the Democrats would be responsive to the estimated 26 million people in the U.S. that participated in protests that summer. Instead, Democrats largely chose to play the game of symbolism. They appropriated movement language, virtue signaled, and staged cringe-worthy performative gestures like wearing kente cloth and taking the knee. We saw protests and boycotts that had tons of potential co-opted by ruling misdirection-ists and whisperer-careerists. One of the saddest instances was when former President Barack Obama talked Lebron James and striking NBA players off the ledge of their strike, and back onto the court in exchange for mostly symbolic concessions. In the words of ancestor Fannie Lou Hamer, “[We] are sick of symbolic things. We are fighting for our lives!” 

Wall Street and corporate powers, who have profited from the violence of policing, waved the Black Lives Matter banner while continuing to exploit Black workers through wage theft. A recent in-depth study of corporate sponsorship of “racial justice causes” revealed the futility and severe limitations of said entities in addressing race/ism. In fact, over 90% of the corporate dollar pledges to the movement  “[were] allocated as loans or investments they could stand to profit from.”  As Joy James put it, “if capital is funding our freedom movements, they are not freedom movements.”  Despite all the pearl-clutching done by neoliberal centrists and conservatives around the slogan “Defund the Police,” the police were NOT defunded in the overwhelming majority of cities. Rather, people were herded to the polls to vote for one of the most carceral presidential tickets ever: a chief architect of the infamous 94 crime bill, and a self-proclaimed “top-cop.” During the campaign trail, both Biden and Harris spoke of the ills of systemic racism and the need for policing and prison reform. However, I argue that their rhetoric was not the fruit of genuine repentance (turning from their carceral ways.) Instead, it was a politically expedient act of rebranding. This rebranding allowed a presidential ticket that was basically a “middle finger” to the movement, to be seen by some as a “peace sign.”  As a battered and concussed electorate, perhaps the masses were “seeing double” in their desperation for the Chirstofascist Trump era to end. No matter where one may fall in terms of electoral politics and strategies, it must be constantly named that the so-called “lesser of two evils” is still evil.

Under the Biden administration, “The George Floyd Act” police reform bill passed in the House. However, as Black abolitionist Dereka Purnell has pointed out, the tragic irony is that the bill bearing his name, would not have actually saved George Floyd’s life. The bill — which would give 750 million dollars towards policing — was not strong enough to begin with, and most recently, crumbled on the Senate floor. Meanwhile, a republican initiated budget resolution amendment, that would essentially “defund cities” that choose to defund the police, was passed unanimously. Equally egregious is the reality that President Biden reneged on his campaign promise to decrease the militarization of the police via an Executive Order. To his credit, however, the 46th “imperialist in chief” did follow through on his promise to end the federal use of private prisons. This was reported and received as a giant step towards reform, nevertheless, a close look at the impact demonstrates it was a baby step at best. Not a single soul locked in a cage – during a deadly pandemic – was freed by the order. It ended a total of just 3 contracts that the Department of Justice had with private prisons. ICE detentions centers were not within its purview. Additionally, it bolstered the false dichotomy between private and public prisons. The reality is that every one of these rotten vestiges of chattel slavery makes profits for private companies. Yet, the executive order had just enough (fatty) meat on its bones for the masses to mistake it as substantial. The lack of substance so far in the Biden presidency should not have been a surprise to anyone. A man who tells corporate donors who depend on the violence of policing that “nothing will fundamentally change” is highly unlikely to do anything to substantially decrease the power and plunder of the carceral state. Even if one did not understand the relationship between capitalism and policing, Biden explicitly said in an exclusive ABC interview:

 “I don’t want to defund police departments. I think they need more help, they need more assistance, but that, look, there are unethical senators, there are unethical presidents, there are unethical doctors, unethical lawyers, unethical prosecutors, there are unethical cops. They should be rooted out.”

Biden’s primary mandate was/is saving empire and capital, and calming the restless U.S. masses through piecemeal concessions. To that end, it was important that Chauvin (George Floyd’s murderer) be found guilty, “rooted out,” and delivered up as an individual sacrifice in order to save the deadly system, and avoid even larger mass mobilizations.  

Winston-Salem, USA

All of the above national happenings were mirrored in “Winston-Salem, USA.” The entire city council – republican and democrat – explicitly said they were against “defunding.” Despite the swan song over diminishing resources, neither the WSPD nor the FCSO budgets were decreased. As was the case in other cities, they sucked up covid-19 relief funding and secured grants as Winston-Salem residents were put out on the streets due to evictions during a global pandemic. During the heat of the summer and the months that followed, local politicians demonstrated their subservience to law enforcement and veiled apathy towards the people. There were two particular moments that demonstrate this dynamic. First, Black city council member and democrat, James Taylor, appeared to be a step above the rest of his city council colleagues in relation to his responsiveness to the demands coming from the most serious elements within our local protest scene. He attempted to pass a resolution that would purportedly reallocate funds from WSPD’s hiring budget and towards community programs, create a raise in the minimum wage for city jobs, and provide rental assistance for tenants. Yet, like Biden’s executive order ending the federal use of private prisons, a deeper look revealed that it was primarily cosmetic. The “reallocated” funds would not actually impact the WSPD’s budget, hiring, or power at all. Chief Katrina Thomspon approved. Meanwhile, Councilmember Ryan Clark pushed back on the resolution saying: 

“It is very easy for the police chief to support your motion, Mr. Taylor, because it doesn’t do anything…I cannot support a sham of a motion that in fact eliminates positions in every department but the police…..” 

By no means, was/is republican politician, Ryan Clark a comrade in our struggle. Still, the above quote at least exposed what was truly happening. Taylor’s resolution was not “bad,” it just was not in any way rooted in the anti-carceral logic and substance of movement demands. Yet, he was attempting to frame it in that way, dancing on that non-existent line of being pro-movement and pro-policing. In one city council meeting, Taylor addressed law enforcement with the words, “we love you and we trust you.” These words of carceral affirmation could not have been further from the cries of the streets heard worldwide. They were, in essence, a sad inversion of the chant done nightly at the occupation in front of the detention center to encourage incarcerated neighbors: “we see you, we love you!” 

The second occurrence that demonstrated city/county leadership’s veiled apathy towards the people involved democratic city council member James Mundy. Mundy, who is white, was in the streets during the summer protests crying “Black lives matter.” However, when he stepped into power as the new southwest ward city councilmember, the story was different. At one point he likened grassroots organizations like Hate Out of Winston and the FCPARC to “terrorists” and “kidnappers” for their persistence in showing up to voice demands during the public comment section of city meetings. Mundy would eventually issue an apology and update his Facebook profile to a picture of himself protesting in the streets of Winston-Salem during the summer. Again, proving my point in part 1 of this series, that much of the activity of white folks in the summer of 2020 was about absolution. 

[Pictured: Top Right – city council member James Taylor & WSPD Chief Katrina Thompson, Top Left -Councilmember James Mundy sworn into office, Bottom Left – Hate Out of Winston lead-organizer Miranda Jones speaks at a demonstratiion calling for reallocatiion of policiing funds, Bottom Right – Brittany Battle moderates an FCPARC “People’s Report” on violence interruption work.]

Now we come to who might be described as the “Camel City Obama”: Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough (who falls under the ruling misdirectionist class as covered in part 1 of this series). Like Obama, Kimbrough is slick with his branding and PR. (Obama was declared the top “brand” in the year 2008.) You could argue that he moves like a hybrid sheriff and social media influencer. He’s charismatic. He knows how to project a sense of “around the way-ness.” He can employ Black preaching cadences with ease. He is skillful at giving people the impression that his positionality at the top of an anti-Black system, does not put him at odds with the best interests of the Black community. However, he missed the mark of Obama-level symbolism and political maneuvering on several occasions. One such occasion felt more in alignment with the likes of Nancy Pelosi, who in addition to that bootleg Colin Kaepernick demonstration, had the unmitigated (white liberal) gall to say “George Floyd gave his life as a sacrifice” after the Chauvin guilty verdict.

Commensurately cringeworthy was Sheriff Kimbrough’s suggestion to “honor” John Neville by renaming a wing of the detention center after him. After pushback, he recanted, but the fact that this was ever on the table, reveals the ways that Black faces in high places are not immune to the system’s enchantment. On the contrary, the Black (petite)bourgeois hold the spaces they hold because they have internalized and performed the duties of a “buffer class” that legitimizes racist-patriarchal-colonial systems. And as Miranda Jones of Hate Out of Winston put it during a teach-in at the occupation of Bailey Park, “Having a Black body with a ‘blue mind’ means my people are in trouble!” 

Under Kimbrough’s leadership, the sheriff’s department called for residents to join surveillance efforts by linking their house security cams to their system. This would allow law enforcement to access security camera footage at private residences, businesses, etc. To sell this idea they funded a Hollywood movie quality copaganda commercial that gave folks the impression that linking their security cams would prevent a break-in while in progress. They later were forced to clarify that linking a camera to their system would not mean 24-hour security surveillance as the video purported. The WSPD hired a full-time PR person salaried at $60,000. The official title for this position, “civilian information officer,” is another sign of how committed our city is to the tenants of “community policing.” The myths of “community policing”, or more accurately described as CONmunity policing—policing that reifies the very structures they claim to improve— were constantly, cleverly, and forcefully shoved down the throats of Winston-Salem Forsyth County residents. Those who dared to call it into question were demonized. It seemed that at every turn, Kimbrough was committed to using his well-oiled social media presence and charisma to bash, dinegegrate, and mischaracterize the work of grassroots organizations. 

[Pictured left to right: Frankie Geist of Hope Dealers, Sherriff Bobby Kimbrough, & Scott Gerlicher retired commander of the Minneapolis Police Department take questions at a FCSO hosted forum called “Black, White, & Blue” on the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder.]

This law enforcement PR blitz took place to the backdrop of a 15-year-old black girl being slammed by a musclebound white police officer in her own neighborhood that winter, a Black man being victimized by police at a gas station in East Winston, incarcerated kinfolk having to stage protests in response to being deprived of proper medical attention, water shutoffs, and refusal to give them their mail. As gun violence – too often involving Black and brown teens – escalates, the city that said it was for Black lives continues to block the flow of support for Black & Latinx community-controlled efforts to curtail it. Rather, they are engaging in what I call “disaster carceralism.” As the Drum Majors Alliance and Lit City noted in our statement responding  to the deeply tragic shooting that took place on the campus of Mt tabor high school: 

“Similar to ‘disaster capitalism’, disaster carceralism is an attempt to seize a moment of tragedy to further the economic drain, strengthen the systemic grip, and boost the public approval of “solving” issues of violence with law enforcement.”

As I wrap this up, it must be said that there can be no analysis of politics in Winston-Salem that does not interrogate the role of the faith community. The urban legend is that Winston-Salem is in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the most church buildings per capita in the nation. As a member of the local faith community, I must express my deep frustration with our engagement in summer 2020 protests and beyond. To be fair, I have seen glimmers of hope. More church folks took to the streets than they did in 2012, or 2014, or even 2016. Yet, there remains an unfortunate and unacceptable tendency amongst our most prominent clergy, churches, and faith-based non-profit organizations to virtue signal, but ultimately skirt the task of cross-bearing. There is much that could be said, but one haunting moment is emblematic of where too many of those who claim allegiance to Jesus of Nazareth have stood in this struggle. At a multi-racial unity prayer gathering hosted in summer 2020 ON THE VERY SAME GROUNDS AS #OccupyWSNC not so much as an official word of encouragement to protesters or a prayer was offered up for the family of John Neville. What’s more, this prayer gathering – which came together at the suggestion of Sheriff Kimbrough – was hosted by a local white evangelical megachurch pastor who happened to be an avid supporter of Donald Trump. What fellowship do Christofascists have with liberationist people of faith? Is the God of Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, Martin King, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Bree Newsome the same as the God of Christopher Columbus, Andrew Jackson, Jerry Falwell Sr., and Franklin Graham?

[Pictured: Pastor J.B. Whitfield, of Agape Faith Church, hosts the “Prayer Gathering of Solidarity for Real Change” at Bailey Park on July 30th, 2020.]

We Charge Farce

In the final analysis, the power structure (and its accomplices in every sector) fought tooth and nail against grassroots organizations. When backed against the wall by the force of our activity, they divvied out “great-value” (diluted) versions of some demands, all while being self-congratulatory. 

All that ensued post the summer of 2020, leads me back to the idea that it was “the Farce on Winston”: an empty, absurd, and performative series of events that ultimately upheld the deadly status quo. 

The Farce On Winston: A Remembrance & Analysis of Summer 2020 Protests In Winston-Salem, NC (Part 3)

“Protesters were confused. Some were afraid. Many were angry. [They] felt betrayed. Just days earlier, Chief Thompson had given an impassioned speech in plain clothes about her commitment to protect the citizens under her watch who were exercising their First Amendment right to protest for a cause she claimed to fully support. She had shed tears….but on July 8th, those promises were proven to be lip service. That empathy disappeared.”

Brittany Battle & Bailey Pittenger

“This is still racist Winston f***ing Salem!”

-Larry Little (circa 1992)

Brother John Neville: ‘George Floyd’ In Our Own Backyard  

At a vigil on June 6th, in downtown Winston-Salem, I clumsily attempted to narrate a history of Black radicalism in Winston-Salem. I was hoping to interrupt the sense of placelessness that pervaded so much of the activity and ground the attendees in our local story. After that brief history lesson, I said, “It’s easy to look at racism in the national headlines and forget that it’s right up under your nose. Winston-Salem was founded in white supremacy and it continues to be marred and formed by white supremacy.” The evidence abounded. If one looked at the data, the daily structural violence of Winston-Salem was undeniable. A city that had been ranked 17th worst in eviction rates, 19th worst US city childhood poverty, and 4th hardest city for a child born into poverty to escape–is already a racist-capitalist tragedy. Yet, the “mundane” —  but often more deadly — daily oppression has a numbing effect on the masses. The more effective and less detected evil is executed in slow-motion.  Furthermore, a people accustomed to trauma will begin to normalize it and explain it in ways that obscure its root cause. To quote Kwame Ture again, “not only do we accept poverty, we even find it normal, and that…is because the oppressor makes his violence a part of the functioning of society.” Still, if one were waiting for the “sensational headline” of state-sponsored racialized violence in Winston-Salem, they would soon have it. And this tragic story would eerily mirror the details of George Floyd’s murder.

 ***CONTENT WARNING: State Violence Against Black People***

In December 2019, a Black man named John Neville had a health episode while being held captive in a cell in our county’s local detention center. The official – but contested – narrative is that he had fallen from his 4-feet tall top bunker while sleeping and began having what appeared to be seizures. Guards and nurses were called in and found Neville “shaking and sweating, with vomit on his clothes and blood around his mouth.” Instead of providing adequate care to a person who was clearly in crisis, they put a “spit mask” over his face and “hog-tied” him. Like George Floyd in 2020, and Eric Garner before him, John Neville pleaded for his life, uttering those fateful words, “I can’t breathe”, 27 times in the span of 3 minutes. Yet, those charged with his care, flippantly laughed and told jokes during this terrible ordeal. As a result of their murderous negligence and the use of the hog-tie restraint, Neville would eventually die of asphyxiation in a hospital that night—according to “official” reports. As life faded from his body, an inmate is heard in surveillance camera video footage saying, “y’all killed that man.” The inmates’ testimony underscored the agentic nature of the actions taken by the guards and nurses. When Neville’s body was taken out of the cell by paramedics, inmates joined voices singing “Amazing Grace.” Their raised voices stood in direct contradiction to, and condemnation of, the gracelessness of a nation-state much more committed to the preservation of cages and capital, than caring for its people. The song on their lips was both a lamentation and an invitation. It lamented the fact that the apartheid city of Winston-Salem is structurally hogtied — that there are spaces of deprivation that restrict, suppress, asphyxiate, and limit the life-breath chances of Black and brown communities. This city is not a place of life-giving “amazing grace,” but rather a death-dealing Bible-belt city organized around what antifascist theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls “cheap grace.” A cheap grace which seeks peace without justice, democracy without decolonization, healing without reparations, (re)conciliation without wealth redistribution, “forgiveness without repentance,” and unity without verity. Ultimately, their song is a radical invitation. Their raised voices invite and call us to cut through the bitter wails of Black suffering with the “sweet sound” of justice and beloved community. 

Pictured: John Neville

Rhyming With 1992

Tragically and predictably, it would be a full 7 months before details of what happened to John Neville would become public. This “cover-up,” as many of us called it, was a tragic rhyme with a previous moment in Winston-Salem’s history: 1992. Like the year 2020,1992 was a year of uprisings and protests in the wake of a national headline-grabbing instance of police-violence. In 1992 it was the acquittal of the cops who brutally beat motorist Rodney King and the subsequent L.A. Rebellion. In 2020, it was the murder of George Floyd and the rebellions that sprung up around the country. Because the U.S. traps Black people in a single web of carcerality, what happens in L.A., or Minneapolis, or Ferguson, has a visceral impact on Black folks wherever they may live. 

On a bone-deep level, we feel it as if it happened in our own backyard, and to our closest of kin. 

The revolutionary potential of this reality haunts the powers that be. So efforts are made in every locale to de-link the problem. The last thing the powers want is for the dots to be connected locally — and certainly not internationally. This would bring about too much political clarity and liberatory intensity. As Malcolm X argued, “you can’t understand what is going on in Mississippi if you don’t understand what is going on in the Congo….the same [colonial] schemes are at work.”

For this reason, the ruling elite of Winston-Salem tried hard to cover up certain details of the murder of a Black man named Carlos Stoner in 1992. On a night in late May of that year, he was brutally stabbed to death by a group of white men in Washington Park. They left the scene of the crime, only to return a half-hour later to castrate him and to place his genitals in his mouth. This post-mortem brutality was the calling card of white terrorist lynch mobs of the past. When reporting the murder, the WSPD and the ruling elite decided to withhold that specific detail– as well as the racial identities of those involved. They rightly believed that any relatively conscious Black person would immediately begin to suspect that this was more than a murder–but a racist act of terror. Keeping the tinderbox of Winston-Salem from exploding was more important than exposing the truth. But for the investigative journalism of the Winston-Salem Chronicle – the city’s historically Black-owned newspaper – this cover-up would not have been known until the trial. 

Fast-forward 18 years: it took 270 days for details to emerge about the death of John Neville, and for charges to be pressed against those whose murderous negligence resulted in his demise. As usual, power conceded absolutely nothing without demands and pressure from protestors. One protest took place about 10 days prior to the July 8th press conference held by District Attorney Jim O’Neill announcing the indictments. On June 27th, another rally and march was organized by a coalition of grassroots organizations including Black Lives Matter Winston-Salem, Prisoner Outreach Initiative, Siembra NC, Winston for Peace, and my own beloved Drum Majors Alliance. This was just one day after Sheriff Kimbrough first uttered the name John Neville publicly in a vague and misleading response to an interview question. The march, like quite a few others before it, was centered on making demands around the ongoing Covid-19 infection crisis in the detention center. By this time, there were rumblings that the video footage of John Neville’s death would be absolutely damning and there were calls during the protest for the video to be released immediately. At the time, these calls were not official demands and, considering lack of clarity about the Neville family’s position on the matter, there was disagreement around whether this demand should be made. That said, the fire was intensified in this second wave of protests, and we would soon have all the evidence needed to indict Winston-Salem as a racist neoliberal city with strategically placed, accommodationist, Black leaders.

At the July 8th press conference, District Attorney and brazen Trumpist, Jim O’Neill, informed the press that he was charging Lt. Lavette Maria Williams, 48; Cpl. Edward Roussel, 51, Officer Christopher Bryan Stamper, 43; Officer Antonio Woodley Jr., 26; Officer Sarah Elizabeth Poole, 37; and nurse Michelle Heughins, 45 with involuntary manslaughter. In that same press conference, the first Black Sheriff of Winston-Salem, Bobby Kimbrough Jr, called the group of officers and the nurse who told jokes and laughed as Neville was dying under their care, “good men and women [who] made a bad decision [while]….trying to do the right thing.” In his comments, he also made it very clear that protesters who “crossed the line and broke the law” in response to this local issue would be swiftly prosecuted. 

“It’s Raining In Bailey Park”: The Third Wave of Protests & #OccupyWSNC

Later that day, an emergency protest was organized in downtown Winston-Salem. The differences between this protest and those of the first wave were glaring. The participation was smaller, diminishing from crowds of up to 1,000 protestors down to about 30. Yes, it was organized on short notice. Yes, it was on a weekday. Yes, I myself couldn’t get down there until after the most intense moments had passed. After all the prior mobilizations, there was not enough organization to rally a strong response to a George Floyd-like situation in our own backyards. Secondly, this small crowd of protesters was met with an entirely different response from a law enforcement department that was purportedly in full “solidarity” with previous summer protests. There were no speeches of support from Chief Thompson or Sheriff Kimbrough. Mayor Joines did not make an appearance to smile and shake protesters hands. There were no photo-ops, and no cops were participating in hug-fests with protesters this time. Once the context shifted from the national to the local, law enforcement showed up ready to commit acts of suppression. Winston-Salem Forsyth County’s “upstanding image” had to be protected. Underscoring the shift in energy and tactics, Triad Abolition Project co-founders, Brittany Battle & Bailey Pittenger wrote in an October 2020 piece:

“Despite not a single act of violence occurring during protests which took place multiple times a week for five weeks, officers arrived outfitted with bags full of zip-ties and large canisters of pepper spray, some riding in a gorilla cart with an attached LRAD (long range acoustic device which can cause permanent hearing damage and has been historically used to quash protests.)” 

Images of emergency protest in response to the murder of John Neville. Top Left: Brittany Battle of Triad Abolition Project arrested, Bottom Left: protesters face down police, Top Right: Tony Ndege of Black Lives Matter Winston-Salem arrested, Bottom Right: Phillip Summers arrested while protesting.

That evening 5 protesters — including Brittany Battle and Tony Ndege of Black Lives Matter Winston-Salem — were arrested for “impeding traffic.” In reality, the road was already blocked off by the police, and the people arrested were either on the sidewalk or very close to it. They were not blocking traffic. Nevertheless, they were aggressively dragged off the sidewalk and handcuffed. It couldn’t be much more obvious that the moment protests took the turn from a “national headline” to a local issue, the temperature shifted. Though the most obvious aspect of this shift was amongst law enforcement, it was in no way limited to that sector. From City Council to county commissioners, from the Black petit-bourgeois to the clergy (mis)leadership class, to the armchair activists of social media and the so-called “concerned citizens” who had been loud in the streets for George Floyd—the script was completely flipped. Folks went from being on-the-ground cheerleaders and co-conspirators in “the resistance,” to missing-in-action naysayers and colluders with the carceral state. 

The costs of bearing witness were no longer abstract. When faced with the concrete risks of burning bridges to the mayor’s office, too many would rather betray the cause of freedom. It was easier to show up for a Black neighbor who cried “I can’t breathe” across the nation than it was to show up for one who cried the same thing across the street in your local detention center. What’s more, the stigma of incarceration causes even some of those who claim to have justice commitments less likely to show solidarity. 

Nevertheless, the demonstrations and arrests would not stop. Before the summer was over, an additional 50 arrests were made of protesters engaging in acts of civil disobedience (right under the shadow of the Sit-In historical marker) and a historic 49-day occupation of Bailey Park in downtown Winston-Salem would occur. The occupation was led by the Triad Abolition Project and a short-lived formation that sprouted up earlier in the summer called the Unity Coalition. Beginning in mid-July, and ending in early September, the occupation marked the beginning of the “third wave” of the summer protests. Like any organizing work, the occupation was not without its contradictions. Yet, it emerged as a courageous, tireless, and fruit-bearing effort! Through violent storms and rain, blistering hot days, constant surveillance by the police, ridicule and hostility from entrenched white and Black leadership, and interpersonal conflicts, the occupation remained intact until the prone restraint responsible for John Neville’s death was banned! It’s also very important to note that John Neville’s children – as well as other family members – vocally supported and participated in actions connected to the occupation. This was no small thing, and it embodied an ethic of care that kept track of the reality that John Neville was/is more than a cause. He was/is a person and dearly beloved father, brother, neighbor, and more.

Pictured: Jupiter & Brie (children of John Neville) stand holding a portrait of their father painted by local artist & occupier Bobby Danger at Bailey Park. Bobby Danger frequently used bedsheets as the art medium for occupiers to hold up messages to the people incarcerated in the Forsyth County Detention Center.

To be transparent, I was very hesitant to participate in this effort and had deep concerns about the aims of some of its organizers based on their deeply problematic and counter-revolutionary activity earlier in the summer. This skepticism and critique was largely directed towards certain people within the Unity Coalition, not Triad Abolition Project. However, after learning of the Neville family’s support and having some dialogue with a brother-preacher who was involved, I cautiously used my limited capacity to show as much support and solidarity as possible. Triad Abolition would eventually break ties with the Unity Coalition during the course of the occupation. That split – which came on the heels of a legitimate attempt at transformative justice – will not be discussed in this piece. It is not my story to tell. 

“The Other Patterson Avenue” & Black Radical Organizing

As I alluded to earlier, there is often an unspoken gap between home-grown working-class Black communities and certain flavors of organizing efforts. In some ways, this was apparent within the occupation. At the core of the occupation’s leadership were Black folks – mostly women and trans folx – who I have come to have an enormous amount of respect and admiration for! (As such, I joined the Triad Abolition Project only a year later.) Nevertheless, one critique of the occupation was that its multi-racial makeup did not include a strong contingency of the homegrown Black proletariat (have-nots) of Winston-Salem. I do not point this out as a disparagement of any kind. The same observation can and should be made about many other applaudable advocacy efforts in Winston-Salem. Without spending too much time on it here, let’s think about this gap in two ways:

 1.) As the late great Black revolutionary, Walter Rodney would say, “people should organize where they are.” The make-up of the occupation was a genuine reflection of people building out from the spaces they already inhabited. This is not to be shamed, rather it should be honored. And in the middle of a pandemic, it was difficult to safely engage in meaningful cross-community work. Furthermore, lead organizers of the occupation were hesitant and cautious about making sweeping calls for Black working class and poor folks to put themselves in the eye of the storm.  Rather, their orientation was to do mutual aid work to support those communities. It was their assessment that white folks needed to put their bodies on the line in this moment of pandemic. 

 2.) It’s often the case that working-class Black folks do not have the bandwidth to participate in certain forms of protest and organizing. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen. It just tapers our perspective and expectations. It means that Black organizers – regardless of their class status – must constantly refine their methods, and where possible, resituate ourselves amongst the most oppressed communities, not as messianic saviors, but as good neighbors who move in the spirit of Ella Baker.

Pictures of OccupyWSNC in downtown Bailey Park.

At the time, I was engaged in a clumsy attempt to do just that, living with my family on what I have called “The Other Patterson Avenue.” The other Patterson Avenue is a historically Black, working-class/poor area of Winston-Salem. The people are beautiful and resilient, but the decades of systemic neglect are evident. On the other hand, Bailey Park, the site of the occupation, is smack dab in the middle of a billion-dollar downtown renewal effort on the very same street. Ironically divided by Martin Luther King Jr Ave, the two Patterson avenues are a window into the reality that there are two Winston-Salems. One Winston-Salem is marked by investment, access, and opportunity, and the other is marked by a living legacy of disinheritance and racist degradation. 

Once while sitting on my porch on the 30th block of the “other Patterson,” a neighbor came by and got to talking about things going on in the city. He had known John Neville prior to his passing, had heard about the occupation, and was glad it was happening! Yet, I’ll never forget him saying, “I know they sittin’ targets down there, but can you imagine how ‘12’ [the police] would turn up if we had the hood side of Patterson Ave down there?” He took the words right out of my mouth. I look forward to the day when the Black and brown “domestic 3rd world” of Winston-Salem reclaims its radical birthright in a city that is home to legendary Black working class – and often women-led! – struggles and formations like the Local 22 and the first southern chapter of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense!

Pictured: Images of the Winston-Salem Chapter of the Black Panther Party
Local 22 RJR Tobacco Worker’s Union

The Farce On Winston: A Remembrance & Analysis of Summer 2020 Protests in Winston-Salem, NC (PART 2)

By Terrance Hawkins

“It’s just like when you’ve got some coffee that’s too black, which means it’s too strong. What do you do? You integrate it with cream, you make it weak. But if you pour too much cream in it, you won’t even know you ever had coffee. It used to be hot, it becomes cool. It used to be strong, it becomes weak. It used to wake you up, now it puts you to sleep.”

Malcolm X ( The Farce on Washington)

“Each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.”

-1st Corinthians 13:3

“Until the Lion tells her part of the story, history will always glorify the hunter.”

-African Proverb


The Farce on Washington, 1963

The inspiration behind the title “The Farce On Winston” is found In 1963 when the US Empire witnessed one of the largest mobilizations of the Black freedom struggle to date. Hundreds of thousands of people came to the nation’s capital for the March On Washington for Jobs & Freedom. Today, this march is almost universally acclaimed as a triumphant moment of the Civil Rights Movement and a testimony to the power of Black-led non-violent protests. For good and for bad, it cemented Martin Luther King Jr as the nation’s greatest orator and its central champion of racial justice. The extemporaneous (off-script) “I have a dream” portion of his speech, originally titled “The Canceled Check”, has been hailed as the defining moment of King’s witness and the aims of the movement that birthed him. (Nevermind the fact Martin would later say that his dream was “naive” and had “become a nightmare.”) 

All that said, there is a counter-narrative to that legendary march that is under-engaged. It came from Malcolm X. Malcolm infamously called it the “Farce on Washington.” He was a fierce critic of the march. His assessment was that the idea of a march on Washington began organically as a militant rallying cry of poor and working-class Black folks, but was institutionally co-opted. It was initially to be a disruptive, threatening, leaderless, and antagonistic uprising that shut down Washington until the powers bent their knees to Black demands. In Malcolm’s own words: 

“Groups of Negroes were talking of getting to Washington any way they could–in rickety old cars, on buses, hitch-hiking–walking, even, if they had to. They envisioned thousands of black [people] converging together upon Washington–to lie down in the streets, on airport runways, on government lawns–demanding of the Congress and the White House some concrete civil rights action.”

The white power structure was deeply afraid of this possibility and sought to get “ahead of it” by deputizing accommodationist Black leaders to take the helm. Malcolm said that Kennedy called in big-shot Black leaders like Roy Wilkins and told them to “call it off.” To which X said they replied, “‘Boss I can’t stop it, because I didn’t start it.” Speaking of Kennedy’s response to Black leadership’s admission of being out of the loop: 

 “That old shrewd fox…said, ‘If you aren’t in it, I’ll put you in it. I’ll put you at the head of it.’” 

In essence, the powers infiltrated the planning and began to set parameters that were agreeable to white capitalist interests. Incentivized by promises of financial support for their organizations, “The Big Six” acquiesced and watered down some of their demands to fit within the desires of the powers. It was a case of what critical race theorist Derrick Bell would later call “interest convergence.

Looking Back On JFK's Attitudes Around The March On Washington | Radio  Boston
[The “Big Six” meet at White House with President John F Kennedy post the March on Washington.]

According to Malcolm: “[March on Washington leaders] had been told how to arrive, when, where to arrive, where to assemble, when to start marching, [and] the route to march.” For instance, James Baldwin was not permitted to speak for fear that his speech would be too controversial and the more aggressive aspects of then SNCC member John Lewis’s originally drafted speech were edited out. The March on the capital went from being a militant all-Black protest, to being a more tame and racially integrated one. Malcolm went as far as to say that “it ceased to be a march. It became a picnic, a circus. Nothing but a circus, with clowns and all.” 

(Does any of this sound familiar, Winston-Salem?) 

On his 95th birthday, Malcolm X's urgent message resonates at a time of  racial inequity in health-care, criminal justice systems - The Washington  Post
Malcolm X takes questions from reporters in 1963.

Malcolm went on to pierce the veil of what was happening with this provocative analogy:

“It’s just like when you’ve got some coffee that’s too black, which means it’s too strong. What do you do? You integrate it with cream, you make it weak. But if you pour too much cream in it, you won’t even know you ever had coffee. It used to be hot, it becomes cool. It used to be strong, it becomes weak. It used to wake you up, now it puts you to sleep.”

Was Malcolm fair in his assessment? I would say that for the most part, he was. This does not necessitate that we erase the importance of that march in the Black Freedom struggle. It also doesn’t mean that none of the liberatory sensibilities of its origins survived the state’s infiltration. It means we must hold those two narratives in tension with each other and learn the historical lessons. Things aren’t always so black and white, cut and dry. Freedom work is messy and always an imperfect endeavor. The powers are quite adept in the art of co-optation. With this lens in mind, I draw our attention back to Winston-Salem, summer 2020.  

Fatigue, Farce, and Fire

Black Lives Matter Rally Saturday Afternoon
Rally in downtown Winston-Salem at Winston Square Park on June 6, 2020

One of the most noticeable things about the protests in Winston-Salem was that they were often majority white. Quite a strange sight to behold. It was a sight that inspired some, but bewildered and puzzled others. Folks like myself were mostly annoyed by the racial optics and lack of direction of it all. A quick, but incomplete explanation for the lack of melanin and overwhelming amount of “creamer in the coffee” is 2- fold: 

1.) Most of the demonstrations were planned by people who were not rooted in the Black community. For that reason, word spread fast in white networks, but was slower to find its way to Black networks. 

 2.) Black organizers, the larger Black community, and their accomplices were experiencing a deadly cocktail of COVID-19 exhaustion and racial battle fatigue. Many of us had labored ourselves into burnout trying to respond to the crisis of Covid-19 in our communities. That reality, on top of the day-to-day trauma of being Black in America was enough to make some hesitant to participate. 

Nevertheless, in a “white sea” of farcical demonstrations, various groups shored up islands of bonafide resistance throughout the summer. The summer of 2020 might be broken down into 3 waves of protests. A first wave, mostly characterized by fluff. A second wave, that began to turn the heat up, and a third wave that truly demonstrated the emptiness of the ruling elite and their accomplice’s interactions with the first wave.

The Black-led fire of resistance seemed to begin burning more prominently in mid-to-late June. On Juneteenth, an ideologically diverse all-Black coalition of grassroots activists called the “Rails Coalition”–whom sheriff Bobby Kimbrough would later call “sh*t stirrers” — commandeered a downtown Juneteenth march to go public with their 3-fold demands:

  1. Defund the Police. Fund healing justice. 
  2. Fund a Community-Controlled Truth & Reparations Commission
  3. Institutionalized reparations for Black Winston-Salem in the form of major investment in majority/historically Black neighborhoods, debt cancellation, land, etc.
[Rails Coalition members lead crowd gathered at a Juneteenth march in the ‘Assata Shakur Chant’ prior to stating their demands.]

As a member of the coalition, and having delivered the speech that set the stage for these demands, I can say with deep honesty, that this act was not petty, nor was it a personal attack on anyone.  It was bigger than any one personality or group. It was about the fierce urgency of shifting the energy, putting opportunists on notice, and re-centering home-grown Black grassroots voices. In the closing words of my speech I said: 

“…to the wet-behind-the-ears ‘anti-racists’ in this space: we welcome you with revolutionary love. But to the opportunists…we say to you: ‘you will not gentrify our movements!’”

Longtime local and national organizer Nakida McDaniel repeated this theme as she along with Miranda Jones spelled out our coalition’s demands saying, “We were here before ya’ll, and we’ll be working in our communities when y’all decide to leave.” Truer words were never spoken. 

Just 10 days after that, the fire of prophetic disruption was turned up even more as protesters began shutting down highways, performing sit-ins and die-ins in affluent white parts of town, paying the mayor’s house a “visit”, and more! And it is here that the emptiness of the power structure’s gestures of support began to be exposed for what it truly was: a farce. To be clear, I and others maintained from the very beginning that their presence at protests and statements of solidarity were hollow and should be called out explicitly as such. Still, there are some things that are revealed by the fire. 

[Top Right: Protesters confront Mayor Allen Joine’s at his residence, Bottom Right: Sara Hines leads chants at a Trader Joe’s as protesters engage in a sit-in, Top Left & Bottom Left: Protesters shut down traffic on the infamous symbol/structure of racial capitalism in Winston-Salem, Highway 52.]

The Farce On Winston: A Remembrance & Analysis of Summer 2020 Protests in Winston-Salem, NC (Part 1)

By Terrance Hawkins

Introduction: “The Rememberings”

Last spring I read a novel entitled “The Deep” by Rivers Solomon. “The Deep” is an Afrofuturist tale about an underwater civilization of water-breathing people descendant from pregnant African women who were tossed overboard from slave ships. By some miraculous bending of the laws of nature, these women gave birth to mer-babies as they drowned to death. Known as the “Wajinru”, this mer-race created a beautiful utopian society in “the deep.”

Over time, the Wajinru came to believe that the brutality their ancestors suffered was too heavy to be held within their collective memory. Consequently, they assigned a single Historian from amongst them to carry “the rememberings.” As the community lived “free” of these excruciating ancestral memories, the Historian bore the agonizing and weighty assignment of holding them all—only releasing them briefly into the minds of the community during an annual ritual called the Remembrance. In the story, a mer-person named Yetu is the most recent in a long line of Wajinru historians to assume this sacred task. Burdened into deep despair, almost to the point of death, Yetu transferred the rememberings to the people at the annual ritual and then fled the scene. In fleeing the ritual for (t)he(i)r own survival, Yetu left the Wajinru trapped in the Remembrance well beyond the traditional two to three-day period. The Wajinru were now forced to confront the horror of their past in a way that they had organized their society in order to avoid. In Yetu’s own words: “I was prodding them lest they try to move on from things that should not be moved on from. Forgetting was not the same as healing.” With the looming threat of the “two-legs” (white colonizers) coming dangerously close to endangering their civilization in a greedy quest for oil, it was all the more important that the Wajinru learn how to collectively hold their past as they sought to preserve life in the present, and secure a future. 

As I read this beautifully poetic and piercingly prophetic story, I was struck by certain parallels in my life as an organizer and the life of my beloved city. Generally speaking, organizers carry the burden of communal memory in ways that others do not. Being a memory carrier can often be a vocation of grief and sorrow. What gets washed away from a community’s memory by time and counterinsurgency efforts often stays at the front of our consciousness. We cannot forget. Like Yetu, we know that forgetting is not the same thing as healing—and it most certainly does not lead to organization. We know that the past is never truly “bygone.” Its traumas and promise is present deep in our bones.  

Nonetheless, it does not take a half-century, a decade, or even a year, for the thorns of mis-remembrance to choke the harvest of radical memory. This phenomenon was apparent during the 2020 summer of local “Black Lives Matter” protests. As the days have turned to weeks, weeks to months, and months to a year, it is clear that there is a severe lack of common memory about what actually transpired here in Winston-Salem, NC. We, like the Wajinru, are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Like the Wajinru, we live in a society that ritualistically disfigures and strangles memory. In our trauma, we have clung to liberal narratives of “inevitable progress” and conservative monuments of nostalgia. Rooted in white (settler colonial) supremacy, neither of these trauma-responses have the power to reveal our sickness or heal our wounds. The violent contradictions of Winston-Salem will never be redressed if we do not abandon this religion of misremembrance. Without unarmed truth-telling and common memory building, there is no hope for healing justice. The manifold looming threats to Black (and brown) Winston-Salem, seem to say to us that another ceremony must be found. 

~

In the days and months that followed the summer of 2020, I would have moments when my consciousness was seized by all that took place. Sometimes, I would journal these thoughts and on other occasions, I would share them publicly. At a certain point, these streams of consciousness, memory, and analysis seemed to irresistibly call to one another, demanding to be housed together. Stubbornly and slowly, I began to compile everything from speeches, social media posts, articles, and journal entries into one google doc. Eventually, I named it “The Farce On Winston.”

What follows is my clumsy and imperfect attempt to transfer “the rememberings” of summer 2020 protests to my people and our accomplices. In addition to remembering, my aim here is to engage in Black radical analysis for the sake of liberatory action. To be abundantly clear, I am not the “lone carrier” of memory or analysis. Others have stories that must be told and analyses that should be heard. Furthermore, I do not see myself as writing from a “pure space,” nor as one outside the problem looking in with absolute clarity. I am not —as Bayo Akomolafe put it— a “pillar in the sandstorm.” I do not possess “an impenetrable inner-world” or “free-willed consciousness.”(1) Rather, I am a leaf blown here and there by the tumultuous winds of our times. I am, on a certain level, shot through with the very contradictions I seek to name in this piece. To varying degrees, we are all complicit in the evil we seek to overcome.

That said, collecting the last year’s worth of rants, rememberings, and analysis felt like an inescapable calling. It was like a “fire shut up in my bones” that only grew more intense as the powers of Winston-Salem trampled on our tears, hissed at our wails, and scoffed at our demands. I could not, in good conscience, quench this fire, because the tears of Black people are sacred. Our wails are holy. Our demands are both world-destroying and world-building. Black tears, wails, and demands – in the words of Black poet Sonya Sanchez – are “the fire that burned through the holes of slave ships and made us breathe.” It is “the fire that took rhythms and made jazz; the fire of sit-ins and marches that made us jump boundaries and barriers.” It’s the “torch of life” that was in “Nat Turner….Dubois, Fannie Lou Hamer and Martin and Malcolm.” It is a “beautiful light that gives light to the world.” As single actors, we cannot light the world, but each of us has a responsibility to help fan the flames of those around us. The pages ahead are my personal attempt to embrace this responsibility and to carry forward the tradition of “Black Prophetic Fire.” With revolutionary love — and the humility that my finiteness demands, I offer this. May this trail of breadcrumbs get us a little closer to justice, peace, Black self-determination, and beloved community. 

Asé. 


The Farce On Winston: 

A Remembrance & Analysis of Summer 2020 Protests In Winston-Salem, NC 

“Not long ago, the [B]lack [community] in America was fed a dose of another form of the weakening, lulling, and deluding effects of so-called “integration.” It was that “Farce on Washington,” I call it. (…) It lost its militancy….Why, it even ceased to be a march. It became a picnic, a circus. Nothing but a circus, with clowns and all….” 

-Malcolm X 

“That was all remembering was: prodding them lest they try to move on from things that should not be moved on from. Forgetting was not the same as healing.”

-Rivers Solomon 

“We are sick of symbolic things. We are fighting for our lives!”

-Fannie Lou Hamer

“My memory stammers, but my soul is a witness.”

-James Baldwin

Farce- [ˈfärs ] an empty or patently ridiculous act, proceeding, or situation. 

On May 6th of 2021, people across the nation commemorated the first anniversary of  George Floyd’s state-sponsored murder at the hands of police officer Derik Chauvin. Chauvin, a white police officer, pressed his knee on George Floyd’s neck for over 8 minutes, strangling the breath from his body. This obscene display of white supremacy was captured on cell phone video by a Black teenage girl, and once released, sent shockwaves across the globe. From Minneapolis to Nigeria, from Palestine to the UK, from Brazil to Hong Kong, historic numbers of people took to the streets to protest in the middle of a deadly global pandemic. Something about the nature of Floyd’s murder resonated with people across the spectrum of race, space, ethnicity, and nationality. The knee on George Floyd’s neck was emblematic of the colonial knee on the neck of colonized people everywhere. Intuitively, people saw Chauvin, not as a rogue individual state actor, but rather as an “avatar”—a vile manifestation of the suffocating forces of global oppression. Racist-predatory-capitalism works around the clock to threaten Black safety. It wages war when we are awake, like George Floyd, and when we are sleeping like Breonna Taylor. It violently takes the life and breath from oppressed people everywhere, and from the planet itself. Consequently, in both generative and degenerative ways, the name George Floyd and shortly thereafter, the name Breonna Taylor, became emblems of Black suffering and flashpoints in the fight to abolish interlocking systems of racial, economic, and heteropatriarchal domination.

Pictured: Protests against the violence of policing across the globe in summer 2020. (Top Left: Brazil, Bottom Left: Winston-Salem, NC Top right: Hong Kong, Bottom Right: Nigeria)

Like most cities in the U.S., the relatively small metropolitan area of Winston-Salem, North Carolina did not go untouched by the wave of “Black Lives Matter” demonstrations. Protest after protest flooded downtown Winston-Salem in the summer of 2020. People of all kinds of political persuasions, varying degrees of experience in movement work, and wildly different aims and motivations took to our city streets. Without question, there are always a diversity of elements within protest movements. Some complimentary, and others contradictory. Together, they all create an ecosystem of sorts. The question is: does this ecosystem have conditions that allow the most righteous and radical aims to thrive, or does it strangle them? Over the years, I’ve observed at least 10 elements or “blocks” of people within the average mass protest. Below I will attempt to name and describe just 7 of these blocks in detail. Hopefully, it helps to paint a picture of the dynamics at play within local protests during the summer of 2020. The seven blocks are as follows: the curious, the absolution-ists, the acceleration-ists, the whisperer-careerists, the nouveau-zealots, the revolutionists, and the ruling misdirection-ists.

The Curious  

I begin with “the curious” block. These are folks whose habit of looking away was broken by being quarantined under COVID-19. The graphically wicked nature of Chauvin’s murderous actions made it almost impossible for them to do so. Sadly, some of these folks had not so much as batted an eye at previous high-profile cases of police-violence. This is why celebratory declarations in the summer of 2020 about “white people finally waking up” felt pretentious. The sad reality is that the naked anti-Blackness of George Floyd’s murder was a low-bar. Even fairly vast numbers of right-wing reactionaries condemned it. (Albeit, that condemnation framed the incident as an anomalous act within an otherwise “just” system of policing.) Low bars are the modus operandi in a settler-colonial empire birthed by the chattel enslavement of African peoples, the genocide of indigenous peoples, and the stealing of their lands. A nation whose origins are grounded in this level of barbarity can always use the “past to absolve the present.”(1) Suffice it to say, “the curious” were not politically educated at all. They were not committed to, or thinking about, any sort of long-term struggle for justice. What compelled them was not solidarity, but a sense of “curiosity.” Internally they asked questions like:

“Could it be that there is something to all these claims about racism in the U.S.?” 

“Could these folks in the streets not be so ridiculously misguided after all?”

People within the curious block were called into long-term struggle and organization in some cases. However, in most instances, they were one-march-and-done “protesters.” 

Absolutionists

Second, there were “the absolution-ists.” These were generally white folks, who showed up in the streets to perform an act of absolution, not revolution. Their actions were not about solidarity but about the performance of a thin piety that worked to soothe their white guilt. A veneer that, in the future, could be leveraged to prove that they are “not racist.” These folks were procuring their “I was on the right side of history” card so they could, from now til their dying day, proudly declare: “I participated in the Black Lives Matter movement.” Thus, fending off any concerns about their commitment to anti-racist struggle. For these folks, the summer of 2020 was like an evangelical summer mission trip: short-term, piecemeal, voyeuristic, and self-serving. It wasn’t about showing up with those who live under the threat of violence from cops. It was a photo op! It was about gaining and/or protecting social capital. They screamed Black Lives Matter in the heat of summer, only to go into hibernation by winter. They cosplayed as our accomplices for a few weeks, but soon thereafter took off their “woke costumes” and went back to the regularly scheduled program of “white being.”(2)

Accelerationists

Thirdly, there were the acceleration-ists. Sometimes, they held radical political ideas, but were unconnected and unsubmitted to Black (radical) leadership. They acted as loose cannons, putting Black people in harm’s way through reckless activity at protests. There were certainly accounts of such actors in Winston-Salem, summer 2020. In other cases, they were white, right wing, provocateurs who embedded themselves in protests in an effort to fan the flames of state violence against Black protesters and their accomplices. 

Nouveau-zealots

Next, you have the “nouveau-zealots.” To be clear, I am not necessarily using “zealot” and “nouveau” pejoratively. Zealous simply means “enthusiastic” and nouveau or novice means “new.” At times, these folks have honorable motives. However, they are wet-behind-the-ears and completely untrained in organizing work. Out of some overwhelming need to act, they unwisely assume “leadership” without having ever been rooted in the struggle, become aware of local political dynamics, or engaged in conversation with “O.G.” (seasoned) organizers. 

Locally, there were those within this multi-racial block that had skills that are actually useful in mobilization. However, these skills minus political education and organization ultimately became a liability. Kwame Ture taught us that there is a difference between mobilization and organization. One can mobilize a crowd for an event or march, but only organization sustains movements, builds power, and ultimately achieves liberation. In Ture’s own words:

“We must come to know the difference between mobilization and organization, because the enemy will use mobilization to demobilize us

Mobilization is very easy….

Because we are instinctively ready to respond against acts of injustice…we’ll make some mass demonstration around it. This is what mobilization does. It mobilizes people around issues. Those of us who are revolutionary are not concerned [primarily] with issues, we’re concerned with the system….

Mobilization is temporary. Organization is permanent, and eternal.”

Because of the relative inexperience of those at the helm of some demonstrations, many mobilizations took place in Winston-Salem minus any demands, and at times, they took place without an organization even naming themselves as hosts. Thankfully, some were open to challenge, correction, and guidance from seasoned organizers. Others were hostile to it, reducing critiques to ego trips, personal attacks, and jealousy. Time demonstrated that some of the folks who jumped to the forefront had not fully considered the costs of what it meant to engage in this work. As a result, they vanished from the “activist scene” almost as quickly as they appeared on it. Others showed themselves to have been selfishly motivated in their efforts. They wanted the spotlight and the mic, not a liberation fight. 

The Revolutionists

Fifthly, in mass protests, there is a block that could be called “the revolutionists.” These are folks with clear politics, who have rooted themselves in radical traditions of struggle. They have a structural understanding of the issues and are members and leaders of actual political formations. Their commitment is unquestionably authentic, and they are willing to put their bodies on the line to incite revolutionary and/or radical transformation. This bunch was a small remnant in the streets of Winston-Salem and they are not above critique. In many instances, they have been unsuccessful at organizing critical masses of Black working-class folks. Their less radical—but just as genuine—counterparts, who I call “salt of the earth organizers,” are much more effective at building with the people. Unfortunately, in Winston-Salem, too many “salt of the earth” organizers have been estranged from the Black Radical Tradition. As a result, their admirable, necessary, and important work sometimes lacks the political analysis and aims that might get us beyond reform and relief, and towards self-determination and freedom. Much more could be said about salt of the earth organizers, but I’ll leave it there for now.

The Whisperer-Careerists 

Next, we come to “the whisperer-careerists.” These are folks who’ve been in the “activist game” for some time. Whisperer-careerists are the snake oil salesmen of community organizing and activism. They may not have started their journey in that spirit, but somewhere along the way they were co-opted and mascotized by the powers-that-be. At times, careerists will traffic in the language of Black Radicalism, but they are ultimately committed to (neo)liberal projects that do not get at the root of oppression. They may even perform what on the surface appears to be fiery rhetoric. Nonetheless, their primary aim is to accommodate the system, not to agitate or abolish it. They are the “negro whisperers” sent to manage Black discontent and denounce Black militancy. They often say the right words, but their deeds show them to be unprincipled opportunists. Sadly, Black death can be leveraged as a “come-up” and a hustle. There have always been bad faith actors that ride the waves of movements to “secure the bag” and acquire public visibility. This element was alive and well in the streets of Winston-Salem during the 2020 summer protests.

Nevertheless, the record will show that while it is the Black working class at the center of the real rebellions against white supremacy, the benefits of those rebellions have historically skipped over them. Black, financially well-off, liberal grifters show up “ontologically glued to the camera,” while redirecting radical energy towards anti-radical formations. They scold and browbeat the crowds about “voting Blue” as if it’s the panacea for state violence. They have no intention of stirring up the masses to interrogate the racist, carceral, capitalist, and imperialist two-party duopoly. No, as democrat party operatives, they are tasked with re-interpreting the cries of the oppressed in ways that are palatable for their white liberal sponsors. Once successfully done, the non-profiteers can suck up the foundation grant money, and a hand-selected few are given platforms to speak and write on the anti-racism “chicken circuit.” If you look closely enough, you’ll find that the careerists are figuratively and literally “arm-in-arm” with the carceral state—even at protests. I recall participating in the Charlotte Uprising in 2016 and witnessing a Black clergy person at the front of the march who would regularly step away to talk to law enforcement. It was later shown that CPD was feeding this clergyman orders on which streets to turn on. Was his allegiance to the Spirit of the liberating Christ or the spirit of the age? Was he embodying the office of the prophet, or doing the bidding of the mayor’s office? These are questions that needed answering in Charlotte, and summer 2020 in Winston-Salem. 

Ruling Misdirectionists 

Peace for All Protest
PICTURED: Winston-Salem Police Chief Katrina Thompson & Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough march with protesters on June 3rd in downtown Winston-Salem, NC.

Lastly, you have what, in my experience, was a new phenomenon within protests. I can’t recall previous marches where the mayor, the police chief, the sheriff, city council members, and local “white lords of capitol” joined the protests. Yet, such was the case this past that summer. I am calling this new element “the ruling misdirectionists.” These misdirectionists were given space to do speeches of “solidarity” and support that always ended with encouragement to remain “peaceful.” It was quite amusing to see the very people whose hands control the levers of power in a deceitfully unjust city, be given the opportunity to get their hands on a bullhorn at a protest. Further entrenching themselves in the moment and (mis)directing the narrative, they hosted town halls and panels to discuss “the state of justice” in Winston-Salem. These events were characterized by softball questions, a glaringly obvious lack of more radical voices, and a glossing over of the material conditions of oppressed communities in Winston-Salem. As James Baldwin put it in his 1972 book, “No Name in the Street”: 

“Well, if one really wishes to know how justice is administered in a [city], one does not question the policemen, the lawyers, the judges, or the protected members of the middle class. One goes to the unprotected—those, precisely, who need the law’s protection most! —and listens to their testimony. Ask any Mexican, any Puerto Rican, any Black [person], any poor person—ask the wretched how they fare….and then you will know, not whether or not the [city] is just, but whether or not it has any love for justice, or any concept of it. It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.” 

Ignorantly allied with the powers– at times literally walking hand-in-hand with them — too many of the summer 2020 protests betrayed the tradition of Black freedom struggle. At times, it wasn’t clear what was actually being protested. The ruling forces of Winston-Salem were so enmeshed in the activity, that it blurred the contradictions and transformed the public image of oppressors into “fellow protesters.” At one point in the summer, the City of Winston-Salem in partnership with the Minister’s Conference, The Arts Council of Winston-Salem, and other organizations sponsored an event in which a downtown city street was painted with the words: “End Racism Now #BLM.” I have no desire or intent to denigrate artists or everyday people that participated in that. I only wish to interrogate the larger context that it took place in, and why it was embraced. 

Mural
PICTURED: Artists paint the word “E” in “End Racism Now #BLM” on Main Street in Winston-Salem, NC.

This was an insidiously non-substantive, but ingeniously symbolic gesture being made by mayors across the nation. Being the politically savvy politician that Mayor Allen Joines is, he adopted it as well. He knew that the art, as Black and beautiful as it may be, was not a direct threat to the local power structure in the way that a recently censored mural piece depicting Wake Forest’s “Demon Deacon” mascot as a gentrifying corporate thief. 

Instead, this mural gave the unsuspecting public the sense that “all was well in Camel City.” It bolstered a brewing “Winston-exceptionalism” that said: “Our leadership is getting it right! We’re not like Minneapolis or Ferguson.” This was literally the theme of an October 2020 Politico article featuring WSPD chief, Katrina Thompson. Yet, I argue that the Politico article was just icing on the cake of a narrative that had already baked in the oven of a hot summer of protests. The powers cleverly put themselves in the heart of the activity and it allowed them to control the narrative and regulate the temperature of protests. Political philosopher and author Dr. Joy James used the analogy of “brood parasitism” to describe this phenomenon. In a talk entitled “The Algorhythms of Anti-racism”, she argued that, “Painting ‘Black Lives Matter’ on the street is a form of brood parasitism.”

A brood parasite is a bird that lays its eggs in another bird’s nest. They cleverly disguise the eggs to look just like the eggs that actually belong to the mother chicken. Unknowingly, the chicken broods over eggs that are not her own. The foreign egg grows bigger and faster than her own, and hatches first. Once hatched, the foreign chickling ends up eating all the chicken’s eggs before they have the chance to hatch. 

This is a cogent metaphor for what happened in the city of Winston-Salem! Folks unwittingly brooded and nurtured the status-quo upholding political vision of the powers. The potential for the summer to be a time of radical transformation got eaten up by the much bigger platforms and PR departments of the elite. One must ask: Did having melanated and charismatic heads of the sheriff and police department lull folks to sleep? The Yoruba proverb warns us that, “the Axe was clever and convinced the Trees that because his handle was made of wood, he was one of them.”

This was all quite predictable. In the early days of local protests, I shared the following cautionary words via Facebook:

Right now the national (and local) strategy to stop the radical freedom struggle is at least 2-fold:

Firstly, they crush resistance through militarized force, martial law, & criminalization of protest.Secondly, they make the public catch a “crush” by “weaponizing the good apple.” A set of cops taking a knee, giving a [protester a] hug, and/or giving an inspiring speech is in some cases, more powerful than any tear gas or tank. The good apple motif takes our attention away from the system itself and redirects it to the actions of individuals. I’m positive there are some well-intentioned cops. This ain’t personal. We must come to see that the good intentions of individuals cannot redirect the orientation of a corrupt and harmful system.

Lit City & Drum Majors Alliance Co-statement on the Shooting At Mt.Tabor High School

A Call For Peace Through Transformative Justice 

Once again, our city has been gripped by violence. Last week, we lost a precious, priceless, image-of-God bearing young person to gun violence: William Chavis Raynard Miller, Jr.

The reality that this act of violence took place on the school grounds of Mt.Tabor High School makes it all the more painful and communally traumatic. We want to imagine schools as “safe spaces” and portals to flourishing futures, not danger zones and sites of death. Yet, here we are, forced to grapple with not only this tragic incident, but the underlying conditions that made it possible. 

First and foremost, as sibling organizations, Lit City Youth Development and the Drum Majors Alliance want to extend our deepest condolences to family and friends of “Will,” as he was affectionately known. His light was taken from them much too soon. We have not ceased to pray for his loved ones, the Mt. Tabor student body and staff, and parents traumatized by this tragedy. And yes, we are praying for the alleged shooter and his loved ones as well. Yet, we dare not stop at prayer alone. To borrow from the words of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr, “[we] take prayer too seriously to use it as an excuse to avoid work and responsibility.” 

Since 2011, Lit City has had the honor of working with Black and Brown teens in the city of Winston-Salem through leadership development programs on the campuses of schools (Mt. Tabor being one), mentoring and advocacy work, sports and fitness, and the arts. We approach our work with the fundamental assumption that Black and Brown youth are not problems to be solved, but treasures to behold, with destinies that a loving and just village helps to unfold. Yet, these destinies are placed in jeopardy by living legacies of racial and economic injustice and isolation. When villages are systematically targeted and destabilized, gangs and other poisonous elements organically form in response. Our belief in the fundamental dignity and promise of our young folks, linked to our analysis of their material conditions, has led Lit City and the Drum Majors Alliance to embrace a “transformative justice” approach to violence. 

Transformative justice calls us to center the work of healing the harmed, while being sensitive to the reality that harmers are generally those who have experienced deep harm themselves. Such was the case in this most recent incident. The student who allegedly committed the act of gun violence had recently been a victim of gun violence, as well as harassment. All the research around violence shows that victims of trauma who are not cared for properly, are more susceptible to traumatizing others. To be clear, this is not about excusing inexcusable behavior or abdicating responsibility. It is about understanding context and expanding who we hold responsible! Context always matters in peacemaking work, and to varying degrees, we are all responsible. As poet Gwendolyn Brooks put it, “we are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business.” Transformative justice is an approach that calls us away from the “individualization” of violence. We will not overcome peer-on-peer aggression in our communities by zeroing in on, disappearing, and demonizing individual youth and adults. We must address the larger conditions and structures. We must come to see that the kind of society and systems that produce these outcomes is the problem. Transformative justice calls us to ask deeper, and more layered questions. In asking deep and layered questions, we are equipped to make deep and multi-layered interventions. This means that we cannot pit the personal against the political or the societal against the familial in our work. Like the Gospel of Jesus, a transformative justice approach is deeply personal, profoundly communal, and unrelentingly political in its scope. It calls us to wed relational efforts like mentoring programs for vulnerable youth, with structural efforts to eradicate the injustices that create their vulnerabilities. 

One of the most important aspects of transformative justice is that it calls us away from our dependence on systems that “at best” are response-based, and at worse, germinate and exacerbate the very issues we seek to overcome. It helps us avoid the pitfall of thinking that police, prisons, surveillance, and detention centers are how we get free and create peace. In the wake of this tragedy, we have seen key players in our city’s power structure engage in what we might call “disaster carceralism.” The word “carceral” refers to systems of punishment and captivity like policing, prisons, monitoring, detention centers, etc. Similar to “disaster capitalism”, disaster carceralism is an attempt to seize a moment of tragedy to further the economic drain, strengthen the systemic grip, and boost the public approval of “solving” issues of violence with law enforcement. As calls are being made for more SROs, more cops, so-called “zero tolerance policies”, and metal detectors in schools, it is important that we don’t repeat the mistakes that some within the Black community made during the carnage of the 90s “crack era.” It is well documented that anti-Black politicians committed to anything but the well-being of Black communities, called for and created “get tough” policies that created mass incarceration during that era. The often overlooked reality of that moment is that some well-meaning Black folks who genuinely wanted safety, echoed and championed these calls to their community’s own peril. As a result they were complicit in causing more devastation and criminalization, not restoration. Let us not make that mistake in this moment. We need radical (root-cause) solutions, not carceral ones.

The carceral state has mastered the art of (re)legitimizing itself in the wake of tragedies, but study it closely and you’ll see that carcerality helped create the climate of peer-on-peer aggression in our communities. Leaning on its structures and employing its logics will not get us free, nor will it heal us. More police, more SROs, more cages, more surveillance, more punishment, more metal detectors, more “reforms” will not save us. We the people must create, sustain, and expand community-controlled systems of care, safety, accountability, healing, and transformative justice. To that end, we call on three key sectors of our city to meet this moment with wisdom and compassion:  

  1. As organizations rooted in the Way of Jesus, Lit City and the Drum Majors Alliance have an intrafaith responsibility to call on the Body of Christ and churches in Winston-Salem to move beyond thoughts and prayers, and towards sustained, compassionate, inclusive, and holistic efforts of peacemaking. Loving our neighbors as we love ourselves demands that we open up our hearts, ears, minds, buildings, and budgets for this important work!
  2. Secondly, we call on the Winston-Salem Forsyth County School System to dismantle, not strengthen the school-to-prison nexus. Invest in more counselors and trauma-informed therapists, not cops. Create on-ramps for skilled youth workers to be on campus, not metal detectors. Employ anti-racist restorative approaches to displine issues, not punitive anti-Black ones. Center Black and Brown student’s futures, not white fears. Thoroughly investigate multiple reports of Tabor students being mistreated by law enforcement during last Monday’s ordeal. There is video evidence of one Black student being slammed to the ground and handcuffed by a sheriff during the lockdown. Now is not the time to engage in suppression or repression. It is time to uncover and progress towards transformative justice.
  3. We call on the city‘s power structure to “let justice roll down like an everlasting stream!” Embrace what Martin Luther King Jr. called “a revolution of values.” This revolution demands an end to the unjust distribution of resources in the city of Winston-Salem. We can no longer accept bread crumbs for the most oppressed communities. Instead, it is time to reorder city and county budgets to meet the pressing needs of housing, community-controlled violence interruption programs, community-controlled youth development work, mental health resources, and much more.  

We close this statement with a word to the broader village:

None of the above named institutions will move towards justice minus our agitation, organization, and determination. We who believe that our own flourishing and futures are bound up with the flourishing and futures of our most vulnerable young folks cannot rest til this city “embraces the things that make for peace.”

______________________________________________________________________________________

Lit City Youth Development

Drum Majors Alliance 

litcityws@gmail.com

drummajorsalliance@gmail.com

Contact phone #: 336-750-6266

More Than a Hamburger: A Brief Reflection on the “Greensboro Four” & the Unfinished Work of Dismantling Racial Capitalism

On February 1st. 1960 four North Carolina A&T students sat-in at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in downtown Greensboro, NC.

The resistance of Ezell Blair Jr., David Richmond, Franklin McCain and Joseph McNeil against U.S. Apartheid sent shockwaves throughout the nation. It helped to sparked what might be described as a leaderful Black youth-led movement. Though their courageous defiance of white supremacist Jim Crow laws is universally celebrated in our times, it is only partially understood.

We generally speak of Jim Crow segregation as solely being about where certain bodies could and could not go. We zoom in on “whites only” public accommodations like bathrooms, movie theaters, fairs, buses, schools, and lunch counter cafes. While this focus is necessary, it masks a critical aspect of what the white power structure was up to. The system of Jim Crow was not simply about where people could and couldn’t go, it was about where ***resources needed for human flourishing went and where they didn’t. Jim Crow was a racist system of apartheid economics that enabled accumulation for white America and deprivation for Black America. South Africans, attempting to analyze their particular apartheid context called it “racial capitalism.” Racial capitalism was/is an anti-Black and anti-Indigenous system of economic exploitation and domination upheld by state and vigilante violence & terror.

In the words of Ruth Wilson Gilmore:

“Capitalism requires inequality, and racism enshrines it.”

The Greensboro Four, the sit-in movement, and the best of the broader mid 20th century Black freedom struggle must be understood as a struggle against racial capitalism. Admittedly, this is a much more dangerous and threatening way to talk about it—hence it is avoided in our schools and in most public discourse. This avoidance can even be found amongst celebrated Black political pundits and best-selling “anti-racist” authors.

However, when you study the history closely and honestly, this is what you find.

You find Ella Baker—mother of the civil rights movement—saying in June of 1960 that the struggle was “for something much bigger than a hamburger or even a giant-sized Coke.” Lunch counters were sites of dramatization for a broader, more radical struggle. Baker communicated that Black youth and their white accomplices were carried along by a vision “to rid America of the scourge” of racial and economic oppression “in every aspect of life.” In fact, she placed these localized struggles in an international/global context. According to Baker, the students felt that they had a “destined date with freedom” that had implications for the “whole world.” A world in bondage to racial capitalist colonial oppression. Some years later, Ella spoke the following relevant words to a crowd in the colonized land of Puerto Rico:

“You have to go back, and reach out to your neighbors who don’t speak to you, and you have to reach out to your friends, who think they are making it good, and get them to understand that they, as well as you, and I, cannot be free in America — or anywhere else, where there is capitalism and imperialism!”

As we stand in the afterlives of both chattel slavery and Jim Crow, may we not only remember the courage of the Greensboro Four—may we EMBODY it!

Generations to come are counting on us to disrupt the deadly status quo.

written by Terrance Hawkins

Siblings stand in front of statue honoring the Greensboro Four on the campus of NC A&T in Greensboro, NC

Infection Anywhere Is a Threat to Public Health Everywhere: COVID-19 and the Forsyth County Detention Center

IMG_8840.jpg

Terrance Hawkins speaks in front of Forsyth County Detention in Winston-Salem, NC.

This past Saturday, Drum Majors Alliance co-founder, Terrance Hawkins, delivered a speech at a protest calling for humane treatment, COVID-19 testing, and release of inmates from our local detention center, starting with the most vulnerable. (Read the demands HERE.) The following is the written adaptation of that speech:

I’ve said this at least 100 times over the last few months, but it must be said again: Covid-19 is apocalyptic in the truest sense of the word. Apocalypse means to “unveil, unmask, or uncover something” and this pandemic has unveiled & unmasked the injustice and isolation that plagues our city, state, nation, and world.

As Reverend Osagyefo Sekou recently said, “[Racial] capitalism is Coronavirus’s preexisting condition.”

And what a deadly pre-existing condition it is!

From the days of Jim Crow Sr to our Jim Crow Jr moment, Winston-Salem has for or all intensive purposes, been an Apartheid City.  We practice apartheid economics, medical apartheid, and educational apartheid. There are literally TWO Winston Salem’s. One marked by a history of power & privilege and another marred by a history of disinvestment & dispossession.

As others have  put it:

“Yes, we are all on the same “ocean”, attempting to ride out the same storm of COVID-19. But we are not all on the same boats.”

Due to this city’s history of apartheid, some communities are riding out this storm on boats that are far less seaworthy.

Black Winston-Salem is uniquely vulnerable.

Brown/Latinx Winston-Salem is uniquely vulnerable.

Our elderly and immunocompromised loved ones are uniquely vulnerable.

Our unhoused neighbors have been uniquely vulnerable.

And those imprisoned in our detention center are uniquely vulnerable!

But we believe that our freedom and flourishing and future is bound up with the freedom, flourishing, & futures of the most vulnerable.  Yes, as a son of the radical Black church tradition, let me put a little scripture on it. The writer of Hebrews wrote:

“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”  (Hebrews 13:3)

Fannie Lou Hamer, another child of this tradition, taught us that “nobody is free, til everybody is free”

Or as Martin Luther King Jr. put it:

“We are caught in an inescapable web of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects us all indirectly. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Or we could say that infection in the detention center is a threat to public health outside of the detention center.

The lack of response to the crisis in our local detention center demonstrates that the forces of UNFREEDOM are strong in the city of Winston-Salem. Don’t let the power structure of this city fool you when they “cosplay” as freedom fighters! We know better.
When COVID hit, many of us forcefully said that the city must break pre-existing patterns to save lives in the present AND to chart a new path for the future.

But what did they do? Well as I put it a couple months back:
“Winston-Salem’s response to COVID-19 has been SO “Winston-Salem.”

This was the pattern we saw:

1) Winston-Salem/Forsyth County put forth unsatisfactory COVID-19 response plans that funneled the money into our city’s bloated non-profit industrial complex.  The wealthy got to play the hero through philanthrocapitalist endeavors.

2) Grassroots organizations, advocacy groups, & activists pushed back, protested, & put forth demands.

3) In the wake of sustained pressure, City/County officials implement a diluted “great value” version of the demands that emerged from grassroots groups.

4) With the help of the local media apparatus, city & county officials announced updated plans as if they were entirely a result of their own thoughtfulness & commitment to justice.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Now they are holding town halls to “dialogue about injustice” with panel lineups that consist primarily of folks who hold power. But this way of getting to the bottom of a city’s commitment to justice ain’t in alignment with the tradition I come from.

Brother James Baldwin taught us:

“Well, if one really wishes to know how justice is administered in a country, one does not question the policemen, the lawyers, the judges, or the protected members of the middle class. One goes to the unprotected—those, precisely, who need the law’s protection most! —and listens to their testimony. Ask any Mexican, any Puerto Rican, any Black [person], any poor person—ask the wretched how they fare in the halls of justice, and then you will know, not whether or not the country is just, but whether or not it has any love for justice, or any concept of it. It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.” 

This tradition teaches us that we must let the lion tell her part of the story so that history can no longer exonerate & glorify the hunter–while denigrating & dehumanizing the hunted.

Rooted in this tradition, we can see that what’s happening in our local detention center is not unprecedented. We can see a clear thread from the conditions forced upon enslaved Africans in the hold of slave ships to the inhumane conditions so common in our jails & prisons (disproportionately occupied by Black bodies). We can see a clear thread from slave patrols of the antebellum south to 21 century policing. We can see a clear thread from the “post-emancipation” system of convict leasing to the present evil of mass incarceration. We can see a clear thread from the stories of Johanne & Maria Samuel—the First enslaved Africans baptized into the Moravian church. After their emancipation, they never got any justice or reparations, only patchwork charity. As a result of their economic instability, they engaged in “petty theft” & were in and out of jail. This local history echoes & rhymes with the stories of so many in our community today. There has been very little healing justice & hand-ups for the oppressed, just handcuffs & stiff arms.

Black, Brown, Indigenous people have always been viewed as cage-able, enslavable, killable, & discardable.  But in this moment we are calling for a radical turn, not a neoliberal tweak.  We don’t want the thread of enslavement to get more “colorful.” We don’t want the thread “painted” or tied in a pretty bow of “diversity.” In the words of Fannie Lou Hamer, “we are sick of symbolism we are fighting  for our lives.”

What do we want? We want this oppressive thread broken, dismantled, and abolished! We want a city and a world rooted in the understanding that you can’t cage, handcuff, & court case your way to peace. Peace is the offspring of revolutionary love & transformative justice. Peace is rooted in acts of care, restoration, healing, & the pursuit of liberation! Peace is a mighty river flowing from the throne of the Holy One! Our city will never live into its name (Salem/Peace) til it lets this river wash away the stains of apartheid.

I leave you with the words of martyred BPP chairman Fred Hampton:

“Peace to you, if you’re willing to fight for it!”

COVID-19 Covenant of Resistance

COVID-19 Covenant of ResistanceIMG_7602.JPG

Beloved,

Times of great challenge are upon us, and as we have in times past, the community of faith is demonstrating an ethic of love rooted in our belief that we are called to love God and our neighbors. Christians, churches, and faith-based nonprofits are springing into action through prayer and relief efforts to support the most vulnerable in our cities and communities. The Drum Majors Alliance and Sanctuary Consulting, LLC applaud and affirm these efforts. We thank God for every individual and institution that is at work in these ways. Still, we must say that while these efforts are necessary and important, they are incomplete. The fullness of our calling in this time is rooted in the spiritual principle of resistance. As we continue our journey through this Lenten season, we must recall Jesus’ love-rooted resistance of Satan while fasting in the wilderness. We must recall the holy resistance of the prophets against the evil of their own people and the powers of their time. We must recall Jesus’ own prophetic resistance to the empire in proclaiming the in-breaking reign of God, not Caesar. We must recall his resistance to the religious legitimation of economic exploitation as seen in his cleansing of the temple. We then, in the tradition of our faith, must resist the forces that make charity toxic, that leave stories unheard, and that erases our prophetic calling to do justice, as we engage in acts of mercy/relief, and walk humbly with our God. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is apocalyptic in the truest sense of the word.  The word apocalypse means to “unmask or unveil.” This pandemic unmasks and lays bare the pre-existing conditions that have diseased the body politic of the U.S. for decades, even centuries. Now is not the time for “political quietism”, neutrality,  or for the mouthing of “pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities.” This is a moment that calls us to live into the holistic nature of our call to love God and neighbor. The biblical notion that “love conquers all” is not about the power of abstract feelings to save the world. It does not stop at the noble act of food distribution when ignoble forces ensure communities remain in situations of deprivation.  Rather, authentic love concretely faces, and seeks to overcome every barrier to liberation, community, and human flourishing. The pre-existing barriers to flourishing created by systemic injustices like racism, health care inequity, and poverty have only been further exasperated in this moment. 

We will not be able to “charity” our way out of this crisis. Our church budgets cannot fill in the gap left by an ever-sagging social safety net. The demands of resistance move us beyond charity, and towards ministries of solidarity! We are in a moment that will almost certainly set the direction of this nation for years, and perhaps even decades to come. The city of Winston-Salem was already in deep crisis. As we boasted of being one of the best places for the economic mobile to relocate, we were simultaneously amongst the 3rd worst nationally in economic mobility for children born in poverty and 20th worst in eviction rates. Bolstered by over a billion dollars in investment, our very attractional downtown has experienced a renewal that has skipped over those that Jesus called “the least” and “the last.” From the top to the bottom, our city is in need of a revolution of values. The Church should be a harbinger of this revolutionary transformation. Yet, too often churches, the preacher class, and others in the faith community have not stood firm in their position as the conscious of the city, and have instead colluded with forces that trample the poor, the disabled, the sick, the outcast, the imprisoned, and the immigrant.  

Now, more than ever, it seems we must make a radical turn. At our best, the Church brings unique gifts to this work. Think about it: we are a community of people who have been called into a life-long practice of repentance and transformation that demands that we face our frailties and faults while holding on to a sense of our belovedness. What would it look like for the church to be a leavening presence, aiding this work of transformation to take place on the personal, communal, AND political levels of our city.

We, The Drum Majors Alliance and Sanctuary Consulting, LLC, along with other organizations and individuals, ask that you prayerfully consider joining with us in what we are calling the COVID-19 Covenant of Resistance. The aim of this covenant is to spur the Body of Christ on to a holistic response in this moment of turmoil and uncertainty, and to provide resources and a concrete blueprint of what that might look like. Below you’ll find six (6) points of resistance along with six (6) actionable alternatives. The accompanying COVID-19 Covenant of Resistance Resource Toolkit (available via Google Docs) will be updated constantly with tools needed to flesh out these actions. May God empower us all by the Spirit to bear witness to the Good News of Jesus’ Kin’dom in this critical moment!

Covenant of Resistance-3

Read the detailed description of the covenant below & let us know that you or your organization is committing to the covenant by clicking [HERE]

Signed,

LOCAL:

Drum Majors Alliance 

Sanctuary Consulting, LLC                                                                                                              

Freedom Tree (IDR)

Housing Justice Now

Terrance Hawkins (Drum Majors Alliance, co-founder)

Allonda Hawkins (Drum Majors Alliance, co-founder)

Reverend Kenneth Pettigrew, M.Div (Sanctuary Consulting, LLC, principle)

Minister Vennekia Williams, M.Div (Sanctuary Consulting, LLC,  principle/project director | Drum Majors Alliance)              

Thomas Lees (Drum Majors Alliance)

Ricky Johnson (Political Action Chair of Education Chair for YAC, WS-NAACP | Drum Majors Alliance)

Reverend Dr. Melva Sampson (Curator, Pink Robe Chronicles)

Darrick Young (Global Citizen, Comrade) 

Reverend John Mendez (retired pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church W-S)

Dalia Antunez (Siembra) 

Phillip Carter (Housing Justice Now) 

Miranda Jones (Hate Out Of Winston) 

Reverend Willard Bass (Freedom Tree, IDR) 

Jennifer Bibb

Reverend Byron Williams (Author) 

Sarah Avery 

Reverend Chaz Snider

Walter Author (The Twenty-Faith Committee)

Dr. Clay Cooke (School of Love, Co-Executive Director) 

Pastor Chris Jones

Chuck Byrd (The Twenty Faith Committee, Ebonites Treasure) 

Dr. Sharee Fowler 

Kenny Williams 

Bishop Tejado Hanchell (Mt Calvary Holy Church)

Ejay Chandler (Lit City, Youth Engagement Director)

BROADER TRIAD, NC SIGNEES:

Good Neighbor Movement (Greensboro, NC)

Reverend Brandon Wrencher (Good Neighbor Movement)

Reverend Dee Stokes (Dee Stokes Ministries)

Reverend CJ Brinson (Genesis Baptist Church, The Movement Consulting)

NATIONAL:

Reverend Starsky Wilson (President/CEO of Deaconess Foundation – St Louis, MO)

Reverend Bethany Rivera Molinar (Co-Pastor, Church in the Park Cuidad Nueva Community Outreach | Board Chair Pres of the Texas CCCDA)

Reverend Delonte J Gholston (Peace Fellowship Church, Peace Walks DC/Live Free DC)

Reverend Derrick Rice, M. Div (Senior Pastor Sankofa UCC, Atlanta, GA)

Pastor Stephanie Answer (Co-pastor of New Community Church, Kansas City, MO)

Pastor Daryl Answer  (Co-pastor of New Community Church, Kansas City, MO)

Pastor Shannon E. Jones (Founding Pastor, The Gathering Church, Atlanta, GA & Liberia)

Reverend Dr. Reginald Williams, Jr. (First Baptist Church of University Park, IL – a suburb of Chicago) 

Reverend Ronnie Galvin (VP for Racial Equity & the Democratic Economy, The Democracy Collaborative) 

Read the detailed description of the covenant below & let us know that you or your organization is committing to the covenant by clicking [HERE]


 

COVID-19 Covenant of Resistance (access resource tool kit to take specific actions HERE.)

1.) Resist: Prayerlessness, fear, & paralyzation 

     Action: Embrace daily rhythms of prayer, silence, & meditation

Embrace and create rhythms of prayer, worship, lament, silence, scripture meditation, and other practices of love-rooting, courage-building, joy-making, and self-care. It is okay to sit with your grief. It is okay to feel disoriented. Our worlds have changed abruptly. We are all trying to catch our bearings. Those of us with pre-existing mental health struggles are finding ourselves all the more challenged. It is okay to not be okay. It’s okay to cry. It is okay to lament. It is okay to be afraid. To experience fear is to be human. 

Yet, the Spirit calls us to taste, see, know, and experience a deep abiding love that has the power to cast out fear. Our birthright as followers of Jesus is not paralyzing terror. Rather, it is courageous compassion in the face of fear. As many have said, “courage is not the absence of fear.” It is the willingness to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before God even as we battle fear. 

The Drum Majors Alliance will be curating prayer resources in our COVID-19 Covenant of Resistance Resource Document over the next few weeks. We invite you to make use of these resources and we encourage you to find ways to experience joy and peace in the days ahead. Experience the wonder of creation around you by taking a walk. Practice being still and silent. Get up and dance to your favorite tunes. Sing, write, draw, create something lovely. 

“Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” Luke 18:1 

 

2.) Resist: Gathering

    Action: Engage in social solidarity, not just physical distancing.

We implore all church leaders to halt all in-person gatherings like bible studies and Sunday services while exploring and implementing creative alternatives. It has been well-documented around the globe that churches who do not follow these guidelines put vulnerable congregational members at risk, as well as the broader community. We understand the financial strain and stress that this time will put on many churches. We also trust that God will provide and honor your church’s commitment to care for souls and bodies, because truly, “lives matter more than tithes matter.” Shutting down services is the most compassionate, wise, and therefore Jesus-like thing to do. This is not an “Acts 4:19” civil disobedience moment. It’s a moment that calls for faith-rooted sensibility, hope-soaked realism, creativity in caring for your congregants, and for the least of these.  

Against the urgent counsel of almost every medical professional in our nation, President Donald Trump has recently suggested that Resurrection Sunday should be the day that things “reopen” around the country. If the president continues to push this ill-advised idea forward, we strongly urge you to resist. We must not allow our holy desires to gather on this sacred day to be exploited by the Powers. It would be tragic to set in motion more death and sickness on a day that we celebrate resurrection life and healing. To do so is not an act of faith rooted in the belief of the miraculous. As people of the resurrection, it is, in our estimation, an act of bad faith, rooted in a lack of compassionate wisdom. 

Having said all of that, the call of the Church cannot be reduced to “social distancing.” In fact, the term social distancing may present us with an unhelpful understanding of the nature of what this moment demands from us. As this article effectively demonstrates, a solely individualistic focus on keeping oneself safe will be catastrophic for the most vulnerable–like the elderly, the disabled, women in situations of domestic abuse, and LGBTQ youth estranged from their families. Instead, we must fiercely advocate for *physical distancing and a moratorium on religious gatherings as one act of care among many. To holistically work for the well-being of our communities, churches, individuals, and nonprofits must think of creative, dignity-affirming, acts of care and mutual aid. “Mutual aid” gives us a different frame for community engagement. It calls us to solidarity, not charity. It calls us to work in a spirit of mutuality, not superiority. It moves us away from our tendency to show up as “saviors,” and roots us in our true calling to be good neighbors. As you engage in whatever relief work you may do, think of ways to do it with your community as a partner and an equal. As you strategically meet immediate needs, dialogue and dream together about how we can cultivate a world of shared flourishing. (For more resources on mutual aid please engage the Resource Document.)

“…there is a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.” Ecclesiastes 3:5 

3.) Resist: Racialized, ageist, ableist narratives-                                                       

     Action: Call out racist, ageist, or ableist language & behaviors. 

The triplet evils of idolatry, injustice, and isolation are upheld by social narratives that over-affirm the belovedness of some, while under-affirming the belovedness of others. Generally speaking, there is a direct correlation between dehumanizing rhetoric against minoritized groups and the interpersonal or systemic brutalization of said groups. Currently, Asian-Americans are being attacked in our city streets and online. This uptick in hate can be traced directly to the white house & 45’s xenophobic choice to call COVID-19 the “Chinese virus.”  In 2015, the World Health Organization issued new guidelines that infectious diseases should not be named after nations, ethnic groups, or even animals, in an effort to “minimize unnecessary negative effects on nations, economies, and people.” We must disrupt these narratives online and beyond when we see them. Don’t look away. Silence is ungodly. Speak up with humility and urgency. Over and over in the Gospels, we see Jesus subverting narratives and practices that demean and demonize the vulnerable. In the Spirit and name of Jesus may we do the same. Lastly, there has been a tendency to downplay the impact of the COVID-19 because the groups that it most fatally impacts are people over 65 and people who are immunocompromised. Ageism and ableism are not congruent with the Gospel. A redemptive imagination that is willing to sacrifice the 2.5% as “economic liabilities” is in no way congruent with the kin-dom ethics of a Jesus who would leave the 99 to save the 1 who was in jeopardy of being lost. Our elders are not disposable and should not be placed on the altar as sacrifices to secure the economy. The truth is that the nation can both protect and preserve the lives of the most vulnerable while also building a just economy. The two aims go hand-in-hand.

“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.” 2 Corinthians 5:16

4.) Resist: houselessness, inhumane conditions in jails/prisons, & deportations.

Action: Contact local officials and courts on behalf of those who are vulnerable. 

During this time of crisis–and beyond– it is important that we come to see housing as a human right! We must refuse to allow neighbors to be put out into the streets and for those already without housing to be left uncared for. Thankfully, as a result of the work of various groups of activists our state and local officials have mandated a freeze on rent, a hold on evictions, and a moratorium on foreclosures. We must still remain vigilant in making sure that landlords, leasing companies, banks, etc are abiding by this. We must make sure that residents are aware of these mandates so they are not needlessly burdened with fear and anxiety about the possibilities of being put out of their homes as so many are falling into unemployment. City With Dwellings–an initiative that works to end the crisis of homelessness in our city–is working hard to ensure the best possible actions are made to protect and care for those who are chronically homeless. Please join them and others in calling for the city to fund and embrace the most humane measures possible for their well-being.  We must also continue to show up in solidarity with our undocumented neighbors who have in other states been preyed upon & arrested by ICE even in the midst of this tragedy. Due to the ongoing climate of fear, language barriers, and lack of resources, far too many of our Latino/a/x neighbors are foregoing medical care and testing. Additionally, as an absolutely indispensable portion of the U.S. labor force, the Latinx community will be hit hard by the massive layoffs that are occurring.  However, unlike others, they will not be recipients of stimulus checks due to their citizenship status. We invite you to keep track with and support the ongoing efforts of Siembra, a Latinx organization on the front lines of this struggle on the local and state level as they work to secure needed resources for their community. Lastly, prisons and jails are high-risk spaces for the spread of the virus. We are admonished by the writer of Hebrews to “remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them.” A coalition of local activists are calling for the immediate release of everyone being held pre-trial….unless the person poses the immediate threat of specific physical injury to a specific person.” Read more on this here & sign the petition calling city leadership to respond. 


“…for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’” Matthew 25:35-36

5.) Resist: disaster capitalism 

     Action: Call for economic decisions that put people over profits. 

From its beginnings, US capitalism has been incubated in the womb of great disasters, intentional and unintentional. The disastrous original sins of the transatlantic trade slave trade and the genocidal dispossession of indigenous people’s land are undeniably the roots of our nation’s wealth and economy. Millions, upon millions, upon millions of image-of-God bearing people have been sacrificed at the vile altar of mammon in this nation’s history. As the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr put it:

“We have deluded ourselves into believing the myth that capitalism grew and prospered out of the Protestant ethic of hard work and sacrifice. The fact is that capitalism was built on the exploitation and suffering of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor — both black and white, here and abroad.

This nation has never repented of these unholy beginnings and as a result has continued to foster a racialized and gendered cycle of economic exploitation, disinvestment, and inequity. And as King pointed out in the above quote, poor white folks and even those who sit in an ever-increasingly fragile middle class, suffer under neoliberal capitalism. (Neoliberal capitalism is an economic philosophy that seeks the “triumph of the market over all other social values.” Portions of the city of Winston-Salem’s business sector AND swaths of our bloated non-profit sector are complicit in this triumphalism.)

“Disaster capitalism,” as defined by author  Naomi Klein, is the way that private industries seek to profit off of large-scale crises, be it war, hurricanes, or in this case, a pandemic.  From Katrina, to Hurricane Maria, to the 9/11 tragedy, we see examples of how the ruling class seizes times of tragedy as an opportunity to increase its economic power and political dominance by pushing policies that would generally be opposed. At the time of the release of this document both republicans and democrats are debating a stimulus bill that falls very short of robustly helping the people in this unprecedented moment of job loss, economic downturn, and sickness. 

It seems that now, more than ever, this nation needs to make a radical turn from its practice of giving bailouts and hand-outs to corporations, while giving stiff-arms and beatdowns to the people—especially the most vulnerable. To be clear, this practice has *always been unsustainable. We just happen to be in a moment in which this will be **forcefully demonstrated. The Church must call the nation to turn its gaze away from the stock market and to look upon Jesus in the face of the oppressed. The market is not God and neither is it an indicator of the material conditions of the masses! Ask the unhoused if a stock market rise lifts them out of their situation. Ask the uninsured if historic climbs in the market have enabled them to climb the massive barriers to health care. Ask the underpaid working class if filled coffers on Wall Street have resulted in the filling of coffers on “MLK Drive” or “Main Street.” Ask communities who have undergone decade after decade of mass disinvestment if they see trillion-dollar “hook-ups” for corporations as a sign that things are looking up for them. Ask “the least” and “the last” if a stock market jump means they’ll be able to jump to the front of the line. Finally, we must ask the Spirit if we can serve mammon AND a God who calls us to a revolutionary love ethic that puts people over profits. We must remember that “Jesus didn’t say that you “shouldn’t” serve God and mammon. He said that you CAN’T serve God and mammon.” 

For this reason, along with national groups like the Poor People’s Campaign state groups like NC United for Survival & Beyond, and local groups like Housing Justice Now, we are calling for community oversight on the disbursement of our city’s relief fund,  guaranteed monthly income, mass investments in free access to health care and testing for ALL, adequate PPE for health care workers, paid sick leave for workers that are literally keeping the country afloat, rent freezes, small business grants (not loans), student debt cancellation, and so much more. Join us in amplifying the demands of the above organizations and calling others in the household of faith to do the same! But let’s not leave it there. Let us practice the communal values of GOd’s reign on the micro-level as we call for them to be embraced on the macro level. The evil of an unjust economy is not situated “outside” of us. It runs through our veins, our families, and our institutions. Let us resist conformity to the unholy patterns of this world by refusing to hoard, by reorganizing our budgets to help the most vulnerable as best we can, and by honoring the humanity of friends, enemies, and strangers! 

“Thus says the Lord: Go down to the house of the king of Judah, and speak there this word, 2 and say: Hear the word of the Lord, O King of Judah sitting on the throne of David—you, and your servants, and your people who enter these gates. 3 Thus says the Lord: Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the immigrant, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place.” Jeremiah 22:1-3 

6.) Resist Propaganda & Misinformation:

     Action: Fact check like the Bereans! 

The US is arguably the most propagandized nation in human history. None of us are immune to the ways in which our intellects, passions, and desires are prodded, poked, and influenced by the onslaught of mass media. In this hour, it is especially important that we help one another resist propaganda and misinformation, no matter what side of the political aisle it emerges from. Whether false or misleading info comes from the White House, a loved one in your own house, or a “friend” on Facebook, we must remain compassionately critical in the spirit of the Bereans.  Fact check, compare news from various outlets, and look for the sources of claims being made. Lives literally depend on it!

“4 So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. 15 Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.”  Isaiah 59:14-15

In closing, we beg everyone to obey the holy command: “wash your hands!”  😀 Not in the “spirit of Pilate” who absolved himself of responsibility, but in the Spirit and Name of the One who gave himself for the healing of the world.

For further resources–including emails, telephone numbers, & scripts to contact government officials–please take advantage of our COVID-19 Covenant Of Resistance Resource Tool Kit HERE 

Harmonies That Make The Angels Weep: Worship, Justice, & The Crisis at Our Border

“Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”  Amos 5:23-24

Image result for concentration camps borders

Worship & justice are bound together. They are inseparably linked. As one theologian put it:

“Since God is just and the world belongs to God, worship cannot be separated from justice because worship or union with a God of justice empowers the worshipper for a life of justice.”

Yet, so often “worshippers” behave as if the Song of the Lamb inoculates them from the realities of a world plagued by injustice & abdicates their responsibility to challenge it. This morning millions upon millions will gather to sing, pray, & hear preaching that will in no way, shape, or form direct their attention to the unjust suffering at our borders, in our cities, & right up under our noses. Instead, the cries of the oppressed will be metaphorically drowned out by the sounds of guitars, drums, worship singers, choirs, & Hammond B3s. In this, we are “harmonizing” with a history that makes the angels weep & provokes the Almighty to turn a def ear to our praises. The following harrowing account of a church’s (mal)practice of worship during the holocaust is quite sobering: 

“I lived in Germany during the Nazi holocaust. I considered myself a Christian. I attended church since I was a small boy. We had heard the stories of what was happening to the Jews, but like most people today in this country, we tried to distance ourselves from the reality of what was really taking place. What could anyone do to stop it? A railroad track ran behind our small church, and each Sunday morning we would hear the whistle from a distance and then the clacking of the wheels moving over the track. We became disturbed when one Sunday we noticed cries coming from the train as it passed by. We grimly realized that the train was carrying Jews. They were like cattle in those cars!

Week after week that train whistle would blow. We would dread to hear the sound of those old wheels because we knew that the Jews would begin to cry out to us as they passed our church. It was so terribly disturbing! We could do nothing to help these poor miserable people, yet their screams tormented us. We knew exactly at what time that whistle would blow, and we decided the only way to keep from being so disturbed by the cries was to start singing our hymns. By the time that train came rumbling past the church yard, we were singing at the top of our voices. If some of the screams reached our ears, we’d just sing a little louder until we could hear them no more.  Years have passed and no one talks about it much anymore, but I still hear that train whistle in my sleep. I can still hear them crying out for help. God forgive all of us who called ourselves Christians, yet did nothing to intervene.

Their screams tormented us.  If some of their screams reached our ears we’d just sing a little louder.”

Selah.

O God,

You watch over the refugee & frustrates the plans of xenophobic powers. Teach us how impossible it is to “concentrate” on You & ignore the suffering of those in concentration camps. For you dwell with the downtrodden & oppressed. What we have done to those languishing at our borders we have done to you. May our actions reflect Your borderless love for we have not been called to conform to the patterns of the Nation-state. We choose this day to worship &  serve You, & pledge allegiance to Your reign above all others! In the Name & Spirit of Jesus we pray.

Amen.

 

Article written by T. Hawkins

Sri Lanka & The Threat of Resurrection

Image result for sri lanka bombing

Relatives of a victim of a church bombing grieve outside a morgue in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019.

written by Terrance Hawkins

If you’re like me, you woke up this Resurrection Sunday with a sense of excitement. Sometimes it’s hard to discern if this exhilaration is rooted in the central truth of resurrection or the peripheral nostalgia of “Easter Sunday” childhood memories. In any case, that “high” was quickly challenged by the news of terrorist bombings that killed hundreds of worshippers gathered in Sri Lanka. If I’m honest, I was tempted to quickly scroll past it in an effort to keep “my joy” in tact. Sometimes that is a necessary act of self-care but in this case I was convicted that a joy that needs to skip over the pain of the world is not a joy that comes from God. So, I was forced to deal with the tragic irony that violence & death reared its ugly head on a day that we celebrate the overcoming power of resurrection life!

The attack in Sri Lanka is a brutal reminder of the on-the-ground realities of this yet-to-be-healed world. We live in a world where both the horror of Good Friday & the glory of Resurrection Sunday live side-by-side. Or perhaps a better way of saying it is that resurrection cuts through the endless cycle of “Good Fridays” in our world, reframing our understanding & transforming our interaction with them.

Yes, we still lament.
Yes, we still agonize.
Yes, we still mourn.

But we do not lament, agonize, or mourn like those with no hope. We endure & even embrace the tearful nights of Good Friday for the joyous mornings of Resurrection Sunday set before us.

In Jesus we have seen & tasted the first fruit of resurrection. We have seen that sin, death, sickness, violence, injustice, hate, & lies will not have the last word. We have seen that Love never fails. We have seen that “truth crushed to earth will rise again”.

This sight has not come by the mere reading of words. This sight is the result of a power that is coursing through our veins. Resurrection life flows in & around us even as the death-dealing forces of evil swirl above & beneath us. The wounded, battered, & lynched “love warrior” who rose from the grave has in like manner risen within our bodies.

For this reason we echo the ancient psalmist who said,

“You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day.”

For this reason we join the chorus of the civil rights movement that looked the deadly machinery of white supremacy in the face & sang,

“We are not afraid! We are not afraid today!”

Or as Martin King said the day before his “good friday”,

“I’d rather be dead than afraid.”

To live bound by fear is to live in direct contradiction to resurrection. To live under the grips of islamophobia, xenophobia, or any other fear of the “other” is to quench The Spirit that gives new life. A new life that can’t be taken out by the old order of things. A Life that says “you may kill members of God’s revolutionary family, but you can’t kill God’s revolution!”

The resurrection confirms the reality that Caesar—and all his historical manifestations—is NOT Lord. Christ IS!

The Herods, Pontious Pilates, Sanheidrens, & zealots of the world continue to conspire against the peaceable reign of Jesus but the reality of Resurrection calls us to pray with the early Church: “Look upon their threats and enable us to preach & embody your healing & liberating word with holy confidence.” (paraphrase of Acts 4:29-31)

For in the words of poet & theologian Julia Esquivel, “they have [unwittingly] threatened us with [the hope] of resurrection!”:

“What keeps us from sleeping
is that they have threatened us with Resurrection!
Because at each nightfall,
though exhausted from the endless inventory
of killings since 1954,
yet we continue to love life,
and do not accept their death!
They have threatened us with Resurrection
Because we have felt their inert bodies
And their souls penetrated ours
doubly fortified.
Because in this marathon of Hope,
there are always others to relieve us
in bearing the courage necessary
to arrive at the goal which lies beyond death.
They have threatened us with Resurrection
because they do not know life (poor things!).
That is the whirlwind which does not let us sleep,
the reason why asleep, we keep watch,
and awake, we dream…
Accompany us then on this vigil
and you will know what it is to dream!
You will then know how marvellous it is
to live threatened with Resurrection!
To dream awake,
to keep watch asleep
to live while dying
and to already know oneself Resurrected!”                                                                   (excerpt from They Have Threatened Us With Resurrection by Julia Esquivel)

Image result for oldest painting of jesus

Oldest known painting of Jesus

The Monument Is Down, But We Must Keep Up The Fight

 

Confederate statue

City workers take down confederate statue in downtown Winston-Salem. (via WXII 12)

Minus a few lines the following is a voice-to-text “freestyle” (flaws & all) I recorded on my way to work this morning in the car:

I had a dream last night. 

In my dream I woke up in my house on Patterson Ave & walked outside on the porch to behold a beautiful, thriving, flourishing neighborhood marked by peace, justice, & beloved community. I did my morning run from one end of Patterson to the other & somehow the intersection at Martin Luther King Jr Drive was no longer a marker by which we distinguish the haves & the have nots. Innovation wasn’t for a select & mostly white few, but it was for everybody and the city had even found the moral courage to center our economic development on the needs of the most vulnerable. In my dream Highway 52 was no longer the symbol of racial apartheid because a huge tidal wave of healing justice had swept over to the east, northeast, & southside of Winston-Salem bringing with it deep transformation. Though I could tell I was in the mostly black & brown side of town, it no longer told the tragic story of the unaddressed wounds of chattel slavery, Jim & Jane Crow. In this dream our children were going to public schools that were nurturing, life-giving, dignity affirming, non-punitive, & well-funded springboards to a life calling & not a pipeline to prison or jobs with non-livable wages. My dream was beyond some neoliberal notion of “progress”. In this dream we had dismantled the enduring & always morphing social constructs of the slave/master relationship. In this dream politicians were servants of the people & not capital. There were no more accommodationist “black faces in high faces” willing to sell their people up the river. The leaders of the people were lovers of the people. 

But I woke up from that dream and did my morning run from one end of Patterson to the other. There were still two Patterson Avenues symbolic of the reality of “two Winston-Salems”, and “two Americas”. Shortly after I got home from my run I hopped on Facebook (as is my custom) & saw that I had been tagged in a post by my sister in the struggle Miranda Jones saying that the confederate statue was indeed coming down. Not long after that I got a text from one of my white accomplices in the struggle saying that the monument was coming down & that we were going to celebrate.

If I’m being honest, down deep in my soul I felt an immediate TENSION.  On one hand there was gladness & on the other hand there was a kind of sadness. I do believe that “we the people” (not the politicians who will use the symbolism as a smokescreen) have a right to celebrate, BUT I also believe it is our duty to remain sober & vigilant in this fight for freedom, and to even create space for lament.

This idea of celebration & lamentation might sound paradoxical, but I come from a Jesus worshiping, sun-kissed, peculiar people who taught the world a lil bit about havin’ “joy in sorrow” & how to cling to a hope-soaked realism about the possibilities for a brighter tomorrow. So yes, taking down this monument to white supremacy was the right thing to do. Its presence in downtown Winston-Salem was a proverbial spit in the face of locally enslaved ancestors like Abraham, the Mandingo warrior. After each of several escape attempts Abraham was brutally flogged. The confederate statue was a spit in the face of my great great aunt Betty Lyons who was born the year that slavery was “abolished”. It was a spit in the face of the black women who organized unions in the face of RJ Reynolds racist, classist, & sexist work conditions. That monument was a spit in the face to the 100s of black women in Winston-Salem who suffered sterilization at the hands of a racist & classist eugenics movement. It was a spit in the face of living elders like Norma Corley who as little girls desegregated our school system as confederate flag waving white folks hurled bigoted insults at them. It was a slap in the face of Darryl Hunt, who was unjustly imprisoned for 20 years for a rape & murder he did not commit. It was a slap in the face of Kalvin Michael Smith. It was a slap in the face of Carl Wesley Matthews, the black man who started the local sit-in movement on the very same street it stood some 50 years ago. So yes, it had to go. 

But, as I said at a previous rally:

“We don’t just want the symbolism of a removed statue. We want the substance of eradicating systemic injustice in Winston-Salem. ITs very possible to remove the statue while the ideology that it represents is still running amuck in our hearts, homes, houses of worship, & halls of power.”

Mother Fannie Lou Hamer once said “we are tired of symbolic things, don’t yall realize we are fighting for our lives.” And we are fighting for our lives, for the lives of our children, & our children’s children. I don’t want them to look at me & say, “Grandad, you mean to tell me y’all just settled for the monument being removed without a push for monumental & radical social, spiritual, & cultural change?” Nah, I can’t have that on my conscious. If the city removes, breaks, & bends the statue without bending our city’s structures towards LOVE & JUSTICE this was only “a renovation project” to keep the so-called “downtown renaissance” going on as scheduled. We don’t just want renovation. We want REPAIR-ation. We need healing justice to repair the wounds of racism in this city! I’m willing to fight for fight it. I hope you are willing to fight for it? Our fight is in the name of love & for me personally I fight in the name of Jesus. 

The statue may be down, but we must keep the fight up!

by T. Hawkins

 

 

The Prophet & The Evangelist

mlkbg2

“The gifts He gave were that some would be…..prophets & some evangelists….to equip the saints for the work of ministry…..”  

-Paul of Tarsus (Ephesians 4:11-12)

“Billy Graham [and Norman Peale], the high priests of Middle America, the word of God came to Martin King in the wilderness of America.

-Gardner C. Taylor, “The Strange Ways of God

What does the interplay between the evangelist & the prophet look like? Is there a rhythm, a harmonic symphony, a divinely  choreographed dance they are called to perfect with each other? What happens when the evangelist steps on the toes of the prophet in this dance of redemption? Should the beautiful feet of those who carry the Good News be permitted to scar & bruise the feet of the ones who call us to “do right, seek justice, & defend the oppressed”? What does it mean to ask Jesus into your heart in a society that disciples you to not let “the other” into your home, your business, your economy, & your church, even? Can the evangelist tell us to walk down the aisle & receive salvation but be apathetic, indifferent, hesitant, or outright resistant to the prophet who marches & calls a nation to “let JUSTICE roll down like a river”? Is preaching the “pure Gospel message” a call to duck our heads in the sand & ignore socio-political corruption? Did not Jesus-the holy & pure One-in His life-acts clash with the power structures of 1st Century Palestine? Is not salvation from a hebraic perspective grounded in the anti-imperial narrative of the Exodus story? 

Can the evangelist seek the safe & status quo upholding middle ground  in situations of oppression & be worthy of the cross they preach? Who will settle the score when the evangelist—full of “the tranquilizing drug of gradualism”—tells the prophet that he is “too extreme” in his call that a nation’s structures must be born anew? Is the Great Reversal that Mary sung of subordinate to the so-called Great Commission? Is the prophet’s radical  dream of the last becoming first, the enslaved become free, the dehumanized being dignified, & hungry being filled with good things too lofty a vision for the evangelist to concern himself with? (1) Can the evangelist’s mission of “saving souls” be honored without dishonoring the prophet’s mission of “saving the soul of a nation”? What does it mean when the evangelist who preaches “that God is Love” willingly shares the platform with those who hate, dominate, & segregate? How can the evangelist co-sign pharaoh but malign Moses? What does it mean when the evangelist invites the prophet to the crusade to pray but does not give the prophet space to prophecy? Is the evangelist quenching the disruptive Spirit of Christ? The Spirit that turns over tables & drives out empire religion? Can the evangelist have his feet fitted with the readiness of the Gospel of Peace & coach the empire towards war & violence? Did he not hear the prophet say in the Name & Spirit of Jesus “we must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means“?

Yes, the evangelist & the prophet can love one another & speak kindly of each other. But public praise & niceties do not interrupt the atrocities of idol worship & injustice. Yes, the evangelist can pay for the prophet’s bail, but does that mean he can “bail” on the call to embody peace & justice? The evangelist can nobly desegregate his crusades but is that enough? Must he not join the holy crusade against social oppression? 

The evangelist can be pushed. The evangelist can repent. The evangelist can clumsily learn how to dance with the prophet.  The evangelist can years later lament his historic missteps; wishing he had marched, wishing he had raised his voice, regretting that he slept through a great revolution. Grace is vast enough for that. But don’t leave it there. We must learn from the evangelist’s mistakes. We must refuse to join him in the post-mortem domestication of the prophet. We must ask ourselves the question: What would have happened if the evangelist truly listened to the prophet? How might the evangelist’s proclamation have been shaped to give voice to a more WHOLE Gospel.  A gospel that confronts, challenges, & heals the sinfulness of souls & the sinfulness of systems. A gospel that frees us from both spiritual & physical poverty. 

A Gospel like Martin’s, like Fannie’s, & like Corretta’s. 

A Gospel like Jesus’s.

 

written by T. Hawkins

 

1.) Michael G Long, Billy Graham and the Beloved Community: America’s Evangelist and the Dream of Martin Luther King Jr. (Palgrave Macmillan; 2006 edition)

 

New Year, Same Me: Resisting Naive Optimism & Embracing Hope-Soaked Realism in 2019

2019 New year greeting card with fireworks

You can take the people out of 2018, but you can’t take the 2018 out of the people.

Both individually & corporately we carry the good, the bad, & the ugly of 2018 with us into 2019.
Minus the observance of  “Freedom’s Eve” for the descendants of enslaved Africans in the US, there is nothing particularly sacred on God’s timeline or “magical”  about the turn of the dial to a new year on the Gregorian calendar we have inherited. 

New year, same me.

New year, same you.

New year, same man in the White House.

New year, same ole unjust America.

Of course, we can repent & resolve to be better & do better in the new year. Yes, there are experiences in God’s presence that radically change our life’s trajectory in a moment!

Holding space for all the above, it seems to me that a hope-soaked realism about the possibilities of 2019 serves us better than a naive optimism. Let’s be honest—many of our grandiose declarations of new year change quickly devolve back to the mediocre status quo.

I wonder if somewhere hidden in all of our “new year, new me” announcements is a misplaced desire for value & significance. Are we seeking to cover our insecurities, shame, & guilt with the fig leaves of “sick-cess & achievement”? To be clear, there is nothing wrong with wanting to achieve goals.

My concern here is two fold:

First, most of our resolutions are not “radical”; meaning they do not “get at the root”. True personal & social transformation does not come via surface level “redecoration” it comes through a deep reorientation. To quote one philosopher:

“Moving a few rocks around on the surface, but not the riverbed itself isn’t change. The river still runs the same way.”

New endeavors in 2019 may appear to be taking us in a “new direction” but in many cases our souls & societies remain bent towards the same toxicity.

My second point of concern is how the cultural winds of the new year often carries with it an unhealthy pressure to pull off amazing feats. Even when its couched in “for the glory of God” language, the feverish demand to PRODUCE, PRODUCE, PRODUCE in the new year fosters a crippling anxiety in some of us & it further enslaves others into an identity centered on “what they do” versus “who they are”. Unfortunately, too many of our faith leaders exasperate this pressure with sermons animated by hyper individualistic “wish fulfillment” theology that re-images Jesus as a “life coach” who helps us accomplish our will, not His.

But what if we went at this thing another way? What if we took a LONG deep breath & said to ourselves:

It’s ok to be unimpressive.
It’s ok to be broken.
It’s ok to lament.
It’s ok to rest.
It’s ok.
Rest in the Grace of Jesus.

At the end of the day (and this new year), your worth is not be rooted in what you produce or achieve. Your worth comes from being made in God’s image. You are loved with an everlasting love by a God who through Christ & by The Spirit is already at work in our world, bending it towards healing justice.

May the “unforced rhythms of grace” propel us into every good work God has prepared  for us in 2019.

Happy New Year!

 

 

blog written by Terrance Hawkins

 

Christ & Our Border Crisis: A Call to Fasting, Prayer, & Resistance

Combined Flyers fasting for families & families belong together
Join the Drum Majors Alliance as we lift our voices privately in prayer this Friday (#FastForFamilias) AND raise them publicly in prophetic dissent this Saturday. (#FamilesBelongTogether)
#FastForFamilias is a campaign lead by a national collective Latinx faith leaders! (For more info on this campaign go HERE.) In calling us to a time of fasting & prayer for asylum seeking families who have been separated at our borders they are lifting up a rich, but forgotten tradition found in our scriptures: fasting as RESISTANCE. Fasting does not call us away from the material conditions of the vulnerable in our midst in the name of some hyper-spirituality. To the contrary, it calls us to concretely challenge, confront, & disrupt the soul’cial idols & systems that perpetuate injustice, despair, & trauma. The left AND right side of our bibles are filled with examples of fasting as resistance. Esther fasted & prayed before she engaged in a love-rooted act of civil disobedience as her people faced the threat of genocide. Nehemiah fasted, prayed, & engaged in deep repentance for the sins of his nation before he began his ‘advocacy work’ for his then decimated nation. The prophet Isaiah declared that the brand of fasting that God chose requires that the faithful “loose the chances of injustice…set the oppressed free, provide shelter for the poor wanderer!” Isaiah teaches us that our love & devotion to God expressed in fasting is authenticated by *acts* of love for disinherited neighbors. (See Isaiah 58) This tradition of fasting as resistance is taken to the highest of heights in the life of Jesus. Before he began his Spirit-empowered messianic campaign of bringing “Good News to the poor” & speaking truth to power Jesus fasted & prayed 40 days in the wilderness.
Furthermore, when we fast & pray we resist the world that is by asking God to empower us to work for the world that could be. When we cry “Your kin(g)dom come” we are implicitly asking that the empires of this world be undone. As we fast & pray we are asking God shatter our numbness & replace it with sensitivity & compassion. When we fast & pray we are repenting of the sins of a nation that has separated black & indigenous children from their families for centuries! When we pray we are asking The Spirit to help us resist the imperial bastardizing of biblical texts like Romans 13 while reclaiming the radical threads of scriptures that tell us that:
“the foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”
Fasting recalibrates our worship & reorders our affections. It reminds us to worship, serve, & bear witness to the borderless love of Jesus & to resist the satanic lure to worship & serve the Nation-state & its arbitrary borders.
So join us as we fast & pray tomorrow, but don’t stop there. We ask that local people of faith come out en masse this Saturday for the #FamiliesBelongTogether demonstration in downtown Winston-Salem. (see above flyer for details.) This local effort is connected to nation-wide demonstrations calling for a complete end to the practice of separating families, the reunification of families that have already been separated, the defunding of ICE, immigrant workers rights, ending for-profit detention centers, & a fix for the DACA crisis! In raising our voices for social transformation alongside people from various walks of life we are living into The Church’s prophetic vocation. Too often we have sold our prophetic birthright for the “pottage of empire” but now is the time to stand & be counted amongst those who believe in justice, peace, & the beloved community of God’s reign! During his childhood, our Savior was a poor, oppressed, asylum-seeking refugee. We betray the very story we claim to have oriented our lives around when we are silent or missing in action in moments like these.
Now is the time to proclaim the radical love of Jesus in this moment of rabid hate, racism, xenophobia, & inhumanity. In the words of America’s greatest prophet, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr:
“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”
-The Drum Majors Alliance

#ActionForAshley: Ashley Elementary & The Compassion Deficit Plaguing Winston-Salem

Group demands new school for Ashley

Drum Majors Alliance members Crystal Rook & Thomas Lees deliver a statement on the Ashley Elementary School mold & air quality issues at Forsyth County Public School Board Meeting. (Photo Cred: Winston-Salem Journal)

Last night, members of the Drum Majors Alliance lifted their voices at the Forsyth County public school system’s board meeting with a larger collective of concerned community members, organizations, parents, & teachers who are demanding #ActionForAshley Elementary School. The following is the transcript of an official Drum Majors statement delivered to address the issue of air quality, mold, & educational inequity at Ashley. We hope that you will read, share,  sign the petition, & be moved to action. Now more than ever, we must confront the severe compassion deficit plaguing Winston-Salem:

“It should stand as a basic principle of any community that all of its children, no matter their address, income, or skin color, should be provided with equitable opportunities for education. This much has been affirmed by the North Carolina Supreme Court in its decision in Leandro v. State (1997), declaring that “all children residing in the state have a fundamental state constitutional right to the ‘opportunity to receive a sound basic education.’” Such “opportunities” to a sound basic education are not limited simply to a standing building and ready teachers, but include among other things access to resources and technology, nutritious meals, and a safe, healthy learning environment.

It is in regards to the provision of a safe and healthy learning environment that we find Forsyth County’s commitment to this fundamental constitutional right to be hollow. The conditions of Ashley Elementary School are appalling, not only in their current state, but in the underly negligence and disregard for communities of color that they make blatantly clear.

The issues of air quality and mold have been repeatedly raised by teachers and administrators with little to no action taken by the school board. We do not believe this to be simply an oversight, but a manifestation of Winston Salem’s living legacy of racial, economic, and educational apartheid. It is unimaginable that these conditions would been allowed to arise and go untreated in any predominately white school in the county. That North Carolina as a whole has failed and continues to fail to provide equitable opportunities for education across race and class lines has been affirmed repeatedly by our state’s courts.

As followers of Jesus, we believe that all people are created in the image of God and endowed with immeasurable worth, dignity, and value. And as such, we affirm in the strongest possible language – alongside of people from various faith traditions & beliefs- that the well-being of every single child should be of the highest priority for a community and that the school board has the utmost responsibility to ensure that every single school in its district is equally well-maintained so that no matter the school a child attends, he or she will truly have an opportunity to receive a “sound basic education.”

We ask the members of the school board to remember your commitments and obligations. We ask that you remember your oath to serve the children of Ashley Elementary School. According to the North Carolina School Board Association, one of the primary duties of a school board is to provide adequate school facilities. Therefore, we demand that you fulfill that obligation and provide an adequate building for Ashley Elementary School. In short, we demand of the School Board of Forsyth County that Ashley Elementary be closed immediately until the issues surrounding air quality and mold be fully and totally addressed.

This is not a matter of charity but of justice, and we, as people of faith, stand for justice. Micah 6:8 states, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Our school board has neglected the cry of those in our city who do not have economic or political power. But we stand with the students, parents, & teachers of Ashley. We affirm and magnify their voice. We affirm their equality under the law, the fullness of their humanity, and their dignity and beauty as bearers of the image of God.”

-The Drum Majors Alliance

#ActionForAshley #NotAnotherBrick #NotAnotherBond

 

 

Can’t We All Just Resist Together: Building Black & Brown-led ‘Multi-Racial’ Coalitions Against Gun Violence

CHicago Peaace March.jpg

Student activists in Chicago during last May’s “March for Peace” demonstrations.

In late May of last year, thousands of students in Chicago organized a peace demonstration. Prior to the march they staged a sit-in in which they layed down on the street to highlight the 100s of lives lost in their community due to gun violence. These incredible kids channeled their pain into a powerful call for change, but their efforts went largely under-the-radar & unheard. As Chicago activist Ja’mal Green put it in an interview:

“The youth that I mentor every week are going through deppression. I don’t call it PTSD. (post traumatic stress disorder) I call it CTSD. It’s continuous! And then we look to our leaders to actually figure out ways to solve this problem & what do we get? We get the mayor who shut down all the mental health facilities…”

Fast forward almost a year later & the nation has been rocked by the anti-gun violence activism of amazing students in Parkland, Florida who have been raising their voices for change in the wake of the tragic school mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High. Like their Chicago counterparts, they have valiantly fought through their trauma & grief to stage “die-ins”, student walk outs, & are gearing up for a national #MarchForOurLives on the 24th of this month.

The Compassion Deficit

In one sense, America suffers from a lack of compassion & moral will across the board to confront & cure the violence coursing through its national veins. We live in the United States of Amnesia & Denial. This empire quickly moves on as if nothing happened once the most recent mass shooting news headlines begin to fade. When powerfully confronted about this reality, too many of us slip into delusional displays of denial.

A few weeks back I read an article entitled “Why We’re Underestimating The American Collapse”. Author Umar Haque really seems to get at the very distinct nature of the soul’cial disease ravaging the so called “land of the free & home of the brave”. We are indeed exceptional….just in all the wrong ways. Hague writes:

“Let me give you just five examples of what I’ll call the social pathologies of collapse — strange, weird, and gruesome new diseases, not just ones we don’t usually see in healthy societies, but ones that we have never really seen before in any modern society.

America has had 11 school shootings in the last 23 days. That’s one every other day, more or less. That statistic is alarming enough — but it is just a number. Perspective asks us for comparison. So let me put that another way. America has had 11 school shootings in the last 23 days, which is more than anywhere else in the world, even Afghanistan or Iraq. In fact, the phenomenon of regular school shootings appears to be a unique feature of American collapse — it just doesn’t happen in any other country — and that is what I mean by “social pathologies of collapse”: a new, bizarre, terrible disease striking society.
Why are American kids killing each other? Why doesn’t their society care enough to intervene? Well, probably because those kids have given up on life — and their elders have given up on them. Or maybe you’re right — and it’s not that simple. Still, what do the kids who aren’t killing each other do? Well, a lot of them are busy killing themselves.”

Given that America has always been & continues to be, “one nation under white supremacy”, these issues tend to have a racialized (and gendered) component to them. White (male) mass shooters enjoy “lone wolf” status while people of color & religous minorities endure the woes of “wolfpack” status when an individual from their ethnic/racial or religious group commits heinous acts. The young man who killed 17 people allegedly had swastikas embedded on his weapons & there are contested reports that he had recently trained with a white nationalist militia group. Still, he is humanized by speculations about how childhood trauma & mental illness contributed to his actions by some of the same people  who could not employ similar empathy for black victims of state & vigilante violence like Rekia Boyd, Trayvon Martin, or Mike Brown. Their records & flaws are dug up as they endure what one writer calls “post-mortem media violence” as known white mass shooters & terrorists get post-massacre trips to Burger King. *deep sigh* 

Back to the Chicago student movement & the Parkland student movement…….

Quite a few folks have undertaken the task of showing the tragic disparities of how the anti-gun violence work initiated by working class & poor students of color across the nation has been received versus the response & major support garnered by the predominately white middle & upper class students in Parkland Florida. One sad example of this is the full-throated vocal & financial support recently given by the likes of Oprah & Obama. Though mainstream conservative media would have you believe that Obama was the founder & chief supporter of Black Lives Matter, the truth is that both he & Oprah struggled & stumbled in their attempts to respond affirmatively to the young activists leading these charges. There are reasons for this. Assistant professor of African-American Studies at Princeton University, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, recently wrote:

“Black movements are never popular because they reveal the ugly underbelly of American history and society. Even liberals who recoil from what they perceive to be the “imperfections” of U.S. society often reject the systemic critiques that arise from the struggles of working class and poor Black movements.”

Before I go any further, let me be clear: I am 100% behind & excited about the work that young folks in Parkland are doing & believe they should be getting the support they have received so far and more. (Full stop!)

However, I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t shed a couple tears lamenting the fact that black, brown, & indigenous student-led anti-gun violence efforts have gone unheard for YEARS. This is just another example of America’s severe compassion deficit” as it relates to people of color. Until we close this deficit the gaping wounds of violence & injustice will go unhealed!

Can’t We All Just Resist Together?

The point of this post is not to challenge readers to a “duel of outrage olympics”.  My aim is to provoke people to think about what it would look like for collaboration across these lines. It is to ask the question: “Can’t we all just resist together”? Seriously. What possibilities for change could emerge if students representing the predominant social demographics of Stonewall Mountain High linked arms with movements against gun violence led by socioeconomically marginalized & racially oppressed people? What blindspots in analysis & weaknesses in activism would be addressed?

For too long folks have assumed that their predominately white suburban enclaves could shelter them from the grief, pain, & tragedy that runs amuck in oppressed communities of color. Could this be a moment in which we learn that what “affects one (community) directly, affects all (communities) indirectly” & that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Metaphorically speaking, sailing bullets flying from AR-15s in socially engineered spaces of deprivation like the hoods of Baltimore, St Louis, Cleveland, Ferguson, East & Northeast Winston-Salem eventually land in the Newtowns, Sandy Hooks, Parklands, & West Winston-Salem’s of our nation. US. predator drone strikes that tragically kill civilians overseas also strike down chances for the poor in our own back yard to experience conditions ripe for human flourishing. (The billions & trillions of dollars spent on militarism could easily be redirected to the uplift of marginalized communities.) There are eerie correlations between the the flooding of Black & Brown communities with guns & drugs by law enforcement agencies and the US’s practice of financing & arming violent regime change in foreign nations. The subsequent destabilization of nations abroad  tragically mirrors the post-civil rights era destabilization of oppressed communities in our own nation.

Beyond Binaries, Beyond the 2 Party Duopoly 

This moment demands that we center the insights & cries of the most vulnerable & seize the opportunity to create comprehensive solutions for the various forms of both civilian & state violence that run through the very DNA of this nation! We must #demandtheban of semi-automatic weapons like the one used to destroy lives in Parkland, Florida while also demanding resources for the traumatized, economically distressed, & socially oppressed that experience the brunt of the violence in our nation.

Binary thinking & solutions play right into the hands of the 2-party duopoly. Too often Republicans want to demonize & criminalize resistance movements while Democrats want to co-opt & “neoliberalize” them!

Unbound by any party’s platform we must offer holistic solutions that address mental health issues AND gun control, individual evil AND cultural pathologies, personal responsibility AND social justice, anti-domestic violence work AND gang prevention/intervention work, white supremacy AND toxic masculinity, capitalism AND militarism.  It’s BOTH and! It’s always been BOTH and! Souls interact with systems & systems interact with souls, individuals interact with cultures & cultures interact with individuals. The world cannot be compartmentalized into neat black & white categories.

Can we resist together? I hope & pray that we can! I wrote the first draft for this article last week but yesterday I hopped on twitter only to find this hopeful sign:

parkland chicago

Yesterday Parkland, Florida student activist Emma Gonzales tweeted this pic with the following caption: “Yesterday, the members of @AMarch4OurLives got to meet up with some of the most wonderful and most strong spoken students of Chicago. “Florida’s safest city” and one of the cities in America most affected by gun violence came together to share stories, ideologies, and pizza.”

(Written T. Hawkins)

10 Ways We Betray the Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr

King Corretta

Today is a day that Americans of all colors, cultures, classes, & creeds (mis)remember the life & witness of Martin Luther King Jr. MLK remains one of the most well known but least understood figures of U.S. History & perhaps even of human history. For the past 12 years or so its been my personal ambition to recover, recapture, & reclaim the authentic King. Far too many Americans (& more specifically American christians) consciously & unconsciously betray the legacy of the man whom they profess to deeply revere. Today I want to briefly unpack 10 specific ways that we betray the legacy of Martin.

1) The “Mr Rogers-ification” & “Santa Cluasification” of Martin                             

Americans have domesticated, sanitized, & as Cornel West has put it, “santa-clausified” King.  Contrary to popular belief, King should not be characterized as a jolly, happy, black preacher with a big sack of cheap grace & forgiveness for guilt-ridden white folks & colorblindness for the masses. We have re-imaged MLK & “Mr. Roger-ized” his social-political project. In the minds of too many, King was a southern preacher whose obsession with “racial integration” drove him to crusade the nation in a docile Mr Rogers-like manner begging white sisters & brothers:

“Wont you be, please won’t you be, please won’t you be my neighbor!”

This version of Martin is more devoted to making white folks feel “comfy” than he is to telling the truth about America. It’s this image of King that fuels those who evoke his legacy to derail honest, painful, serious dialogue & work to dismantle white supremacy.

In the final analysis, the real Martin was not a chocolate Santa Clause trying desperately to fit down the chimney of white America. King was a disruptive prophet who spoke hard & bitter truth for the cause of love & justice!

“….the “white backlash” is nothing new. It is the surfacing of old prejudices, hostilities & ambivalences that have always been there. It was caused neither by the cry of Black Power nor by the unfortunate recent wave of riots in our cities. The white backlash of today is rooted in the same problem that characterized America when the black man [sic] landed in chains on the shores of this nation. The white backlash is an expression of the same vacillations, the same search for rationalizations, the same lack of commitment that has always characterized white America on the question of race.”  MLK

2.) Multi-racial Churches That Orbit Around Whiteness      

How many times have we heard pastors & partitioners of self-identified “multi-racial” or multi-cultural congregations claim Martin as one of their architects. Quick to quote King’s lament that “Sunday mornings are the most segregated hours of the week” they say that their mere existence is proof that “The Dream” is alive & well. For everything that can be celebrated about these churches there is much to critique. Too often they betray the colorfulness of their pews with mostly white leadership & a white cultural orientation. Research demonstrates that instead of being a space in which momentum is created to overcome structural racism, they actually reify it through the transmission of a weak & white-centered understanding of what “life together” requires. These congregations tend to incorrectly assert that the spatial separation of racial groups is the root problem, instead of seeing it as a symptom of a much deeper spiritual & social issue. Hence, they tend to place a strong emphasis on cross-racial relationship building & place very little emphasis (if any) on building collective memory of America’s dark history & overcoming present forms of systemic racial injustice. It must be said that mere multiculturalism does not equal anti-racism. King was an anti-racist pastor-activist who deeply cared about the Body of Christ. For that reason he wanted to see diverse followers of Jesus worship & bear witness together as the family of God but his desire did not end there. King’s vision of beloved community was an other-worldly, justice-laced, love-rooted oneness, not a thin unity that conforms to the world’s patterns of racial hierarchy. 

“In those days the Church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.” MLK

3.) The Sentimentalizing of MLK’s Love Ethic

MLK once said “I have decided to stick of love, hate is too great a burden to bear.” This quote & others like it are often ripped from the lived witness of King & made to mean almost anything. What was this way of love he spoke of? For King, love was something to be radically embodied in a particular time, space, & place with attention to the on-the-ground spiritual, cultural, & political realities.  It was not an “ethereal goo” of warm & fuzzy feelings. Far from being abstract, love *concretely* faces & seeks to overcome every barrier to liberation, community, & human flourishing. Love provokes compassion for both enemies & friends, but does not sit by idly in situations of oppression & state violence. “The way of love” demands a fierce commitment to stand in solidarity with those who are catching hell. King understood love as a call to cut through the numbness of the status quo with disruptive protest! We betray him when we demonize protest movements like The Movement for Black Lives for making us feel uncomfortable. We betray him when we think “loving our neighbors” is completely disconnected from the work of social transformation. For King, “justice is what love looks like in public.”

“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best i power correcting everything that stands against love.” -MLK

4.) Trapping King Inside the “I Have A Dream Speech” Loop     

Nothing has proven a more powerful tool in the “post-mortem domestication” of MLK than the attempt to trap him inside of a loop of what is known by most as the “I Have a Dream” speech.  The U.S. has imprisoned one of its greatest freedom fighters inside of a strange ‘space time continuum’ in which a short clip from that speech is the totality of his witness & existence. This does two tragic things: First of all, King’s thoughts, speeches, actions, & books beyond that moment are marginalized or erased. Secondly, it distorts the very nature of the speech AND the demonstrations from which those famous lines emerged. King’s speech originally titled “The Cancelled Check” was the climax of the March on Washington for JOBS & FREEDOM. The demands connected to this march in their original form were nothing short of radical. Here are a couple less popular quotes from the speech:

“The Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.”

“We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality” 

The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.”  MLK 

5.) Anemic Solidarity with The Poor & Capitulation to Neoliberal Capitalism

We can’t scapegoat, brow beat, & in live in self-righteous isolation from poor people in one breathe while celebrating Martin Luther King in the next. King’s critique of capitalism can be traced back as early as the 1950s in love letter exchanges with his then girlfriend Corretta Scott. In his latter years King moved his family into a slum apartment in Chicago & was working on a national multi-racial alliance called the “Poor People’s Campaign”.  We can’t be deeply committed to the values of a neoliberal capitalism that “demand endless sacrifices from the poor & creation”, while claiming commitments to the eradication of poverty, both at home & abroad. “Neoliberalism is the triumph of the market over all social values”, but King declared that “we must rapidly begin to shift from a thing oriented society to a person oriented society” & warned us that transformation cannot happen when “machines, computers, profit motives, & property rights are considered more important than people.”

“We have deluded ourselves into believing the myth that capitalism grew and prospered out of the Protestant ethic of hard work and sacrifice. The fact is that capitalism was built on the exploitation and suffering of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor — both black and white, here and abroad.” MLK

6.) Silence on the Violence of U.S. Militarism & Imperialism

King’s commitment to non-violent civil disobedience & protest is well known. What’s less known, is that King argued that it was hypocritical to demand that black folks protest peacefully while not demanding that the U.S. take a posture of non-violence & peacemaking in the world. Against the advice of many of his close colleagues in the struggle for racial justice, King came out publicly against the war in Vietnam on April 4th 1967 in a speech at the Riverside Church. A year to the date, he’d be gunned down on the balcony of the Loraine Motel in Memphis. During that year King increased the volume & veracity of his condemnation of U.S. militarism & imperialism. Calling America “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world” King questioned the notion that God had ordained it as some kind of “divine messianic police force”. With the current ongoing bi-partisan support of gargantuan military budgets, war crimes, & excessive amounts of military bases across the world its amazing that an ant-war activist like MLK is even evoked by the political establishment. Martin teaches us that any nation more willing to invest in instruments of death (militarism) than instruments of life (health care) is morally & spiritually bankrupt.:

“The peculiar genius of imperialism was found in its capacity to delude so much of the world into the belief that it was civilizing primitive cultures even though it was grossly exploiting them.”

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”  MLK
                         

7.) The Symbolism of Representation w/o The Substance of Transformation                 

One of the ways in which King’s legacy has been co-opted is the advancement of a (false) version of his vision that fits neatly within liberalism.  To assume that any slice of the the black radical tradition is in step with liberalism (or conservatism) is a gross misreading.  At his best, King was wholeheartedly in opposition to the idea that mere tweaks of the current system & inclusion within it was the ultimate aim. Therefore, the fulfillment of King’s vision is not merely “black faces in high places” who willfully or inadvertently contribute to the momentum of systemic oppression. King was calling for a revolution of values & boldly proclaimed that “that the whole structure of America must be changed” & “born again” into something entirely different. Yes, representation is important, but it does not necessarily equal transformation. A close look at the emergence of the black political leadership class as mayors, senators, police chiefs, judges, & DA’s, & president reveals how ineffective a strategy of mere inclusion has been. Placing an accommodationist black, brown, queer, immigrant, or women face in front of an oppressive system makes it no less oppressive. In the words of Eduardo Bonilla Silva, “In the post civil rights era you can get false positives; folks who have the “RIGHT” skin color but the wrong politic & therefore we need to move beyond (mere) “epidermic” notions of race to political notions of race.”

“I’m tired of hearing about the “first negro” this & the “first negro” that!”            Martin Luther King Jr

“One of the ways of making sure you sanitize any talk about racism is to talk about diversity. We lost sight of attacking issues of poverty, class––with the death of Martin—and moved into an obsession with having black faces in high places. As long as we had those black faces in high places, the poor could live symbolically through them, vicariously through them. Or those black faces themselves, middle class and upper middle class, could claim that somehow they were the index of progress.”

Cornel West

8.) Discipling Our Churches into a Justice-less Gospel

The Gospel of The Kingdom of God is the righting, reordering, renewal, & reconciliaton of ALL THINGS through the life, teachings, death, resurrection, & enthronement of Jesus. Within the scope of God’s redemptive aims in the world is both the reordering of souls AND societies. Sadly, even though Jesus of Nazareth pronounced a blessing on those who “hunger & thirst for justice”, large swaths of the American church label those who hunger & pursue it as unfaithful, unspiritual, & “unbiblical”. The themes of justice & the call to faith-rooted activism for & with the pushed down, left out, & overlooked of society in both the old & new testaments are collapsed into an understanding of The Faith that keeps the unholy status quo in tact. We betray King when we do not disciple followers of Jesus into the work of social justice as a spiritual discipline.

In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” MLK

9.) Resisting Trump without Understanding The Systems That Created Him

While its true that we need to keep track of & push back on the ways in which President Donald Trump is narrating & legislating a climate of bigotry, lies, hate, & oppression, that is simply not enough. Donald Trump is the ugly symptom of a soul-cial sickness that has ravaged the American body politic for years, decades, & centuries. He does not appear on the political-landscape ex-nihilo (out of nowhere). No, Trump is the explicit personification of unjust structures, oppressive systems, & cultural idols that have animated U.S. life for centuries. Trump is rightly understood as the most undiluted (presidential) embodiment of what Bell Hooks calls “imperialist white supremacist (hetero)patriarchal capitalism” in the post-civil rights era of hollow civility. He voices out loud what is said in private in the halls of American power. Obama quietly deported over 2 million undocumented people, Trump does it loudly while hurling xenophobic rhetoric. Obama silently dropped 26,000 bombs his last year in office (a rate of 3 per hour) and Trump continues this project while brashly threatening North Korea that “there will be fire & fury the likes of which no one has ever seen”. This is not to say that there aren’t real differences between president 44 & 45. Obama for all his flaws is NOT Trump. However, if we do not take a Kingian lens that understands the deeper issues that gave us Trump, our movements will flatline & simply reproduce what came before him. The following excerpt from King’s eulogy for the 4 little girls killed in the 1963 racial terrorist attack on the church in Birmingham is relevant in this regard:

They have something to say to every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows. They have something to say to every politician who has fed his constituents with the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism. They have something to say to a federal government that has compromised with the undemocratic practices of southern Dixiecrats  and the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing northern Republicans. They have something to say to every Negro who has passively accepted the evil system of segregation and who has stood on the sidelines in a mighty struggle for justice. They say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.

MLK

10.) Refusing to Acquire an Internationalist & Intersectional Lens of Oppression   

The height of King’s socio-political analysis is found in what he called the “triplet evils” of “racism, militarism, & poverty”. King had come to see the interconnectedness of structures of oppression that create the climate for injustice. Refusing to allow his concern to be barricaded by U.S. borders, King was vocal about the plight of the poor, oppressed, war-torn, & exploited people & nations across the globe. Though he was radically committed to justice for black people within the U.S. empire he resisted the temptation to allow that to be the totality of his concern. When we fail to see the “chilling parallels between overseas drone programs and how police treat America’s non-white citizens, with the slightest suspicion escalating into official violence and even death”  we betray the thrust of King’s work in his last days. Martin’s internationalist & intersectional lens was the fruit of his long held belief that:

“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

MLK

(Article written by T. Hawkins)

 

Stopping the Cycle of Violence In Our Communities: An Open Letter To Those Who Really Care

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Peacemaking activist in Brooklyn

My heart is extremely heavy this morning. I woke up to news that yet another black man had been gunned down in the streets of my city yesterday evening. As was the case a few weeks ago, the murder took place just up the road from where my family & I reside. As always, I began searching for info on just who had been taken from us & the circumstances surrounding the incident. Within a few minutes of googling & texting friends who keep their ears to the streets the incident became much more painful than I anticipated. The 20 year old victim, Leon Conrad Jr is my cousin. But the pain does not stop there. The tragic irony of this young man’s death is that his dad (who I grew up with) had been murdered in a robbery 10 years ago on almost the same exact date!

Memories flashed through my mind. Leon Conrad Sr & I went to the same elementary school & for various reasons he was one of my favorite cousins growing up. We lost contact in our adult years but I remember running into him shortly before his death at the BP on Liberty Street. He yelled out at me, “What’s up cuz!” with that big smile, made all the more striking by his shiny “gold grillz”. We dapped each other up, hugged, & stood there a good little while catching up on life. I never would have imagined that that would be the last time I’d see him.

Now his son—who publicly lamented the absence of his father on social media just hours before yesterday’s incident—is gone too.

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Some read headlines like this and lose track of the humanity of the people lost, the families fractured, the communities that are traumatized. Media pundits & politicians far removed from the problem use the “statistics” for their own agendas. But these two (and all victims of gun violence) were more than mere “statistics”. They were living, breathing, loved, image-of-God bearing humans full of purpose, worth, & potential.

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Left to right- Leon Conrad Sr holding his son as a toddler & Leon Jr his senior in high school.

I cannot imagine the shock & sorrow that his closest of kin are feeling right now. This is pain upon pain, grief upon grief. Like me, I’m sure you’ll be diligently praying for them over the coming weeks but that’s just not enough. This tragedy  and others like it, point to a cycle of intra-community violence that we must work to STOP!

It’s well documented that the last couple months or so in my city have been uncharacteristically violent. It’s as if a dam has broken somewhere. Many in our communities are rightfully expressing outrage & concern over all that has occurred recently. While these important dialogues are happening online, in our barber shops/beauty salons, our schools, our homes, & our churches I want to contribute a few thoughts. The following is an open letter I wrote a few weeks ago but never published. I guess it wasn’t time. Now with great urgency I share this with hopes that it will help spark thoughtful action in my city & beyond.

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Men in Baltimore gather for vigil during a recent ‘cease fire’ weekend.

To Those Who Really Care about Peer-on-Peer Violence in Communities of Color,

First, let me say with the deepest sincerity that I’m so glad you care! I’m grateful for those of you who are actively working to interrupt violence by addressing root causes & modeling creative alternatives to it. You are the moms, dads, aunties, uncles, grandmas/abuelas, community organizers, pastors, counselors, school teachers, & youth workers that labor day in & day out on the front lines. Over the years it is folks like you have taught me the importance of taking personal AND communal responsibility for our freedom, peace, justice, & flourishing! Even though I don’t always agree with your critiques & solutions I appreciate the authenticity of your passion. It’s actually quite refreshing given the fact that I’m often in spaces outside of our communities where people disingenuously bring up crime rates in the hood & the barrio to derail conversations & discredit activism against systemic racial oppression.

As we continue our work & rally others to join us I just want to put 3 things on the table for reflection & consideration.

1) Let’s reject the false dichotomy between state violence & peer-on-peer violence. In a very real sense, these two issues are two sides of the same coin. The best of our freedom fighters & sociologist have gone through great lengths to effectively demonstrate how the historic & systemic deprivation & exploitation of our communities has helped engender the violence & crime we grieve. Read chapter 4 of Martin Luther King’s last book “Where Do We Go From Here”, study the work of renowned sociologist William Julius Wilson, & watch this short clip of the BRILLIANT & courageous Michelle Alexander.

Think with me on this. The assassinations & political imprisonment of our brightest leaders in the 60s & 70s was a form of state violence. The systemic subjection of communities of color to environmental hazards like lead poisoning at disproportionate rates is a form of violence. Quarantining our communities into food deserts, divesting from development resources that create (livable wage-paying) jobs, & infesting them with predatory businesses is violent. Health & mental care inequity is violent. Educational apartheid is violent. The US criminal (in)justice system is violent. Far from being a means of rehabilitation & restoration, it is a punitive, racist, classist, family destroying cancer that reproduces the very things it claims to counteract. (For example: People of all colors & cultures use drugs at roughly the same rate, yet black people are 5x more likely to do time for drug offenses.)

All that said, we are going to have to walk & chew gum at the same time.  We must metaphorically “kneel” in protest of systemic injustices while working to heal both self & state-inflicted wounds. Contrary to popular opinion, these pursuits are not at odds with each other.

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2) As we do our work & have our dialogues let’s rigorously reject the use of the racist & propagandistic term “black on black crime”. It is a term that presupposes an inherent criminality in black folks. There are those that argue that “we have put this on ourselves” by perpetuating the worst stereotypes of blackness through rap music. Certainly, we must grapple with the ways in which much of mainstream hip-hop has been a tool of social control & spiritual blackout. Still, it MUST be firmly stated that the narrative of innate black criminality & immorality pre-dates gangster & trap rap. Centuries before rappers like ‘Chief Keef’ or ‘21 Savage’ grabbed a microphone, the white supremacist lie that black, brown, & red people are ‘dangerous savages’ was one of the chief ideas that shaped this country. This myth is as old as America itself & has been used to justify everything from chattel slavery, the genocide of indigenous peoples, Jim Crow, Juan Crow, eugenics, & the hyper surveillance & incarceration of our communities. Let’s be CLEAR: the disproportionate violence in communities of color is NOT a “racial trait”, it is environmental. Research demonstrates that when you control the data on violent crimes for joblessness, black & brown men commit crimes at the same rates as their white counterparts. Due to racism, communities of color suffer the worst from poverty & the various forms of desperation that accompanies it. (Not to mention that due to the living legacy of slavery & segregation it will take the average black family 228 years to build the average wealth of a white family today.)

3) Last but definitely NOT least, let’s commit to doing our work with compassion & in collaboration with each other. If our efforts to cure violence are not rooted in love they are bankrupt. Leaders of people must first be lovers of people. If you don’t love the people you have no business trying to lead the people. Too often, we brow-beat our most vulnerable & speak about them with disdain & disgust. That’s gotta stop! Let’s not get so caught up in the “gory details” of their behavior that we miss the fact that they often have an even gorier life story of pain & isolation that helped lead them to the destructive decisions they are currently making. As we have in-house dialogues about toxic masculinity, gang culture, fatherlessness, & internalized oppression lets resist every wave of self-righteousness that bubbles up within our souls. By all means speak the Truth, but do it with the humility that should flow from the heart of someone who recognizes their own frailties & flaws.

In closing, we cannot afford to engage in non-profit org competition. We simply do not have the “luxury” to let our egos cause us to work in silos! The most effective work gets done when we stop worrying about which leader, which organization, which initiative, which church is going to get the credit. We need each other & I’m not just talking about educated “respectable” folks. We need the wisdom, insights, input, & leadership of the “Tyrones”, “Tomeikas”, “Juans”, & “Marias” of our neighborhoods.

With Love, Hope, & Respect,

T. Hawkins

#WagePeace #StopTheViolence #StopTheKilling #StartTheHealing 

 

Responding to the Groan of Creation

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by Terrance Hawkins

Monsoon flooding in Bangladesh & Nepal, mudslides in Sierra Leone, record wild-fires in the western U.S., earthquake in Mexico, record hurricanes devastating Texas, the Caribbean Islands, & headed towards Florida…..

How are we to respond to the ever-increasing volume of creation’s groan?

I believe we must join the groan.

Though it seems strange to the domesticated & urban 21st century mind, ancient peoples understood that there are times when natural upheavals are connected to the spiritual, social, & moral upheavals of humanity. The land, the seas, the winds, the skies respond in desperation to our idolatry, immorality, injustice, apathy, & evil. It seems that creation is signaling something to us in this moment. It is echoing the atmosphere that we have created. We have bought wholesale into a way of being & of ordering our societies that “demands an endless flow of sacrifices from the poor & from creation.” We are addicted to the very things that are killing us & our neighbors.

Creation violently convulses as it waits on pins & needles in anticipation of the liberation that will come as God’s true daughters & sons emerge with glorious freedom. These children of God are a people who seek conformity to Jesus no matter the physical, financial, or socio-political costs. They are a people full of light & love. A people who wage peace instead of war. A people who have rejected the worlds definition of greatness. A people who have come to see that lying, lusting, & lording over others for “sick-cess” & pleasure is a betrayal of their own humanity & a denial of the truth of God’s Kin(g)dom.

This radical way of living is a work of The Spirit. It is a supernatural yielding of the self & a repudiation of the ego. (It is the meek who will inherit the earth.) One does not enter this narrow way without experiencing that painful revolution of the soul called repentance. We cannot skip over the discomfort of lament & magically land there. One must join the groans of creation. One must be well-acquainted with heart-longings for the Presence of God, hunger-pains for righteousness, & an unyielding thirst for (restorative) justice. One must drink in the tears of a God co-suffers with humanity. One must “co-lament” with this God over the suffering, brokenness, & lostness of our world. For lamenting the world that currently exists empowers us to dream & work for the world that could be-a world that is coming.

Without question, there will be times when words will seem inaccessible & our tongues fail us. Be not dismayed:

“…..The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”     (Romans 8:26)

 

Quadruple Jeopardy: The Life & Death of #CharleenaLyles

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By now you’ve probably heard the tragic news coming out of Seattle about yet another case of state violence committed against black people. Added to the litany of names that have become symbolic of a painful & traumatic legacy that is centuries old, is one #CharleenaLyles.

It’s reported that Charleena Lyles, a 30 year old, pregnant mother of 2 called the police after an attempted break-in at her residence. The police showed up & found Charleena “brandishing” a knife. Though she was a very tiny woman in stature, this prompted the officers to shoot her several times, killing her in front of her children. Many have expressed anger that the situation was not de-escalated & that non-lethal force was not used. Adding injury to insult, video has emerged of the police standing outside her door promising “we will not shoot you. Just open the door.” It’s a shame that a call to police about a home burglary can result in your own death in this “land of the free & home of the brave.”

Zooming Out & Rewinding Back

In our fast-paced media driven world it is so hard to resist the temptation to get lost in the latest tragedy without zooming out & rewinding back to see the bigger picture & larger story. We generally look at incidents like these “in media res”; a cinematic term that means to begin a movie “in the middle of the plot.” This habit keeps us from seeing what spiritual, social, & structural forces might have been at work long before the fateful encounter of the slain.

Charleena Lyles inhabited the high-risk social status that I call “quadruple jeopardy.”  This image-of-God bearing human lived at the dangerous intersection of 4 marginalized social identities. Even if we could go back in time & re-route her call away from 911 to some non-violent alternative she still had enormous structural odds stacked against her.

In no particular order, her likelihood of  experiencing the conditions necessary for human flourishing were jeopardized because she was:

  • 1) black (racism/white supremacy)

From our first steps on this continent to the current moment black folks have been at the bottom of the racialized social order. Subject to domination, exploitation, & dehumanization we have endured unspeakable horrors on the interpersonal, institutional, spiritual, & emotional realm.

  • 2) woman (sexism/patriarchy)

In a patriarchal society women continue to face challenges that their male counterparts do not. Sexism, misogynoir, rape culture, domestic violence, wage inequality are just a short list of the obstacles women are forced to overcome.

  • 3) poor (capitalism/classism)

It is reported that Lyles had battled homelessness in recent years & was struggling to get the economic footing needed to stay afloat in society.

  • 4) mentally ill  (ableism)

Lyles was mentally ill & officers were alerted of this before they arrived on the scene.

Tragic Collisions

It was a collision at the intersection of these 4 social locations that helped create this tragedy. Therefore, it is unhelpful at best & intellectually dishonest at worst, to reduce her plight to a single issue. All of the above realities factored into her killing at the hands of the state yesterday. (Racism, classism, sexism, & ableism) Some will want to parse these factors out & zoom in on just one. They’d say, “it was just a matter of mental illness. If we solve this issue, we can prevent future deaths like this.” This tendency is rather unfortunate. We miss the opportunity to really probe into social ills when we “rest our hats” on the factor that fits our personal soapbox. Its like forecasting weather by only looking at the wind patterns & completely  ignoring things like temperature & pressure. Others will push back on this idea of “quadruple jeopardy” as some hyper brand of “identity politics”. However, this post is not an attempt to “play” identity politics, it is a plea to people of goodwill generally, & to the church more specifically, to wake up to the overlapping political structures & cultural idols that violently impact and impede the flourishing of neighbors who live under the social weight of them. (Furthermore, most who decry “identity politics” have gross misunderstandings of its original meaning. )

This method of analysis has been called “intersectionality.” In its inception it was about keeping track with the larger SYSTEMS that play into the on-the-ground symptoms of inequality & injustice. However, in recent times its meaning has devolved as it’s become a buzz word employed by neoliberal elites & “pop activists”.

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As it’s been used more & more in mainstream discourse, the deep structural analysis has often been erased. This has allowed politicians to gain “cookie points” for naming the intersectional nature of evils like sexism & racism while “veiling” their commitment to uphold the systems & apparatuses that generate these problems.

In short, we must make intersectional analysis “great again”. 😉  The police killing of a poor, black, mentally ill, woman who called 911 for help after an attempted burglary is the horrifically visible tip of an iceberg of spiritual wickedness in high places, unjust structures, economies, & cultures.

As we mourn her death & pray for her loved ones may God “bless us with discomfort at easy answers” & enough foolishness to believe that the structures of The U.S. can be rearranged & transformed in a way that fosters  “justice for all” both at home & abroad.

 

 

Written by Terrance Hawkins

 

 

 

Holy Week of Resistance (2017)

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The Drum Majors Alliance is very excited to present our 3rd annual “Holy Week of Resistance” starting on Palm Sunday, April 9th and ending on Good Friday, April 14th!

Each day, will afford the Body of Christ with opportunities to engage with the last week of Jesus’s life in fresh ways that mobilize us for the biblical ministries of justice & reconciliation. Too often we are discipled to view Christ’s death as a narrowly salvific & individualistic moment detached from its historical context & its socially transformative power. Profound wisdom embedded within the narrative goes untapped as a result. By illuminating the socio-political climate that made Jesus’ witness such a threat to the status quo–such that he was “executed by the state”–we are empowered to see what faithfully “bearing the cross” in our current moment requires of us. This is the central aim of each event during Holy Week.

Below you’ll find brief descriptions for the events. Don’t get overwhelmed. 🙂 Take a look at the week’s itinerary & decide which event(s) you feel stirred by. (Please note: some event locations have not been nailed down. Final details will be communicated next week.)

HWOR 2017 Flyer

 

 

FREEDOM RIDE (Sunday, April 9th 5:30pm-7:30pm)  – Hop on a bus with a diverse group of Christ followers & take a journey to strategic & historic locations to raise awareness about our city’s past & present & to lift up prayers for restoration & renewal. Plan to arrive by 5:15. Bus departs from Old Salem Visitor promptly @ 5:30.  RSVP for FREEDOM RIDE: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/freedom-ride-tickets-33200915833Freedom Ride 2017 flyer

 

BELOVED COMMUNITY ACTION HUDDLES (Monday-Wednesday April 10-12) –We live in a moment of great hostility, division, & oppression. Yet, the Gospel calls us to a form of intimacy that resists the hierarchies of the world &  to link arms in seeking the wholeness & well-being of the cities we have been called to bear witness to the Gospel in. Gather with or host a small group of Jesus followers for a meaningful time of discussion about how The Cross shapes Beloved Community across lines of difference. The dialogue will be followed by a time of writing letters to local officials to share your concern about issues of food insecurity & economic development in impoverished communities. The Drum Majors Alliance will host a huddle @ THe Chop Shop Barber Shop & Beauty Salon in Downtown Winston-Salem on Monday, April 10th, 7pm. RSVP with link below or contact Drum Majors at drummajorsalliance@gmail.com to host your own huddle. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/beloved-community-action-huddle-tickets-33382376587Beloved COmmunity Action Huddles

 

Where the Cross Meets the Streets PANEL DISCUSSION- (Thursday, April 13th)          A powerful panel discussion centered around nationally known Christian theologian, activist, CEO of the Christian Community Development Association, Noel Castellano’s book called “Where the Cross Meets the Streets: What Happens in the Neighborhood When God is At the Center”. The panel will feature faith-fueled practitioners who are serving in various spheres of our city to bring renewal. The panel will wrestle with what a Jesus-like,  holistic witness looks like in our city. Christians who are passionate about outreach, ministry to the poor & vulnerable, & faith in the public square should not miss this paradigm-shifting discussion!

Where Cross Meets Street 2017 panel flyer

 

#STAYWOKE GOOD FRIDAY VIGIL- (Friday, March 15th) – A time of prayer, worship, & deep reflection on the violent execution of Jesus & its redemptive meaning in a world marred by spiritual & social oppression.Good Friday Vigil 2017 Stay woke flyer

 

 

Following Jesus in the Era of Mass Shootings

Vigil held in the wake of the lives lost in mass-shooting at an Oregon community college

Once again it has happened.

As a result of violence being visited upon people in a space that is uncontestedly assumed & expected to be “safe”, our nation has been forced to pause & ponder on who we are as a people. Unfortunately, equally tragic violence often gets overlooked or rationalized because of where it happens & who it happens to.

Yet, it is our duty as followers of Jesus to mourn ALL acts of violence & loss of life.

Whether it’s a mass-shooting at a mall, movie theatre, or school campus, or it’s a child caught in the cross-fire of a drive-by shooting in an economically deprived & oppressed urban community.

We mourn the violent deaths of persecuted Christians in places like Kenya & Egypt while ALSO being deeply grieved by the deaths of innocent Muslim children in foreign countries as a result of U.S. drones strikes.

Though shooting deaths of law enforcement officers are at a record low, our hearts break for the families of police officers who receive the call that their fathers will never return home again. As we affirm the humanity of individual officers we continue to feel anguish & despair over the 150 year legacy of systemic police brutality with impunity on the bodies of black people in America.

“Outrage olympics” are unproductive. Its important that we become a community that helps one another see our blind spots & ignorance instead of self-righteously declaring, “MY outrage is better than yours.”

We must seek to be a Jesus loving, Gospel preaching, peace-waging, oppression undoing, light shining force in the midst of this dark & crooked world.

As we pray for those who lost loved ones in Oregon may we recommit to holistically practicing the non-violent way of Jesus & influencing others in this vein. Jesus never said, “blessed are the war-wagers & gun worshippers“. He said “blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God!”

Peacemaking is not passive. It is an active posture that prayerfully stands in the gap of hostility & prophetically speaks to diffuse it at the roots.

We have to teach the next generation (of all backgrounds) “creative alternatives to violence.”

Violence is the very seed by which America was sown. It’s in our DNA & the glorification of it in our movies, tv shows, video games, & music continues to numb our consciouses.

We cannot allow our “right to bear arms” to infringe upon our “birthright to bear witness” to The Wonderful Counselor’s in-breaking reign of peace. (see Isaiah 9)

As God’s salt of the earth we must engage on the soul AND systemic level to preserve life through Jesus-centered discipleship in our churches, evangelism in our communities, & activism around public policy in the political realm.

Of highest importance in this process is authentic discipleship in the radical Way of Jesus. Too often, we’ve trained people towards a “cultural Christianity” that morphs & bends to accommodate the status quo. The Jesus of Nazareth revealed in the Gospels is a far cry from the one that many traditions have taught. In reference to the historical misrepresentation of Jesus, theologian Curtiss DeYoung says,

“Sometime after yesterday and before today, His life story was co-opted, reconfigured, and reissued. The story of a colonized and occupied Jesus was replaced with a meek and mild savior who did not disrupt the status quo or with the image of a colonial Christ who sided with the powerful and blessed (violent) imperial realities. The colonized first-century Christian communities preaching liberation and practicing reconciliation were replaced by Christians who were quite and politically pious or who became colonizers, slaveholders, crusadors, terrorists, dictators, and the like.”

The Jesus who rebuked Peter’s violence by saying “those who live by the sword will die by the sword” is the same yesterday, today, & forevermore. It is time that we reengage His life & words. It is time that we go beyond merely applauding the non-violent activism of Martin Luther King Jr & do some serious soul-searching about what his prophetic words mean for us today! As reports come in that the shooter in Oregon targeted people who were Christians there is much that the broader church can learn from the best slices of the Black Church. Being one of the few Christian traditions in America that can truly claim “persecuted status” from its inception, its responses to racial terrorism are awe-inspiring. Instead of conforming to the world’s pattern of an “eye-for-an-eye” it chose to reflect Jesus by only bearing the arms of love & truth!

“Jesus reveals a way to fight evil with all our power without being transformed into the very evil we fight.It is a way– the only way possible– of not becoming what we hate…..Jesus abhors passivity and violence. He articulates a way by which evil can be opposed without being mirrored….”  Wink

May we follow hard after God revealed in Christ with hearts of love in a world of hatred, violence, & hostility.

Waterless Clouds, Hopelessness, & Freedom Rides: About Last (Monday) Night

darkcloudWSfinal

Contending for hope is a full time job!”   Christena Cleveland

Why Freedom Ride?

A week ago today, a diverse group of Jesus followers representing various organizations, churches, theological traditions, colors, cultures, & classes boarded a bus for what we call a “Freedom Ride”. The name found its inspiration from the multi-ethnic group of activists known as the “Freedom Riders” who rode public buses into segregated southern states as a form of protest in the 1960s. Our aim was to protest the powers of darkness, spiritual & economic poverty, racial division & oppression, & hopelessness in our city by lifting up prayers & prophetically raising awareness. The bus route was crafted to tell the story of Winston-Salem from the margins by visiting historic & strategic locations that are emblematic of both the pain & beauty of my city.

This was the 5th Freedom Ride and by far was the most spiritually potent one we’ve done to date. The bus was jam-packed with folks who are genuinely concerned about the trajectory of a city that is experiencing an economic renewal that seems to be “skipping” over the poor, the working class, and people of color. As God’s royal priesthood it is the Church’s responsibility to pray in AND work for a spiritual climate of liberation, restoration, renewal, & justice for all.  As Christians who affirm the dignity and worth of ALL people regardless of color, culture, or class it is unacceptable that the structures of our city (and country) continue to “over-affirm” some, while “under-affirming” others. Various national research has confirmed these local realities over & over & over again.

Staying “Woke” & Fighting Hopelessness

For me, the Freedom Ride is about creating space for people to have what I call a “Nehemiah Experience”. In the biblical account, Nehemiah was a Jew who worked in a place of privilege in a foreign empire. He was the king’s cup bearer and could have easily allowed his distance to foster a spirit of apathy in regards to the plight of his people & his homeland. Yet, when confronted with bad news about the spiritual & structural condition of Jerusalem he wept, repented for the sins of his people, fasted, & prayed. Eventually he was granted permission to return to Jerusalem to bring restoration. His story teaches us what should happen in the hearts of spiritually conscious women & men when they are awakened to the reality of oppression. True awakenings to the love & glory of Jesus ALWAYS leads to an awakening to the pain & problems of society.

“When the Spirit of God gets a hold of a person, they are made a new creature prepared to move head-on into the evils of this world ready to die for God.”  Cone

This crash-course collision with the internal darkness of the soul & the external darkness of society is ridden with moments where the lure of hopelessness is strong. In the words of social psychologist & theologian Christena Cleveland, “contending for hope is a full-time job”! This is SO true. Those of us who claim to be “woke” (socially conscious) can fall prey to depression, cynicism, & an overwhelming sense that we are fighting an unwinnable battle. The constant onslaught of tragic stories we encounter in our on-the-ground work & through our social media networks can have a numbing effect. We must do the necessary spiritual self-care to avoid this. We must ask ourselves the hard questions & also allow others to gut-check us when necessary. We must be keenly aware of the fact that there is a thin line between righteous indignation & self-righteous irritation. Those who long for God’s in-breaking Kingdom walk in the tension of joyous gratitude & what MLK Jr called “divine discontentment“. It is necessary to recognize that sometimes its God Himself who is inducing our tears. Yet, in other moments we must humbly accept the fact that our anguish may just be the outflow of our own sin & brokenness.

Cheap Grace & Waterless Clouds

Last Monday, seemed to be one of those days when Creator God was the cause of my grief. That morning as I went outside to my car I noticed an overcast of dark clouds that remained the entire day. As the day progressed I kept waiting for it to start raining, but the most that happened was a few occasional drizzles. Around midday, the words “waterless clouds” began to press on my heart. After pondering on those words for a few moments I was reminded of an obscure passage from the tiny book of Jude that reads:

For certain intruders have stolen in among you, people who long ago were designated for this condemnation as ungodly, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.…..They are waterless clouds carried along by the winds; autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, uprooted…… 

(Jude 1,12)

Immediately after reading the passage I thought about the institutional church in my city. It’s probably an “urban legend”, but I’ve heard many natives of Winston-Salem say that our city appeared in the Guinness Book of World Records a decade ago as the city with the most church’s per capita in the nation. Whether we made it in the Guinness Book or not, it is undeniably true that there are churches on almost every corner in our city. Church buildings cover & blanket our city streets like the dark clouds that hovered over it last Monday. The rate at which old sanctuaries & new church plants appear in our city has not matched “the rate” of which a witness of God’s gracious rain (reign) has been seen in Winston-Salem from my vantage point. Are our institutional churches “waterless clouds” that give the false impression that life-giving, soul healing, neighborhood restoring, & justice flooding RAIN is falling? Yet when one looks for the evidence of such rain they only experience the drizzles of our weekly services, “scheduled revivals”, “hood volunTOURism”, & reconciliation “events”.  I asked myself, “Terrance are you a waterless cloud? Are you mastering the language of liberation & reconciliation without having been MASTERED by those truths within?  Are you seeking to live the Way of Jesus without being worshipfully dialed into the Person of Jesus?”

Perhaps we, like those who Jude spoke of in the 1st century, have frustrated and/or perverted the Grace of Jesus. The grace of Jesus forgives sin AND fuels righteousness. It does not give us a pass to be lax about the lost & the unjust status quo. Scripture tells us that this Grace appeared to create a people “zealous to do good works”. The New Testament term “good works” should be understood in one sense as the equivalent of the Old Testament term “doing justice”. Perhaps our unfamiliarity with the radical Jesus of the Gospels & unspoken allegiances to hyper-individualism, racial hierarchies & division, immoral capitalism, & political parties have obstructed the flow of God’s costly grace.

Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjack’s wares. The forgiveness and the consolations of are religion are thrown away at cut prices……Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance….Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living AND incarnate. Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has…..It is costly because it calls us to follow, and grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

By the time I boarded the bus last Monday night my grief had subsided & given way to a deep sense of hope. Seeing the faces of the multi-generational, multi-ethnic, multi-class, & multi-church crowd that had assembled only further solidified to me the reality that God is raising up a strong remnant of folks who are pressing into the Kingdom! In essence, we spent the night driving from site-to-site identifying the historic effects of “waterless clouds” over our city & praying that God would send rain. HERE & HERE you’ll find pt 1 & 2 of the Freedom Ride itinerary put together by the Drum Major’s Alliance along with a powerful liturgy crafted by Wake Forest M-Div student & Winston-Salem native, Kenneth Pettigrew.

Join us in praying specifically on these issues with the understanding that:

“The need for a city to care about injustice, poverty, or despair is not liberalism or socialism, welfare or radicalism. It is simply genuine humanness authorized by the God of the Bible.”  Walter Brueggemann

written by Terrance

Black Political [PUPPETS] Pundits: Why Their “Black Lies” Matter

Black Political Puppets

• black lie [blak lahy] – a lie told to hide wrong-doing and to protect the liars from the trouble likely to arise if the full truth were known about a core secret of secrets.

• A half truth is a whole lie. –Yiddish proverb

• “There are always people willing to put [what’s perceived as] their special knowledge at the disposal of the dominant group to facilitate the tightening of the chains. They are given positions of prominence, and above all a guarantee of economic security and status. To love such people requires the uprooting of bitterness of betrayal, the heartiest poison that grows in the human spirit….”  Howard Thurman    (parenthetical phrase added)

A couple months back I posted the following on Facebook:

“Please understand that putting a “black person” in front of a camera that parrots racist, uninformed, ahistorical, & oppressive views does not fool us. It does not transform bigotry & willful ignorance into righteousness & intelligence either.”

This post was inspired by the onslaught of folks who justify problematic positions & views concerning race, class, & injustice in America by amplifying the voices of people of color who hold similar views. It’s an old play from the playbook that seems to be much more prevalent & disheartening in the age of social media. Like clockwork it happens when a black person posts a video on Facebook either documenting a “sweet encounter” with police, or chastising his or her people for not “caring” about black-on-black crime, or brilliantly parroting the colorblind, I’m an “American” first, pull yourselves up by your bootstraps rhetoric that some folks salivate over. It doesn’t take long for these videos to go viral and for the people who posted them to be invited to share their “expert” opinions on national television. Even sports analysts like Stephan A Smith, who spend very little time wrestling with history, sociology, and economics become the “exceptional negroes” who “get it”.  Once a minority has “co-signed” a portion of the dominant culture’s ill-informed views it makes it 10x harder to penetrate their conscience with truth.

Racially illiterate conservative AND liberal black men with large news media platforms like Don Lemon, Juan Williams, & Allen West have an intoxicating effect on their constituencies. They are like a STRONG hallucinogen that makes bigotry & willful ignorance look like righteousness & intelligence to those who cannot bear to look at the grim realities of racism in America. They are “weapons of mass manipulation” used to delegitimize & scapegoat movements seeking to undo REAL injustice!

Recently, I read a piece written by black conservative political pundit Allen West.In it, he rightfully seeks to condemn the hate-filled rhetoric of a self-proclaimed “black-supremacist” while wrongfully making the assertion that the misguided man represents the black lives matter movement. (WATCH VIDEO HERE)

Before I go any further, let it be known that I believe that “black supremacy” is neither a good, godly, or fruitful response to the 400 year legacy of white supremacy. Hate cannot drive out hate & it would take centuries of pillage to even come close to repaying an “eye for an eye” the atrocities committed on the bodies of people of color in the Americas. All that said, let us not be fooled by Allen West’s intellectual dishonesty in this piece. He is stoking the fear & apathy of his constituency & falsely trying to connect this hate-filled man to the “black lives matter movement”. All movements are imperfect & should be fairly critiqued. However, its irresponsible & inflammatory to say that this lone man represents the thoughts, goals, & intent of a WHOLE movement.

One would need to look no further than the 2nd video shared in the article to disprove West’s erroneous claims. The “black supremacist” clearly says that he believes “the black lives matter movement wasn’t enough.” In essence he says that attempts to non-violently appeal to political power through protest was an ineffective strategy. Two very obvious conclusions can be made from his comments:
1) In saying that black lives matter activism was/is not enough he is distancing himself from the movement.
2) He is calling for a distinctly DIFFERENT kind of movement. In doing so he is admitting that the idea of “picking off police officers” & “open season on white folks” is in no way, shape, or form a part of what the Black Lives Matter movement is about!

But that type of honest analysis would be like scratching chalkboard within the echo chambers that are conservatism AND neo-liberalism. While racism can regularly be found dripping publicly from the mouth of conservatism, neo-liberalism is just as deadly as it gives mere “lip-service” to the poor, the working class, & people of color. The “flavor” of racism doesn’t matter a whole lot. Once digested it has the same sickening consequences.

I am deeply grieved by & for people of color who sell their souls for a big platform & become puppets of the American empire. The rapid fire of “half truths” & BLACK LIES (pun intended) that spew from their mouths help protect the racially unjust status quo of America. In many ways, they are what the tax collectors were to 1st century Jews. Jewish tax collectors were members of an oppressed group but chose to side with the oppressive Roman empire in order to achieve “success”. They put their individual prosperity over the collective liberation of their ethnic group. As someone who is committed to being conformed to the image of Jesus I am challenged to STILL LOVE THEM! They are in need of forgiveness, liberation, & reconciliation much like Zacchaeus was in the Gospels. Howard Thurman’s words in “Jesus & the Disinherited” have been extremely helpful for me in this pursuit. Of the tax collectors & the call of Jesus to love them he wrote:

“It was they [tax collectors] who became the grasping hand of Roman authority, filching from Israel the taxes which helped to keep alive the oppression of the gentile ruler. They were Israelites who understood the psychology of the people, and therefore were always able to function with the kind of spiritual ruthlessness that would have been impossible for those who did not know the people intimately…..
To be required to love such a person was the final insult. How could such a demand be made? One did not even associate with such creatures….
All underprivileged people have to deal with this kind of enemy. There are always people willing to put their special knowledge at the disposal of the dominant group to facilitate the tightening of the chains. They are given positions of prominence, and above all a guarantee of economic security and status. To love such people requires the uprooting of bitterness of betrayal, the heartiest poison that grows in the human spirit….
To love them means to recognize some deep respect and reverence for their persons. But to love them DOES NOT mean to condone their way of life.”

While vigorously contending against their lies we cannot allow their internalized oppression to stop us from loving them or anyone for that matter. The Way of Jesus is no easy task  & demands that we be supernaturally empowered by the Spirit. Baptism in The Spirit should create an insatiable love for God & neighbor expressed through passionate worship & the pursuit of reconciliation (vertical & horizontal) & justice. We will hit brick walls at times as we labor to this end. As much as we want to see EVERYONE get it, we must understand that some people are addicted to their own MIS-education.

It does not matter how powerful & compelling your arguments are. You can put forth a thorough statistical, historical, & theological analysis & do it all with a spirit of gentleness & humility but it will not matter. As one dear sister in the struggle put it, they will look for “that ONE black person saying other black people are wrong and crazy for thinking racism is alive and well.” They are attracted to misinformation like a moth to a flame. They exchange sobering truths for intoxicating lies. Inhaling the opium of deception they hallucinate & see a world where there is no injustice & oppression to be concerned over. It matters not how many cell phones, surveillance videos, & body cameras capture unspeakable brutalities that communities of color have talked about for centuries,  “seeing they will not perceive.

This is not merely a problem of flawed logic or bad camera angles.  It is a problem of the heart that causes them to suppress the truth in unrighteousness. As a result, “justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter.”

Yet, we who believe in the revolutionary call of Jesus cannot relent in our worshipful pursuit of reconciliation and justice!

Bear your crosses well!

Statement of Solidarity With Palestinian People

We unapologetically express our solidarity with Palestinians in their struggle for justice, peace, and dignity! We lament the decades long reign of terror, dispossession, and demonization that this religiously, ethnically, and culturally diverse group of people have endured. As followers of a Palestinian Jew who lived under the tyranny of Roman occupation, we ground ourselves in his revolutionary call to love our neighbors, as we love ourselves. A call that begins with the oppressed and vulnerable of the world–the last and the least. 

We see it as our responsibility to bear witness to Kin-dom of God in the face of Christofascist evangelical forces that do the bidding of white supremacy and empire. We maintain that “Christian zionism” is one of the most abominable outgrowths of Euro-colonial Christianity. Quiet as kept, in addition to it being anti-Palestinian, its most dominant form is insiduously anti-Jewish. It weaponizes what should be a healing Gospel for the entire world, into “a miracle weapon in service of the mighty.” Along with many of our peace and justice–loving Jewish comrades, we reject the conflation of Zionism with Judaism. We reject the idea that to be anti the oppression of Palestinians is to be pro the oppression of Jewish people. We hold the lives of all people as precious and sacred, and contend that any political regime that engages in genocidal activity must be outright condemned and resisted. Whatever supposed continuity one sees between ancient Israel and the modern (secular) nation-state of Israel, it cannot be denied that the Hebrew prophets of old stood against the kind of “trampling of the poor” that is part and parcel of this modern regime. Jesus carried this prophetic tradition forward. As his followers we embrace it with the humility that our finiteness requires, and the urgency that the situation demands. Babies and children and civilians are being bombed. Families are being expelled from their neighborhoods. Death-dealing forces are having their way.

We understand ourselves to have a unique responsibility as disciples of the Lamb who live in the “belly of the beast”: the U.S. Empire. We refuse to let this nation go unchecked for its deep complicity in all of this. We name the reality that the U.S. has mastered what Martiin Luther King Jr. called “the peculiar genius of imperialism.” Under the guise of “protecting” persecuted groups and expanding “democracy”, the U.S. has sought to protect and extend its unholy power and ability to exploit. In 1986, our current President Joe Biden said:

 “It’s about time we stop….apologizing for our support of Israel. There’s no apology to be made. None! It is the best 3 billion dollar investment we make. Were there not an Israel, the United States of America would have to invent an Israel to protect her interests in the region.” 

Joe Biden referred to this statement with pride in 2015 as Vice President under Obama. The nakedness of Biden’s statement demonstrates the U.S.’s true intentions in the present and the past. An honest reading of the historical record will show that the U.S. was slow to rise to the occasion of fighting the anti-Jewish fascism of the Hitler regime. In fact, Jewish people seeking asylum during this era were rejected by the U.S. James Baldwin correctly pointed out that “Europe had nothing against Hitler, and neither did [the U.S.], til he turned his guns against them.” We must not allow the virtue signaling of a nation founded in the fascistic violence of settler colonialism, to throw us off the trail of solidarity. 

Secondly, as practitioners of the Black Radical Tradition we carry forward the legacy of Black (American) solidarity with Palestinians. As a people who have been the victims of settler colonialism and apartheid we know that our struggles are linked. The very same forces that constructed and upheld chattel slavery, Jim Crow, and Jim Crow Jr. in the U.S. have been at work in the land of Palestine. Our respective contemporary movements face police forces that have trained and coached each other in racial profiling and the violent suppression of protests through what are called “police exchanges.”

Angela Davis wrote:

 “Palestine has always occupied a pivotal place, precisely because of the similarities between Israel and the United States–their foundational settler colonialism and their ethnic cleansing processes with respect to indigenous people, their system of segregation, their use of legal systems to enact systematic repression, and so forth.”

Again, our struggles are intertwined and bound together. Therefore, we call for the end of settler colonialism everywhere. From the U.S. to Australia, from South Africa to *Palestine. We reject the “both-sidesism” propaganda of the U.S. media. Settler colonial violence is asymmetrical. Palestinian resistance forces cannot be falsely equated with the Israeli state’s massively funded military. (A military made possible by the cover and backing of western imperial powers.) This is not a mere “conflict”, it is a genocide! Love requires that we speak plainly and honestly. Love requires our solidarity. 

In solidarity,

Drum Majors Alliance | May 13th, 2021 

Reparations & Reallocation in the City of Winston-Salem

Reallocatee

As national (and global) movements call for a reckoning with the anti-Black violence of policing, a care-centered redistribution of funds that ordinarily get sucked up Law Enforcement Departments, and a reimagining of public safety itself — the city of Winston-Salem continues to dredge along the same path. The following is a transcript of comments made by local activist & Hate Out of Winston leader, Miranda Jones during the city council’s public comments on December 7th, 2020. Along with other local grassroots orgs (including Drum Majors), Hate Out is calling the city and its leadership to embrace a new path. As Hate Out Of Winston puts it, “WSPD does not need 78 million, the people do!”

“Good evening Mayor, Mayor Pro Tem and city council. According to an August 2020 Forbes magazine article, “the notion of slashing and re-allocating police funds is far from universally popular. Just 34% of Americans have a favorable view of the movement, while 53% do not.” This is no surprise as most  social justice movements, in this country, initially faced unparalleled amounts of rejection. We are clear that some of you have given lip service to social justice, particularly during this past summer of heightened racial unrest, while others have remained silent or have been downright caustic. For instance, Councilmember Annette Scippio, I read your resume and was impressed until I heard you speak and read your words.

In a Triad City Beat article from January 2020 when asked about housing you said, “There was a great energy because of employment.” Homes were well-maintained. People worked hard. We didn’t have idleness.  That doesn’t exist now.” I discovered that your platform is one of denigrating, demoralizing, eviscerating and degrading poor Blacks. You seem to suggest that the root cause of those ills are because poor Blacks don’t want to work. At the Delta Arts Center, I heard you reference the so-called “good ole days” which included the manufacturing jobs at RJ Reynolds. Good for who? It certainly wasn’t for my great-great aunt or any of my grandfather who were not paid the same wages as white men. What’s more is those good ole days are gone. Have you considered that a portion of the 78 million dollars could be used for job training programs for people with varying levels of education so they can work in your glorious innovation quarter? Have you considered how this funding can be used in SOAR and YouthBuild?

Other larger cities have already taken the lead on reallocation. Cities like Austin and LA, San Francisco and Portland, and even Salt Lake City whose own mayor proposed reallocation. What’s stopping this city? Some of you, with the most diabolical levels of police encounters and poverty in your ward are silent, often quick to second an adjournment to end the meeting to shut us up. 

In an article from May 2020, Mayor Joines said, Mrs. Parmon could be seen as a “neutral placeholder” until the election decided the result. She has done that but the Northeast Ward (which I grew up in) cannot afford for any city council representative to be neutral. Just like the East Ward, not all of the Northeast Ward lives in poverty but there is more than enough and we know that it’s better for those housed in black skin to be a position to where they don’t have to deal state sanctioned lynchings while we wait for claims that the cause of death was due to chronic disease. Imagine what it would look like if that were addressed by services offered through the city in partnership with the county and agencies with measurable outcomes. In the words of Councilmember Scippio, I ask are you being idle and irresponsible? Furthermore, isn’t it irresponsible of you to have never addressed Mayor Pro Tem’s call for reparations this past August, which was supposed to be addressed in either October or November. It’s December. Mayor Pro Tem said, “the time is right for Winston-Salem to move forward on reparations,” she further noted how none of the other city council members offered comments or questions when she brought up the matter in committee. I was dismayed to know that the other black councilmembers sat in silence. Who did you all allow to silence you? 

She said, “it is a conversation about poverty and social justice, and no one wants to talk about it.” Your silence is so resoundingly loud in its insistence that defund won’t work, reparations won’t work, and reallocation won’t work! Mayor you said the city doesn’t have enough money for reparations. Well I guess not, you all have given the money to the police and developers. WSPD does not need 78 million dollars, the people do!”

To follow the work of Hate Out of Winston visit their Instagram page here or Facebook page 

Statement Concerning Our Incarcerated Neighbors In Forsyth County Detention Center

Officials change mask policy at Missouri women's prison | The Kansas City  Star

October 8th, 2020

The following is a public statement from the Drum Majors Alliance concerning the treatment of incarcerated neighbors in Forsyth County Detention Ctr under COVID-19:

“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” Hebrews 13:3

We stand alongside the Prisoner Outreach Initiative, the Triad Abolitionist Project, and our detained siblings in condemning the callous, careless, and life-endangering policies and procedures of the Forsyth County Jail and of their healthcare provider, Wellpath. 

Despite what our city, county, and country seem to believe, incarceration does not mean one’s life is less valuable or worthy of protection. Ever since slavery – in its chattel form – was made illegal, the detained and incarcerated of this country have been treated as a disposable and exploitable population. And the recent broken promises of our local sheriff’s office and the wanton disregard for prisoner safety by Wellpath have made it abundantly clear that Winston-Salem is continuing in this long and damnable history.

By not providing incarcerated people with masks and not requiring the use of PPE by correction officers and medical providers within the jail, Wellpath and our local sheriff’s office have sent a clear message that these irreplaceable, priceless, image-of-God-bearing human lives are not worth their time or money. And by breaking its recent promises to the citizens of Forsyth County, the sheriff’s office continues to dismantle the trust between this city and its citizens. You may not have shot an unarmed black man in the street, but you are willingly denying him every protection within your prisons.

As citizens, we call this injustice. As followers of Christ, we call this sin. They are one and the same. And we draw from the depth of biblical tradition to demand that justice roll down like mighty waters, righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Your decision to endanger the lives of incarcerated neighbors does not make for justice. It does not make for peace. You are forgoing justice. You are standing in the way of peace. For while mothers and fathers and children and siblings and neighbors lift their voice in demanding you treat their loved ones with dignity and respect, we will continue to lift our voice alongside theirs. We will continue to demonstrate that peace that is not peace for all is peace for none.

We stand in solidarity with the following demands put forth by the Prisoner Outreach Initiative. These demands have been shaped by the self-advocacy and self-determination of those incarcerated in Forsyth County Detention Center:

1) 7 masks for 7 days. Disposable masks are not meant to be reused for an entire week.

2) Regular testing for all people in the jail. With guards coming and going, and regularly failing to properly use PPE, it’s not enough to only test people at intake.

3) Free phone calls and free postage. With family visitations cancelled outright, people in the jail are isolated and lonely, and should not be forced to pay exorbitant rates to continue speaking to their loved ones.

4) Release at-risk people and low-level offenders. Most people in our jail are in for drug offenses, parole violations, property crimes or other minor infractions, and should not be kept in a confined space with no ability to keep themselves safe in a pandemic.

**5) End the contract with WellPath. WellPath has shown consistent negligence in its treatment of people incarcerated in the jail, leading to several deaths, and must be replaced with a county- or state-run service that can be held accountable to the people whose families are incarcerated here.

Call to Action: Join Prison Outreach Initiative and Triad Abolition Project for a march on Forsyth County Jail this Friday at 6pm. Details HERE!