I went to my first street vigil in the United States just over two years ago in Baltimore, Maryland.
Though the gathered group was in mourning about state violence that evening, stone-faced police officers lined the streets, recording us, and snipers peered down on us from the rooftops.
We were gathered in downtown Baltimore simply to share our collective grief and concern.
We talked together about several cases of state brutality that hadn’t made the national news. We learned about parents and community members’ local lobbying and community healing work. We remembered our dead together, and we recommitted to our living.
The stories of Trayvon Martin in Florida and Renisha McBride in Michigan—one walking home after getting candy for his brother, the other seeking help after her car broke down—were especially challenging for me. I saw the faces of my younger cousins in the stories of Trayvon and Renisha, and realized just how much the dynamics that my relatives have lived with for years extend beyond tragedy into everyday life. Now that I live in this country too, I also have to recognize and navigate those dynamics myself.
This election season, many of my American friends are learning about issues like mass incarceration, voter suppression, interpersonal and state violence, and economic injustice. All of these issues especially impact people of color, and as the Christian community in the United States becomes more ethnically diverse, these issues are becoming more visible as part of our collective experience.
But we shouldn’t have to wait until we personally face issues to care about them. As a person of faith, I strongly believe in the oneness and connectedness of all humankind. In the Christian scriptures, the apostle Paul quotes Greek poets to explain how God created every person from “one blood” and dispersed humanity across the planet (Acts 17).
I believe that, regardless of our ethnicity or how society classifies us, we’re each fundamentally worthy of respect and fulfillment. I also realize that this nation’s traditions of fear, racism, and supremacism mean that many of us live lives that are as overshadowed as I and my peers were that night in Baltimore. We might be followed around our neighborhoods, monitored in local stores, or presumed a threat when we’re the ones who are vulnerable.
Far too many of us don’t get to live in peace or die in dignity.
I want that to change, and I want to work with other people of faith to change it. Though Christianity has a checkered history on race and mutual respect, our spiritual tradition can teach us to perceive each other as God’s finest work, as siblings who merit whole-life affirmation, not strangers who merit suspicion, violence, or suffering.
Standing for racial justice as a Christian at this time in our nation’s story is to accept the responsibility to make practical, social change based on our deepest spiritual values. Christianity, after all, is a practical religion, and all forms of discrimination are antithetical to it (James 2).
Our faith isn’t just about what we do when we gather for worship on the weekends. It’s also about the lives we live with each other in our neighborhoods, the decisions we make for the leadership of our communities, and the responsibilities we accept as part of our country’s electorate.
Join me today in standing for racial justice.
Take that step to invest in the practical, relational implications of our faith, and let’s make this a more just world for all of us.
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So, in the Spirit of Pauli and our ancestors, I will take my song of hope and protest and fashion a better world through action. Through loving on people, by fighting for justice, by working for policy change, by fighting the complicit silence in the pulpit. Because I am tired of singing a song of hope for a world that cannot and is unwilling to change, I am following the heroes that are hidden in plain sight.
For the queer and trans folks of color out protesting for a better life in Black lives matter, labor movements, and beyond, let their words and challenges be like Isaiah's sharp swords and polished arrows.
For the youth who speak into their contexts and demand a better education, opportunities, and a just world, let you see them raising up not only restoring our nation, but the human world. Because simply resting in hope for things to be better isn’t enough anymore, unless we have created a world that can actually hear it.
Student, Boston University School of Theology
Excerpt from Hope Hurts
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