Pleas for Humanity: The Presbyter’s Pen

RCR speaking headshot Bob Reynolds - photo by Shelley DonaldsonBy Rev. Bob Reynolds, Executive Presbyter

I recently attended Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s annual Interfaith Breakfast in honor of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Keynote speaker, Dr. Michael Lomax, President and CEO of the United Negro College Fund, shared the tragic story of Sammy Younge, an early martyr in the Civil Rights Movement. A student at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, Mr. Younge was participating in a 1966 voting rights drive when he was murdered by a white gas station attendant following an argument over use of a whites-only restroom. The attendant was later acquitted of charges by an all-white jury.

This story reminded me of a recent New York Times article (January 11) by Isabel Wilkerson, author of the award-winning book about race in America, “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration.” The article’s subject was last year’s protests over “unprosecuted police brutality” in Northern and Western cities which, in part, she characterized as a “plea for recognition of AfricanAmericans’ humanity.” She wrote, “The protests have become a referendum on the Black condition since the Great Migration,” and she quoted historian Taylor Branch’s observation that, “It feels like the South in the 1950’s.” Her article’s title was, “When Will the North Face Its Racism?” I encourage you to read it.

RCR New York Black Lives Matter protest

Protesters at the Millions March in NYC in mid-December 2014

In early December, I participated in the peaceful Millions March NYC on New York City’s Fifth Avenue with my daughter and 20,000 others (see photos). Like you perhaps, I was saddened by the long, merciless struggle for humanity signified by demonstrators’ placards and chants declaring, “Black Lives Matter,” “Hands-up–Don’t Shoot,” “I Can’t Breathe,” and “Jesus was Brown.” I wanted to show my support.

Wilkerson, in her article, concluded by balancing her message with a measure of hope by citing illustrations of how the South is addressing police brutality “head on,” and she speculated that the North too might learn this one day. But, she wrote, progress toward greater racial justice will “require the commitment of the entire nation to resolve.” Indeed! It reminds me of Chicago Presbytery’s tag-line that, “Together We Can Do More”. Chicago area Presbyterians have many “divine callings” in our Northern region, but perhaps none is more urgent or challenging than our common call with people of every faith, and people of no faith, to work endlessly and mercifully for the humanity of all God’s people.

I look forward to hearing how your church is working to address this issue and to keep the dialogue open.

This article was originally published on page 2 of the February 2015 Our Common Ministry, the presbytery’s newsletter. Download the complete issue.

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