Garrett-Evangelical Black Seminarians' (G-EBS) Response to Systematic Racism and Racial Injustice
In response to the crisis plaguing communities of color across these United States of America as it relates to abusive and murderous practices of law enforcement, Garrett-Evangelical Black Seminarians (G-EBS) sponsored three events on Monday, December 8, 2014, including a prayer vigil, dialogue, and strategic conversations. In preparation of these events G-EBS members crafted the following statement.
We, the Garrett-Evangelical Black Seminarians, are saddened and profoundly grieved at the systemic racism that continues to claim the lives of Black men, women, and children within the United States. In just the last few months alone, we have watched law enforcement, armed with weapons designed to kill, use those weapons against unarmed Black males resulting in the deaths of those Black lives.
We lament several things in the face of these realities:
We lament that, despite a long history attempting to change it, systemic racism continues to thrive in the United States and elsewhere.
We lament that this systemic racism fuels hatred for, suspicion of, and distancing from Black men, women, and children, and others whose ethnicity and racial identity do not fit into the normative race.
We lament that this same hatred for, suspicion of, and distancing from has resulted in overt racism and violence against Black bodies every single day.
We lament that this has given some in the normative race a license to kill and has placed Black lives in imminent danger.
We lament that Black men, women, and children have fallen at the willful hands of those sworn to protect and serve.
We lament that a flawed legal system has allowed these actions to go unpunished – further devaluing Black bodies.
Black lives matter!!!
We weep with the family of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
We weep with the family of Eric Garner in New York City, New York.
We weep with all of the families whose lives have been affected by these and other racially charged events around the country, now and in the past.
Systemic racism aimed at Black people did not start in 2014. It started when the 1st Africans were placed onto slave ships against their will and whisked away to America almost 400 years ago. Their language ... taken away. Their culture ... taken away. Their identity ... taken away. Their humanity ... taken away. Their bodies ... unjustly enslaved. Racism is a powerful, living institution in the United States.
Over the course of our sad history, discrimination against and mistreatment of the descendants of the enslaved has moved back and forth between overt and covert actions, depending on what is deemed socially acceptable at the time. With the brutal killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, society is declaring open season against Black bodies and that overt racism is once again socially acceptable. The overt racism seen in the public lynching of each of these Black males, and the covert efforts witnessed in the calculated disregard of the legal institution has added insult to injury. NO MORE!!! We can no longer sit and watch our people die.
#BlackLivesMatter and #ICantBreathe are designed to keep the assault on Black bodies and the racial injustice that ensues in the forefront of our minds and prayers. As seminarians, we are here, being trained, for such a time as this. As Jesus challenged the legal systems and the thought processes of those who would oppress, we must engage in that same action. We must realize that if there are oppressed among us, none of us are free. None of us can have life and have it abundantly if others around us are suffering.
What are we charged to do? Civil disobedient protests, while bringing awareness to the issues, will not be enough. John 13:34 tells us to love one another as Jesus has loved us. The love that Jesus showed during his time on earth was unconditional. We are charged to love each other with an unconditional love.
Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:12 (NRSV) that “our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” To effect change we will have to work together – putting aside racial bias and putting aside claims to hierarchical statuses of privilege. We have to call out racial, social, and economic injustices when we see it. We have to involve ourselves in the efforts to change local and national policies that work against those who have no voice. We have to be missional in our ministries and understand how we can co-labor with God in the areas where we’ll be planted. Freedom is not free.
“Ella’s Song” sung by Sweet Honey in the Rock, is a tribute to Ella Baker, a Black civil rights activist from Norfolk, Virginia whose work was centered on social justice. Barbara Ransby in her book, Ella Baker & The Black Freedom Movement, attributes the following quote to Ella Baker:
In order for us as poor and oppressed people to become part of a society that is meaningful, the system under which we now exist has to be radically changed. This means that we are going to have to learn to think in radical terms. I use the term radical in its original meaning--getting down to and understanding the root cause. It means facing a system that does not lend itself to your needs and devising means by which you change that system.
~ Ella Baker, 1969 (Source: Ransby, Barbara. Ella Baker & The Black Freedom Movement)
This, too, is our charge.
We welcome our allies who will join us and tarry side by side with us in this work. We are thankful that we serve a God who is bigger than this issue. We know that with the faith of a tiny mustard seed, there is no mountain too big to move.
As the refrain in “Ella’s Song” states, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”
Prayerfully Submitted: Garrett-Evangelical Black Seminarians
Patsy Echols and Terrance Thomas, Co-chairs
Jacquelyn Webb, Secretary
Tiggs Washington, Treasurer
Carla Mitchell, Chaplain
*Garrett-Evangelical Black Seminarians (G-EBS) is a student organization that was historically founded out of a movement to address the concerns of black students at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in the late/early 1960s/70s. For the past 40+ years, G-EBS has sought to honor the tradition of its pioneer leaders by promoting scholarship and fellowship among African American students and to sensitize the seminary community to the black religious experience. The group sponsors programs, worship services, and other activities that affirm and encourage appreciation for African American customs, culture, and religious traditions.