Why #blacklivesmatter

A group of elders and youth met to talk about how they can work together.

A group of elders and youth met to talk about how they can work together.

Have you wondered why the hastag isn’t about all lives mattering?

Well, I have a story for you.

I’m in Clinton, Tenn., at the Children’s Defense Fund’s Proctor Institute, a week-long retreat of preaching and workshops devoted to social justice for children.

Of course, that means social justice for their parents and others who love and care for them, but let’s start with children.

I listened to a panel of three teenage boys today who have lived through unimaginable horrors.

One young man’s father left before he was out of diapers. His mother went on to have several more children and then sank into deep, deep despair and hopelessness as she struggled to care for her children.

By the time he was 8, this young man had lost his first friend to a bullet.

As his mother was unable to care for the family, he was left to care for his siblings.

“We ate toast for a month once,” he said. “I knew I had to do something because I couldn’t have my family eating toast every day.”

He is entering his senior year in high school as a star athlete and his prospects for college look good. But it pales in the face of the losses he has suffered.

“I have been to 12 funerals since my freshman year,” he said. “I have lost all my friends. All of them.”

Next to him sat a young man who was expelled from school after the school’s safety officer lied about him making racist threats.

“I asked him why he lied. I asked him why he thought I could even BE racist, since he was the one with the power.”

This kid finished his school year online, making excellent grades by going to the library every day to do his work on the computers there.

At dinner, I sat next to a man who spent 17 years on Death Row for a crime he didn’t commit. He is grateful to be out in the world again.

“Want to know the first time I ever set foot in Tennessee?” he asked. “When I was brought here in shackles and chains to stand trial for a crime I didn’t commit.”

He finished high school and became a paralegal while in prison.

Black men are 27 times more likely to be shot by police. They die in the streets in their own neighborhoods because no one cares what happens to them. Their schools are neglected.

One young man from Philadelphia said today that 40 inner-city schools have been closed in his city and a $1.3 billion prison built in his neighborhood.

Another told me about how friends have been suspended from school for not wearing a belt. Suspension often means involvement with the “justice” system, and for-profit prisons are just waiting for this new inventory.

I have met a group of youths from the Black Lives Matter Movement. Several also are in the Moral Monday Movement. I know their stories, and the atrocities they face would never have happened where I grew up because I lived in a pretty much all white town.

I listened to them today as they met with a group of “elders,” both black and white.

The idea was formed at the breakfast table when someone said they should gather with their elders and form a coalition to seek social justice for people in poverty. Not just black people in poverty, although the majority of people in poverty are people of color.

At lunchtime, dozens of young people met to talk about what they might do in such a coalition, and at 4:15, more than 50 of us met in a small room to talk about how we might work to improve the lives of people in poverty and how we might get government to work with us.

Tonight, the youth are writing a document asking the predominantly black protestant denominations to work with youth. They will present it at national conventions as an item to be adopted.

You can’t call these kids lazy or stupid. They are smart, dedicated and desperately hoping to bring about change in peaceful ways, if that’s possible.

It was deeply rewarding to sit in a room with these young people who want to seek the wisdom of those of us who participated in the Civil Rights, the anti-war and the women’s movements in the 1950s through the 1970s. We are eager to hear their ideas and to work with them.

The lives we change will be mostly black and Latino because more of them are in poverty. But we all will benefit from the lifting up of the least of these, as Jesus called the people in the margins.

Yes, all lives matter, but right now, institutionalized racism affects — and kills — more black people than white, and we need to recognize that. We need to change that.



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