Admin note: Although The Ideal Firestarter is not a faith-based blog (i.e., faith is all that is spoken of), the people whom write for it, whom add to this space are people of faith. In the matter of this month’s theme of activism, Phillip has contributed an excerpt from a sermon preached earlier this year. There has been no editing as this is his work he has decided to share it on this platform. Thank you, Phillip. JBHarris
Excerpts from “Racism in our Communities… The Story of Ferguson”
A sermon by Phillip Harris preached on Sunday, January 28, 2018 at Webster United Methodist Church-Webster Groves, Missouri
The City of Ferguson is about the same size of Webster Groves a population of about 20,000 people. 68 percent of the population of Ferguson is African American, and for years, Ferguson has been known as a community that funds and pads its pockets on the backs of poor black and brown people to build lavish city buildings and fancy amenities along South Florissant, while black and brown people live in poverty and ruin just a few blocks away along West Florissant.
According to data collected by the U.S. Department of Justice, Ferguson’s population has declined by 11 percent over the past decade. Although, the population has declined, the amount of funds coming into the city has not. Between 2010 and 2014, fines collected by the city’s court system surged 85 percent, hitting 2.6 million dollars in 2013.
The data goes on to say that the Ferguson Municipal Court issued 24, 532 warrants and heard 12,018 cases in 2013. That averages out to 1.5 cases and three warrants per every household in Ferguson.
Saturday, August 9, 2014 was a day that I will never forget, a day that will be forever etched in my memory. At this point, my family and I had been living in Ferguson for about 9 months.
Late that afternoon, around 3:30pm my wife and I were driving down West Florissant on our way to church when suddenly traffic came to a complete stop. I saw several feet in front of me cars and numerous flashing police lights. I had assumed that there had been a bad car accident. By the time we made it to church, my wife logged on to Twitter and that’s when we found out that there had been a police involved shooting at the Canfield Green Apartments, which was only about 10 minutes from where we lived in Ferguson.
By the time our worship service started, we had learned that Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson Police officer had shot multiple times and killed 18-year-old, Michael Brown Jr who was unarmed at the time of the incident, and that his body had laid in the middle of street on Canfield Drive for four hours. Michael Brown Jr. was a recent graduate of Normandy High School and had been accepted to attend at Saint Louis Community College. One of his former teachers is a member of my home church, and she remembers him as always being a good kid.
Regardless of what your opinion may be about what happened on that day, I believe that Michael Brown Jr’s life mattered, and it was cut short by the senseless act of police brutality.
The words of the prophet Jeremiah are still speaking to us today! Will we answer the call to tear down the systems of injustices of racism in your communities, in our workplaces, in our schools and yes even in our own families or will we continue to make excuses and keep our heads buried in the sand because we don’t want to believe that racism still exist in 2018. Our continued silence is consent.
As a community of faith, the ball is now in our court. Will we wake up and stay woke or will be fall prey to turning a blind eye. Do we continue to join this modeling of community whose base is wide enough to welcome all people regardless of race, social class, gender, age, differing abilities, sexual orientation and religion?
Or do we hold onto prescribed notions that box us into a corner and only allow us to play ball with people with whom we feel most comfortable? Are we unwilling to risk being uncomfortable in order excavate the roots of prejudice in our hearts and minds so that we can truly build beloved community? Do we take seriously the need to clean off and refocus the lenses through which we see black and brown people, so all people can be seen as full human beings who are created in the image of God? Are we willing to listen to one another?
The fight for racial justice emerges out of human dignity. If any group of people who should be compelled to the dismantling of racism and white supremacy, it is the people who call themselves the “children of God.”
Staying awake to the injustices that have been revealed through the Ferguson-related events is a critical task for communities of faith. Our connectedness to our brothers and sisters is rooted to our connectedness to God, for we all God’s children.
And, in the words of the Civil Rights freedom fighter Ella Baker:
“Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s son, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens.
The words from our Old Testament reading this morning should profoundly speak to us. I know they speak to me personally as I have shared my story of Ferguson with you this morning. I believe that we must all speak to truth to power with the help of Holy Spirit to fight against the evil injustices of racism, and to be commissioned by God like Jeremiah to tear down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!