Our guest blogger this week is UUMC member George Lenard. George is sharing his perspective and involvement with the Black Lives Matter movement. You are all invited to share your perspective at the Sacred Conversation on Race, a safe space for listening and discussion on Sunday, February 15 at 1 p.m.
In Ferguson just days after the police killing of Michael Brown, I came face to face with threatening police with military weapons drawn and pointed at my friend.
Since then, I’ve been an activist, a soldier in the army of the new civil rights movement, marching; chanting; carrying signs; and even risking arrest by blocking streets and laying down in them for die-ins.
You may or may not understand or agree with such actions, but for me it has been an unmistakable social justice calling. Maybe even my own God sighting.
On Sundays, I’ll have “Black Lives Matter” yard signs available for a recommended donation of $5 to cover the cost of production. I’m working with a group hoping to spread these to as many local zip codes as possible. I’d now like to briefly explain why I hope you join me in placing one of these signs in your yard.
What began as the Ferguson protests very quickly became known to insiders as “the Movement.” While opponents focused on details of the Brown shooting, the Movement started thinking much bigger.
It now seeks to fight systemic discrimination in the criminal justice system, including mass incarceration and other ways in which white dominance over and oppression of black people has been maintained indirectly long after maintaining it directly through slavery or Jim Crow laws and practices became unlawful.
If you liked the movie Selma and admired the activists depicted, I hope you can recognize the continuity between that struggle and the new civil rights movement that started right here in the St. Louis region following the Ferguson shooting. I hope that continuity spurs you to think about participating in some way, however small.
On Martin Luther King Day, I was surprised and pleased to see that Rev. Diane and her husband, Adam, accepted my invitation to join me and my movement friends in a completely peaceful four mile march. I expect they could confirm to you that there is a strong and positive power and energy at such events.
I’ve attended brainstorming sessions on Movement goals. I’ve met and conversed with numerous Movement activists, black and white. The depth of thinking, planning, and determination of this Movement makes us a force to be reckoned with. We are not quiet people. We are not giving up!
The Movement has adopted as a unifying theme the phrase, “Black Lives Matter.” The change to this from “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” reflects a maturing movement with much broader aims.
Some people like to object that “Black Lives Matter” is racist or simply retort “all lives matter.”
Of course all lives matter, but Black lives have been treated as not mattering as much as others—whether you look at racial disparities in police stops; arrests; guilty pleas; sentencing; police brutality including shootings; inferior educational resources; or diminished access to healthy foods and medical care resulting in shorter life expectancies.
I read the phrase as really meaning “Black Lives Matter Too” because this is not about diminishing the worth of other lives, which the dominant white culture assumes, but emphasizing the need for improvement of black lives.
To place one of these signs in your yard is to demonstrate a desire for greater racial justice in all areas of life in which black lives all too often are still effectively relegated to the back of the bus. If it makes neighbors uncomfortable or angry or provokes conversation, good. It is intended to do so, as are the ongoing protest actions engaged in by the movement continuously since August 9, when Mike Brown was killed by Darren Wilson.
So please see me to pick up your very own Black Lives Matter sign!