Black Life Matters

BY HOLLY KESTENIS, Staff Writer

ST. PETERBURG — Congregants in black churches across the country wore black to last Sunday’s services and prayed over the men in attendance in a symbolic stand against fatal police shootings of unarmed black men.

Bishop T.D. Jakes told worshippers at The Potter’s House Church in Dallas that black men should not be “tried on the sidewalk.” Men at the West Angeles Church of God in Christ in Los Angeles stood more than four rows deep around the altar for a special blessing and message from the pastor, Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake.

St. Petersburg was no different. The message that the lives of a black people do matter was expounded on all over the city. Reverend Brian Brown of St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church preached a message of togetherness and strength among African Americans.

The National Baptist Convention of America International (NBCA), in response to recent events in Ferguson and New York City, has formed local seminars entitled, “Black Life Matters.”  Due to the unrest felt by many when white officers were vindicated of any wrong doing in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, whose pleas of “I can’t breathe,” were videotaped and ignored, African Americans across the country have been left with a feeling of injustice.

“The reality is we have racism in our communities,” said Brown who recognizes there are still instances where people of color are left out or treated differently.

He’s speaking of what many locally have been working to combat. A justice system overrun with black males as they travel down that infamous pipeline to prison. A product of poverty, lack of education and high crime neighborhoods, African-American males, according to a 2011 study, make up roughly six percent of the American population, but account for 43 percent of murder victims. And among youths aged 10-24, African Americans lead the pack of all homicides in America.

“We have not a value in ourselves,” he said acknowledging that although black people have a right to be fed up and frustrated with the current state of affairs playing out across the country, they should be just as concerned with dealings in their own community. “It’s difficult for us to expect those who are not people of color to bring value to us when we need valuing in ourselves.”

By pointing a finger a little closer to home, Brown hopes to encourage African Americans to look within their own borders and seek out what he calls, “the old ways.” A time when neighbors talked, took care of each other and if they had to, scolded those who were up to no good or headed down the wrong path.

Brown yearns for the time when anybody and everybody called you out when wrong and all celebrated when you did right. Days when neighbors knew each other’s names and looked out for one another, not instead turning a blind eye to crime.

“The reality is we are all family and we are only as strong as our weakest link,” he said.

With young black men between the ages of 13 and 24 quickly becoming an endangered species, the reverend believes there are just too many chances for both black men and women to have negative encounters with police officers due to the communities they live in.

“The more I read, the more it reminded me about the troubled times we are living in,” said Brown. He’s speaking of the president’s Task Force report which spelled out some alarming statistics and is part of the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative set up to address persistent opportunity gaps that prevent young people of color from fulfilling their potential.

Brown sees the report as an eye opener for African Americans and implored every person present to take charge of their community and essentially their lives. “There are too many of our brothers and sisters that are left out and there’s danger everywhere,” he said.

As the program progressed Brown laid it all out on the table, bringing light to the fact that although racism is present outside the community, it is also present within the black community. For example, he spoke of prejudice when it comes to lighter skin males and even down to the varying shades of color among the women. “Some of you all can’t stand light skinned sisters,” he said hoping to bring solidarity to the masses. “We’ve got some hellions living among us.”

The conversation turned to ways to make a change. Voting was offered as a way to make a change higher up so that real adjustments can be made not only in police forces throughout the country, but in the makeup of every community in the nation. Brown feels Ferguson might never have happened if the 84 percent of the population that is predominantly black who live there would have spoken out long ago and made a change in personnel that would even out the predominantly white police force.

“Guess what you all, your vote matters,” he said.

In a time when African Americans are seen making headway in many regards in race relations, Brown feels that for every two steps forward a black person makes, some are knocked back centuries.

“We have a heritage, we come from a rich culture,” said the reverend. “Black men and women who dared to dream, to dream big dreams.”

The NBCA believes voices should be heard whether by aggressive, yet peaceful protests, marches or rallies. But long-term efforts are also needed to ensure that African Americans are receiving the same justice as their white counterparts.

“One need not go very far to realize that we are living in a place that has too many uncertainties, too much violence going on in our world,” said Rev. Brown.

He encouraged black men and women to not stand idly by, but to show that black lives matter by voting those into office that have an agenda that is well embraced. “The race is not given to the swift or the strong, but to the one that endures,” finished Rev. Brown.

Brown and the NBCA urges African Americans everywhere to get involved in making a change for the future of the black community.

To reach Holly Kestenis, email hkestenis@theweeklychallenger.com

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