In distress, fear and hopelessness, man has cried out over the centuries for the intervention and rescue of God. In his peril and pain, he has questioned the nearness, watchfulness and care of God.
Even the ancients vociferate, “Where is the God of justice?” “Where is your God?” “…if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?” (Malachi 2:17; Psalm 42.3; Judges 6:13 respectively)
Yes, despite being brought to America as slaves, we have made great strides. We can point back to Brown v. Board of Education the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision that declared segregated schools unconstitutional, overturning the prior 1896 ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Congress approved the Civil Rights Act of 1957, 1960, 1964 and 1965. And on the surface, it appeared that equal opportunity has finally come to African Americans.
These advancements allowed African Americans to vote without penalty, eat in restaurants, use public restrooms, reside in hotels and sit anywhere in any public theater. Moreover, the signs that read “White Section” and “Colored Section” have been removed so that Americans — Black, white, Hispanic, Asian and other ethnic groups — are allowed to sit in sections not based on their race, but based on their “choice.”
Today, however, young Blacks in America, are asking. “Where do we go from here?” This is the same question that Martin Luther King Jr. raised in 1958 in his book “Stride Toward Freedom: Where do We Go From Here?”
? Where do we go from here, when 24.7 percent of Blacks live below the poverty line, compared with 13 percent of whites?
? Where do we go from here, when the median household income of Blacks is more than $15,000 less than the median household income of whites?
? Where do we go from here, when the unemployment rate for Blacks in August of 2011 was 16.7 percent, more than twice the rate for whites?
? Where do we go from here, when only 53 percent of African Americans in Philadelphia are homeowners compared with 64 percent of whites?
? Where do we go from here, when Blacks in the city are more likely to be imprisoned once arrested than whites?
? Where do we go from here, when only 11.8 percent of Blacks hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with 28.2 percent of whites?
Fed up with economic inequality, King targeted underlying issues of poverty, unemployment, lack of education, and blocked avenues of economic opportunity confronting Black Americans. It cost him his life.
In 1968, King was assassinated in Memphis is because he decided to address and march against economic apartheid in America.
In fact, it was in February 1968, during a heavy rainstorm in Memphis that two Black sanitation workers had been crushed to death when the compactor mechanism of the trash truck was accidentally triggered. On the same day, 22 Black sewer workers had been sent home without pay while their white supervisors were retained for the day with pay.
As a result, on Feb. 12, 1968, more than 1,100 of a possible 1,300 Black sanitation workers began a strike for job safety, better wages and benefits and union recognition. The sanitation workers’ strike coincided with the Poor People’s Campaign for economic opportunity and equality.
In “God of the Oppressed,” James Cone raised a critical question about the suffering of Black people. He asked:
“If God is the One who liberated Israel from Egyptian slavery, who appeared in Jesus as the healer of the sick and the helper of the poor, and who is present today as the Holy Sprit of liberation, then why are Black people still living in wretched conditions without the economic and political power to determine their historical destiny?”
Sound familiar? Gideon asked a similar question in Judges 6:13, “…if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us…? Like Gideon’s, Cone’s questions are still relevant today, especially for those who suffer from poverty, crime and poor education in our beloved Philadelphia.
Nevertheless, I believe the word of God gives us the answer. My faith tells me that although our present challenges may be somewhat daunting, we are more than conquerors through Christ.
How do I know we can do it? We can do it because Harriet Tubman led over 400 slaves to freedom. We can do it because Frederick Douglass was not afraid to speak truth to power. We can do it because W.E.B. DuBois defied all odds and became the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University. We can do it because Mary McLeod Bethune was able to take $1.50 and to start Bethune-Cookman College. We can do it because God did not bring us this far to leave us!
In 2012, let’s dare to imagine and dare to move forward. Forward is the word and instruction for the future. We move forward in our faith and commitment, forward in our endeavors and dreams; forward in our work and contribution to our families and society, Forward! ’Cause there ain’t no going back!
As always, keep the faith!
The Rev. Kevin R. Johnson is the senior pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church.