Lifted up at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville on August 30th, 2015.
In this sanctuary, and beyond its walls, are people who are trapped in a cycle of systemic racism, built on a legacy of slavery. They wonder, at the beginning of each day, how will they be disrespected, bullied, harmed, erased? How will they be treated as less than they are? They wish for others to listen to their stories, to acknowledge their suffering. They dream of a time when everyone will recognize that they matter… that they have always mattered.
In this sanctuary, and beyond its walls, are people grieving the loss of two journalists. They are remembering the hundreds of others also lost to gun violence just this year, and the thousands in years past. They are angry at leaders who express sorrow at these incidents and do nothing to change why they happen. They are bitter at how some who are lost are remembered better than others.
In this sanctuary and beyond its walls are people who have been taught that they are not worthy of love and respect because of how they look. They live through an onslaught of cultural and media messages that tell us who is too tall, too short, too fat, too thin, too dark, too pale, too female, too distracting, too nonconforming… too disturbing. They deprecate themselves, and the next generation witnesses, and the distress continues on.
In this sanctuary and beyond its walls are people who feel stuck where they are. Some have jobs where they feel unfulfilled, or are mistreated by their co-workers, but they cannot afford to quit without risking access to food, shelter, and healthcare. Some want to go back to school, but don’t have the resources to avoid crippling debt. Some don’t have work at all, and spend every day wondering how to survive to the next.
At the same time, in this sanctuary and beyond its walls are people who are saying hello to new schools, new classrooms, new jobs, and new homes. They are immersed in excitement and anxiety. There are people who are saying goodbye, to their children, to their friends, to places, people, and things that have given them comfort and love.
This is the text of a homily given at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville on August 30th, 2015.
Alicia Garza, Patrice Cullors, Opal Tometi created #BlackLivesMatter as a call to action after the loss of Trayvon Martin, and after witnessing how he was put on trial instead of his attacker. They could clearly see that something new was needed in the fight to free black lives from institutional and cultural white supremacy. Alicia describes it as “an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted[…]”
Reverend Gail spoke to us a few weeks ago about how true innovation cannot aim itself, as that means it’s not truly innovative. To make real change, sometimes one must just fire. So Alicia, and Patrice, and Opal fired the hashtag out into the world to see where it would land, and Alicia says they were humbled when people from all vocations heard that call to action and stepped up to help these women expand #BlackLivesMatter beyond the hashtag, creating an infrastructure to the movement that connected the online activism with the street activism. The movement grew even more after the devastating loss of Michael Brown, when Patrice co-organized a #BlackLivesMatter ride to support the communities in Ferguson and greater St. Louis.
But Alicia, Patrice, and Opal knew that as powerful as people in the streets are, more was needed. So they’ve also been using modern technology to host national conference calls focused on lifting up the issues critical to Black lives as they work for freedom. They’ve reached out to connect people across the country who were previously fighting injustice in isolation, and are now stronger for those connections. Alicia describes their work as creating “space for the celebration and humanization of Black lives.”
And when she says that, she doesn’t mean that Black lives aren’t already human, aren’t already worth celebrating. It’s the opposite — that the history of slavery and white supremacy in this country has actively prevented Black lives from celebrating their inherent worth and dignity, has denied their inherent humanity. Their lives have been, and continue to be, stolen from them. Alicia, Patrice, and Opal, continuing the work of Black lives like Martin Luther King Jr., James Cone, bell hooks, and numerous others, are fighting to create space in which Black lives can live without being silenced or erased.
And so, given that so much of this story is about creating space for Black lives, and Black words, and how Alicia, Patrice, and Opal are shut out even more for being women and being queer while also being Black, I feel a moral imperative to lift up Alicia’s words from her story:
“We completely expect those who benefit directly and improperly from White supremacy to try and erase our existence. We fight that every day. But when it happens amongst our allies, we are baffled, we are saddened, and we are enraged.”
This is what happens every time someone responds to #BlackLivesMatter with All Lives Matter. The whole point of this movement is that no one can claim that all lives matter until it is clearly demonstrated in our media, in our politics, in our judicial system, that Black Lives Matter. Until that happens, the system in which we all live, that was built upon kidnapping Black lives and using them as slaves, will continue to trickle out into further oppression of other communities and identities.
Here’s more from Alicia’s story:
“BlackLivesMatter doesn’t mean your life isn’t important–it mean that Black Lives, which are seen without value within White supremacy, are important to your liberation. […] When Black people get free, everybody gets free.[…] We’re not saying that Black lives are more important than other lives, or that other lives are not criminalized and oppressed in various ways. We remain in active solidarity with all oppressed people who are fighting for their liberation and we know that our destinies are intertwined.”
“Lift up Black lives as an opportunity to connect struggles across race, class, gender, nationality, sexuality, and disability.”
Alicia, Patrice, and Opal have waded into the water, taking that leap of faith. They are working for a world that offers healing to wounded bodies, to wounded hearts. They are leading, and we must follow.