By Bill Blakney, prepared initially for The Methodist August 2020 Newsletter for the First United Methodist Church and shared with Bill’s permission. See as originally published.
Much of the nation’s and the world’s current focus on social justice issues is inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. Here is my perspective as an African American.
I grew up in Shubuta, Mississippi, during the era of legal racial segregation. My parents emphasized many values, including family, church, and education. Two of our examples of education were the uncle who was a physician and Medgar Evers’ doctor, and the uncle who earned a Ph.D. in mathematics and was a college professor. My sister was inspired to earn a Ph.D. While I have fond memories of my childhood, the Shubuta area’s broader history is described in the book “Hanging Bridge: Racial Violence and America’s Civil Rights Century,” by Jason Morgan Ward, Ph.D. The poet Langston Hughes wrote about the area in the poem “The Bitter River.”
I attended Jackson State College (now university). As with my childhood, I have many fond memories of my college years, including seeing Muhammed Ali and Martin Luther King, Jr. up close. However, my senior year ended tragically, as described in the recent book “Steeped in the Blood of Racism: Black Power, Law and Order, and the 1970 Shootings at Jackson State College,” by Nancy K. Bristow, Ph.D.
After college, some of my key experiences were: (a) U.S. Army service, where I spent year three in Hawaii, supervising a group of X-Ray techs that included persons who were female, male, white, black, Latinx and Asian American; (b) law school, where I was the only black student in my graduating class, and where I met my wife, Diana – which set the course for my wonderful family; and, (c) a career as a government environmental lawyer in Chicago and in Seattle.
So, what is my current perspective? I am supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement. Here are some relevant things that come to mind.
- I endeavor to read extensively about our nation’s history because I believe we must learn its actual history so that we can understand issues in context, protect ourselves from demagogues, and persevere. As part of my effort, I intend to re-read “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism,” by Edward E. Baptist, Ph. D.
- I accept that different opinions about some of the objectives attributed to the Black Lives Matter movement are to be expected. However, those who respond with “all lives matter,” or “blue lives matter,” or who question whether African Americans love our country, are not, in my opinion, genuinely interested in social justice.
- I am participating in a diversity, equity, and inclusion training program, along with representatives of six environmental nonprofits here in Corvallis.
- We must never cease pushing for positive structural changes to the nation’s institutions because, among other things, achieving social justice is essential to properly address demographic changes and regain respect among other nations.
- We must engage in the sustained effort needed to reimagine, redefine, and reform many (most?) of the nation’s police agencies. This is clearly a life or death issue.
- We must not be misled by the misuse of Christianity by some who seek to influence public policy. That is why I am reading “Christ In Crisis: Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus,” by Jim Wallis, and why I will re-read “The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism,” by Jemar Tisby.
Let me close with the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. : “ Our hope for creative living in this world house we have inherited lies in our ability to reestablish the moral ends of our lives in personal character and social justice. Without this spiritual and moral reawaking, we shall destroy ourselves in the misuse of our own instruments.”