Good morning and thank you for inviting me to be a part of your Dr. Martin Luther King Sunday. My husband Joe and I bring you greetings from the UU Congregation at Montclair, NJ, where your member Terry Last has dual citizenship.
I had not been a member of a congregation of any denomination for well over 40 years when I signed the book at UU Montclair. What moved me to join was the congregation responded to the backlash against Muslims after the September 11 attacks. As a group, we visited a nearby Muslim Center that had received death threats. And we continued the dialogue over potluck dinners and meetings for several months thereafter.
Brother Martin said: In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends. Martin Luther King has been a part of my life for almost 60 years and so when Judy [Bonner, chair, 1stUUPB Justice Action Ministry] asked for a title of my talk today, I answered “ What Would Martin Say?”
Not only because it is MLK Sunday, but also because it is a question I have been thinking about since Black Lives Matter emerged. The origins of the BLM movement are so different than that of the civil rights era of Dr. King that one could conclude that they contradict each other. Just compare the deeply religious Christian base of Dr. King with a movement that was started by three Lesbian women of color and has no prominent national leader or spokesperson.
But the movements have more in common than outward appearances reflect. Martin was a radical leader who understood the significance of confrontation and used the media to shine a light on injustices. He would have been out there supporting the young leaders of BLM and urging them to keep the movement non-violent.
Dr. King’s call to action emboldened Black people to stand up for their rights in a regime that had enslaved and terrorized Black people for over 300 years. Their courage and determination stirred the conscience of the entire country and some progress was made.
Now, almost 60 years later, the BLM call to conscience is forcing white people to stop ignoring the reign of terror that is afflicting people of color across the country. We have to say that Black lives matter, because
- we are living in a society where the public school system is preparing poor children of color for prison and not for college.
- we are living in a society where people who are mentally ill or drug addicted are imprisoned and not treated.
- we are living in a society where serving time in prison no longer means that you have paid your debt to society. A criminal record condemns you to a lifetime of disenfranchisement and economic disaster.
It is in fact The New Jim Crow.
These injustices are happening in our name because they are public policies and practices paid for with our tax dollars.
Dr. King said: Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in that purpose, they become the dangerously, structured dams that block the flow of social progress.
So fellow and sister UU’s, I invoke the spirit of Dr. King to encourage those who have already taken up the mantle of BLM to keep on keeping on…
For those of you who have succumbed to the rubric that “ All Lives Matter”, I urge you to remember who is suffering; who is being senselessly killed daily??
This systematic slaughter of young people of color at the hands of law enforcement is white supremacy on the rampage. There is an unwritten law that they will not be held accountable and so it continues….
Very close to home you have had two very accomplished young African- American men gunned down by local law enforcement under extremely questionable circumstances. The killing of Jermaine McBean in Broward County almost 3 years ago and the more recent killing of Cory Jones just a few months ago in our own county have both gained national attention. They have gained national attention because the BLM movement refused to let the reign of terror continue without protest and a demand for justice.
At the recent UU General Assembly, antiracism activist Chris Crass challenged UUs:
The question for us as UUs is not how many people of color we can get into our pews; it’s how much damage can we do to white supremacy.
So what CAN we do? Here are a few ideas to start:
- Stand in solidarity with BLM and others who call for justice. We must be persistent if these families are ever to see justice for the loss of their children.
- Write letters; make phone calls, blog, tweet.
- Start conversations on BLM to educate and motivate your friends and family members to join you.
- In New Jersey we are using our statewide legislative network to promote bills that would help to end mass incarceration and that would also hold law enforcement more accountable. I would be happy to talk about legislation at our discussion hour after the service.
On this weekend when we remember Martin with speeches and parades, let us also remember him with service and action. Martin said: Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle and the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.
That is what BLM is about. Let us work to be in that number.
Amen. Amen. Amen
What Would Martin Say ?, a sermon delivered by Rebecca Doggett at 1stUUPB on Jan 17, 2015.
Mrs. Doggett is chair of the Undoing Racism Committee, UU Congregation at Montclair, NJ.