The Black church must resume its once-prominent leadership role in addressing community issues and concerns, advised State Senator Bobby Joe Champion (DFL-Minneapolis).
While attending a June 24 community prayer vigil for the nine people slain at Charleston, South Carolina’s Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church (in the A.M.E. tradition, the oldest church in the area is formally called “Mother”) June 17, Pastor Alphonse Reff asked the North Minneapolis legislator to help facilitate a discussion of a small group gathering.
Champion told the small group gathered at Wayman A.M.E. Church in North Minneapolis, “The church always has been the backbone of our community. Where is the church now? We got to get back to that.”
“Everything starts in the church,” concurred Reff. “We need to bring it back into the church.” There are pressing issues besides the South Carolina Confederate flag that also must be addressed, continued Champion, to a unanimous chorus of “Amens” from the crowd.
Betty Webb voiced her concerns about education, especially how young Black children seemingly are disproportionately being classified as special education, which puts them on a non-removal track throughout their school years as a result. “Special education is a path to prison,” she pointed out, calling it “overt racism.”
“We need God’s people to pay attention to education,” responded Champion, who added that the community also pays attention to how state funds are being allocated.
“We have to change the conversation,” he advised. “The world is run by [the] people who show up. If you are not at the table, you’re on the menu. I don’t have all the answers. [But] I am ready to do my part.”
In its aftermath, Champion said Blacks should use the Charleston shooting as “an opportunity for change…to define what this moment means to us. What will we as people of faith ask and what will be our demand of ourselves and of others? How do you use this opportunity for change? How do we get past this situation? And will we ever get past it?”
Champion further suggested that a community “declaration” take place. “Sometimes it takes change in one place to get something changed in another place,” he said.
Afterwards, the state senator told the MSR that the entire community must not let the “defining moment” slip away: “If I am upset about the nine people dying [in Charleston], I’m upset about any of my brothers and sisters dying. Are we doing things to add to people’s lives or doing things that subtract from their individual lives?
“What are we going to do so [the nine] lives won’t be in vain, and not to let this tragedy get away? Because sometimes [tragedy] is an opportunity for us to recommit to something that’s meaningful. I don’t [want] people to have an emotional experience, be upset and get over the grief. I want them to say, ‘What does this moment mean?’”
When asked about people who are not of faith Champion said, “The issue of education is not a religious one. The issue of gun violence and families is not a religious one.
“The issue of transportation, equity and job opportunity so that we are creating pathways for our families out of poverty and into prosperity — that is a universal message. This isn’t just for people of faith but we need to wrestle with that as a community.
“I think the overarching question is where we go from here,” concluded Champion. “I think we have to continue to move forward…to be the change we want to see.”