Mpls audience ‘enthusiastic’
If America is to ever move beyond race and class, it must seriously come to grips with its “hierarchy of racialized ideas” that dates back centuries, said Dr. Otis Moss III at a recent event in downtown Minneapolis. Since 2008, Moss has been senior pastor of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ (UCC).
Moss, whose father once worked with the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke at the April 11 Westminster Town Hall Forum at Westminster Presbyterian Church. There were several rounds of applause from a mostly White audience during his speech on “Building the Beloved Community.”
Moss follows a belief Dr. King advocated in the 1950s: “I believe a beloved community can be created” when everybody in this country, regardless of race, ethnicity, religious beliefs or lifestyle, is fully accepted. Moss continued, “You need two things — love and justice,” along with mercy and transformation.
“Love without justice isn’t good and neither is justice without love,” said Moss. He has focused his ministry on community advancement, civil rights, and social justice activism. He developed a curriculum for young people called “My Life Matters,” in response to incidents of police-related shootings of Blacks in his city and nationwide.
His church, located in Chicago’s notorious South Side, is one of three communities in the city “that have not been invested in [financially] in almost 35 years,” stated Moss. “You want to eliminate crime? Eliminate the income gap.”
Asked how he can help a congregation that is 80 percent White to understand [what is meant by] Black Lives Matters, Moss quickly responded, “The reason why we have to say Black lives matter is because Black lives don’t matter.”
America today has a “racialized imagination, a myth that was created as far back as the 1700s when “Whiteness” was invented in this country to divide groups of people and rich landowners, he explained. “You are not White in Europe, but when you arrive in America, you become White.”
Moss noted that, historically, race has helped to create divisions between working groups of people. First, the division included European immigrants who worked on plantations until later when Africans were brought to this country and put into slavery, he noted.
“The reason why we have to say Black lives matter is because Black lives don’t matter.”
Even after slavery was legally outlawed, “a second phase” of slavery emerged during Reconstruction in southern states. By using laws, Blacks were, again, put in some form of slavery, which spurred criminalization of Blacks in this country — a political philosophy later pushed by former U.S. Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan with their respective “wars” on crime and drugs, explained Moss.
“This war [is] the new Jim Crow [with] mandatory minimum [prison sentences] and bail bonds where you are literally placing people in jail who don’t have the money to put up bond. They languish in jail. We now move into another period of re-enslavement: our prison system.”
A beloved community must include everyone, including former offenders now released after serving their sentences, said Moss, who told the audience that Trinity strongly advocates that all community projects must include former offenders, and “hire people from this zip code and live in the community” as well. “This is how you can build the beloved community when we are looking to include the most vulnerable,” he added.
Moss spoke about his “theoretical idea” using jazz as an example of how diversity works, if applied. “Jazz is a democratic music. You can bring your unique cultural [influence] to the table. Those sounds come together [from] instruments that aren’t supposed to be played together. They all play together to form one band. Everybody has the right to solo.
“When we bring our music together, we can create a new sound” and help create the beloved community in America, Moss suggested, bringing the audience to their feet with applause before a Q&A period during the one-hour event.
The audience was enthusiastic about Moss’ presentation. “You don’t always get a good, long, standing ovation at the end of [a speech],” admitted Westminster Senior Pastor Timothy Hart-Andersen.
“It may be familiar to Black folk, [but] I thought they [the mostly White audience] needed to hear that,” said Pamela Cook, a Dakota County librarian and a youth minister at Spring House Ministry Center in the city’s Lyn-Lake area. She was among the handful of Blacks who attended Moss’ presentation.
“The idea of mass incarceration is the civil rights issue of our time,” said Moss. “We have to dismantle privatized prisons—[it] is dangerous to democracy.”
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Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.