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April 2018

Left to Right

Left to Right 980 980 Corey Leak

Last week I asked people on my FB page if they believed that the conversation about race was picking up steam in American religious circles. In the dialog that followed I promised a friend I would share a theory I have about the race conversation in America. Often when I’m sharing I ask myself the following question… “Is this BY me or ABOUT me?” Today what I write is a little of both.

I have to admit upfront that I have a severe case of “FOMO”. If I’m not careful I can spend hours on social media gazing at where other people are and what they are doing. When I see people doing things I enjoy doing and believe I do better, I can get in my feelings. I was this way as an artist, and I’ve continued to wrestle with the same issue as an outspoken social activist. It’s hard to watch people who have been silent on issues of race suddenly become an expert on the subject. That is how what I’m about to share is partially “about me”. How’s that for vulnerability?

In a previous blog about MLK I wrote about how revolutionary leaders are rarely celebrated in their lifetime. I believe it’s because their voices are saying something that most people don’t want to hear, but their persistence and the truth of what they are saying make the message they carry irresistible. People can’t argue with the validity of the issues that pioneers raise, but the truth can make humans extremely uncomfortable. That feeling of discomfort typically has 3 outcomes.

  1. Seeking shelter by ignoring the issue altogether, and thereby muting the voices that are saying uncomfortable things.
  2. Combating the legitimacy of the message or the messenger.
  3. Finding a kinder, gentler, more palatable version of the message from someone they are more comfortable listening to.

The latter is what I believe is happening today with the recent, slight increase of conversations about racism within Evangelical organizations. Voices like Shaun King, Michael and Ben McBride, Eric Reid, Colin Kaepernick, Shane Claiborne, Bree Newsome, and Andre Henry make the noise about racial injusticerelentlessly. People like them are deemed “far left extremist”, but the issues they raise cannot be ignored.

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The race conversation continues day after day because people like them are driving the conversation. They endure insults from low key racists trying to belittle them with name calling and arguments against their stances and comments, while other leaders who agree with there principles remain silent.

Eventually, once the noise gets so loud it can’t be ignored, some of those less outspoken “right leaning conservative” leaders are asked to give their take about “diversity”. They are positioned in such a way as to be celebrated because they were given permission to speak on the subject. They were asked to speak about injustice and therefore the message was delivered the “right way”. People applaud, share their words, and say things like “you gotta hear what… said at… conference.”

I understand that hard words are easier to hear in the context of relationship, so I’m not lamenting the process. It’s been around for many moons. Every Martin needs a Malcolm as they say, and John the Baptist was a wild man in the desert saying the same things Jesus was saying in houses with tax collectors and religious leaders. I suppose that’s just how social change works. Some voices scare us, and others saying the same words make us feel safe enough to hear them out.

It’s fine that we praise the voices we respect and resonate with. We all have a preference of style and tone, but I’d ask that we re-think how little credit we give the voices that were brave enough to start and stay in the conversation daily. They’re the ones in the fight on a daily basis, and putting their livelihood and reputations on the line to move us forward toward a more just society.

For those of you wondering, I do consider myself a voice crying out in the wilderness about social issues. Yes, I have been in my feelings watching people I’ve never heard talking about racism before become overnight experts on the subject. However, once I’ve taken my emotional elevator to the top floor of my consciousness, I’m thrilled that the conversation is happening.  I pray it continues on every platform and in every venue possible until we have made every change we can make in our lifetime.

What voices on social change have you listened to the most?

Do you believe the conversation about racial injustice would be where it is today without people like the ones mentioned in this blog?

Starbucks Musings

Starbucks Musings 1024 683 Corey Leak

Today I’m on location. I’m writing from what has recently been a hot bed of controversy, and even though I just left the bathroom, I haven’t purchased anything. I’m at ground zero. The spot of the crime. The epicenter of the most recent incident sparking debate about racism on the internet. Alright, I’m being hella dramatic (Bay Area term meaning “very”). I’m not sitting at THEE Starbucks in Philadelphia that started all this conversation or the store in Los Angeles that had a second incident days later.

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I am sitting at a Starbucks, and I couldn’t help but share my thoughts while sitting here.

First, I am at Starbucks. I haven’t spent my money here today, and the jury is still out on whether I will. I’m not mulling over whether I want to boycott Starbucks or continue to be a customer. I’m just not sure I want coffee right now. I’m not angry at Starbucks. I’m satisfied by the fact that Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson issued a public apology, personally met with the two men, and is closing ALL EIGHT THOUSAND US stores to educate employees about racial bias. Stated here.

I have been impressed with how quickly Johnson and Starbucks have identified that what happened was wrong. Starbucks came to that conclusion much faster than some of the people I’ve seen pontificating on social media about “waiting for all the facts.”

I think there is great wisdom in not jumping to conclusions. I think it’s human decency to give the benefit of the doubt. Humans do and say wrong things. I can forgive people for that. I’ve been forgiven for that. Chances are you have too. I can’t forgive however the kind of arrogant supremacy that doesn’t allow a person to see the obvious racial bias right in front of their eyes or in their own hearts. Not because I don’t want to, but because people in that position don’t want it. How do you pardon a transgression that isn’t being confessed but denied instead?

It’s interesting to see denial at work. Human beings have an ability God didn’t give other animals on this planet. We have the ability to deny the reality of what our senses and intellect tell us are certainty. It’s actually a very healthy part of the grief process. It helps us absorb the emotional blow of something traumatic happening in our lives. There is nothing wrong with being in this stage of grief provided we move on to the other stages in the grief cycle.

It seems that denial is the only stage America’s dominant culture knows when it comes to traumatic incidents of racial bias and inequality. People in the majority seem to struggle with the notion that people are still mistreated, oppressed, and targeted by human beings and institutions in America. When faced with video evidence, “we should wait for all the facts”. When faced with the stories of personal experience from POC some from the majority culture present data to discredit the experience. That, my dear friends, is D E N I A L, and it’s probably time to come outside of that emotional fortress and face the ugly truth.

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That reality is POC are still struggling for equal footing in America. A quick google search can reveal statistics of incarceration, unemployment, household income, or home ownership rates that are asymmetrical when compared to the same rates of those in the dominant culture. You can also hear or read it in the subtle comments people make about POC when there is an incident that makes National news. I’ve heard things like: “If things are so bad here, why don’t those people go back to where they came from”. Those words are stooped in the idea that the people who “belong here” are those whose European Ancestors “built this country.” It reinforces the belief that those in the majority are native and everyone else is a foreigner in America. Most people wouldn’t tell the co-owner of their house to leave over a disagreement. In fact, because they are co-owners it’s incumbent upon both parties to figure out how to come to a mutual understanding of how to live together.

Kevin Johnson sat down with the two young men who in his own words didn’t deserve what happened to them. I listened to him express something I’ve said many times. Proximity to another human being whose ethnicity is different than yours gives you a more compassionate perspective.

Philadelphia police and others from the dominant culture took a more sadly predictable stance. It was more denial and shaming of the victims in this story. I suppose in our lifetime this will be how the story goes, but we took step forward this time by how proactive Starbucks has been. That is encouraging. Often times the injustices that happen to people have a more tragic ending where culpability unfairly rests on the shoulders of the victims. That wasn’t the case this time. Well done Kevin Johnson and Starbucks. Oh, by the way I did buy a cold foam cascara. I didn’t really like it. 🤷🏾‍♂️

As always, I’d like to leave you with a couple of questions.

Who do you typically give the benefit of the doubt to when you hear stories like the one coming out of the Philadelphia Starbucks?

How do you feel Starbucks has handled this?

MLK50

MLK50 1024 512 Corey Leak

It’s been FIFTY YEARS since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King on that now infamous balcony in Memphis, TN. Speculation as to why he was murdered runs along a wide spectrum of theories. James Earl Ray has been deemed responsible for Dr. King’s murder, but it’s no easier to hold one man responsible for his death as it is to hold one man responsible for the execution of Jesus of Nazareth. Many people were likely involved in what happened on April 4th, 1968. In the months preceding his death, Dr. King was wire tapped by the FBI, received death threats, and was radicalized by the media (who had once been his allies). It is nearly impossible to identify one person or institution responsible for what happened, but it’s not hard to find a similar story of another revolutionary who’s story parallels Dr King’s. We need only to look at the stories of Jesus’ life shared by the gospel writers of the Bible.

Jesus came on the scene at a time when Roman imperialism created unjust class systems that caused civil unrest among the people of his day. He like King, was deemed a radical by the people of His day. His ideas and declarations were not popular among people with power and privilege, but wildly popular among the poor and needy. Jesus’ message frightened the powerful elite because it was moving the poor to the front of the line in a culture that was built to remind those without power or wealth that they weren’t rich or powerful. The “Kingdom of Heaven” is a system of governance that isn’t ruled by human power, but by God himself as it’s ruler. God, who created all people in His image, doesn’t discriminate based on gender, race, status, or influence. A Kingdom ruled by God would, according to Jesus, elevate the destitute and bring down the oppressive rich and powerful.

This is a message that Dr. King brought forward during the last years of his life. He began to be outspoken about government that favored the rich at the expense of the poor. The reason he was in Memphis to begin with was to fight for better pay for poor sanitation workers. Dr. King came to see that many of the people below the poverty line in America weren’t all minorities, but many white people fell beneath that line as well. He identified that economic discrimination was as big an advisory to justice as racial discrimination. He devoted his later years to fighting for a government that redistributed wealth and power equally for all Americans. A just system of governance would in essence elevate the poor and bring down the oppressive rich and powerful.

People with privilege, power, and wealth have historically been reluctant to make space for more people to share in that wealth and power. As Jesus’ message about the Kingdom of God gained steam, those with power plotted to kill the message and the messenger. They ultimately did kill the messenger, but the message can never be killed because it came from the Creator. Jesus carried forward the message of YHWH that was established thousands of years before He lived. Moses (before Jesus) shared instructions from God about justice, peace, and love in society. Jesus moved that way of living forward in a time that resisted the idea of equal justice for all.

Thousands of years later Dr. King found himself fighting for the same fair and just system as Jesus. King fought for the justice, peace, and love that God told Moses to establish as values for His people. He became a beacon of hope for the poor and oppressed, and as his movement gained steam, those with power…

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Once again, a messenger was killed, but the message lived on.

Today we remember the death of MLK days after we remembered the death and resurrection of Jesus. We remember why both men were executed. Both fought for the weak against the strong. Both had a picture of a system of governance that made space for the impoverished to have the same human rights as the wealthy. Both men believed that if it cost them their lives to move the message forward to the next generation, they would willingly give their lives. We all respect that kind of courage and fortitude. We all want to be on the right side of history, so I’ll leave you with two questions.

How can you move the message of Jesus and Dr. King forward today?

Are you willing to move it forward even if it cost you?