Corey Evan Leak

Justice & Unity Matter to God So They Matter to Me

3 Truths For the Faith Community about Charlottesville

3 Truths For the Faith Community about Charlottesville 3200 1680 Corey Leak

A year ago I was sitting in a Saturday night service, when I heard the news that there had been a white supremacist rally from my daughter. She saw it trending on twitter, but didn’t know what was happening. She said: “all these people are talking about this racist rally”. I started investigating, and shortly after, my screen displayed images of angry faces and torches marching against the rights of people who look like me. It was demoralizing. If you’ve never gone on social media or turned on your television and seen images of people united in their hatred of your tribe, it’s probably hard to imagine how people thousands of miles away from your physical location can affect you emotionally. Imagine how we all felt watching the towers fall on 9/11. I felt similar emotions upon seeing what I saw that day, and I couldn’t tell you what the sermon was about that day. The voice on the stage faded into the background, and all the words sounded like the teacher from Charlie Brown. 

I’m sure the sermon was great. I was just in a space where I needed something else at that moment. I needed to feel like the community of people I was sitting with, and the person talking from the stage, identified with my pain. I wanted to know that even if the faith community I was worshipping with didn’t share my pigmentation, they opposed the people rallying to delegitimize my humanity. I’m not suggesting the church I was sitting in should have stopped everything and pivoted to Charlottesville as it was happening. I’m sharing what I felt as I witnessed the rally. To that church’s credit, we did pivot to address what happened in the Sunday services that followed that Saturday night. Honestly, I believe we could have done more to acknowledge it, but at least we didn’t ignore it entirely. With this being the anniversary of the Charlottesville rally, here are a few things that might be worth considering as we prepare for and enter faith gatherings this weekend.

 

1 You’ve probably changed plans in the wake of tragedy before.

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I remember exactly where I was when the events of 9/11 played out in front of all our eyes. I imagine you do as well. I also remember how the predominantly white evangelical church I was attending at the time responded the next day. Our church was in the middle of a weeklong “revival”, and there was a renowned tele-evangelist scheduled to speak. I remember feeling anxious and afraid when I walked into church that night. I imagined that everyone was feeling something similar and that despite the fact that our church had likely invested a substantial amount of money to have the guest speaker present, there would be something said about the tragedy that had just occurred. As I expected, we spent time praying for our Nation. What I didn’t expect was that we would spend the duration of the gathering on the topic. We prayed, sang, prayed some more, heard a message about what happened, and then prayed some more for the healing of our Nation. No one questioned whether it was appropriate to throw the plans out the window in the wake of a National tragedy because that tragedy affected every human being in the room. It was an attack on all of us, so we as a church lamented it.

Charlottesville was an attack on all of us. That’s the view white, black, brown, red, or yellow faith leaders should  have. Faith is about the belief in justice for all people, and when that ideal is challenged it’s something all of us are morally obligated to resist. Injustice or hatred against one tribe is injustice or hatred against all tribes. Not everyone who attends a faith gathering this weekend will care deeply about the anniversary of Charlottesville, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be a moment to remember. It’s an opportunity to say: “we care, and we see you” to the people who are still deeply affected by what happened there a year ago.

 

2. Small, awkward gestures can make huge statements.

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I called a friend last night who lost his father earlier this week. He apparently had gotten a new phone because when he answered he asked “who is this?”. Needless to say, we hadn’t talked in a long while. After telling him it was me, I asked how he was holding up. As expected, he was extremely sad. I told him I didn’t have adequate words to express my empathy, other than to say “it sucks that your dad is gone”. I know what it feels like to lose a father, and I just wanted him to know that I was a witness to his pain. I saw it. I can’t carry the total burden for him, but I can acknowledge that his pain and burden are real. We had some awkward silences. I stumbled over some words of condolence, and then we hung up the phone.

Sometimes when something like Charlottesville happens, faith communities fail to speak up because of the awkwardness of trying to figure out how to say the right thing at the right time in the pre-planned program. I understand that tension. I’ve been responsible for programming at several faith gatherings over the years. I remember going back and forth about where the “interruption”  would best fit into the program. I would often forget one important thing about people who are hurting. People in pain don’t care if a gesture of support is awkward. They only care if it’s absent. You will never find a perfect fit in a program for National tragedy. They don’t fit in life, let alone programs. However, for someone who is greatly affected by the situation, the smallest most awkward acknowledgement of their pain means the world. It helps them to feel seen and have their experience empathized with.

 

3. Marginalized people hear loudly what you don’t say.

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I have a good friend whose birthday I’ve not acknowledged for two straight years. From my perspective, it’s not because I don’t love him or he’s not my friend. Like you, FB saves me when it comes to non-family birthdays. My mom saves me on family, and for two years now, no one reminded me of my  friend’s birthday. Still, it’s my responsibility to be a good friend. If you’ve ever had someone you care about not call, text or post “happy birthday”, you know how it feels to be disappointed by words or sentiments you never received.

When a POC or a woman has a National spotlight on them due to scandal or tragedy, they walk into faith gatherings hoping (maybe even expecting) to hear an acknowledgement of their experience. I know faith leaders have genuine concern for the people who attend their gatherings, but when we fail to acknowledge  trauma, people feeling it are left to wonder if their pain matters. Sometimes we fail to give voice to pain intentionally for reasons we’ve discussed above, but other times it’s just an oversight. Either way, it can communicate that whatever the marginalized people in your community may feel is THEIR problem, not one that affects the whole community.

 

Faith leaders, and all of us as citizens have a responsibility to reach out to the people in pain around us. I have a friend who makes sure his friends know when the anniversary of his father’s passing is. He does that so that we can remember to be a good friend and check on him during a difficult season. This is your reminder to check in on the people around you who will never forget Charlottesville.

 

Do you believe faith communities should acknowledge Charlottesville this weekend?

Do you have friends you could check in on this weekend who may be remembering it?

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3 Things I’ve Learned This Week From John Gray’s White House Visit

3 Things I’ve Learned This Week From John Gray’s White House Visit 1100 619 Corey Leak

I try to avoid heaping criticism on other human beings. Especially those in the public eye. It takes a degree of courage to put out content for public consumption, whether that be speaking, writing, or performing. You put yourself in harm’s way of harsh criticism from people who neither have your gumption nor ability to do the thing you’re doing. From that perspective I have empathy for the black and brown faith leaders that attended the White House earlier this week to speak with the President. Ninety-nine percent of the people reading this will never get the invite these men and women received, and especially will not receive the back-lash that they (especially John Gray) have received. That being said, as a black faith leader, I do have some thoughts that I felt I’d be remiss in not sharing on this platform. These are three things I’ve learned from the meeting, the backlash, and the responses after.

1. Community leaders have a high moral responsibility to speak for the voiceless.

I have on two separate occasions, from two different black pastors heard the notion that the clergy who attended the White House meeting failed to honor their moral obligation to speak truth to power even at the risk of arrest or expulsion from the meeting. Jamal Bryant, a friend of John Gray asked “why didn’t any of you get arrested” [to speak up for your community]? The lament of other black pastors, some of which declined the invitation, was that the pastors in the room failed to speak – other than to laud undo praises on President Trump as the most “pro-black” President of our lifetime.

Here is a transcript of the meeting. It was a round robin of “thank you’s” with very little mention of prison reform at all, let alone substantive policy changes. In that regard I can understand the disappointment people have shared. There had been a previous meeting to discuss actual policy, but in this meeting, there was no such discussion. It seems that the pastors in this room were lured into a fruitless circus of publicity. I have no reason to believe that their intentions weren’t pure in attending, but intentions won’t restore the trust of the people who are disappointed that their leaders, who had the opportunity to speak for them, did not. Regardless of what side of the aisle you draw your beliefs from, it cannot be denied that an overwhelming majority of black and brown people have felt disenfranchised by this administration. The black and brown leaders in that room said to represent those people failed to give true witness to their voices. I’m not suggesting the burden of speaking truth to power is easy. My point is that it’s not, which is why it’s the first lesson I’ve learned from following this story.

2. The line you’re looking for is “my bad”.

John Gray made a statement to his church on Wednesday night saying that he went to speak for the voiceless. The transcripts of the meeting say differently. John told his church on Wednesday that he was not going to be making any other statements or doing any interviews about what happened. The next day he was on CNN talking to Don Lemon about it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEf51hJZRs4

In the interview with Lemon when John was asked if he could go back and do it all over again, he paused and said “I would under different circumstances”. So, did you go because God said go, or because you believed the circumstances would allow you to do some good? Sometimes when trying to defend something that appears indefensible, it’s probably best not to defend it at all. When we are conflicted about a decision we’ve made our defense is often confusing and contradictory. Conflicted is exaclty how I would describe John’s posture in this interview and throughout the fall out from the White House meeting. The answer of a man who is convinced that he did the right thing is “Yes! If God told me to go back I would”. That’s not the answer John gave, which leads me to believe he’s feeling some remorse over attending in the wake of all of the backlash. If that is indeed the case, then share that. We are all human and subject to believing one thing before all the facts are in. In this polarized period of American history, we need leaders who are willing to say: “I was wrong”. There is no need to double down on bad decisions, policies, or ideas, and we should all be willing to grant forgiveness for our fellow humans who are subject to errors of judgment when they ask for it.

3. If your partner has red flags – listen.  

I’ve been married for almost 20 years. It’s embarrassing how many of those years I was guilty of disregarding my wife’s counsel to me in the name of patriarchy. John Gray said in a statement following the meeting that his wife advised that his attendance would likely not go well for him. However, John said that he had heard from God and had to obey. This 3rd lesson is more of a reinforcement of something I’ve been attempting to get better at. I’m learning that when I pray about a decision and arrive at what I believe is the best course of action, but my wife doesn’t have the same peace about moving forward, I have a tie. I’m in no way saying that my wife and God are equal. I am however saying that I’m a human being who is subject to misreading what I believe God is saying to me, and my wife is an equal partner in the decisions we make in our home. Her red flags should always be considered, as I believe Pastor Gray did with his wife’s reluctance. Watching how this has all played out for John has reminded me of the tremendous value of having people in my circle that I trust to tell me the truth when I find myself believing God is saying one thing, and my wife is saying another. Their perspective can mean the difference between success or failure for my endeavors. Human beings have done terrible things in the name of God, and not one of us is divine enough to interpret His will alone.

I think it needs to be said that John Gray is one of the most influential pastors in the country, and that he bears the burden of that influence. By all accounts he’s a great man to his family, friends, and his church. I believe that the other leaders in that room are also great people. I have no issue with POC attending the White House to discuss policy and give witness to the experience of black and brown people in America. However, in this instance, arguing that we should sit down with people we disagree with is a straw man and mischaracterizes the objection of black and brown people who are let down by this gathering.

It’s easy to write or talk about what we would do in their shoes, but only those who have sat in that room know the weight of having that kind of opportunity and pressure. I confess. I do not. My intention is to share my thoughts about something that many of us have been talking about this week. John and the other faith leaders who attended that meeting will no doubt go on and do great things in their community. I hope that no irreparable damage has been done to their relationships with their communities, and I hope that the people in their communities who are disappointed in how they were misrepresented will be given the opportunity to sit with their community leaders and share their feelings.

Please share your comments below.

 

 

Church in the Wild

Church in the Wild 1024 678 Corey Leak

Last week I was invited to a community event called the Sons of Former Slaves and Sons of Former Slave Owners. One of my 3 flaws is that I sometimes struggle to pay attention to all the details presented to me in print form. I actually thought I was going to a “Sons of Slaves” event, so you can imagine my surprise to walk into the room and see white faces. That was when my mind recalled the image of the promo, and I thought…”Oh, AND Sons of Slave Owners… I should’ve invited some of my white friends”. I left my house for the event thinking I’d be in a room with black intellectuals discussing race issues, and I was intrigued to see how the conversation would go. Once I got there and saw the room filling up with black, brown, and white faces I was very intrigued to see what the conversation would be. I’ve spent the last two years of my life having conversations about race both on social media and IRL, so I had some idea of the things that I’d hear in this room. Typically these conversations have some of the same talking points like: white privilege, systemic oppression, police brutality, and racial bias. I left the house thinking I’d be engaging in stimulating conversation with other black men who understand what it is to be the “other” in America. I walked in the door and expected to engage in familiar dialog of a different sort, but still within my comfort zone. What followed was a dialog unlike any other conversation I’ve ever had about race or anything else for that matter.

There were 17 men in the room and we all sat in chairs arranged in a circle. In the center were several images of current events regarding race that were laying on top of a baby doll. The moderator, Eric Butler, briefly explained the rules of engagement and asked us all to share what values we would want to instill in this baby. We passed around the “talking stick” and each shared the value we thought we would be important for a child growing up in this world should have. After each man spoke, Eric asked us if we all agreed with the value. If everyone said yes, we would move on to the next man. Everything was going smoothly enough. There weren’t any huge disagreements over the values. Then after one of the guys advocated for empathy to be a value for our baby, Eric, wanting to stir the pot and make things interesting, shouted: “NAH F*CK THAT, I DON’T BELIEVE Y’ALL!”

He went on to challenge our collective commitment to empathy in the wake of the Nia Wilson murder here in the Bay Area. Eric shared his feelings about whether or not the non-blacks in the room had the capacity to empathize with black pain. He said: “Y’all aren’t feeling what we are feeling”. It was a valid viewpoint. The proposition that he rolled out for the room to wrestle with was whether people outside of his village could deeply feel the pain, outrage, confusion, or anguish of those in his village. From that tension I asked the non-black men in the room if they ever felt as though they are not allowed to express true empathy because of sentiments like the one Eric expressed. Many of them nodded, and then Aazar, an Afghan gentlemen sitting to my left shared that he thought we might be conflating empathy and sympathy. After Aazar’s comment, we took a journey even deeper into the complexity of understanding what it means to be empathetic across cultural boundaries.

The man who introduced the idea of empathy to the conversation was a black man named Joe. When I met Joe before we sat in the circle together I was a little intimidated. Another of my 3 flaws is that I expect people to be overly friendly when I meet them, and if they’re not, I consider the interaction cold. As an extravert, I tend to greet people with a smile, and I will usually feel a burden to get to know something about them. Joe had no such compulsion. He greeted me with a hello, nice to meet you and moved on. He spoke with a firm voice and had a “don’t start nothing, won’t be nothing” kind of demeanor. Even in the circle where we were all encouraged to share our truth and be willing to challenge one another I felt a little uneasy challenging Joe. After Aazar made his comment, Joe said “I feel insulted almost right now. I feel insulted off what you just said. I’m a very educated man with life and school wise.” Joe went on to explain an understanding and experience with empathy that was absolutely breathtaking.

Joe shared with us that he had spent 35 of his 40 plus years of his life in prison (27 of which were for murder). He told us that after he heard about Nia Wilson being murdered by a white man in what many have proclaimed a hate crime, his first feeling was empathy for the man who killed her. He shared from personal experience that violent behavior is inherited through life experience and trauma, and that people aren’t born violent. He said he didn’t absolve the killer of his sins or his crime because it’s not his place to do so, but that he wanted to understand what happened in his life what would lead him to take the life of a young girl he didn’t know. Talk about empathy. Are you kidding me?!?!? I don’t have the words to accurately explain what I felt in that moment. I may have been a little dismayed while at the same time filled with wonder at what I had just heard. It hadn’t occurred to me that empathy isn’t a biased virtue. I think I may have held the belief that empathy was earned, but empathy, like grace, is a virtue that can be extended to whomever we chose. The idea that something as beautiful as empathy could or would be expressed for a murderer was in conflict with my tidy ideas of who gets to receive God’s gifts of grace or empathy. Consequently, I understood Joe a lot more after his vulnerability with us. In that moment he was no longer a cold stranger I met at a gathering, but he started to feel like my brother or at least someone I would never forget.

There are several other remarkable moments from this gathering that I’ll likely share in future blogs. There were stories of unprecedented forgiveness, unparalleled inter-racial conversations, and camaraderie that made me leave and pronounce this gathering the best church service I’d ever been to. In fact I told Eric that as I was leaving. He said: “My grandmother always told me I’d be a preacher.” I told him, she was right, and he’s fulfilling her prophesy. No one in that room professed what faith they hailed from if any, and there were more than a few profanity laced conversations and speeches. Still, somehow I sensed a Divine presence among us. I didn’t sense it because of my favorite song or a great sermon, but because citizens from the community gathered to break bread and share their lives, beliefs, disagreements, and truths with one another. It certainly felt incredibly uncomfortable at times and maybe even a little wild, but perhaps wild is what the world needs right now.

Is there someone or a group of people you struggle to have empathy for?

How can we create more circles like the one I described above in other communities?

 

 

Our Sister

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Below is the video of one of us, a human being, who has just experienced a terrible tragedy. She’s Nia Wilson’s grieving sister. She and Nia were passengers on a train in Oakland where they were brutally attacked by a violent criminal late Sunday night.

As a Bay area resident, I’ve ridden BART with my family on a few different occasions, and I can’t imagine the horror of being attacked out of no where by a total stranger. It’s even harder to imagine that altercation resulting in the loss of a loved one. My heart has been heavy over this story since I found out about it Monday afternoon. After reading about the incident, which was initially reported as a hate crime, I processed out loud with my wife, and two of my daughters overheard. My middle daughter has experienced anxiety, and we have been working with her to manage it for a few years now. I knew that she had the potential to fear ever taking public transit again after hearing the news, and in that moment I shared her fear.

As human beings we can usually mitigate our emotional response upon hearing tragic news based on how closely we identify with the circumstances surrounding an event. For me, a black father of three daughters, I quickly identified with this story, and hearing Nia’s sister say that Nia too wrestled with anxiety was almost too much for me to bear. The image of a girl with anxiety taking her last breaths is crushing to me, and it probably is for you too. I was tempted to avoid that part of the story both in real life and in this blog because it’s a painful image to hold. Then I thought: the privilege to avoid the pain of another’s story is not a privilege to be treasured. We shouldn’t look away when we see another’s pain or tragedy. We should move toward it, and do all we can to redeem the justice, dignity or humanity that was taken from them.

I picked the cotton, and I carried it to market, and I built the railroads under someone else’s whip. These were the words of James Baldwin at a 1965 debate at Cambridge University. Baldwin used the pronoun “I” to express how the American Negro identified with his ancestors.

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His words were intended to assert that all black men were in a sense slaves because our ancestors were. That concept of human connection is at the root of the belief amongst Orthodox Jews that participating in the passover meal is to stand on the banks of the Red Sea and experience the liberation of ancient Jews from Egypt.  Communion is viewed in the Bible as entering into the sufferings and very person of Jesus. Throughout history the act of tangibly entering into another human beings experience has been viewed as a sacred act. Taking part in such sacred acts requires an existential connection. It requires that, as said Baldwin in the 60s, we see ourselves akin to the experience and especially the suffering of other humans. It is a redemptive practice, and it is how we shine light into the darkness of injustice.

Dehumanization, the greatest weapon of the enemies of justice and compassion, detaches us from the common thread that binds us all. Every human being loves, hurts, laughs, and cries, but not everyone embraces our core sameness. When we hear stories like Nia’s we can be seduced into finding ways to not see ourselves in her story. The subtle wording, phrases, and images from media outlets “otherize” victims of violence like Nia. Ignore them. She is human like you. Her family is devastated like yours would be. Allow yourself to be pulled into her story, and feel the grief her family feels. Let’s find a way to redeem this terrible tragedy and remember Nia as if she were our own daughter, niece, cousin, friend or neighbor. You probably never met her, and before reading this blog, you’d possibly never heard of Nia Wilson. You likely didn’t know her, but she was your sister. Her death is a human tragedy driven by a hatred that seeks to destroy us all if we don’t learn to love beyond our own interests.

How have others come along side you or your family during a time of grief or sorrow?

Have you ever felt connected to the grief of a person or family you didn’t know? Why did you feel that connection?

Here is the link to the GoFundMe set up in Nia’s honor. This is an easy way to honor her memory, and tangibly share in her family’s suffering and healing at the same time.

 

 

 

 

 

3 Stages of White Wokeness

3 Stages of White Wokeness 612 515 Corey Leak

Let me acknowledge the elephant in the blog right away. I recognize that I’m a black man writing content to and about a group of people I don’t belong to – white people. In the world we live in it can be intimidating to engage in content about race as a white person, especially a white male, and while I don’t feel sorry for the privileged class, I do understand how difficult it is to engage in healthy dialog with a mark against you before a conversation can even begin. It never feels good to be judged or dismissed based upon factors you were born with and are beyond your control, and I want to assure you at the very beginning of this blog that I’m not writing to attack you. I’m writing to help you engage – not because YOU need to, but because if you don’t, we as a people will never heal from the damage of our past.  If more white people, specifically white males, don’t get involved in helping to tear down racism, sexism, and xenophobia we will fall deeper and deeper into the great abyss of hatred, fear, and racial paranoia. Minorities alone aren’t enough to overthrow a system that delegitimizes their claims of oppression and second class citizenship. Only people operating in full legitimate standing as American citizens economically and socially have the power to enact the change that minorities are clamoring for. Fortunately, there are more and more such citizens beginning to speak out and use their voice to speak for the voiceless. I’ve noticed an uptick in white Americans acknowledging privilege, asking questions, and standing on the front lines for the cause of racial equality. I’ve had many conversations with white friends and colleagues over the past two years, and here are the stages of wokeness I’ve witnessed through our dialog.

Stage One: Awareness

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This stage is where the majority of white woke folks are. People in this stage ask questions, read content, and generally seek out all the information they can about racism, systemic injustice, and white privilege. They have mostly moved beyond fragility and denial, but don’t know what to do with their new found awareness. Often times people arrive at this stage through some personal experience such as adopting a POC or witnessing an injustice in their community. At this stage, it’s still intimidating to engage in the dialog with people of color about race, but the thirst for more information drives aware people beyond their own fear. This stage is about my struggle with racism both in my own consciousness and in the world at large. The people here wrestle with their own subtle contributions to the problems of systemic racism, and experience white guilt. The experience of guilt is a bit of a tipping point in the awareness stage. It’s where a person can potentially become defensive in an effort to try and lift the guilt. If an aware person chooses defensiveness it can show itself in a myriad of ways. One of them is by becoming reclusive about the issue. This is the silence we’re witnessing from some of our religious institutions. You’d be hard pressed to find a single religious leader that doesn’t recognize that there is a racial divide in America, but you’d be pressed even harder to find those same aware leaders actively involved in healing it. A better response to white guilt is to allow it to propel you to the next stage as I’ve seen many people I know do. Awareness is a great place to start, but this is not the stage to rest in. There is more work to be done.

Stage Two: Alliance

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Once a person goes on the long journey of awareness and made it through their experience with white guilt, they typically look for a partner to walk the journey with. That partner is usually, and understandably so, a POC. In this stage white people engage in deep and honest dialog with friends, colleagues, and neighbors of color about their experiences being minorities in America. These conversations help put flesh and bone on the research allies did in the awareness stage, but there is more to this stage than dialog. This stage is characterized by assisting POC in their struggle for equality, so allies find ways to help minorities. They are empathetic, and will reach out to black and brown friends when there is a racial tragedy such as: a shooting of an unarmed black American or a nationally broadcast supremacy rally like Charlottesville. These are people who truly have “black friends”. They have shared meals with people who aren’t white, and have a great deal of respect for black and brown people. Allies are willing to be lead, coached, and mentored by POC, and loathe racism on every level. They engage privately in open discussions about the evils of racism, and encourage the bravery of black and brown people who speak up. They are the people you’re most likely to see sharing anti-racism posts on social media. Many of them have black or brown family, friends, mentors, or bosses. Allies participate in peaceful protests and attend community events designed to heal the wounds of racism.  The proximity they have to POC makes them far more sensitive to the plight of minorities. They are willing to help people resisting systemic and organic racism. Allies are like your friends who come out to watch you run a half marathon and make sure you have plenty of water as you do it. They are extremely proud of you for running, and are your biggest fans, but they aren’t running with you. That’s allies. They cheer on the people in the struggle, and have great ideas for what they should do next. They are not using a large amount of their own resources or influence to resist racism.  There are legitimate reasons people settle into alliance. It feels like they are helping the cause. They are far from racist, and extremely supportive of their black and brown friends. I’d conjecture that this is the fastest growing stage of the three. With the advent of Trumpian rhetoric and the amount of material being put out on a daily basis presenting evidence of more racism in our country, many white people are settling in this stage if for nothing else to show that they don’t agree with racist rhetoric or practices. It can be a long journey to get to this stage, and it can feel like the end of the road, but there is another stage of wokeness. Honestly, there are many black and brown people who haven’t progressed to the final stage. It’s not for everyone I suppose.

Stage Three: Advocacy

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This final stage has the least amount participants, but especially white participants. This is the stage where the struggle against racism and for racial equality is our struggle. People in this stage are outspoken advocates of social change. Not everyone in this stage is outspoken in the same way. Folks who progress here are: community organizers, writers, film makers, artists, and leaders who don’t need permission from anyone to use their influence to advocate for change. The energy that drives their activity is generated from a deep sense of purpose, and you’ll find white people in this stage on the front lines of resistance to racism whether they are joined by POC or not. They use their platforms to uphold justice and equality. Many of the people in the advocacy stage have committed a significant amount of their time and resources to make sure that efforts to dismantle systemic racism in America continue to move forward. Advocates don’t just attend events, they organize them. They are the people whose content black and brown people read and share. They are running the race along side POC and actively seeking more ways to make sure the message is heard. They are helping raise awareness and recruit allies for the cause. Advocates renounce their own privilege, and though they don’t have the existential  urgency to act – they do anyway.

If you’ve read this all the way through, you’re likely in one of these three stages.

What stage do you most identify with?

Are you satisfied with the stage you’re in?

Imperial Myth 3 (Three Political Topics Your Church Hasn’t Avoided)

Imperial Myth 3 (Three Political Topics Your Church Hasn’t Avoided) 1200 627 Corey Leak

Something I find really ironic is people being put off by churches or church leaders talking “politics” from the pulpit. I’ve heard people say things like: Jesus didn’t get involved in politics. Says the pastor who has 12 sermons on the “power of the cross” saved on their computer. We Christians sing songs about the cross, wear crosses on our necklaces, hang crosses from our rear view mirror, display them on our mantels and fire places… as the symbol of our salvation. However, before it was a symbol of redemption, it was a form of capital punishment reserved for political enemies of Rome. Jesus wasn’t stoned to death or murdered in the streets by a soldier or an angry religious leader. He was killed publicly to discourage any other enemy of the state from speaking of any “kingdom” that was powerful enough to usurp Rome. So, yes, I’d say Jesus was involved in politics.

The Jewish people walking the planet during the times of Jesus expected their Messiah to overthrow Roman government through military efforts like the “saviors” before him. Their interpretation of their ancient holy writings lead them to expect physical salvation as much as spiritual if not more. Political struggle has always been a part of the story of mankind, and the writers of the Jewish scriptures didn’t write in a political vacuum. They wrote in the middle of political struggles for supremacy. When John, a political exile, wrote his often misunderstood epic “Book of Revelation”, he was using art to elevate Jesus as the true Divine Emperor who would ultimately make right the injustice enacted by the unjust Roman Emperors. John followed in the footsteps of prophets like Isaiah when he wrote to the Jewish exiles:

“Your leaders are rebels, the companions of thieves. All of them love bribes and demand payoffs, but they refuse to defend the cause of orphans or fight for the rights of widows” Isa 1:23

Imagine hearing words like this at church on Sunday referring to POTUS or Congress. Chances are  you won’t hear anything like that this weekend at church, but if you’ve attended an Evangelical church over the last ten years or so you’ve probably heard “politics” from the pulpit. Here are the five topics I’ve heard, and chances are you have too.

Abortion

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I’ve sat in entire services dedicated to this one topic. It was done with sensitivity to any millennial democrats who may have been in the crowd, but the service and the sermon were both unapologetically anti-abortion. This is a topic that most Evangelicals have historically not been afraid to talk about. The killing of innocent babies inside the womb is an abomination and amongst the most heinous of all of Americas sins perpetrated by leftist sinners. Roe vs Wade was the beginning of America’s fall from God’s grace, and He will judge this nation for it’s horrible sin. That’s some of the rhetoric you’re likely to hear from an Evangelical church about abortion. I think we can all agree that life is sacred, and the taking of life, any life is deeply tragic. I’ve begun to wonder recently if these same Evangelicals are equally concerned about black and brown lives outside of the womb.

 Same Sex Marriage

God made “Adam and Eve” not “Adam and Steve” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that phrase. I’m not sure who coined it, but I hope they patented it. I’d be surprised if you haven’t heard the term “Biblical Marriage” at least once in the last year or so if you’ve gone consistently. That phrase denotes the marriage of a man to a woman. In recent years with the advent of “affirming churches” and homosexual pastors, there has been less and less full sermons or weekends about this topic, but sermon series about marriage and parenting rarely include language or principles that include same sex partners. The term “husband and wife” used throughout and on the images used for marketing and branding the series both reinforce the idea that same sex partners aren’t recognized as married in the churches or God’s eyes. Also, the majority of Evangelical churches have boundaries for where a person from the LBGTQ community can volunteer. I find the fact that few churches speak out as strongly as in years past about this issue interesting. Especially in light of the fact that ,outside of the afore mentioned affirming churches, most Christians still believe that living life together as same sex partners is a sin. Maybe it’s wisdom. Maybe it’s a growing sensitivity to the gay community. Maybe it’s a fear of polarization. Who knows. Though churches haven’t been as vocal in recent years, they haven’t avoided the issue.

Ten Commandments and Prayer in Schools

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Chances are after a school shooting your church has prayed for the victims families and expressed sadness over the violence that claimed innocent life. Usually churches will stop short of talking about “gun control” as a possible solution for ridding our schools of violence, and will instead site the government’s decision to remove prayer and the Ten Commandments from schools.  As if once that happened God stopped caring about what happens to students and faculty in public schools. Again, you’ve probably not heard full sermons on this political topic, but it’s not something your church will avoid mentioning from time to time. Federal law prohibits vocal “disruptive” prayer in schools which is something that Christian churches have lamented since it became law in 1962. In 1990 a small group of students gathered on their campus before school at the flag pole for a time a prayer and scripture reading. Since then, millions of people gather every year on the fourth Wednesday of September for See You at the Pole. The youth pastor at your church and possibly the whole staff likely attended last year, and will again this fall.

I think if we’re all honest, none of us truly have a problem with our church talking politics. Our issue is with churches talking politics we don’t agree with. We applaud the pastor courageous enough to not be “politically correct” when that boldness is in line with our own sentiments. When was the last time you applauded your churches courageous stance you didn’t agree with? We don’t applaud the boldness. We applaud the alignment to our personal values. In my 35 years attending and working at churches, I’ve found that Evangelicals have been most vocal about social change when a democrat is President. It seemed as if America was on the precipus of total moral decay every minute a democrat sat in the Oval Office. I thought God was a republican until ten years ago, and apparently some people still do. I’ll never forget seeing this imaged posted on social media by a Christian artist the moment Trump was elected president.

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Apparently, Jesus wasn’t welcome in the White House under the previous administration. I guess he was avoiding being too political.

What has your experience been with politics in church?

Share your thoughts in the comments below!!!

Imperial Myth 2 (Independence Day)

Imperial Myth 2 (Independence Day) 1000 1000 Corey Leak

 

A couple days ago on “Independence Day” I felt a tension that I didn’t anticipate. All my life I’ve participated in National holidays, and I especially love the ones that have eating as a pillar of the celebration. This Independence Day was interesting because for the first time I wondered if I should celebrate or grieve. That is partially due to the fact that I’m prone to being influenced by peers and other well written/spoken people I know and respect. I saw more resistance to celebrating America’s independence from some of my black friends this year than I can ever remember seeing before, and that made me stop to consider whether I agreed with the timing. Was a National Holiday celebrating American freedom the time to lament injustice?

I certainly agree with the premise that America’s Independence was, as I’ve stated in a previous blog, realized more than 200 years before black people received any semblance of freedom. I can understand how a people who have historically been treated like guests or worse in this country would be reluctant to light off fire works and adorn themselves with American Flag shorts.

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(Ironically, people wearing these shorts or any other apparel of the flag to “honor” America are in violation of U.S. Flag code.)

None the less, I had a hard time reconciling how I felt about allegiance to America as a follower of Jesus. I grew up attending conservative Evangelical churches that often served as a campaign platform for Republican values and government. I grew up believing that America was God’s blessed nation as long as it was run by Republicans. “America the Blessed” is the way that most churches I sat in (except for my dad’s AME church) would characterize this Nation. That was in spite of any past or present atrocities American government sanctioned within our borders or abroad. It’s that background that was on one end of the tension I felt this week as our Nation celebrated its independence.

On the other end of the tension was my belief that America is still a country that is oriented in favor of its dominant culture, and people from that group malignantly and some unwittingly participate in maintaining that supremacy. There in lies the challenge of celebrating freely. Now, before you allow yourself to think: “If America is so bad, why don’t you just leave”, I would again caution some deeper reflection. That idea is deeply rooted in the systemic problem with race in America. I am deeply grateful for the freedoms that I and my family enjoy as American citizens. I’m also deeply disturbed by the discriminant fashion in which freedoms are granted to citizens, especially in some of the rhetoric from a group I’ve spent the better part of my adult life helping to build.

This week I watched a video of a church I attended for a long time when my wife and I first married. I watched the pastor of that church during their 4th of July weekend service read a poem from Ted Nugent. The poem recited from behind a podium in front of a giant American flag, attempts to shame athletes who have protested police brutality against the black community by pontificating about the struggles of our armed forces contrasted with the “luxury” of playing sports. While this isn’t the blog to deconstruct that straw man, it should be noted that one has nothing to do with the other. Athletes aren’t boycotting the anthem, and taking time during a worship gathering to uphold American patriotic myth is a tragic conflation.

Church gatherings like this are what make celebrating America difficult for me and other black Americans. I’ve had the privilege of spending time with two men at the center of the NFL protest controversy. I’ve seen first hand the passion and conviction of both Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid. Watching them sacrifice their careers for something they believed in was one thing, but to hear them talk about why in person was something that has resonated to my core.

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I’ve watched as people from the black community have approached them to thank them for being willing to take a stand for their community and use their voices to speak for the voiceless. I’ve become good friends with Eric, and have had many conversations about how his strong faith in Christ is the fuel that drives his passion for changes in our criminal justice system. When the church in America, which I consider my tribe, shows flagrant disregard for the plight of Black America (also my tribe) I’m left feeling disappointed at a time that I would love to be celebrating our freedom unadulterated. It’s hurtful when people (especially Christians) disregard the deeply personal convictions of black Americans, and add insult to injury by demonizing the people taking action to try and bring about change.

It’s a tall ask to expect black Americans to celebrate freedom arm in arm with people who still want to deny them freedom that inconveniences the dominant culture. Can you see the dilemma? Can you imagine having your mom’s birthday fall on the anniversary of your dad’s death every year? That’s what Independence Day feels like these days for black people. Is it appropriate to celebrate American Independence? Absolutely! Is it also appropriate to have difficulty celebrating due to the weight of black history?

Life is heavy and light. It’s joyful and it’s sad. We are often mad, sad, joyful, hopeful, and worried at the same time. It’s unhealthy to ignore the heavy feelings of sorrow to try and “white knuckle” happiness, and it’s exceptionally unhealthy when that effort is forced by the external influence of mythical ideas of patriotism. In the end, I gave myself permission to be both thankful for my freedom and sorrowful for the lack of empathy and partnership extended to the black community. We lit off fire works two nights in a row. We ate burgers off the grill, and spent time as a family laughing and making memories. Today, I’m lamenting hypocrisy. I can express both joy and sorrow. That is the freedom I’m most thankful for this year.

How do you define patriotism?

How can you celebrate freedom, but recognize more progress is needed?

 

 

 

Imperial Myth

Imperial Myth 550 304 Corey Leak

Thomas Jefferson believed that without the separation of church and state clergy would become unresponsive to the needs of their own people, and that a State sponsored religion would lead to corruption within religion itself. It can be difficult to recognize when religion, or government for that matter, has succomed to corruption. Over time, the words, phrases and ideals that once reminded us of our sacred responsibility to God and one another, undergo a sort of data corruption.  We unwittingly accept flawed ideology because it comes in the form of founding virtues. In America, our Southern border is a glaring example. The ideas that were intended to build a more just society for European immigrants have become the bedrock of injustice toward migrants  seeking asylum at our border.

For a corrupted digital file, there can be a number of different causes both internally and externally. There could be a virus or incompatibility between hardware and software within the device itself or extreme changes in temperature, water, dust, or loss of power from outside of it. Whatever the cause, corruption changes the very nature of its host, and renders that host dangerous to whatever system it’s operating in. Today the dangerous host operating with corrupted data in our Country is unfortunately the American Evangelical Church. In these times of heated debates over the morality of how migrants, immigrants, POC, and women are treated, it seems as though today’s Evangelicals are either silent or worse yet, falling victim to partisan politics rather than human rights. American ideology was never intended to be the standard for justice for Evangelicals.

The Jewish founder of Evangelicalism intended for his disciples to go into all the world and share the good news that God had begun to make the world new again. The essense of evangelism is to deliver a message of freedom, peace, love, and togetherness. That is what his followers wrote about in what we now call the New Testament. They were writing letters and instructions to one another that were intended to spread the news of God’s new world order into a culture that had a flawed concept of justice. They lived in a world among people who had their ideas about justice promulgated to them by an imperial cult called the Roman Empire.

The Roman Emperors permitted freedom of religion to their subjects as long as it didn’t oppose or interfere with their true religion of Emperor worship. The Romans established a long tradition of claiming that their Emperors were gods in the flesh. They would tell stories of the miraculous births of each ruler, and spread propaganda throughout the regions on coins reinforcing the idea of imperial deity. Although there was religious freedom throughout the Roman Empire, all religion was subject to the authority of the Emperor, and resisting that authority was to resist the Divine. Emperor worship was so deeply embedded in culture that it was virtually unnoticed. The ruling class instilled rhetoric that the people used to exalt the Emperor as God. Buying and selling took place with coins that reinforced the the Emperor’s deity. Rebels who resisted imperial religious perversion through violence or subversive language, were put on trial and executed publicly to show the power of the divine Emperor and discourage even the slightest rebellion.

That was the world that the Jewish Messiah sent his disciples into as Evangelicals, which meant almost certain death as a criminal and a trader to Rome and God.

If being an Evangelical today was even a caricature of its original intent some thousands of years ago, it would be a step in the right direction. Rather than following the examples and writings of the Evangelicals before us, we have come to accept injustice in the present as long as it’s perpetrated by the Emperor leading the party we identify with. Our Emperor can do no wrong. We side with him against his enemies regardless of whether those enemies are the very people we were instructed by our founder to draw near to and help. In the name of patriotism, we curse our brother or sister and condemn them with labels that reduce their feelings and experiences to political orientations. A person who supports an athlete’s right to protest injustice or believes that foreigners should be treated with dignity regardless of what country they come from or their religion, is labeled a “leftist”. The label is usually proceeded by some demeaning adjective or slur. Somewhere along the way, loving our neighbor and the belief that all men are created equal, became associated with liberal politics. This idea seems to be most prevalent in American Evangelical Christian circles. As strange as it may sound to some, American Nationalism and the Christian faith can be mutually exclusive. It is possible to hold up American ideals and for those ideals to be in direct conflict with the just rule of God that the first Evangelicals were charged with announcing. The first people to evangelize believed that God cared about the orphan, the widow, the foreigner, and the Gentile. They believed that God was characterized by love, mercy, and compassion as well as order and law. They didn’t endorse a belief that a just God couldn’t be merciful or that a merciful God wouldn’t uphold justice. They advocated that God was love and that if human beings learned to love like God, the world would be full of justice.

The driving force of faith is love. It’s love that was the catalyst of the gospel movement, but not simply love for ones own tribe. We were charged to love the other, and that kind of love is messy. It raises complex questions and forces us to look deep within ourselves to see how committed we are to God’s world order. The command to love our neighbors is why the early church fathers struggled with what to do with Gentiles coming into a historically Jewish faith. A large chunk of Paul’s writings are dedicated to the topic of making space for the other. Evangelism is all about making more space for people to come into an authentic community of justice and love. That’s the core of the message and the reason Christianity outlived Roman imperial religious rule. I suspect justice and love will be how authentic Christian faith will outlive American Evangelical political rule as well.

Is America’s greatness or standing as “first” in the world something to be defended at all costs?

Also, I’d like to broaden this conversation beyond what I can reach alone… 

What 3 people can you share this blog with?

Their Shoes

Their Shoes 700 394 Corey Leak

“When I was in school I had to walk 12 miles uphill both ways in the snow.” That saying was supposed to let students fortunate enough to have a ride to school know that we had it easy. If we thought we had it rough, this was a reminder that we actually didn’t. If we were to walk a mile in their shoes (feet in this case), we would adjust our attitude. Those old folks recognized what I’ve come to believe is a profound truth. If we imagine ourselves walking in someone else’s shoes – compassion, not judgment becomes our stance toward the other. 

In the last several weeks there has been a great deal of discussion about what’s been happening at the Mexican border. It’s been refreshing to see the conversation about children being separated from their parents be mostly about how we can help them. People have rallied to aid them by setting up funds to get them legal representation, marching in protest, and appealing to their representatives to help. Many pastors and politicians on both sides of the aisle have spoken out against this policy of taking children from the arms of their parents (this includes pastors who are a part of the President’s Spiritual Advisory Board). It’s been nice to see that there is a “too far” for staunch supporters of this Administration. I’ve yet to see anyone be overtly callous towards migrant families being separated from one another at border, but I have noticed a bit of a disturbing trend.

We all have experience with children fighting, either as a parent breaking up fights or as children ourselves. Inevitably when the fight is broken up and consequence is being handed out, one or both of the guilty kids will say the other one “started it”. It’s a childish thing to say, and it falls to every parent to use that moment to teach their children that “two wrongs don’t make one right”. I’ve noticed that in the midst of people expressing both outrage and good-will, there are others who feel it’s important that we all know who started this practice. There are people staring at images like…

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who seem to believe that the most important thing to be noted is that the Obama’s and the Clinton’s “started it”. I suppose knowing what political party is to blame is helpful in political conversations. I imagine it even has some relevance to who we should vote for in upcoming elections, but it has zero relevance on what we should be doing right now. We should be careful as a people not to treat human rights issues as partisan issues.

Pause for a moment to imagine how it would feel to flee your home country to seek asylum in a foreign land only to be detained and separated from your small children at the border. How comforting would facts about MS13 and smugglers or understanding whose Administration is responsible for the condition you now find yourself in be? Would you not desperately want someone to show compassion toward you and your little ones? This is the situation for TWENTY-FIVE HUNDRED migrants at the Southern border.  Prior to the President signing an executive order today, it was estimated that TWENTY THOUSAND migrant children would’ve  been in the care of the DHHS by August 1st if something would not have changed. The executive order does not reunite parents with their children who were already separated. There is still work to be done, but this was a crisis that human beings responded to with compassion and righteous indignation. Here is a link to join in their efforts. People stood up and demanded something be done, and the outcry of the people lead to action from the President.

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People with and without religious affiliation tapped into a compassion that is a part of our DNA as human beings. Thousands of years ago ancient writers wrote about the affect religion should have on society.

James, who is considered by many Bible scholars to be the leader of the early church, wrote in his book that “pure religion” is caring for orphans and widows. Jesus, when pressed about the greatest commandment, cited loving our neighbors as we love ourselves from the Torah. As did the Apostle Paul. The ancient holy writings are full of admonishments for human beings to be gracious and compassionate toward foreigners. Believing in a Divine Creator should naturally be followed by compassion for all human beings regardless of their race or country of origin.

I pray that as we continue to wrestle with the extremely complex political and social issues we are facing as a Nation, that we do so with a greater since of our humanity and not our political affiliation. Conversations that center around humanity put the focus on what we have in common and allow us to think through humane responses to the issues in our society. If we can learn to lead with grace and compassion for others, we tend to fall on the same side of most arguments no matter how complex. Something truly spiritual happens when we take a moment and imagine life in “their” shoes.

Whose shoes do you have trouble imagining yourself in?

Have you taken a stance that would be different if you were in “their” shoes?

Why “Superfly” is the Movie We Wanted, But Not the Movie We Needed

Why “Superfly” is the Movie We Wanted, But Not the Movie We Needed 1000 563 Corey Leak

I NEVER do this. I hate when other people do this, but I’m going to do it. I’m going to give my opinion of a movie still in theaters.

My wife randomly asked me if I wanted to go to the movies to see “Superfly” yesterday, and I said yes. I was excited to see it. We have Moviepass, so it feels virtually free to go. The previews to the movie looked amazing! It has great actors like the up and coming Jason Mitchell from “The Chi” and “Straight Out of Compton” as well as one of my favorite actors, Michael Kenneth Williams who will forever be known to me as “Omar” from “The Wire”. We both thought we were headed for a fantastic movie. I didn’t even check the reviews like I usually do. First, I was convinced I had a good sense of what this movie was going to be, and secondly because I knew this was a movie by black folk, for black folk, about black folk, set in Atlanta. How could it not be good?

With that as the backdrop I was in a good head space to be wowed. I wanted to be entertained, and for the most part I was. The movie does have some decent action, all be it way over the top at times. The costumes were fantastic. Especially on the main character “Priest”. His swag made me wonder if I could pull off perming my own hair. The story line was solid. It followed the same over arching theme as the original which was a cult classic. The problem was, once the excitement I brought to the theater wore off, I was left watching what amounted to an extended R rated rap video complete with what felt like a 12 hour shower scene that had no connection to the story at all.

Who doesn’t like rap videos? They are usually so original!!! Clubs, iced out wrist throwing cash in the air, dancing girls, extravagant cars and houses, rappers looking down at the camera, rinse, and repeat – that’s been rap videos since I was 12 years old.

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Originally posted by grittyinc

It’s my own fault for being surprised really. The movie was directed by a man who’s renowned for his work on rap videos and produced by Future. Both of these men are tremendous talents no doubt. With this film, they had an opportunity to tell not just a great story, but an important one. Opportunity knocked, and Future and Director X must have been pre-occupied popping bottles to answer.

I assumed that the overblown attitudes toward money and power displayed in the opening couple of scenes was intended to be hyperbolic. I was expecting to see the folly of worshipping money and power brought to light at some point in this film, but I was sadly disappointed all the way to the very end. It seemed to be continuing the same old, tired story of black men seeking to achieve greatness through robbing, killing, and degrading women. Some of that is to be expected from the antagonist of a story set in Atlanta, but in this story even the protagonist is caught up in believing the myth of power and money. The hero in this story has spent his life chasing the myth, and now wants to get out. I wish I would’ve seen the end game of this pursuit played out in this movie, but sadly it ends with madness being rewarded. “Superfly” suggested that after years of flooding the streets with cocaine, perpetuating violence, objectifying women, and blatantly breaking the law, a reward waits for you on a yacht in the middle of the ocean where your LTE has full bars.

I understand that the makers of this film wanted to be true to the original. I know they wanted to mirror as many of the iconic characters and scenes from the original as possible, but cast it against our modern reality. To that end in one of the more potent scenes of the movie, a racist and crooked cop shouts “take your hand off the gun” as he fires several shots at an unarmed black man in the car with his girlfriend, a clear allusion to #PhilandoCastile. In a later scene pointing to America’s racial tension, a statue of a Confederate soldier is knocked down during a car chase. Lastly, in a scene that fed my own carnal craving for vengeance, the policeman who killed the unarmed black man and his girlfriend in the aforementioned “police shooting” scene is shown being beaten to death by “Priest”. All of this would have been great to add to a story if only it didn’t feed into a false narrative.

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I’ve written before about how some people refuse to believe that an unarmed black man could possibly be the victim of injustice. They believe there is always more to the story no matter how much video evidence there is to the contrary. This movie surrounded important issues of racism with the kind of foolery that fuels the fires of ignorance. The unarmed black man in this movie had cocaine in his trunk and a couple scenes earlier killed three men himself. The confederate flag was knocked over by a black gangster driving a gaudy Lamborghini on his way to his death. This film fails to contrast evil vs good. It prefers to spend it’s frames contrasting evil with not that bad.

The glorification of sex, drugs, and money along with the myth of power have been a plague to the black community. Black people aren’t solely responsible for the plague, but I’m really disappointed when I see and hear black artists and film makers cooperate with oppression by telling stories that propagate destructive ideas.

With just a little bit of attention to detail and a conscience, Superfly’screators could have told a powerful story exposing the folly of chasing superficial joys and still spoke to the injustices of American culture. Instead they chose to bury a conscious message beneath cheesy villains, gaudy portrayals of black culture, and dangerous notions of vengeance and escaping consequence.

I wish I could have found the movie more entertaining. I was willing to suspend my disbelief and just let it be like Empire or a Tyler Perry movie, but once they introduced important issues like police brutality and America’s history with racism I held them to a higher standard. Maybe I’m being overly sensitive or expecting too much from a movie or from rap videos for that matter. Perhaps I’m being too harsh, but the times we live in demand more from all of us who are using a platform. Whether that is social media, music, movies, or sports. If you use a platform, use it well.

Do you have a platform you use for sharing values that make the world better? 

If not, why don’t you?

If so, how have you used it?