By Joanna Lawrence Shenk
These words were prepared for Faith in Action Bay Area’s Latinx-led Juneteenth solidarity action, “Black Lives Matter: Praying and Working to Create Healthy and Stable Communities,” held in Daly City, CA on June 19, 2020.
We are living through a long overdue nationwide awakening to the reality of state sponsored white supremacist violence against Black and Brown bodies. White supremacy, embodied in racist institutions, policies, and cultural ideals, is an original sin of our country. African-Americans suffer from discrimination and unequal access to employment, housing, education, and health care. This systemic injustice is clear in San Francisco where only 3% of the population is Black, but 37% of those living on the street are Black.
The crisis of homelessness in San Francisco is actually a crisis of immorality on the part of city leaders and wealthy corporations. For decades they have worked together to intentionally displace and unhouse poor and working people in San Francisco.
We want a moral budget that prioritizes investment in programs to lift up the health and wellbeing of Black people, Black congregations, and Black-led organizations. We want San Francisco’s budget to reflect higher aspirations–valuing life, health, education and the common good, prioritizing the most vulnerable people. As Dr. King said, “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth…and say ‘This is not just.’” –Martin Luther King, Jr., “A Time to Break Silence,” Riverside Church, New York City, April 4, 1967
So I say, San Francisco–and Bay Area–this is not just! We are calling for all unhoused people to be sheltered in hotels during the COVID-19 pandemic. And in the City budget, we are calling for an investment of $50 million to provide individual rental subsidies to 5,000 of our most vulnerable seniors, those paying more than 70% of their income in rent.
To those who say, “we don’t have the money for that… we have a huge budget deficit.” We say, “We’re calling for a radical restructuring of our city!” Now is the time to tear down edifices that produce beggars. Now is the time to rise up together, demanding and creating communities where the most vulnerable are protected, where deadly policing is defunded and not one more Black life is violently stolen.
The systemic inequalities we see in our cities are rooted in the logic of white supremacy. So we unequivocally say Black Lives Matter! The notion of whiteness was created to economically dispossess and exploit anyone outside its boundaries. So we are committed to restructuring our city, tearing down the edifices that white supremacy has created, and building a new San Francisco where Black Lives Matter.
As people of faith, especially those of us who are white, we confess our complicity in the evils of white supremacy and commit to the restructuring of ourselves and our faith communities, just as we commit to the restructuring of our cities.
Juneteenth is about freedom from slavery, and for those of us who are not Black, we need to follow the lead of our Black siblings who have been fighting for freedom from white supremacy since they were forcedly stolen from their many homelands on the African continent. We follow the lead of our Black siblings declaring Black Lives Matter.
The God of the Christian scriptures (rooted in the Jewish tradition) is a God who hears the cries of enslaved people and fights for them and sets them free. The God of these scriptures walked on earth not as a rich man or someone in a position of power, but instead as one poor and dispossessed by the empire of his time. This is the God of the imprisoned, the sick and the undocumented. This is a God that rages at injustice and grieves with those who are brutalized. This is a God who takes sides against the rich and powerful, who pulls tyrants from their thrones and sends the rich away empty. This is a Black Lives Matter God who is raging in the streets at the injustice of our current reality.
Let us claim the power of God, believing that God can do the impossible, far more than we can ask or imagine. To God be the glory. Amen.