STORIES OF LAMENT: THE COLLECTIVE CRIES OF URBAN BLACK LEADERS

We at UYWI held a lament a few weeks ago with some of our black brothers and Sisters. We poured out our lament and many of you watched. Now we are publishing these laments in written form so that you can internalize the message we so bravely gave you. As you read these lament, we ask that you do 3 things:

  • Read them out loud & weep with us
  • Pray over each one and ask God to hear our prayers
  • Share them with a friend and ask them to hear what is is that Black Lives are really saying.

Hopefully, UYWI can begin the deep work needed of listening and suffering. We believe this can change the world.

What God Do You Serve? By Shuree Rivera

Have you ever seen a monster more defiant than this? The monster of racism dwelling in the hearts of men like we see constantly today in America? Openly and definitely challenging the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. My God, Yahweh, the God of the Israelites, whose name was revealed to Moses, to Paul and to Jews and Gentiles alike. 

This God—is the God who gave Moses a word to shout

The words that still ring true these thousand years later…

Let my people go!

So how then, does this monster of racism still exist in the streets enslaving black and brown bodies—locking us up in the new Jim Crow era and chasing us down in the street like wild animals to be captured, colonized, or killed?

You see, This demonic monster I speak of is this:

Racism—a demon “supernatural being”—a spirit. 

And this spirit has influenced and possessed the American culture we live in. It resides in a person’s character, causing them to justify hate and violence against another human being. 

It regards no one but itself as sacred and worthy of life.

And it was this spirit we saw possess the McMichaels.

So, forgive me that when I speak of this—I get loud and raise my voice, but I need you to hear me.

You see, this is a spirit and this spirit must be put to death.

And so I beg you, Church of Yahweh. I challenge you today, to join me. Give me a man! Give me a woman! Give me a child who’s brave enough to fight until we rid our country—but more importantly, God’s Kingdom—of this ugly blot on my God’s Name? 

You see, when I hear my fellow brothers and sister in Christ spew narratives that the McMichaels were 2 God-fearing men who were only trying to protect their neighborhood, I have to ask—

What God do you serve?

I must tell you, keep my God’s name out your mouth—less you continue to stain His name and honor—leading many astray!

Now, this is not the only time I’ve made this battle cry and it won’t be my last. In fact, I’m already anticipating the excuse of some of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. You’ll say: “That’s not my fight,” Jesus doesn’t see color,” or “Don’t lose focus of the gospel.”

See, we will never know all the facts surrounding Ahmaud, Tamir, Trevon, Philando, Martin, or Malcolm because we were not physically there. Yet, you choose to believe in a story told 2000 years ago of a Middle Eastern man who claimed to be the Son of God, who preached equality and love only to be chased down, and publicly lynched for his commitment to the Kingdom of God—slandered with a hashtag #kingothejews.

Racism.

I’m not inviting you into a social justice movement devoid of God’s presence and power. That same God who raised Christ from the dead lives in me and lives in you. This Christ fought and continues to fight for souls and spirits of all mankind. That same God lives in me.

So I ask you, what God do you serve?

Ecclesiastes 3: 7-8 tells us, “ 7. [T]here is a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, 8. [A] time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

I echo the words of a little shepherd boy named David who was faced with a demonic monster named Goliath, who came for the heads of God people, Gods’ children. 

He looked Goliath square in the face and said: “You come at me with a sword and spear and battle-ax. I come at you in the name of God of the Angel Armies, the God of Israel.”

This is the Spirit I come in and I invite you into!

No, I am not going to give you 20 more verses that point to God’s heart for justice and mercy. If you are a Christian who reads your bible, you will see God’s heart for justice and mercy glaring at you like the blazing sun on a hot summer day.

It’s this heat that burns in me. SO, why Church, does it not burn in so many of you?

What god do you serve?

“Tired” by Pierre Fulford

Sorry for disturbing your sleep. “Did you call my name?” That was the young prophet Samuel to an old prophet, Eli. God was calling him. Eli eventually realized it—realized God kept waking Samuel up—which implied at the time of His calling, Samuel was tired.

So sorry to disturb your sleep, but when was the last time you’ve been tired? 

Very tired. 

Not the tired from a Thanksgiving meal, the tired from a restless night, early morning work demands, but of no justice for the innocent slain. Melanated. Afro-descent. Black. Innocent. Slain that is. Innocent, not on the basis of rather he or she was in the right or wrong up unto the point of being murdered by a racist.

Innocent because any thought conceived, a word given, or action taken from a heart full of racism is wrong, period.

You see the innocent, was already dead—before the hashtag was created.

Yeah, I’m that type of tired.

Tired of creating hashtags that can never bring rest to centuries of being forced as a race to lay down on this bed full of poisonous pins called “America.”

Tired of holding my breath as a black man so a white body can feel comfortable breathing

The only time I’m allowed to raise my voice is when I’m singing a song for you. Well, I’m tired of singing that song too.

Yeah, I’m tired, but I can’t sleep. Cuz you did it again. You killed me again. I was just jogging this time. 

Stopped to check out an empty house that didn’t even belong to you. Not knowing this would be my last run—for trespassing. 

Please, at least the House was empty. But when you trespassed stolen land, slaughter natives—thanks for giving, have a turkey—who’s holding you accountable for centuries of killings?

God.

I’m tired of dying. I’m so damn tired of dying—over and over and over again.

If I whistle at your daughter, I die. If I’m out past sundown, I die. If I fight for my life after you approached me, I die. If I don’t sign up for your war, I die. If I say nothing when you pull me over, I die. If I move too quickly while in your presence, I die. If I look like the suspect, I die. In front of my girl and our daughter, I die. After telling you I can’t breathe, I die. If I don’t believe in your God, I die—over and over and over again.

Because the sun-kissed my fathers’ skin while yours chose sanctuary in a cave

Brothers. Born of the original woman. My father forced to bathe in the sun. Yours escaped the punishment of its burn. That’s an origin tale you won’t find in the book of Genesis. It’s in the first book of Genocide. Our father has a lot more stories to right.

And believe me, I know it’s not all of your fathers’ faults. I do wish my fathers would’ve fought harder, instead of taking the bribes, selling out our own sons and daughters to be owned by colonizers who by any means—only sought to conquer.

You even bleached the skin of the Messiah, gave Him blue eyes, a narrow nose, and straight brown hair, like God wasn’t born with features that allowed him to hide in Egypt.

But you tell me don’t trip about it because “love has no color.” 

Like, God portrayed as a slave master won’t bother your melanated-believing sister and brother?

I get it—maybe I’m tripping. But that’s what happens when you’re tired.

Do you know what sleep deprivation does to the conscious?

It’s hard being woke in a land where being born black is a death certificate. But you want the abused to keep it cool, forgive, forget, and get over it.

Until you kill me again.

Well, I’m tired and I’m over it.

So I need you to listen to me, or you will see more than an angry black man. You will witness the blackest of armies, and God will not be on your side.

Listen.

Stop expecting me to pour my heart out for your entertainment—my cardiac’s been arrested enough. I’m tired of you convicting me, while racism gentrifies for free. 

How about you pull yourself over for a change? I mean, with evangelical conviction.

Racism is a sin! Preach it, not just on Sunday, but every day including the Sabbath,

And don’t rest until you are as tired as I am.

Boycott your family picnics. Check your grandfather every time a racial slur leaves his lips.

Let your aunty know you saw her clutching her purse all tighter when I walked by. Let her know that won’t be tolerated and that the next time she does it, you’ll be the one snatching it from her.

I need you to be the most anti-racist member of your family—ever—so anti-racist they started mistaking you for a “negro lover”—all the time, especially at dinner.

And no, I’m not asking you to hang up a picture of black Jesus, but I am asking you to let your children know God doesn’t have blue eyes. Let them know that what your forefathers did to black bodies, in His name, wasn’t right.

I mean, God himself said only the truth sets us free. So, until you really embrace that, you’re just as much of a slave as me. Maybe worse.

At least my chains were visible.

Yours came with a privilege—not so dispensable. Despicable. Me. The villain for telling you how I’m really feeling. I’m tired of that too.

A relationship gets nowhere when a conversation is always too tough to chew.

So call this me looking out. giving you a heads up. You only got so long to figure this out before the rest is fed up, and this tired becomes very non-compliant by any means necessary this all ends in fire.

Riots.

All of us triggered as the playground goes silent—In blood—not just on the leaves, now flowing through the streets.

Please, I’m praying you to see, what conclusion to this matter racism will bring. If black lives matter to you—I mean to all of you—there can never be a “we.”

But yeah, sorry for disturbing your sleep. Thought you heard His voice too.

Maybe it was just me, being tired.

“It Won’t Happen To Me” by Pastor Roy Dockery

Unless inspired to create, I rarely sit down at a keyboard to just allow my thoughts or emotions to flow.  I have artistic tendencies, but by nature, I am very organized and task-centric. With the events of the past week, and turning away from the potentially toxic echo chamber of my social media timeline, I turned to myself for this written conversation.  What will follow is an open and honest expression of frustration and opinions that are on my heart as I shut down the external noise, and look inward for direction. 

During one of my periodic social media checks, I came across a post about a newly-leaked video. Shaun King, Roland Martin, and Etan Thomas are regular sources of social justice content on my timeline, so I am not surprised to see captions regarding the death or mistreatment of a minority brother or sister as I scroll.  My reaction to the video of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery was so visceral I can’t even recall the first place I encountered it.  All I can remember is the cascade of emotions that followed as I watched the uproar of millions of voices bring his death to the attention of the national media and ultimately, the Georgia Bureau of Investigations.  

But why did this incident hit me more than the hundreds that I’ve across in my years of activism.? Why did this event make me want to pull my son close and shield him from what he will encounter as a black man in America?  Why does this feel more painful than gang violence and police shootings combined?  The ugly reality of America is that people die every day, but the pain I felt from watching Ahmaud get murdered in the street was personal and honestly, frightening. The only time I can remember feeling that same degree of soul-deafening anger was when the verdict against George Zimmerman was announced, as he was found not guilty in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. 

Somewhere in the heart of black men when we witness tragedy, we try to find a way to explain to ourselves, how this won’t happen to me.  Our reaction to the fear and anxiety is to run the scenarios through our heads and allow our imaginations to create different outcomes.  Fight or flight—we start to think of our body language, tone of voice, environment, potential suspicion, objects that can be perceived as a weapon, objects that can be used as a weapon for defense, and every alternative that leads to us making it out alive.  

I could relate to the 17-year-old kid, tired of being profiled and having to answer to any white man who thinks you don’t belong.  We could visualize the struggle as Trayvon who was approached by Zimmerman with a gun and valiantly fought for his life before he was shot and killed. We held out hope that the indictment would lead to a conviction so that our collective metaphorical death—at the hands of a random white man—would be deemed illegal. Then, a jury of six people on July 13th, 2013 sent a message that was loudly received in the hearts of Black men—your life doesn’t matter. In the eyes of America, the fear of a white man trumps our liberty to live. When encountering the police, I was always taught that their fear could lead to my death. That’s why many of us have grown numb to the police shootings because our culture has conditioned us to expect it.  

We see the memes, statistics, and headlines, but somewhere in the back of our minds, we try to convince ourselves that it won’t happen to me.  It won’t happen to me because I live in a nice neighborhood and know the neighborhood watch captain. It won’t happen to me because I keep my hands at 10 and 2 when the cops pull me over, lower my music, and speak with a calm voice. It won’t happen to me because I will make no sudden movements and keep my hands where they can see them. It won’t happen to me because I keep my receipts and multiple forms of identification on me at all times. It won’t happen to me because I am known within my community as a good man who takes care of the community. It won’t happen to me because I stay away from the hood and don’t associate with anyone with gang affiliations. It won’t happen to me because I make sure to dress in non-threatening clothing and avoid wearing gang colors. It won’t happen to me because regardless of the weather when I go jogging, I’ll never wear a hood or cover my face.  

There is no doubt in my mind that Ahmaud Arbery had processed these same thoughts at some point in his life, and maybe even on this day. Yet, we watched him jog with nothing covering his face, and nothing in his hands, directly into gunfire.  Armed white—yes there race is important— citizens decided to mount up like cowboys to find a suspect for unreported crimes, and shot Ahmaud because he didn’t comply. Trayvon and Ahmaud’s deaths hit me so hard as a Black man because they proved that on any day, a random white man can kill me, claim I was committing a crime or being threatening, and get away with it. 

This tears away at the soul of Black Christian men who try to live by biblical principles. I can find balance in challenging systemic racism while retaining a gospel-centered worldview. Seeking justice and speaking for the voiceless has its place in God’s Kingdom, but I am also called to Love my neighbor that may jump out of a pickup truck with a shotgun, and kill me if I don’t comply. If I go door-to-door sharing the gospel in the wrong neighborhood, my blackness could be an obstacle to the gospel. If I respond in kind and match evil for evil, my blackness could be a distraction to the gospel.  

So here I sit with this conundrum. God has called me to be light and salt in this world and had me born in this melanated skin. So my color is either a genetic anomaly or a part of what God called me to be. My color, my culture, my experiences, and my faith are all a part of the story that God wrote for me. So what is the conclusion?  

I conclude that I have to allow my faith and the Holy Spirit to keep my heart from turning cold.  I have to pray that despite experiences that continue to highlight that black lives matter less than white fears, I will continue to love my white brethren. I have to pray for patience and self-control when confronted with blissful ignorance in the face of injustice.  I have to pray for wisdom and direction because God has called me to be neither silent nor stationary.  I have to pray that even if it happens to me, the life, legacy, and reputation I leave behind will make it nearly impossible for my murder to be justified by the misrepresentation of my character.  I pray that it won’t happen to me, my brother, my cousins, or my son.  But if it does, I hope that instead of trying to find a way to prove our guilt to assuage your conscience, you assume our innocence and pray for those who mourn our deaths.  

Sincerely, 

Still Anxious

“I Hug my sons” by Treesje Powers

When a young man dies

On a sunny afternoon 

No amount of rain 

Can wash the blood off his clothes 

Or the tears from his father’s eyes. 

Home becomes a minefield of trauma 

When gunshots demand 

We stop 

To admire the explosion

Death is the broken record we want to dance through 

But there is no rhythm 

In a silenced heartbeat. 

No melody in a Mother’s cry

When our black boys are taken 

Before they can leave their mark 

Bullets Crayola themself into eulogies 

Grief becomes a paint by number purgatory no parent can bypass

But somehow

Our people have always 

Found the bass line 

In the processional

somehow family 

becomes the song in the aftermath. 

Tiny tombstones 

Set the stage for requiem

And praise dance

Remind us, death

Is not a game of hide-and-seek

More like tango and slap box 

A dance,

A quickening of our five senses 

That makes us yearn to be two steps ahead of the darkness 

But with each lap, we grow weary of the chase 

Legacy a fickle hand me down

Our egos have outgrown

Justice a bedtime story 

We no longer believe in 

When innocence is subjective 

Mothers are forced to reprogram their children to apologize for existing

Science hasn’t created the power of love in pill form 

So I hug my sons

Because a high five never sounded like safe

Like home

And handshakes are just power struggles wrapped in formality 

A silent dance of machismo 

Laid to rest when palm leaves swing back to olive branch arms

Extended

But never open

I hug my sons

So they learn that being held can make a man stand taller 

Because some mothers will never get another chance 

Some days motherhood is a Purple Heart 

And they are the soldiers I would gladly take a bullet for

So my sons will have good manners 

Like their life depends on it, because it does 

Learning respect before they learn their rights 

This light will be mistaken for flame if they bounce too high 

Shine too bright 

Flash too hot in the moment 

I can’t risk my heart becoming urn 

At the hands of fear disguised as law

Actions branded affirmative but insidious in execution 

I will not consent to their erasure

So I hug my sons

Because hatred is a bully 

Dimming their light if they are not prepared

Cloaked in prayer

Armed with compassion

Slow to anger 

Slow to speak

Their breath the password

Unlocking secrets of resilience

Their mouth a silencer 

On the only weapons, I let them brandish freely in public

Their voice

Their opinion

Their ideas

So they are taught phrases like

“I love you” 

“Help” 

“please” 

And “I’m sorry”

Curse words in man code 

But hidden prayers in the heavenly language of vulnerability 

My sons hold me as if my body a treasure 

I hug them with an ancient burden in my chest

Like sacrifice is second nature and Resurrection is muscle memory

I hug them until their laughter is a jubilee in these streets

A reminder that human looks like black boy dancing

Like black boy playing

Like black boy being just a child 

Nothing clears a storm like their smile 

I hug them because their joy is my strength 

Because arms outstretched 

Should never mean run boy 

Should never beg a bullet to make a body home

Arms outstretched always

Meant come home and stay awhile 

I hug my sons until my good morning is a silent protest

Until morning, is all I have left. 

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