by drea chicas
We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes
Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons
Is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons
That’s the first stanza of “Ella’s Song,” a song sang by Sweet Honey in the Rock, an award winning, African-American, all women a capella group. Ella Baker, one of the most effective organizers and civil rights leaders, inspired the song. When the grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson for murdering Michael Brown yesterday, this truth was affirmed: we still live in a country where laws sanction the killing of men of color, and in particular black men, black mothers’ sons. In troubled times like these, I steadily play this song as a reminder— the tireless work of freedom is not yet done.
Legal outcomes like the one in Ferguson demonstrate over and over again that the laws sanction the white supremacist, social order in which we live. For black families and communities who lose a loved one in the crossfire of that order, this means no systemic justice. The perpetual persecution of people of color within the establishment is rooted in this nation’s bloody beginning. That’s not a made up idea; it’s a long-standing historical fact. Now more than ever we cannot default to a collective amnesia. We must remember.
First, we must acknowledge the murder of Indigenous and Native communities. Second, the dehumanization and enslavement of African people. Europeans drafted laws that authorized both the massacres of indigenous people and the legalization of slavery. The same white supremacist ideals have created new kinds of slavery, and new forms of oppressions. White supremacy always rallies for itself to protect itself. But black lives aren’t protected by this system, and when murdered, the killers are set free. This is pure evil.
The effects of white supremacy are now institutionalized, sustained by an invisible system; so covert the average person cannot detect it. James Cone a well-known activist and black theologian says, “Blacks live under a sentence of death. They know that whites will kill them rather than permit the beauty and the glory of black humanity to be manifested in its fullness.” Living in the tension between life and death, makes the race problem in America a spiritual problem. Oppositional forces continue to wage war against our children. Our spirits can no longer sleep. We must rise for justice and stand for peace.
“Ella’s Song” continues with these words:
To me young people come first, they have the courage where we fail
And if I can but shed some light as they carry us through the gale
Almost immediately you can “do something.” Mourn and grieve. Take to the streets as protestors did in Seattle last night and will continue to gather in churches across the city. Join others in prayer. Don’t purchase anything on black Friday. Channel all of your dollars to the building and training of young people. Seattle public schools are filled with Michael Browns. Talk to your neighbor, for there is healing in the speaking and revealing of hearts. Play Ella’s Song over and over again as your personal reminder. We don’t need more proof, we need more strength, as we continue on the journey to fullness of freedom.
drea chicas- who prefers her name be spelled in all lower case letters- lives, works, worships, and plays in South Seattle