Black History Tour Reflections

Date: July 28, 2019
Scripture: |Acts 17:24-28n
Sermon: “Living into Love”
Levinya Doupnik, Evan Doupnik, Danny Baron, Daniel Graham, Nora Graham, Mark Darby, Bill Bucy

From the Book of Amos:
8 He who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning and darkens the day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out on the surface of the earth, the LORD is his name; 9 who makes destruction flash forth against the strong, so that destruction comes upon the fortress…
16 Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of hosts, the Lord: “In all the squares there shall be wailing, and in all the streets they shall say, ‘Alas! Alas!’ They shall call the farmers to mourning and to wailing those who are skilled in lamentation, 17 and in all vineyards there shall be wailing, for I will pass through your midst,” says the LORD…
21 “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. 23 Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. 24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

From the Tao Te Ching: (#8)
The highest good is like water.
Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive.
It flows in places men reject and so is like the Tao.
In dwelling, be close to the land.
In meditation, go deep in the heart.
In dealing with others, be gentle and kind.
In speech, be true.
In ruling be just.
In business, be competent.
In action, watch the timing.
No fight: no blame.

Levinya Doupnik. The 16th St Baptist Church visit stands out to me because it was about girls close to my age.

The 16th Street Baptist Church was Birmingham’s largest black church and staging ground for civil rights protests.

When we went to the Church our tour guide that told us on the day of the bombing, he dropped his little sister off at the church to practice her piano. He then went down the street to work at a department store. When the bombing occurred, his sister was playing the piano upstairs, so she was safe.

At 10:22 am on Sunday, September 15, 1963 sticks of dynamite exploded in the church killing four black girls. Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson were all 14. Carol Denise McNair was 11.

Many more were injured that day including Addie Mae Collins’ sister Sarah who was 12. She survived but lost an eye. She was in the basement with the girls getting ready, but she was in the bathroom stall. The door of the bathroom stall saved her life.

Many people do not know two more black children were killed later that day:

Thirteen-year-old Virgil Ware was riding on the handlebars of his brother James’ bike when white teen Larry Sims fired two shots at the brothers, hitting Virgil. He died in his brother’s arms.

Sixteen-year-old Johnny Robinson was mad about the bombing and threw rocks at a car of white boys who were yelling bad things at them. When police showed up Johnny was shot in the back by police officer Jack Parker.

September 15, 1963 was a tragic day in our countries’ history.

Evan Doupnik. Did you know that the United States has 5 percent of the world’s population but nearly 25 percent of its prisoners? Or that there has been an increase in the jail and prison population in the United States from less than 200,000 in 1972 to 2.2 million today?

On Thursday of our trip we visited the Legacy Museum: From Slavery to Mass Incarceration and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. We also got to listen to attorneys who work for the Equal Justice Initiative helping children who are prosecuted as adults.

EJI has argued multiple cases in the United States Supreme Court for children with life or death sentences. In 2005, the United States Supreme Court banned juvenile executions. Although there have been multiple wins, there is more work to do.

There have been nearly 3000 children age 17 or younger sentenced to life-without-parole sentences. Children as young as 13 were among the thousands condemned to die in prison.
On any given day in America there are some 10,000 children who are housed in adult jails and prisons.

Black children are five times more likely than white youth to be incarcerated although they make up approximately 15 percent of youth nationwide.

Children are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted in adult prisons than in juvenile facilities. They are 36 times more likely to commit suicide after being housed in an adult jail or prison.

Children under the age of 14 are protected in virtually every area of the law, except when it comes to the criminal justice system.

Thirteen states in the United States have no minimum age for trying children as adults. Children as young as eight have been prosecuted as adults. Some states set the minimum age at 10, 12, or 13. Nebraska has set the age at 14.

Reading and hearing stories of children in prison was one of the things that affected me most on our trip. Whether it is through supporting juvenile services locally or support of EJI, I think this is an area we all should help with because a child should not be sent to prison and forgotten.

Danny Baron. My memories of the Black Votes Matter tour this year were some that will last me a lifetime. Thanks to all your generous donations, I was able to travel with our youth to museums and memorials in the south and learn more in depth about American history. Not through textbooks and pictures or words on a chalkboard, but through experiencing the places and people affected by the events we were learning about. Being in the south and touring with experts on the civil rights movement was very eye-opening as we reflected and talked about our thoughts at the end of each day. I got to hear many different perspectives from many different people, and came to understand other’s feelings and opinions about slavery and the civil rights movement.

The most inspiring museum to me personally was the Rosa Parks Museum, because it progressed from one small act of rebellion to the one of the biggest nonviolent civil rights movements in American History. It was focused on Rosa Parks, an activist for civil rights who refused to surrender her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. This led new efforts to end the segregation of public facilities, and Rosa quickly became one of the main leaders of the movement.

Another figure I had the privilege of learning about was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when I visited the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, the place of his assassination. Dr. King was in Memphis to support the sanitation worker strike, a movement started by both the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees as well as the NAACP, following years of poor pay and dangerous working conditions, and provoked by the crushing to death of two African-American workers Echol Cole and Robert Walker due to the malfunction of a trash compactor. Dr. King was killed fighting for the justice of men like these, and for that he will be remembered forever.

I feel that after having been on this trip, it is my responsibility to teach other youth like myself about the history of racism and violence in America, and make an effort to bring our community together through education and understanding.

Daniel Graham. I want to start my piece by establishing something. Omaha is a segregated city. If you don’t agree with me, ask yourself, what part of Omaha is mostly populated by black people? Hispanics? Whites? Like it or not, you know the answer. Today, I want to talk about how we begin to solve this segregation–just the first steps.

To start, I want to tell you all a little bit about myself. I went to elementary school at Dundee, just a few blocks away from here. In fourth grade, I decided that I wanted to go to King Science, a middle school in North Omaha that I could enroll at in my fifth-grade year. I went because I thought I really liked science. At the end of my four years, I found out that I hated science.

So, in my eighth-grade year, I decided that, unlike the majority of my classmates who were going to attend Omaha North High, I wanted to attend Omaha Central. When I talked about this decision with them, North and Central were generally viewed as equals. However, the next year, when I talked to my new friends at Central about the differences between the two schools, their reactions were quite different. People told me that North was a horrible school. They said that they were glad that I had chosen not to go to North because if I had, I would’ve been stabbed or shot.

But that wasn’t all. When we talked about how I went to King Science for middle school, their reactions were quite similar. They told me that King Science was also a horrible school, that it was ghetto, that it was dangerous just to be in the building.

So, let’s look at these two schools in comparison to the other schools in OPS. North High has one of the best academic programs in the district. They excel at football and robotics, winning state and national championships. They have a spectacular science program with great technology and resources.

Let’s look at King Science. In my eighth-grade year, it was ranked the best middle school in OPS. In that same year, we won several city-wide and nation-wide tournaments for both athletics and academics, including quiz bowl–I was on that team by the way. I had little to do with the win, but I was on the team. King Science also has outstanding technology, including a planetarium. So, I ask you, why are North High and King Science called ‘bad schools’?

Maybe it’s a comment on how schools with majority black student populations often get ignored and underfunded. Maybe it’s a comment on how segregation is tearing Omaha apart. But I’m pretty sure we can all agree that when someone says, ‘If you went to that school, you would’ve been stabbed or shot,’ it’s not a nuanced social commentary, it’s a racist perception that needs to be changed.

So, let’s go to a couple of weeks ago to the Freedom Ride. Each night, we would meet in small groups and discuss the things we saw that day and tie it back to our own lives. Almost every night, my group’s discussion led back to the continuing negative perception of North Omaha on the part of many white people.

It is clear to me that the only way to start to desegregate Omaha is to end white people’s negative perception of North Omaha and the negative perception of black people. Because let’s face it, white people in this city are not afraid of the place of North Omaha, they are afraid of the people of North Omaha. They are afraid of black people. But the question is, how do we end that fear? The best answer is by exposure, but that’s like saying the best way to desegregate Omaha is to integrate Omaha–that’s not an answer. But a good place to start would be to look at ourselves. Look at the people around you. Look at this church. We all need to be making an effort to integrate. Now, that doesn’t mean going out and making a ‘black friend,’ that doesn’t mean going to North Omaha once, it means making an effort to broaden your horizons. It means joining groups that meet in North Omaha, it means joining social justice groups that work in North Omaha, it can even mean just scheduling things like lunch meetings in North Omaha, or going to black-owned businesses in North Omaha.

And I don’t mean just once. I don’t mean just twice. I mean going often, weekly, monthly, whatever it is, and keeping it up. This church needs to do more too, and Pastor Cynthia has been starting that effort, but we need to keep it going. Working with other churches, working with other social justice groups, working in North Omaha, and continuing to do so. Because if there is one thing that I learned from this trip, it’s that change starts with us, and it stops when we stop. Thank you.

Nora Graham. Like many on the tour, the most impactful stop was the Legacy Museum. This museum was different from many of our other stops in that it connected the history of the Civil Rights Movement with present day struggles. The message of the museum reminded me a lot of the message of the amazing documentary “The 13th”, directed by Ava DuVernay. The Legacy Museum shows some of the most intimate details of the Alabama prison system, specifically the violence. Alabama is home to St. Clair Correctional Facility, the most violent prison in the US, where homicides and stabbings happen regularly (EJI). In 2017, the Equal Justice Initiative or EJI reached a settlement with the Alabama Department of Corrections which has resulted in an improvement of inmate conditions in more recent years.

According to the NAACP, African Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites (NAACP). As is suggested in “The 13th” documentary, slavery is still alive and well in this country, it just exists under a different name- the prison system. Slavery was never truly abolished with the 13th amendment, because there was a loop hole that continues to be exploited to this day. The 13th amendment says, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Our constitution spells out how slavery can continue. And it did: almost immediately after the passage of the 13th amendment, the country witnessed a sudden increase in incarceration rates of members of the black community, an increase which has continued to this day. The NAACP suggests that if African Americans and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates as whites, prison and jail populations would decline by almost 40% (NAACP).

This all seems pretty big picture right, I mean how is one church in Omaha, Nebraska supposed to solve the problem of racism and slavery and segregation for the whole country? Well why don’t we start at home, on our streets, in our neighborhoods? Omaha is still a segregated city. We live in a place that was created due to red lining and white flight, and that extends to our school system. Countless parents claim that they don’t believe their children will receive a good enough education by sending their kids to OPS. But let me tell you, I received an excellent education from OPS, one that helped shape me into the person I am today. I believe that going to school in an environment that is diverse can help challenge and strengthen one’s world views, and help make them a better, more understanding person.

And that brings me here, to this church. Look around. We may call ourselves a progressive community, but are we really doing enough? We are not racially diverse and until we welcome ALL people, I don’t feel that we can truly call ourselves a progressive community of faith. Yes, we are doing radical things within our denomination, but it’s not truly enough until everyone feels a sense of belonging within this space.

So, in conclusion, what I feel I learned the most from this trip is that the incredible leaders from the Civil Rights Movement didn’t work so hard or sacrifice their life just so that we could sit back and enjoy life. They did it so that we could continue the fight to ensure equality for all people. And that starts with us. Now I know this is a big call and even bigger shoes to fill, but there are ways we can begin to change our ways to make this community even stronger. If you take anything away from this service, I hope it’s a reminder to stop and think and start recognize the biases taught to us by society. The fear of North Omaha that has led so many to choose the suburbs over living in a place that may challenge them to be better. It’s ok to make mistakes, but by being aware of prejudice, we are taking the first steps to being a better version of ourselves and truly allow us to welcome ALL people, just as God intended. Thank you.

Mark A. Darby. I think it is fair to say that FUMC, may be only one of a handful of congregations in Omaha to partner with Black Votes Matter to attend the Civil Rights. If we stop at our self-congratulations however, it would have been better if we had not gone at all. There is more to do.

When I went to the Museum of Peace and Justice in Montgomery and stood at the foot of a rectangular obelisk signifying a lynched human being, I did not respond with my usual guilt or fear. I did not tell myself, me and my ancestor would not have lynched a human being. Rather I asked myself a question and said a prayer. The question was, what is God telling me to do at this time? And the prayer was “Even if I don’t understand what you want me to do, give me the power to do what you would have me do.”

James Cone who wrote the cross and the lynching tree said “if Christ came today, he would have been lynched.” The implication of Cone’s assertion is that all the grace and power you and I have ever experienced occurred because God reached out his hand into the worse event we can imagine and transformed it. Overcame it. And this occurs not through some sterilized event 2000 years ago but through real life pain and healing which is so powerful it operates even today in the crucifixions and resurrections which happen to me and you in Omaha in the here and now.

The key to accessing that power is the question and the prayer. What would you have me do? And even if I don’t understand it, give me the power to do what you want me to do.

Yesterday, Steve Rothe and I went to the Omaha Star community celebration at 24th and Burdette. Aside for the security guards, we were the only white people there. If I stop the story there, then I might as well not have gone. What was significant about last night was that the ice cream was great, the kids playing with hula hoops and Frisbees was a delight to see. The event was fun. I was a person in a shared community, not denying the significance of race or the pain and tribulation that occurred but, through the power of God, transforming and blessing that event.

So, the take away from that week, was a question and a prayer. What would you have me do today God? And even if I don’t understand what you want, give me the power to carry it out. If each and every one of us try and do this every day, it will be amazing how we are transformed.

Bill Bucy. I was one of the old folks on this trip probably the oldest—an old guy
who was privileged and honored to hang out with the outstanding youth of our church. These
young people who have spoken this morning and the others they represent—are good,
intelligent kids— pure of heart— They give us hope in the face of what we sometimes see as
despair—they swell our chests and bring tears to our eyes—they are the youth who by simply
being true to who they are —can make a difference in our world.

I wrote a poem which I would like to share with you all. My thoughts about this poem began to
percolate while visiting the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, where on
September 15, 1963 a bomb exploded on Sunday morning killing four young girls—blowing
them through the air like rag dolls. The Klan -a white supremacy organization, was responsible
—even proud.

There were emotional, heart wrenching protests that followed—many of which took place in
Kelly Ingram park across the way from the 16th Street Baptist Church. — young people were
involved. There were beatings. Fire hoses and dogs were used —not to control the
demonstrations—but to destroy them and what they stood for.

Several sculptures have been placed within the park—two which specifically illustrate the terror
the dogs inflected upon the black community. I came to see the dogs as a symbol of the hate
and savagery and injustice that can reign down upon various disfavored segments of our
humanity— we see this threat to our humanity —in our community—in our nation—in our
world. Past—present—to come——we must be ever vigilant

Tame the Dogs by Bill Bucy

Who let the dogs loose upon the children?
Growling, snarling, spitting
Jaws wide in fury—gleaming yellow teeth
Straining at leash—lunging—hungry
For God’s children—for tender necks and
Innocent throats crying out for freedom, for mercy, for justice
Dogs everywhere—streets—bridges—parks—lunch counters—buses—churches
Grinning at the lynched hanging from tree limbs
Cowardly sheeted in white—burning crosses
Who are these creatures, from where did they come?
Gaze into placid waters—do not look away—see yourself
For they can be you
All of us—God’s creation lost and gone awry
We are their teachers
All of us—as we ourselves have been taught
To hate—to fear—to live in a cold, shrunken, empty world
Silence! Speak no more if one cannot speak clearly
Of love and beauty and compassion
Silence! That we may listen to our inner voice
Our hearts—our divine essence and
Seek out a teacher of Truth
Let us tame the
Dogs