Source: The Atlantic | Author: Emma Green | Original publication date: March 22, 2016
Where is the church in the Black Lives Matter movement?
The spirit of the black church has long animated the movements for civil rights and social justice in America. The call and response, the vocabulary of oppression and solidarity: These are the languages of sanctuaries and pews, of Sunday morning worship and Bible-study vigils.
But in the black- and youth-led political activism of the last several years, the church hasn’t been nearly as visible as it was in the civil-rights movement of the 1960s. After many decades in which the most prominent black activists were ministers, religious leaders seem to be playing supporting roles in the most recent wave of activism.
“I don’t think that people give enough credit to the church or the church’s involvement,” said Brion Gill, a 25-year-old who describes herself as a poet, organizer, and cultural curator, who is pictured above. But, she said, “the idea that it’s not abundantly clear how many churches are involved in this work speaks to the lack thereof.” There are probably as many views of the church’s role in activism, and of activism’s relationship to religion, as there are activists in Baltimore. But, as Gill observed, the fact that it’s even a question suggests that something once powerful has changed.
Like activists anywhere, some of the people I spoke with in Baltimore had harsh words for their community’s established institutions, and were skeptical about how and where Bryant has chosen to use his powerful voice. In conversations about the church, young people, and activism, his name seemed to keep coming up. “It’s interesting, the times when you see him: when cameras are present, when there’s a huge media presence,” said Gill. “I thought it was interesting that he found himself in Ferguson, praying for Mike Brown’s family and giving them guidance in Ferguson, as if there’s not a whole city in Baltimore that needed the same kind of work.”
Gill and her peers have already taken leadership roles in Baltimore’s political-organizing efforts; they’re concerned with long-standing issues such as economic inequality and police brutality. Intentionally or not, they’re also experimenting with what new forms of religiosity and spirituality—often framed in political language—might look like. As 21-year-old Kwame Rose, another local activist, put it, “Young black people are pushing the older generation out of the way and saying, ‘This is our movement. This is our time to lead.’”
Makayla Gilliam-Price is not yet 18. She has led mass walk-outs from her high school, organized protests against police violence, and been arrested in front of City Hall. She has never voted, but she said she’s “extremely excited” to do so soon in her hometown of Baltimore in this election, despite the fact that the local and presidential races are “a hot mess.”