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Juneteenth – the Struggle for Freedom Continues

Source: Prairie View A&M University

By Ron Swain
Convener, Courageous Conversations of Georgetown

Since moving to Texas 20 years ago, I have learned about Juneteenth. Born in Georgia and learning there the history of American slavery, the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation – January 1, 1863 – I did not know about June 19, 1865 (known as Juneteenth). As I have come to know more about this day and its significance in Texas, I too, celebrate Juneteenth – African American Independence Day. It is a day to acknowledge and celebrate freedom from slavery in America.

While physical slavery was abolished, I am sad to say that the deeply embedded mental, emotional and spiritual slavery continues for many persons in our nation even today.  This mental, emotional and spiritual slavery historically has been maintained and sustained through public policies and practices at the local, state and national levels.  In effect, these policies perpetuate racism.

Consider the housing policies that segregated African Americans into areas of cities and towns that were dumping grounds for garbage and sites of industrial smoke stacks that created unhealthy living conditions for these residents.  As a consequence of the housing policies, the segregated public schools for African Americans, were likewise poorly constructed and educational materials were handed down from the white schools on the other side of town.

The recently popular film, “The Best of Enemies,” illustrates the impact of the segregated schools and the movement to desegregate the public schools in Durham, North Carolina in 1971.

Today, although public schools are legally desegregated, there seem to be policies and practices, including unconscious bias in our schools by some teachers and some administrators; and bullying by some students, that prevent some students, especially students of color, from achieving their full, positive potential.  Institutional racism remains the prevailing obstacle to creating the “Beloved Community.”

Thus, the struggle for freedom continues.

As we celebrate Juneteenth 2019, I encourage all of us to work towards the full mental, emotional and spiritual liberation of those descendants of African American men and women who were freed from physical slavery on June 19, 1865. And, I invite you to join us  to work to end the oppression of all marginalized communities so that we all may enjoy the fruits of freedom.

Are there any children like Michael Brown in Georgetown today?

Michael O.D. Brown Jr. (May 20, 1996[15] – August 9, 2014) graduated from Normandy High School in St. Louis County eight days before his death, completing an alternative education program.[16] At the time of his death, he was 18 years old, 6 ft 4 in (1.93 m) tall, and weighed 292 lb (132 kg).[9] He was an amateur musician who posted his songs on the popular music-sharing site Soundcloud under the handle “Big’Mike”.[17] He was two days from starting a training program for heating and air conditioning repair at Vatterott College technical school.[18]

-Source:  Wikipedia

May 20 would have been Michael Brown’s 22nd birthday. Michael Brown was killed on Aug. 9, 2014.  Michael’s death was my signal from God to invite about 20 members from faith communities in Georgetown to gather and consider the possibility that a similar violent incident could occur in any city, town or community in America, even Georgetown, Texas.

 Is there something that we, faith leaders, can do to prevent such a tragedy from happening in our city? Our solution is what we today know as “Courageous Conversations” about race in Georgetown.

Over the past five years, there have been numerous conversations, book studies, workshops and other activities to address the question:  Is it possible to have a respectful, civil conversation about the difficult issue of race?

The issue of race in America is complicated and complex.  It is fatiguing. It is often heart-breaking. However, early on, the individuals who gathered and started Courageous Conversations developed Vision and Mission Statements.  We agreed that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s philosophy of Nonviolent Social Change would guide our work. The spirit of LOVE (agape), the unconditional concern for the well-being of others undergirds our efforts.  This is not easy work. There are times of disagreements and conflict, yet LOVE endures.

Yet for me, Michael was a ‘beloved child of God.’

As we enter the summer months of 2019, I ask the question: Are there any children like Michael Brown in Georgetown today?

The description of Michael at the beginning gives his age, educational background, physical characteristics, musical talent and immediate plans.  The description says nothing about his family background or experiences as a youth. I suspect Michael’s family loved and valued him.  No doubt, they were concerned about his well-being. His violent death was triggered by his theft of a package of cigars.

Yet for me, Michael was a ‘beloved child of God.’

Are there youth with similar characteristics as Michael?  Can we, in Georgetown, create the type of community and environment where ALL of our youth can have high, positive aspirations for themselves and their futures, without resorting to criminal activity and behavior?  

What about summer employment for high school juniors and seniors? What about internships in local government or businesses? What about science camps, vacation bible schools and other engaging activities for the younger ones?  Many of these already exist. Let’s encourage our youth to engage in these positive activities this summer.

Especially during these summer months, let’s “Surround Our Children (Youth) with LOVE.” Let’s listen to what they are saying. Let’s inspire them to pursue high, positive aspirations. Let’s be positive role models for them.  Let’s show them that we care—that we LOVE them.

— Dr. Ron Swain,
Convener, Courageous Conversations Georgetown

Hope for the Future

Show the paper cut word in the sky

Beloved Friends,

April 4th is the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was in Memphis, TN to lead a peaceful, nonviolent protest in support of the sanitation workers who wanted better working conditions and more pay. (1968, sanitation workers made and average of $1.75 per hour.) It is sadly ironic that this prophet of peace and nonviolence was the victim of gun violence.

Dr. King had a vision of the “Beloved Community,” where poverty and hunger would not be tolerated because the core values of human decency and human respect will not allow them. The concept of the “Beloved Community” for Dr. King was deeply rooted in his understanding of the “Kingdom of God” that Jesus Christ taught and lived. Like Christ, Dr. King found himself on the side of the marginalized, the outsiders, the “other.”

Like Christ, always his method was nonviolence, in thoughts, words and deeds. Although, obviously not perfect in his aim for nonviolence, he constantly pursued it as a way of life. Dr. King’s  philosophy of nonviolence emphasized ‘love in action.’ This ‘love in action’ is grounded in the agape concept of love, the selfless concern for the well-being of others. Agape stretches across the human-constructed barriers of race, religion, ethnicity, language, culture, class, etc., to persistently strive for the well-being of others.

Recently, I was reminded of this agape while viewing the film “The Best of Enemies” which is based on true events in Durham, NC in 1971. The two heroes of the story, Ann Atwater, an African American community activist, and C.P. Ellis, the president of the local KKK chapter, became friends after discovering the inherent worth and value of each other as human beings. I strongly encourage you to see this film.

The friendship between Ann and C.P. was born out of a series of deep and profound ‘love in action’ transformative incidents. Those incidents are closely connected to Dr. King’s Principles of Nonviolence.

Over the coming months, I invite you, my beloved friends; let’s recommit ourselves to these principles. Each month, I will remind us of these principles. Principle One: Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people. It is active nonviolent resistance to evil. It is aggressive spiritually, mentally and emotionally. We must resist violent thoughts, words and deeds in order to create the “Beloved Community.” Let us diligently strive to become instruments of “love in action.”  Let us persevere with hope for the future!

— Ron Swain, Convener of Courageous Conversations

Heart Work; Hard Work: Creating the Beloved Community

Thank you for joining with us in this God-inspired movement, we are calling “Courageous Conversations about Race.”  This movement in Georgetown is young, about two years old, and we are working to establish our footing.  Courageous Conversations is a process or method of engaging in respectful, civil dialogue about difficult issues.  It is a means to an end.

The end is our vision of a beloved community of compassion characterized by cross-cultural communication, collaboration, celebration and courage.

As the convener of this interfaith, multi-ethnic, multi-racial group, I view one of my primary responsibilities is to keep us focused on the ‘big picture.’  I believe, as a movement, we are battling against RACISM, and not against our fellow human beings.

Obviously, that is a complicated matter, because it is human beings who keep RACISM alive and perpetuate its injustices, both individually and institutionally.  Thus, the movement seeks to help individuals confront their bias, prejudices and unjust behavior.  At the same time, the movement must confront the institutional policies, practices, laws, traditions that create and maintain the systems of oppression, where one race is protected as superior and other races are treated as inferior.

I believe that the faith communities in Georgetown have a major role to play in battling RACISM, both individually and institutionally.

The Courageous Conversations movement is grounded in the idea, that ALL human beings are created as ‘God’s beloved children’ and that ALL are to live together in a “Beloved Community” where the core values of human decency and human respect will not tolerate violence, abuse, poverty, and injustice of any kind.  In the Beloved Community, racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood. Can we imagine such a community?

The Courageous Conversations movement is guided by the six principles of nonviolence that Dr. Martin Luther King described in his book, Stride Toward Freedom. These principles are rooted in the concept of agape (love), the spontaneous, unselfish, creative force that one human being has for another. It is the love that the Great Commandment describes, ‘love God…and love your neighbor… as you love yourself.’

If you believe in these ideas and want to learn more, we invite you to join us in the process of “Courageous Conversations” as we seek to create the “Beloved Community.”

Ron Swain, CCGTX Convener