Amid local and national protests against frequent police killings of unarmed black citizens and grand jury decisions to not indict the officers involved, hundreds turned out recently for a dramatic speak-out event at New Vision UMC in Philadelphia. Nearly 250 people came to participate in the Rally and Call to Action for Racial Justice Dec. 10. The program, sponsored by the grassroots social-change organization POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild) was titled Strange Fruit: The Seven Last Words of Seven Black Lives.
Featured preachers, poets and activists, including renowned local poet-laureate Sonia Sanchez (above), reflected on the last words of seven black men and women killed by police in 2014. The event was designed to "provide a space for healing, wholeness, understanding, and encouragement to our communities in light of the grand jury decisions of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and to give us strength in our organizing for change."
While taking its inspiration from Christian tradition in which Jesus' death is remembered through his seven last words, the program included people of all faiths. It was modeled with permission on an event led by the Rev. Nyle Fort, and it was live-streamed on YouTube ad covered by local media. You can still view the two-hour program video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SpCxxWidjDw or on POWER's Web site at http://www.powerphiladelphia.org/news/power-to-host-rally-for-action-strange-fruit-seven-last-words-of-seven-black-lives .
Among the speakers, the Rev. Robin Hynica, pastor of Philadelphia's Arch Street UMC, offered a compelling, very personal, confessional prayer, which is reprinted here with his permission.
Introduction: The Reverend, Dr. Mark Tyler, Senior Pastor, Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church invited me to offer the Christian prayer at the “Strange Fruit: The Seven last Words of Seven Black Lives” Interfaith Service on Wednesday, December 10, 2014 at the New Vision United Methodist Church. That invitation led to a sleepless night and to a lifetime of soul searching days and nights ahead. The prayer I am about to offer is incredibly personal. I believe that only when the injustice we face becomes incredibly personal for each of us – will justice roll down like a mighty river.
In the Christian tradition we are taught to pray:
“Our Father, our Mother, our Loving Parent hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts (sins) and we also have forgiven our debtors (those who have sinned against us). And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.” Matthew 6:9-13
Hear my prayer O God as a man white, privileged and too often silent in the face of social systems that call torture – enhanced interrogation; that claim stop and frisk – is a public safety strategy; that consider corporations the same as individuals; that proclaim banks are too big to fail but public schools are too small to save; that say voter identification laws protect democracy; that say living wages hurt the economy; that determine that applying choke holds to or shooting unarmed black and brown men, women and youth is just the tragic but logical, just result of police training and policy.
O God, how does this happen? How can this be? All lies, all false, all wrong – and yet all alive and well. And Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Amadou Dialo, Oscar Grant, Renisha McBride, Shantel Davis, John Crawford and too many others are dead. It’s me; it’s me; it’s me O Lord standing in the need of prayer. It’s me and every other white man who stands down in the face of the sinister strategies mentioned above, who stands in the need of an old fashioned calling out. Oh God, White Priviledge is alive well and it’s me. How can I die-in, lay down in solidarity with persons of color, who every day instead of daily bread get a daily dose of indignity and discrimination. How can I worship with any spiritual integrity or human authenticity when I won’t stand up to my own and to my own’s wicked whiteness?
Dear God, rescue me from the evil one–the White me that accepts a world view that is laced with white privilege. Rescue me from wanting my colorful neighbors to teach me about racism, when I know for a fact that my white, privileged predecessors institutionalized racism all on their own without the help of persons of color. Rescue me and others like me from my/our soulless silence and set us on a long and arduous journey of truth and reconciliation. Prepare me to wrestle with the demon of all demons the White me, the White us that sees but turns a blind eye, that hears but fails to listen and knows but willfully ignores the truth of the life and death consequences of racism in general and white privilege in particular. Oh God, Oh God, have mercy on my soul. No God, No God, not mercy but justice on my soul.
Prayer written by Robin M .Hynicka, Senior Pastor Arch Street United Methodist Church on Wednesday, December 10, 2014 for the “Strange Fruit: The Seven last Words of Seven Black Lives” Interfaith Service sponsored by POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild).