In times of great chaos and stress, people need voices of inspiration. Minister Vernon Johns, a prophetic voice and stalwart, preached fiery and passionate messages from the pulpit of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, from 1947 to 1952. The Road to Freedom documents the ministry of Johns, and in many ways the beginnings of the civil rights movement in the U.S. Before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X came Vernon Johns. He was unconventional, yet passionate and practical.
One Sunday morning Johns reached down to fresh vegetables he farmed in his garden, illustrating his ability to produce. He encouraged his African-American congregation to break free from the power of a socially-constructed, racist society. Such freedom was possible if people became producers and refused to exist solely as consumers.
Connecting people with their ability to produce is empowering. The dominant culture of consumerism drains people and communities of their resilience in the struggle for political and economic freedom. Producerism can equally demean the soul of a person, nation, and world. Producerism must be liberated from the venomous vexes of economic systems, which seek to further disenfranchise the already disenfranchised. Johns encouraged people to be liberated from the vicious cycle of systemic oppression: personal, communal, mental, and physical.
The social reality of poverty and the complexity of a faltering economy was prevalent long before major insurance companies and Fortune 500 companies started feeling the pressure of the systems they fuel. There is a need for power structures and people who have power to invest their time and effort in bringing development and aid to people and communities steeped in trying times.
President Obama has had to defend himself as he attempts to resolve the maze of social factors facing the U.S. It may be unstrategic for Obama to go about multiple projects, resulting in a lack of targeted success. But Obama may be remaining true to his conscience, a mindset informed in the context of struggle. However, as much as I am hopeful, I am equally critical of power-based systems and people who have the power to bring positive social change. For persons who come into power can fall into the trap of being co-opted, ultimately diminishing their advocacy and activism for positive social change.
It is vital that people emancipate their minds from unhealthy dependency and consumerism. People and communities must pool their resources to ensure that more families are not dislocated from their homes. People must come together, claim their humanity, and get creative with what they have. It may require planting vegetables instead of purchasing them at the store. It may require communal living instead of individualized existence.
According to Howard Thurman, Jesus recognized with authentic realism that anyone who permits another to determine the quality of his or her inner life gives them the keys to his or her destiny. The hope of the disenfranchised is anchored in their ability to believe in their worth and dignity even though their economic standing is not sound. Hope is provided in the basic fact that Christianity, born in the mind of Jesus as a Jewish teacher and thinker, was a technique of survival for the oppressed (A Strange Freedom, 1998, pg. 143). Jesus motivated people to break through the psychological oppression and free their minds to determine their own destiny.
It is therefore possible to acknowledge my struggles, failures, and limitations, but live with hope and a spirit of empowerment, without the power of position and economic enfranchisement. In my weakness I am strong. In my struggle I am blessed. I can live a life of activism and advocacy challenging systemic injustices. I can mobilize positive social change, and refuse to sell out on my rooted values and core faith-inspired ideals. I can act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God, for there is power in community consciousness and the pedagogy of the powerless!
Seth Naicker is an activist, advocate, speaker, writer, artist, trainer, and consultant for inclusivity, diversity, justice, and reconciliation. Born and raised South African, he is working and studying at Bethel University as program and projects director in the Office of Reconciliation Studies. firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com http://revsethnaicker.blogspot.com/