Diversity

From Prison to the Pulpit: A Powerful Story of Hope

Rev. Darren Ferguson at The Summit 2014. Photo by Brandon Hook/Sojourners
Rev. Darren Ferguson at The Summit 2014. Photo by Brandon Hook/Sojourners
I want to introduce you to Rev. Darren Ferguson, a pastor who first found his faith while in prison for attempted murder. Rev. Ferguson spent 9 years in federal prison, first at Rikers Island and then at Sing Sing in New York, where Darren and I met. I had agreed to an invitation to discuss my book, The Soul of Politics, which the inmates had been reading. When I inquired about when the prisoners wanted me to come to Sing Sing, the answer came back from a young brother: “Well, we’re free most nights. We’re kind of a captive audience here.”
 
One night, I spent several hours with 50 of those men in a room deep inside the bowels of that tough prison. We had rigorous discussion about the book and how faith must be applied to the fundamental issues of injustice in our time. I will never forget the comment of one of those young inmates. “Reverend, almost all of us in this prison are from about four or five neighborhoods in New York City. It’s like a train that begins in your neighborhood. You get on when you are 9 or 10 years old, and the train ends up here — at Sing Sing.” I remember the testimony and promise of a young prisoner that night who then told me, “But I have been converted, and when I get out of here, I am going to go back to those neighborhoods and stop that train.”
 
Two years later, I was again in New York to speak at a big town meeting on overcoming poverty. And there, up front, was that same young man I had met on that unforgettable night at Sing Sing: Darren Ferguson. He was now back home trying to stop that train. Darren has become an ally, partner, brother, and dear friend. And I want you to hear his whole story. It’s one of mass incarceration and the broken criminal justice system, but it’s also a story of hope — and it has the power to inform and change.
 

The Unfinished Business of Selma

Terry W Ryder / Shutterstock.com
Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., site of Bloody Sunday. Terry W Ryder / Shutterstock.com

The journey to end systems of injustice begins with a single step. This theme resonates throughout the recently released film Selma, which recounts the events leading up to the famous Selma-to-Montgomery march. Led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., this march catalyzed the full enfranchisement of people of color through the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The Voting Rights Act is considered to be one of the most successful achievements of the civil rights movement. But 50 years later, the residue of Jim Crow laws that banned people of color from voting lingers today in a new, subtle form: disenfranchisement laws for people with felony convictions.

Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, examines how these laws strip minority communities of their voice in the public sphere because of the disproportionately high percentage of racial minorities “swept into” America’s mass incarceration system.

Widows, Orphans, and #BlackLivesMatter

Woman holds a 'Black Lives Matter' sign. Image courtesy Rena Schild/shutterstock
Woman holds a 'Black Lives Matter' sign. Image courtesy Rena Schild/shutterstock.com

The lives of widows and orphans mattered. In Exodus 22:22 God tells Israel, “You shall not abuse any widow or orphan.” God was so concerned for the widow and orphan that the law provided for their care. It was mandated that grain be left behind for them during the harvest and along the edges of the fields (Deuteronomy 24:19-21, Leviticus 19:9-10). Failing to provide such care provoked God’s wrath.

Why this penchant for the widow and orphan? Did God value them more than anyone else in society? No. The Bible says that God shows no partiality (Acts 10:34). Yet, God does show compassion and concern for those who are most vulnerable. God lifts up the plight of the last and the least because they are at the greatest risk. And given this concern, God requires that we take special care so that these vulnerable, tender members of society are not neglected and forgotten. To take them for granted, to forget or abuse them invites God’s anger that their plight might become ours.

If we were to cast this concern into today’s context, I believe that God would assert that Black Lives Matter in the same way that the lives of widows and orphans mattered. Black lives matter because blacks, suffering numerous disparities that serve to disadvantage, are vulnerable in society.

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