Being Black in America: Rev. Terrance L. Thomas

In his own words, an African American community resident shares a first-person story about what it looks, feels and sounds like to be black in America.

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Continuing a conversation we were privileged to host Sunday, and will keep up in the weeks ahead, The News-Gazette asked African American community members to share their stories and solutions in the wake of George Floyd's killing.

Featured today: the REV. TERRANCE L. THOMAS, pastor of Champaign's Bethel AME Church.

If you’d like to share your story, email jdalessio@news-gazette.com. To view the entire series, click here.

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The Rev. Terrance Thomas is shown in front of the sign of Bethel AME Church, where he is pastor, on Wednesday, June 10, 2020, in Champaign.

'We need people to stand up and say: What did you think was going to happen if this evil keeps up unchecked?'

By THE REV. TERRANCE L. THOMAS

The lynching of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd by agents of law enforcement and pseudo-vigilantes, in addition to the never-ending attack on black bodies and autonomies by ignorant white people in public spaces, have reignited the spirits of young black folk who are tired of living under conditions that go against so many of our valued principles, both spiritual and secular.

When you juxtapose how local police have responded to the protests and the frustrations of black folk against the handling of the armed white militias that stormed various state capitals last month over stay-in-place orders during COVID-19, then insult is added to injury.

In Trump’s America, being an armed terrorist is much more acceptable than being a peaceful protester.

Then are we shocked that young warriors across the nation have resorted to the only language left to them — rioting? Are we really shocked that, when peaceful words and somber emotions failed, they defaulted to the only language this country ever seems to understand — violence?

I get it. The “violence” and “rioting” goes against our good Christian, MLK-ish, respectability politics and sensibilities. Never mind that

Jesus started at least two riots in Jerusalem during his ministry or that Dr. King was empathetic toward rioters during his life.

That is not what is important. What is important is those “riots” make “us” look bad to “them.” Who is us? Black folk who are afraid of being seen in a manner that may cause us to lose favor within the system? Or is “us” the good Christian folk who think we need to wait on the Lord while the world is burning despite that same Lord telling us we have to gather the fish and bread before the miracle is performed?

What we need right now in both the church and the community are prophets with the spirit of Amos; folks who are not interested in making the very people and systems that oppress us comfortable but are dedicated to speaking truth to power. We need people to stand up and say: “What did you think was going to happen if this evil keeps up unchecked?”

How long have they been asking both parties to speak to the issues of all people and not just the upper class and corporate interests?

How long have they asked so-called white allies to gather their friends and families to stop white supremacy?

How long have they asked churches to stop being spaces that harm but instead operate as brave, safe spaces of healing?

How long have they asked us to get back to a theology of liberation and justice, as Jesus commanded, and abandon the evangelical and prosperity gospels?

How long have they asked for the body of Christ to stop participating in the exclusion of our LGBTQIA family?

How long have they asked for a living wage, universal health care and affordable housing?

How long have they been talking about reforming the criminal-justice system in its entirety?

How many Black Lives Matter moments have we had in the past five years alone?

So, they are done talking, praying and peacefully protesting. Yes, they are using the language of the unheard, riots, to be heard. Yes, they are burning down that which was built for free and never shared with them. In them reside the words of our ancestor George Jackson: “Never let them count you among the broken (wo)men.”

Like Pentecost, the spirit of God is coming through with a loud, violent wind, as evidenced by tongues of fire, and anointing these young ones to do what we no longer seem to want to do: fight for liberation. These babies gone be free, and perhaps we should either encourage them or move out of the way.

Or better yet, how about we join them?

But what we do not get to do is pass those fears of white disapproval onto our kids, the youth in our community, or those that come behind because we are too scared to cross the banks of the Jordan River.

If you’d like to share your story, email Editor Jeff D’Alessio at jdalessio@news-gazette.com.

The Rev. Terrance L. Thomas is the pastor of Champaign’s Bethel AME Church.