We are right smack dab in the middle of exciting, groundbreaking, times. But they are also perilous times. And although I am more optimistic than I have been in a long time, whether we are ultimately successful depends on whether we stay focused. We have so many challenges, and getting our priorities straight is critical.
The Black Lives Matter movement has achieved a historic breakthrough. Many in the white community are listening seriously for the first time, and polls show they are beginning to understand. Legislators and other government officials are finally responding. Eyes and ears long shut are now opened wide.
We are not there yet, of course. Equality in education, the legal system, and – especially right now, with COVID-19, health care – have not yet been achieved. The struggle can’t stop now; indeed, now is the time to strike.
But we must be strategic. Spending time on tangential or second-tier issues will waste our energy and can result in failing to seize the moment. We cannot let this perfect storm pass!
Case-in-point: the vilifying of St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson right now. It’s not that she hasn’t made mistakes or that she should be immune to criticism. But mass protests at her house in front of her family, and demanding she resign immediately, are not the most effective way to win allies and bring about the change we should be seeking. Nor is forcing her out of office right now the most critical challenge we face.
I want to be clear: police brutality and inequities in our legal system, from prosecutors to judges to prisons, is certainly a serious issue that demands action. The coronavirus is disproportionately devastating Blacks. The murder rate in Black neighborhoods is climbing— I personally can testify to the unbearably large number of funerals over which I have presided. Our schools are underfunded. The whole range of social services must be delivered to our community better and more efficiently. These are the critical, most immediate needs we face.
All of these are issues that we must fight for. And keeping the pressure on our elected officials is one important way to do that. But attacking the mayor personally and wasting time demanding that she resign just months before her term is up are not the most effective ways to do that.
I am not by any means preaching that we should be quiet. I agree with U.S. Rep. John Lewis that we should “find a way to get in the way,” and to get into “good trouble.” I am advocating concentrating on the important issues and being strategic in our methods. Focus on the issues, not the personalities.
By all means, take on City Hall. And the state capitol. And Congress. March. Protest. Demand immediate funding and action for the short-term and needed laws for the long term. Ask for hearings, and show up for them. Meet with our elected officials.
The mayor is facing election in less than a year. If we choose our actions wisely, now is the perfect time to get our demands met. And if the response is inadequate, we can take the most effective and important action of all: we can vote.
Pastor B.T. Rice is pastor of New Horizon 7th Day Christian Church.