I WAS THERE!

8 06 2020

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Growing up in the 1960’s, there was a television show on that was hosted by Walter Cronkite. The series featured taking viewers back to various key moments in American and world history, portrayed in dramatic recreations. Each episode began with Walter Cronkite, from his anchor desk in New York City, setting the scene. An announcer would then give us the official date and remind us all of the event we were observing, followed by a loud and boldly spoken “You are there!” We all know that the most reliable commentaries of history come from the very eye witnesses who get to see it actually happen.

This has been some week in Cape May County. We watched the news. We saw the video of the blatant mistreatment of an African American man named George Floyd by four Officers in Minneapolis that led to this individual’s murder. With every rerun of the footage, I couldn’t understand why someone didn’t tackle Derek Chauvin who pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes. Are some Americans still so barbaric that they could kill a man in broad daylight over a $20 bill? Haven’t we learned anything along the way? Isn’t human life more sacred than our own prejudice and conceptions?

What followed was trying to discern the difference between the rightful assembling of peaceful protesters and the organized gatherings of those who had no other agenda but that of raw defiance and destruction. It’s hard to see people in desperate tears watching their homes and businesses destroyed with no rhyme or reason. It quickly brought to mind the old adage taught to us in Catholic school, “Do two wrongs ever make a right?” Hatred is only lighter fluid on the charcoals of discontent! Evil never breeds life and only causes more heartache and pain. God has made all humanity in His image and nobody has the right to decide who has more of the divine image than others! I have always reacted against injustice even as a little boy growing up in Morristown, NJ. I know what’s right and I know what’s wrong and I don’t confuse it!

In 1968, my Dad worked at Morristown High School when Martin Luther King was assassinated. Morristown was always a town of strong ethnic backgrounds and everyone thought that the place was a timebomb waiting to explode. I went with my Dad to work because I wasn’t going to be staying home if he wasn’t going to be in a safe place. What I witnessed changed my life. There was a rally led by the very special guest Mahalia Jackson. Nothing was set ablaze that night other than the hopes and dreams in kids like me that maybe we could make the future different. I didn’t have to own the bigotry of my ancestors. I also want to make a point that music played a huge role in bringing people together. There is something about music that was instrumental in busting up the terrible division between white and black in the fifties and sixties and I still believe it is the best medicine for a battered and beaten soul.

This is why I knew I could not stay hidden at home last Monday Night when there was a gathering of protesters in Rio Grande. I texted Mayor Tim Donahue and asked if it would be OK with him if I came down. If the Spirit of God lives within us Believers, then I believed that the Holy Spirit would want me to be part of the solution and not the problem. The problems were the rumors that were flying everywhere in our area. They were online, on social media, telling us that busses were coming from the city with vanloads of bricks and so on and so forth. I was being told that this was going to end ugly. I ignored the voices of fear and kicked in an act of faith. I had to be there. Love is still stronger than hate. Light can still dispel the darkness. Singing is still better than shouting slurs at one another! As I drove down, I was blasting the classic song, “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye on my car stereo. I was asking the Lord to go before me and to reign down mercy and peace in the middle of Route 9 and Route 47. I was praying for Jesus to change the course of what could be to what should be. I am so glad I was there.

I was humbled from the moment I entered the circle of protesters. I witnessed our Middle Township Law Enforcement, led by Chief Chris Leusner, standing by to protect the American right to peacefully assemble and doing so respectfully, quietly, and carefully. They had all been there from 7 in the morning and this was now almost 12 hours later. I don’t know about you, but when I get tired, it’s hard to be at your sharpest, but God was there to make sure that this story wasn’t going to end in defeat. I went around one by one, looking my beloved company in the eyes, with no other agenda than to hear their stories. I wanted to know why they were there and what they hoped this would accomplish. There was one moment when things got a little tense and I fell to my knees and couldn’t control what was coming out of my mouth. I prayed over and over again, “In the Name of Jesus, please stop this crazy thing called hate.” I didn’t care who was looking or who heard. I knew I was there to pray and care. I had cared and now I needed to pray! The beautiful thing was that after I was done on my knees, I needed help to get back up and a young black man named Jalen was quick to assist me. It meant the world to me.

What a sight to witness how this potential powder keg ended up as a firework of peace and potential understanding for the days to come. Pastor Thomas Dawson spoke words of life into the crowd, I saw Mayor Tim Donahue always listening, other clergy like Pastor Leo Dodd of the Assembly of God was praying and future meetings were set up with the Attorney General. Just around 10PM, Pastor Alfonzo Toney prayed us into tomorrow as we gathered in a huge circle, locked arm and arm and heart to heart. I drove home grateful to God and so thankful that I have called Cape May County my home for the last 23 years. The corrected Cape May County Herald Headline should have been the first and only headline, “Peace And Unity Defeat Fear and Anger in Rio Grande.”

Pride will only make things worse. If the first response is to defend ourselves then we won’t make any progress in the process! When I say, “Black Lives Matter,” I am not supporting any organized group with a less than a positive agenda. I am saying that the lives of my black and brown brothers and sisters matter to me and should matter to us all. I have learned so much this week just by listening. When I say “Black Lives Matter,” you don’t have to keep correcting me by saying, “All Lives Matter!” God has created us all in His image and every single life at every single age is special and unique and beyond valuable. But the facts show that my white brothers and sisters don’t have to fight as hard as my black brothers and sisters must to prove that to be true! When my Boss, Kelvin Walker, an African American Man who is also the District Superintendent of the Christian and Missionary Alliance must videotape many of his encounters just to protect himself and his family, something is still broken. There is no man who exudes more of the Spirit of God than Kelvin and yet, if others only see him as a black man with their tinted eyes of racism, he is still not safe! Unfortunately, our society way too often does judge the book by its cover and color, and reacts before they have all the facts. Too many assume someone is guilty simply by the color of their skin or where they live or what they wear and so on and so forth. We need our white family to stop defending themselves and humbly begin to stand up for and stand by those who are still being mistreated and misrepresented after all these years! There are times that I need my brothers and sisters of color to look out for me! For such a time as this, it is we who are white who must have the back of those who are still being murdered simply for being black and brown. So hence, Black Lives Matter and all Lives Won’t Matter until All Colors and All People of All Ages matter too.

Let me close with the very words that ended every “You Are There” broadcast. “What sort of day was it? A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times… and you were there.”

 


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