Guest Note from The Rev. Janis Brown:

A Change is Gonna Come – Will this be the moment?

In 1964 Sam Cooke released “A Change is Gonna Come,” a song inspired by him being turned away from a “whites only” motel in Louisiana. Cooke felt compelled to write a song that spoke to his struggle and of those around him and that pertained to the Civil Rights Movement and African Americans. The song contains the refrain, “It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come.”

Indeed, there have been moments in American history when change might have come.  To name a few:

  • Emmett Till Lynching (1955) – the 14-year-old African American lynched after being accused of offending a white woman
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Assassination (1968) – Clergyman and civil rights leader
  •  16th Street Baptist Church bombing (1963) – that killed 4 little girls
  • Killing of Alberta Williams King (MLK’s mother) and Edward Boykin (1974) – in Atlanta, Georgia
  • Charleston church shooting (2015) – Mother Emmanuel bible study killings that took 9 lives

When will the moment of change come?

For generations we have lived in hope and the struggle continued, marked by the police killings of our black brothers and sisters.   Over the last decade the killing of black Americans has been more than twice as high as those of white Americans.

Over the past 30 days a black man has been shot dead while jogging, a black woman shot dead while sleeping in her own bed. Each breath I draw reminds me of the pallor and stench of death that haunts every brown and black person.  If I leave home, will I live to make it back?  It seems that home is no longer safe.

Eric Garner’s last words “I can’t breathe.” (2014) were echoed by George Floyd on May 25, 2020 as he pleaded for his life.  Completely separate tragedies.

“I can’t breathe.’ has become a metaphor that thousands of black people use to describe the grief and anguish we feel. My own heart is heavy.  Black mothers in this country have prayed for the safety of their children for at least 400 years.  The weight of being black takes an everyday toll on our lives.

African Americans and other people of color have had to learn to navigate a racist world but none of us expected to witness the murder of a black man in real time!  A modern-day lynching recorded on a cell phone.  We watched the life drain out of George Floyd before our very eyes. My heart hurts, my chest feels weighed down, I can’t breathe. George could have been my son, my brother, my father.  It could have been me.

Unless you are black or a person of color, you have no idea what it is like to live with anxiety, anger, frustration and the oppression of being black in America. The disdain, the little stabs of disrespect, unrecognized biases and microaggressions.  Home and faith were where we gained encouragement and strength to face each day.

Let me be clear – the civil unrest, the people risking their lives to protest across the country and the world – is not just about George Floyd’s death.  It’s about 400 years of systemic racism and poverty that pervades every sector of your life and mine and that includes the Church.  When is change gonna come?

My soul is wounded but I am not without hope. The Covid-19 pandemic during Lent, offered a liminal space – a between time space – that people of faith might have used to explore our faith and actions we could take toward becoming our better selves.  Then George Floyd was murdered.

The pandemic has caused over 100,000 deaths, mostly older, disproportionately Black, Latino and poor.  The protests inspired by Floyd’s death during this Pentecost season have turned our world upside down, literally.  At the writing, multi-racial, multi-generational protests are taking place in all 50 states and 18 countries.  The world is protesting with us against racism and brutality – making the pain visible.  It’s so important that people are risking their lives to make their voices heard.

Will this be the moment:
…when what is meant by ‘a knee on the neck’ and ‘I can’t breathe’ is finally understood?
…to initiate change to dismantle systemic racism?
…when we take action to provide equal protection under the law?

Will this be the moment when we (the Church) finally recognize that we must be midwives to a new normal?
Will the Pentecostal flames of the Holy Spirit light a fire within you?
How will your personal relationship with Jesus inspire you to action?

I invite you to enter into a time of meditation and prayer of lament and hope for 8 minutes and 43 seconds, the time George Floyd lay dying.

After his crucifixion, Jesus appeared to his disciples.   He breathed on them. (John 20:19-22)

For 8 minutes and 43 seconds –  Ask the Holy Spirit to breathe on you.
As you breathe, breathe in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Take time to look into your heart.  Listen.
Look in the mirror; YOU are the promise of hope.  Listen.
Ask God how you might use your gifts, talents, and voice to be the change; to act for change toward justice, reconciliation, and becoming the beloved community.  Listen.

A change is gonna come.  Will this be the moment?
May it be so.

– Rev. Janis Brown

Janis Brown is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), serving as a Chaplain at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tucson and an Elder in our congregation.