Brooke Obie on Radical Black Christians in the New Civil Rights Movement

Rahiel Tesfamariam arrested in Ferguson, Missouri wearing a Hands Up United shirt. Heather Wilson
Rahiel Tesfamariam arrested in Ferguson, Missouri wearing a Hands Up United shirt. Heather Wilson

“This aint yo mama’s civil rights movement.”

Those were the words emblazoned on activist and public theologian Rahiel Tesfamariam’s T-shirt as she was arrested in Ferguson, Missouri during protests marking the 1-year anniversary of police killing unarmed black teenager Michael Brown and the Ferguson Uprising that continues today.

In the three years since neighborhood watch vigilante George Zimmerman killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, black millenials across the country have taken to the streets, demanding justice for black men, women and children killed by police with impunity in what has become the Black Lives Matter movement.

Unlike the leaders of the 1960s, who dismissed victims like teenage mom Claudette Colvin in order to champion the cause of the more sympathetic victim Rosa Parks, the Black Lives Matter movement seeks to highlight, defend and affirm all black lives. At the forefront of this movement, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, are radical activists at every intersection of blackness—including the two queer women and one Nigerian American woman who together founded #BlackLivesMatter, celebrities like singer Janelle Monáe and trans activist and MSNBC host Janet Mock.

Shunning the emphasis on the cisgender heterosexual “respectability” and perfection of victims and leaders of the past, this generation’s protests are loud, angry, rude and intentionally inconvenient for the beneficiaries of institutionalized racism, shutting down highways and interrupting everything from political rallies to brunch to demand that the humanity of black people be recognized and respected.

But at least one tie remains between the movements of the past and today—many protestors and movement leaders are Christians.

A far cry from the right-wing Coalition of African American Pastors that vowed civil disobedience in response to the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the constitutionality of marriage equality in June, many Christians in the black liberation movement are informed by an understanding of Christ as a table-turning, women-empowering, government-overthrowing, freedom-loving, social justice radical.

Reverend Osagyefo Sekou, an ordained elder in the Church of God in Christ and a self-described “queer ally” would certainly count himself among that number. Rev. Sekou—who was just arrested in Ferguson after storming a police barricade with Cornel West and many others during protests for Brown—tells NBCBLK that his decision to fight for black liberation begins with Christ’s example.

“God chose to become flesh in the body of an unwed, unimportant teenage mother in an unimportant part of the world. Then, after living a life dedicated to serving the least of these, He was killed by the State. That’s how I understand Jesus.”

Rev. Sekou also understands Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as far more radical than the sanitized and romanticized caricature he is often reduced to in death. But the idea of Christians as docile, forgiving and long-suffering in the face of oppression—i.e., respectable and moralistic—is pervasive.

Activist Marissa Johnson defies this idea. The evangelical Christian made national news when she led her Seattle chapter of the Black Lives Matter organization in a protest during a rally for popular democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, taking the mic from him and demanding he release a plan to reform policing.

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Source: NBC News

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