I am 62 years old. I am an ordained minister of my denomination. I am a retired senior naval officer. I have obtained five earned degrees, including two graduate degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary.
I am a quasi-pacifist. Even forwardly deployed during wartime, I refused to carry a gun or wear marksmen ribbons and medals on my uniform. I am short and my physique is non-threatening.
None of this could have prevented me from being stopped for the crime of walking or driving while black.
I have been stopped by law enforcement four times in my life for driving or walking while black. When I was 18 years old, I was stopped by a patrolman who pulled his gun. That day I was guilty of a crime – following too closely to the vehicle in front of me. That encounter could have resulted in my death.
When I was stationed in Brunswick, Maine, I was stopped on a Saturday night, minutes after I exited the Naval Air Station Brunswick. It was about 11 p.m. and I was going out for a late-night snack. Being a Naval Officer, I was emboldened and asked the patrolman several times, “Why did you pull me over?” After he checked my credentials, the policeman finally stated, “This is a routine stop.”
The next day, I was still livid. I departed from my prepared sermon and asked my wonderfully diverse congregation, “Who has been stopped by the local police in the last 30 days?” All of the black males raised their hands.
One of my white congregants asked me if I had staged that event. I told him no. I only asked the question to confirm that I was not alone.
My stories are not unique. I do not know a middle-aged African-American male who has not been stopped for driving or walking while black. Not one.
Today, more than any other time in my life, I believe a new day is coming. A little over a week ago, we offered our church campus to the high school class of 2018 for a peaceful protest. It was the second time they used our campus for this purpose.
The signage brought by attendees was wonderful. One sign read, “There is Only One Race, the Human Race.” Another read, “White Silence Equal Violence.” However, most of the signs reflected the theme “Black Lives Matter.”
Most of the participants in this rally were young and white. This scene is being replicated all over the world.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ disciples came to him and told him that there were Gentiles who wanted to join Jesus’ movement. At that point, Jesus’ ministry radically changed. It was the signal that Jesus’ earthly ministry was over and the global ministry was about to begin.
I believe I have witnessed a similar signal. As I watched the large numbers of young white Americans protesting across our nation, I realized that the “new birth of freedom” that Abraham Lincoln spoke of and Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed about, is happening before our eyes.
Life is complicated. There are many who are rioting and looting. There are saboteurs and political agitators. Giving birth is bloody and messy; however, I am so excited that the baby of equality may well be on the way.
The Rev. Dr. Jon R. Black is senior pastor at Campbell Chapel A.M.E. Church in Bluffton.