Posted on Jul 20, 2017 by John Holt
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Over the past week I had the privilege to journey with 105 students and adult leaders from five congregations on a mystery mission trip. Our mission brought us to the North side of St. Louis and a part of town that is predominantly African American. We partnered with multiple schools, a domestic violence crisis shelter, and a neighborhood revitalization organization. Our mission was to first build relationships and then learn more about the history of the community and organization we were serving. Our final goal was to serve in whatever capacity might help advance the mission and vision of each organization.
St. Louis’s African American community has a rich history linked to such famous musical acts as Tina Turner and Chuck Berry. It has given us civil rights activists such as Maya Angelou and Josephine Baker. St. Louis is home to the first school west of the Mississippi to provide secondary education for African-American students, and the former Homer G. Phillips Hospital which was one of the first medical institutions in the country to train African-American physicians. The Annie Malone Children’s Home, founded by one of the first African-American millionaires in the nation, is also located here (we partnered with both Sumner High School and the Annie Malone crisis shelter).
We also learned of the systemic racism that still plagues the black community in St. Louis today. We learned that as recently as the1960’s Racial Restrictive Covenants (agreements entered into by a group of property owners, sub-division developers, or real estate operators in a given neighborhood, binding them not to sell, lease, rent or otherwise convoy their property to specified groups because of race, creed or color for a definite period unless all agree to the transaction) were used to separate whites from African Americans and also limit opportunities for African Americans. This institutional racism is also present in the lack of educational funding for the schools that we served who have to wait up to three years just to get a wall painted or water fountain fixed. How can we expect a child to thrive when their learning environment is a broken down building? How can we stay silent when a school in the black community is left in shambles on one side of the city while others are fully funded in the predominantly white communities? This same narrative is playing out in Milwaukee, Kansas City, and many other cities around the country and we continue to stay silent. Why?!
Our students and adults did an amazing job serving in a community that some of our St. Louis suburban church partners said they would not bring their own students. The hospitality and love we felt from the people and partners we served was incredible. The lessons we learned and the truths we gleaned were at times a real punch in the gut as we realized racism and poverty are a result of an intentional system of division in many communities across the country.
How does God call us to fight racism in our own community? How can we ensure that all children have the same opportunities to thrive no matter their ethnicity or socio-economic status? How might we remove the barriers that divide us?
At the end of the trip we challenged our mission trip participants to share this story and get involved in KC to break the barriers that divide us. Will you join us in this mission!
Peace- John Holt
Director of Youth and Family Ministries