52 Years After Letter from a Birmingham Jail


52 years ago today, April 16th, Martin Luther King, Jr. sat in a jail in Birmingham, Alabama responding to Christian leaders who questioned his actions and the actions of civil disobedience committed by African-Americans throughout the South. As with all significant moments in history, we look back to celebrate our progress and grieve how far we still have to go.

52 years ago, Dr. King went to Birmingham because he said injustice was there. He wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere…Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” He challenged us to reconsider our individualistic American mindsets that our neighbor’s actions don’t affect us, and that injustice if left untreated, would continue to spread like cancer from city to city.

52 years later, segregation is illegal in the United States, but it remains the preference of many ethnic groups in the United States. Cries for justice are no longer declared just from podiums and pulpits, but also through hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter. Diverse groups of people have rallied behind the Black community as awareness is being raised at the reality of unarmed Black men being killed on a weekly, if not daily basis. However, far too many find “#BlackLivesMatter” offensive. It is seen as an attempt to elevate the concerns of the Black community above others. The lives of the deceased are devalued, and there isn’t a broader conversation about the injustice that created the communities that restricted the options of life for these troubled youths.

52 years later, the laws in the U.S. have changed but not so much the hearts.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me. – Martin Niemöller

52 years ago, Dr. King wrote the formula for civil disobedience/non-violent protest: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation to determine if justice can be brought, self-purification/preparation to meet violence with non-violence; and direct, non-violent action. He was always inviting people to engage in peaceful protests, love the person and hate unjust actions. He stood against riots because he accurately believed that while “a riot is the language of the unheard,” it still only creates more problems and solves none.

52 years later, after the assassination of most of the leaders committed to non-violence, after decades of police corruption, unemployment and underemployment, and inadequate schools throughout the country, it seems as though “the cup of endurance” Dr. King spoke of has indeed run out. There is little to no respect of the lives of Blacks in the United States, apart from the world of entertainment. There are videos released consistently of them being killed by the police. Beyond the Black community, higher levels of unjust policing of ethnic minorities are emerging around the nation. This swelling of anger at injustice has led some to angrily turn weapons on the police themselves. We have amazing, sacrificial, kind police officers in every city—I pray. There are also so bad, corrupt, cops. Sadly, we have entered into a time where the regards for human life—civilian or law enforcement—have diminished. We apparently have not opted for “peaceful co-existence but mutual annihilation.”

52 years ago, Dr. King wrote to clergy and communities alike, calling them to see “justice too long delayed is justice denied,” “why we can’t wait,” and his disappointment with the silence of Christian leaders (if you’ve been following my blog, clearly most of my posts regarding race and ethnicity are reflections of Dr. King’s writings.) He called for communities to see time does not inevitably lead to change, but rather change comes from tireless efforts of leaders. He told everyone the pain of “waiting.” He grieved how people who bare the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus would support or silently submit to racial inequality but proclaim Jesus’ good news to the poor and freedom for the captives from Luke 4.

52 years later, have we made progress? Of course. 2015 is not 1963. But let’s not pretend the progress has been monumental. Our progress has been on the sidewalk, not in a car, or by plane. Our progress has been begrudgingly slow, and painful. We still cannot have an open discussion about race and ethnicity in our churches. There’s still deafening silence on matters of race, and tremendous levels of cross-cultural distrust.

Time has not healed our wounds, not by a longshot. Yes, the President is bi-racial man, and while he has been in office since 2008, race relations have moved in the opposite direction. If you don’t believe me, read the comments on any news report on any medium of your choosing.

On a personal note, I have been in numerous meetings with ethnic minorities around the United States this year as multi-ethnicity and racial reconciliation are hot topics. I have had too many cups of coffee while having the same conversations. On one side, I have met with Christian white leaders that want diversity in their churches and organizations, but there is a stout unwillingness to share decision-making power and introduce cultural elements that affirm the groups they want to reach (i.e. hire a staff of a particular ethnic group, sing diverse songs, diverse speakers, etc.). To join many—not all—majority white communities of faith means we’ll need to leave much of our ethnicity at the door. We are welcomed in the room, but not at the table unless we assimilate. On the other side, I have Black, Asian, Latino, and even White friends who are going to two different churches. They attend the majority culture churches because they have a heart for diversity, and then they go to their second church because, well, they are heard and understood. It shouldn’t have to be that way.

52 years later, our laws have changed but our hearts haven’t as much. There are glimmers of hope. Chinese-Americans have been championing injustice in the Black Community as many of us have lost our voices from the endless screaming and tears. Many White brothers and sisters have stood beside Blacks and Latinos as advocates and bridge-builders. Native American and South Asian communities are finding their voices, advocating for others and themselves. There is progress being made, but I honestly don’t know if we will ever arrive. What is needed in our country is a transformation of the heart, and only God works from the inside…

…and He was asked to leave our schools and courts of law some time ago.

Hence, my concern.



We Need Each Other: Thoughts from MESC 15

reconciliation-different-namesIn the midst of what has easily been the most emotionally difficult season of my professional and personal life as a Christian Black man in America, I find myself reflecting on my experiences this past week at InterVarsity’s Multi-Ethnic Staff Conference 2015, in Orlando, Florida.

The humility of two national leaders to begin the conference with apologizing for wounds inflicted unintentionally by their actions set the course for the week. The Urbana 15 Worship Team maintained an atmosphere that invited the presence of God every time they took the stage.

The Speakers were prophetic! All of them.

Vice President Paula Fuller challenged us to press into the difficulty of the moment and re-dig wells of prayer, multi-ethnicity and racial-reconciliation that had been filled (Genesis 26).

National Asian-American Ministries Director Joe Ho led an ethnic inductive bible study of Ephesians 2, and opened the door for our Christian Native American brothers and sisters to touch the hearts of everyone in the room.

Abner Ramos (@abnerramos139) reminded me I have dignity regardless of my funding level, while addressing systemic issues around funding and challenging misconceptions about immigration by sharing his own story.

Moani Sitch opened her heart and guided us in a lament of the brokenness in our world and our organization.

Dora Yiu (@yiu_can_tweet) told us all: DON’T MISS THIS MOMENT. It is a unique time. We have all missed moments. Don’t miss this one. (Preach Dora!)

Chris Nichols, in his usual prophetic nature, announced multi-ethnicity and racial-reconciliation weren’t side seminars, but seminal values that we pursue not because it’s the flavor of the month, but because it is what the gospel declares and Christ demands…until we are dead and see Him face to face.

The one and only National Black Campus Ministries Director Rev. Phil Bowling-Dyer (@PhilBowlingDyer) summarized the week by saying, “God has given us seeds…and good seed is a terrible thing to waste.” Then he opened his heart and invited us into his neighborhood, showing how he is working with his community to make sure what happened in Ferguson doesn’t happen where he lives. He declared and demonstrated fear should never trump our faith.

As powerful as the conference was, perhaps what will stay with me most are moments I shared with my friend and brother, Jason Philipose. JP and I have been friends for years, since we were classmates in college. We support and challenge each other. We debriefed the conference midway, discussed our own progress and shortcomings with racial-reconciliation, and were both in awe of the words of Dr. Sam Barkat, its first VP of Multi-Ethnic Ministries, who was honored during the conference. Full of wisdom, faith, and humility, Dr. Barkat paved the way for everything that happened that week long before most of us were in the room.

Me, JP, Dr. Barkat

JP and I got the chance to sit down and have breakfast with Dr. Barkat the final morning of the conference. He told us his experience in joining InterVarsity. He told us about the first South Asian Staff to join the movement, looked at both of us in our thirties, and imparted generational wisdom that JP and I will be unpacking for years to come. He said in a few sentences what all the speakers had been saying all week.

I hope all of us, not just within InterVarsity but Christians around the world, do what Dr. Barkat challenged JP and I to do: listen to each other. Advocate for each other across cultures. Multi-ethnicity and racial reconciliation cannot be a black/white issue any longer. Are there issues there still? Yes. Have we resolved the past in the present to set the course for the future? No, but we are making progress.

We will, however, never get there if our focus is only Black/White relations. I grieved as I listened to Courtland, a Native American IV staff, share the realities facing his people and how they are often and sadly forgotten. I questioned who was the first South Asian IV Staff and what is their story? (Dr. Barkat gave us homework.) What is my voice and role in helping heal relations in Asian contexts where there is discord? How can I reach the street and affirm my white friends who want to work to change systemic issues but feel stuck themselves? How do I make sure my bi-racial friends never feel left out of the conversation? How do I leverage my voice, influence, and resources to advocate for the Latino community at the level I do my own?

These are the questions I am wrestling with. More than wrestling with the questions, I am looking to make progress on these issues to create a better community, not just pontificate on the situation or give surface answers that never result in systemic, real change.

Oil and water do not go together. You can stir them, blend them, or boil them together. It doesn’t matter. They will not stay together very long. In order to get the two together, you need an emulsifier. Oil and water with an egg as an emulsifier gives you mayonnaise. Many of ethnic groups cannot seem to get along. Whether it’s conflicts in Asia, Africa, or within the U.S., peace seems to always avoid us. We need each other, but we also need an emulsifier.

The Gospel of Jesus is just that. It crosses ethnic lines and socio-economic statuses. The gospel in the hands a Black man can help heal Asian wounds across countries and generations. A Latino mom may give a ride to a black kid walking home in the rain because she sees “a son” not “a suspect.” A Asian-American woman can affirm and speak to white identity in ways I may not be able to. A South Asian man can work with a group of black college students, depositing seeds of reconciliation that will produce fruit for years to come. White Christians who want to see race relations and systemic injustice change may be welcomed with open arms rather than suspicion when they are joined by Asian and Latino advocates. Christian Native Americans can humble us all, and remind us there is far more to lose than we imagine. The Latino voice may be what brings the different ethnic groups to the table to finally have an adult conversation on race and ethnicity in the United States. The list goes on and on and on…

Either way, we need each other. We need to listen to each other, for the sake of our immortal souls.

Dr. King was right. “We must end racism in all of its evil forms. We will either have peaceful coexistence or mutual co-annihilation.”

– Sean


Unfiltered Real Talk: Reparations or Repairing the Black Community

I became a Christian in college through the ministry of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship after they planted a chapter for Black students at the University of Texas at Austin. Shortly after graduating, I came on staff with IV and began working to reach college students with the gospel. I used my education, experience, and ethnicity for IV as a bridge into the Black community. Over the years, however, one constant has remained:  I have never been fully funded. I have never had the ministry budget to dream big and create at the level of my heart’s desire. I have never been able to raise the budget to receive a paycheck comparable to my education and experience, primarily because my contacts, networks, and family do not have the financial flexibility to give away thousands of dollars annually.

Family and friends have often said I should leave, but my heart breaks for the campus and I know if I do leave, advocacy for Black students will not disappear but it will greatly diminish. To help with my funding, friends and co-workers of various ethnic backgrounds began introducing me to their networks. A few people began to partner with me through prayer, volunteering, and giving financially. Most, however, typically give the same response when I finish a presentation, “You are very articulate.”

Normally, that would be a complement, but when it is the majority of responses from cross-cultural conversations after you share about the needs of Black students, it eventually—and consistently—is insulting.

Because of a lack of funding, for two years I took a part-time job with another non-profit teaching character and relationship education in middle and high schools around Austin. When I would visit the suburbs, the affluent schools around Austin, I saw spotless marble floors. Students in every class had iPads and teachers had brand new Apple computers. Flats screens and HD projectors were in every room, hallway, and auditorium. In the teacher’s lounges, there were chocolate-covered strawberries and catered meals from four or five-star restaurants to show appreciation for their hard work, and parking lots filled with cars with German accents (i.e. Audi, BMW, Mercedes, etc.). Those cars belonged to both teachers and students.

When I visit schools in the inner city, however, I would see almost the exact opposite. Those cars don’t have German accents, but old American ones. The students weren’t driving luxury cars to school. They were walking or on the bus. There were no iPads in those schools. Actually, the old PCs the teachers were using barely worked. There were limited supplies for kids. The copy machines didn’t work. The teachers had to buy all of their supplies, including paper for the copy machine—which didn’t work. There were no chocolate-covered strawberries or catered meals in these schools, only exhausted teachers and systemically-abandoned Black and Hispanic kids. They are just like the elementary, middle, and high school I attended when I was their age. I recently went to visit my old high school. I stopped by the science lab, looked through the sink and could see the floor. It was like that when I was a student, too…just wanted to see if it had been fixed.

When I return home to South Union in Houston, Texas, I pass the same three pot holes right off of Highway 288 that have been there for over 10 years. I have to slow down, not just because it is a residential neighborhood, but because the road hasn’t been paved in some time. That’s probably why Black people are walking down the street, much like Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown. Being a pedestrian is part of the culture of the hood.

I go to visit my mom, who was in elementary when separate but equal was declared unconstitutional but was in college when integration was enforced by the National Guard. She still lives paycheck to paycheck—in the inner city. She wasn’t given opportunities for upward mobility and economic expansion—even with a Master’s degree. Her house, which is now hers since the passing of my step-father, is at least forty years old. There’s a crack in the foundation, so when it rains, the den floods which causes bacteria and mildew beneath the carpet. There’s an electrical short behind the wall in the kitchen so sometimes the lights work. Sometimes they don’t.

She has received numerous offers to sell the house. It’s a great location. It’s within ten minutes of downtown Houston, several colleges and universities, and a large Black church she has faithfully been a part of for almost fifty years. My mom knows if she sells the house, it is the opening banks and businesses are looking for to begin gentrification in the neighborhood– where whites move in, raise property taxes, and ultimately forces Blacks to leave and go God knows where.

I visited that same Black church in December. It has been an integral part of my mom’s life and mine as she raised me in it. I saw literally hundreds of Black people in the service that Sunday. The same Black people that businesses, multi-ethnic churches, and non-profits want to reach and hire. The same Black people that live in the surrounding neighborhoods, and even some who live in the suburbs but drive past all types of churches to come to this Black church because they long to be understood. (By the way, one of the points in the sermon that Sunday was “Black Lives Matter.”)

As a Black man working in a diverse context, I get to peek into both worlds. I live among the marginalized, the low-income, the borderline poor. I work with and fundraise from groups of people that are middle, upper-middle, and affluent classes. I see the hurting, the forgotten, the abandoned, and I see the financially stable, wealthy, and honestly—at times—clueless. In every city I visit, the gap between these groups is the size of the Grand Canyon…and it’s growing.

When race relations hit significant peaks like now, at some point people began to bring up reparations—monetary repayment to the descendants of slaves for the centuries of free labor slavery provided to build the foundation of the U.S. economy.

Reparations in the form of checks to every black person in the country is not the answer. For the same reasons NFL and NBA players are broke when their careers are done, for the same reasons lottery winners are worse off after winning the lottery, it is never a wise choice to give large the sums of money to anyone, or any group, who hasn’t developed the discipline to manage it. Reparations in that form will fail—not that it would ever happen in the US. (What was it once called? Oh yeah, our “40 acres and a mule”. Wasn’t given back then and I won’t hold my breath.) What is needed is not simply reparations but the repair of the Black community.

Schools need to be rebuilt. All the Black businesses that were destroyed by race riots in the 1890s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, and 1960s that were unable to be recovered because Blacks were not sold insurance, need to be restarted. Hopes of starting Black businesses that were destroyed because many banks refused to give loans to Blacks need to be restored.

This will not come from the government. It must come from the church.  The Gospel brings salvation and shalom—justice, honesty, peace, restoration, and equality.


Within the US, now 60 years after segregation has ended, the church still functions as though that law still stands. Not only are our churches and businesses still segregated, but so are our hearts and minds.

If you want Black people to trust multi-ethic communities:

Acknowledge the Troubled History of our people in this country. Stop waiting for us to tell you. Be proactive and discover it yourself, as you do with any other hobby or field of study.

Recognize the Economic Disparities in the country are not just statistics, but people. They are ethnic minority staff working in majority institutions, students of color accepting loans to go to college. They are your friends checking their bank accounts before you go out to eat. They are…me, my mother, my grandparents. They are probably that one Black friend you have or that one Black person on your team. Not always, but much of the time.

Become an Advocate.  Consider being a mentor, supporting a staff of color at a sacrificial level, sharing financial supporters long-term, partnering with a worthwhile but underfunded organization that seeks to promote the overall health of the under-privileged.

I am an advocate for strengthening the Black voice at the multi-ethnic table, but we must see the socio-economic disparities in this country cross color-lines. It just disproportionately affects Black and Latino communities.

Let’s stop pretending we don’t see it. Let’s stop pretending we don’t care. If you want to make sure Ferguson/Michael Brown, Eric Garner/NY, and all the other cases don’t continue to happen, then do something.

Put your mind, energy, time, prayers, money, and support where your mouth is.

We have a saying where I am from, “I am from Show Me, Texas. Don’t tell me. Show me.” James 2:18 says some people show their faith by what they say, others by what they actions.

What will you do?


Eric Garner & Systemic Injustice: The Sequel We Hoped For

I was wrong. Last month, I wrote a blog post called, “Ferguson: The Sequel.” My entire premise was that sequels disappoint. No matter how good or captivating the first movie is, the sequel always disappoints. I wrote how Michael Brown and Ferguson—in many respects for this generation—is an ugly sequel in the narrative of Black people in America. I spoke of my 70 year-old mother who wasn’t surprised at the lack of indictment because, well, she’d seen this before…another bad sequel.

black lives matter

I read emails, text messages, Facebook posts, and other correspondence from friends and strangers around the country finally getting X-ray vision to see and hear in deep ways the painful perspective of Black people in America. We watched as people across the country rallied to defend and attack Michael Brown. Over 170 cities around the nation shouted, “Black Lives Matter!” They created a hashtag on Twitter. News reports labeled Brown a “thug.” Darren Wilson, in his $500,000 paid interview with Good Morning America, said Brown was practically “superhuman” because even though he shot him four times, Brown continued “to charge” him. News reports said there were conflicting eyewitness reports which led to the grand jury’s lack of indictment. The President of the United States called for legislation to equip body cameras on police officers to guarantee accurate accounts of future interactions with police and ordinary citizens.

Then, the one of the greatest gifts of all time was given: the Grand Jury in New York decided not to indict a police officer in the choke-hold death of Eric Garner.

While the country was still watching, it happened again. While we were still crying and in shock—and in less than two weeks—it happened again. This time the entire ordeal was caught on tape, and still nothing happened. Stereotypes about aggressive Black men and the need to use deadly force: dismissed. The argument for police with body cameras: irrelevant. Right there on tape, a single incident that affirmed Black tears and silenced the mobs calling Black fears unfounded.

Somehow, even though Eric Garner was killed first, the indictment decision for his case came after Michael Brown’s. All the critiques, doubts, and reasonable doubts in and around Brown were thrown out the window with Garner.

Some say, “These are isolated incidents.” Yes, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Jordan Davis, Larry Jackson, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Rumain Brisbon, Kimani Gray, Kendrec McDade, Amadou Diallo, Timothy Stansbury, Sean Bell, Orlando Barlow, Aaron Campbell, Alonzo Ashley, Victor Steen, Ramarley Graham, and Tamir Rice (he was twelve years old by the way) are all isolated incidents. They all just happen to take place across the U.S. on an annual—sometimes weekly—basis. By the way, there are several more unarmed Black men who have been killed by the police, and I haven’t even mentioned the Black women.

Eric Garner is different…but the results were still the same.

I have seen much correspondence the last few days asking questions like, “How do we move forward?” or “Where do we go from here?”

There is only move forward: addressing and ending systemic injustice in the US and ultimately the world.


My friends, we will not go back to business as usual in 2015. Things will never go back “to normal.” Black men in America are in grave danger, myself included. The remedy for this is not talking, understanding, and/or building trust with police officers. All of those things are needed and important, but they are only one side of the conversation.

We cannot move forward until we heal.

Healing for the Black community means:

  • Confessing Systemic Injustice.
    There must be an acknowledgment by pastors and leaders of the unjust system that exists in the U.S. that benefits one group of people at the detrimental expense of another. There must be a confession by people who benefit from systemic injustice, and a confession of apathy towards it. Eric Garner isn’t the first unarmed Black man to die. It’s been happening. We need to confess it has been happening, it has been ignored, and that it has been acceptable in our society. Nehemiah confessed the sins of “his people and his household” (Nehemiah 1).
  • Creating a New System of Justice.
    Because our country is diverse, there will need to be practical steps of eliminating systemic injustice in our churches, organizations, and communities that will look differently. In Acts 6, when the early church recognized an ethnic group was being overlooked, they turned the entire system over to that group. That’s right: the first case for affirmative action is in the Bible, in the church, in the 1st century. We must call for the hiring, training, development, funding, and acceptance—not just of Black people—but of every ethnicity in the country. It can no longer be acceptable to cry out for diversity, invite diverse groups of people, and watch them starve in the midst of the prosperity of their peers.
  • Becoming Allergic to Poverty in Your City.
    The answer to poverty in the United States for decades has been more police. We spend more money as a nation on militarization than we do on poverty. This is not Christian. At all. Poverty ends when all people have adequate education, training, jobs, and salaries. Becoming allergic to poverty means your vote, your church, your business, and your money must look for programs that are, as Dr. King said, “anti-rat” not “anti-Black” or any ethnic group. Addressing poverty must be a practical response because poverty creates the economic disparities, maintaining the chasm between the rich and the poor. Gandalf, in J.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, was asked why a character made a really bad choice. He replied, “Because he was lost, in the dark, without hope, unable to go forward or backward.” That’s what poverty is. That’s what systemic injustice creates, and it must end.

This is a pregnant moment in our country. It is a Numbers 13 moment. We have toured the Promised Land. We have a vision of what the future can be, but there are giants. Not flesh and blood, but historic, systemic, generational ones. We have a choice. We can fight them head on and create a better world for ourselves and our children, or we can hide. We can sit in silence. We can give the apathetic answer, “It is systemic. Sorry.” I hope we chose the former, for if we choose the latter, we will continue to walk in circles, watching the same bad sequels.

Ferguson: The Sequel

Ferguson: The Sequel

I love movies. I have always been a fan of them because I love a good story. When a new movie comes out, we are excited as fans. We meet new characters, a new plot, new villains, and new problems to be solved…a brand new story to be told. Everything is fresh and exciting. The movie ends and, if it was good, we walk away saying to friends or to ourselves, “That was great!” Think about the first time you saw The Matrix, Indiana Jones, The Terminator or Superman…the list goes on. Eventually, however, great movies are ruined by sequels. It never fails. For every great movie, there is more often than not a mediocre sequel with bad acting, terrible plot holes, and we often leave the theatre asking those same friends or ourselves, “Did the director actually see the first one? What was that? I had such high hopes this would be as good as or better than the first. This was terrible.” Sequels can destroy a good movie.

And so here we are, again. November, 2014. Only, it’s not a movie. It’s real life. In the United States of America. And it is a sequel. Ferguson and Michael Brown are some two years after Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman gripped the nation and reminded the country we have not come as far as we think we have in racial reconciliation. Once again, this generation has seen lethal force used on an unarmed African-American pedestrian. Once again, many in the African-American community have screamed out in pain, anger, and disbelief. Once again, many within the dominant culture have had varying responses of equal outrage, confusion at our tears, defense of Officer Wilson, indictment on the African-American community for the violence within, and in some places a call from pastors to be “colorblind” and move forward together.

Once again, arguments ensue on social media, in the news, and across the racial divide that has existed since Abraham Lincoln told my ancestors they could leave the plantation…well, almost a year and a half after he said it because Texas didn’t get memo in January, 1863 but rather in June, 1865.

But here we are again. We have seen the story before. We have met the characters before. We have seen the outcome before. But this time it is worse. It feels worse. Perhaps because there have been ten unarmed African-American teens/young adults killed between Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. Maybe it is worse because the rioting is so bad (never mind reports that people have driven to Ferguson to riot or what civil rights leaders have said for years, “rioting is the only response for people who do not have a voice”). Maybe it is worse because we have watched elected officials ask for more police to govern the low-income, poor communities rather than start brainstorming how to create economic opportunities for the poor and thus eliminate some of the injustice that perpetuates higher crime rates and hopelessness in urban areas around the country. Maybe it is worse because in these two years, we as a nation have invested more money our prisons and the militarization of the police than we have in our schools—essentially giving up on many black kids before they leave elementary.

Maybe it’s worse because we haven’t healed from Trayvon.

Maybe it is worse because we didn’t realize Ferguson wasn’t about Ferguson but rather what creates Fergusons across our country in the 21st century.

I arrived home in Houston for Thanksgiving to see my mom who will turn 70 on December 5th. She smiled when I walked in, was very calm, and peaceful—which I have not seen on or in any African-American I have been around since the lack of indictment announcement.

I asked, “Mom, have you kept up with Ferguson?”

She replied, “Yes. I watched a little.”

“Did you hear about the indictment?”

“Yes, that there wasn’t one.”

“Mom, you seem very calm about all this. Am I missing something?”

“Sean, I am about to be 70,” she said. “I knew he wouldn’t be indicted. You’re young. This is still new for you. I have been through this before. I have forgotten the names of the unarmed Black kids, men, and women who have been killed and no one is charged or indicted. There have been few arrests and far more pain. You’re 32. I am 70. I know what life in the United States is like for African-American people.”

You can draw a straight line from the racial tensions in this country from the year my mom was born (1944 if you’re not a numbers person), the year I was born (1982), the year my grandmother was born (1928), and so on to the racially charged events in Ferguson and around the country. Like I am witnessing now, they all saw and had their Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown moments—one was named Emmett Till. They have felt the pain I now feel in my chest every time I take a breath, every time I walk past the black hoodie in my closet I no longer feel safe to wear in public, every time the police pull behind me (I was stopped last month for a delayed turn signal), every time I am stared at when I meet with supervisor on the affluent side of Austin and I am the only African-American person in the building.

It doesn’t bother my mother anymore because as Dr. King said years ago, “We asked a generation to place their faith in a system that has proven to be unfaithful.”

If you’re wondering what that “good movie” was, so am I. There were good moments in history. Reconstruction, but the sequel was Jim Crow. Then there was the Civil Rights Movement, but the sequel or sequels, was the assassination of every leader in the Black community and every non-black leader that championed equality and justice. I don’t know if we ever got that “good movie,” but I know we have had some terrible sequels.

The saddest part for me is that in a few weeks, life will return to normal for most communities except the African-American community. People will forget names, details, events. Selfies will resume on social media. Pastors will start promoting their books, none of which addressing systemic issues, racial reconciliation, poverty, or justice. Diverse communities and campuses will start to lose some Black people and won’t understand why.

But African-American people, Christian or otherwise, will walk slower, with a little more fear, a little more sadness, and a little less hope.

You see, there is another sequel coming. It’s only a matter of time. When it does happen, the next racially charged incident involving lethal force, I will remember my mother’s smile and peaceful hopeless acceptance that our lives as African-American people in this country are less valuable. Our concerns, dismissed as nonsense.

Some sequels we leave sad, because we had such high hopes this time would be different. But it didn’t happen. We got an unarmed dead teen left in the street bleeding for four and a half hours, his vilified character portrayal in the media, an official doing his civic duty, dismissal of systemic issues and widespread coverage of the riots. We hoped it would be different but it wasn’t.

We just got a bad sequel.

If you’re looking for practical steps to respond:

  1. Read. Read The New Jim Crow by: Michelle Alexander
  2. Go. Immerse yourself in Black culture. Seek to listen and understand without critique.
  3. Pray. Pray for the healing of racial tension in the country. This isn’t a “move forward from here” time. We are moving backwards. We must heal first before we move forward.

– Sean M. Watkins

How Silence Destroys Cross-Cultural Trust

I will never forget it. My junior year of college was one of the most racially charged time periods in my life, much like what we are experiencing today across the United States.

Five events took place in one month at the University of Texas at Austin:

  • The Martin Luther King Statue was egged on MLK Day.
  • UT Police Department confirmed the surveillance camera for the statue wasn’t recording but was put in place to appease Black students.
  • A majority-white fraternity held a “ghetto” themed party. People dressed up in black face, wore several gold necklaces and shirts with hand-written notes saying “I love watermelon”.
  • Racist flyers were passed around campus by a non-UT affiliated group which read, “White women: Do not have sex with Black men. They all have AIDS.”
  • A Black student, who was my classmate and fraternity brother, was almost arrested for playing the piano on a public floor in a student union building. The police said he looked “furtive,” and after confirming he was a UT student, proceeded to check his driver’s license for any warrants.

All in one month. End of January to the end of February, 2003.

It was a tremendously rough time for us. Black students gathered at an InterVarsity Black Campus Ministry for bible study, and then it happened: the moment that forever changed my view of every culture, the kingdom of God, and what racial reconciliation can look like. Our campus minister, Corey Tabor, said, “I have a surprise for you,” and the over 150 students poured into our room.

Black students were surrounded by White, Asian, South Asian, and Latino students. They all had flowers in hand and several had tears in their eyes. Sabrina Chan, Corey Tabor, Fara Choi, and Eric Vogt, who were part of that diverse team of campus ministers, stood in aisles. David Hanke, the white former Austin Area Director who now pastors in Arlington, VA, came to the front of the room. I saw someone who was a prolific speaker stand in front of us with trembling hands and voice and an endless stream of tears.

David looked at us and said, “We are here tonight because we are your family. I want you to know I am so sorry this has happened to you. I want you to know we love you and you are welcomed here. We simply want to pray for you and give everyone a flower.”

We were all in tears. It spoke to wounds we have buried and forgotten we had. Wounds we live with everyday.

That was it. David, Sabrina, Corey, Eric, Heather, Lanee, Rebecca, Nathan, Fara and all the other staff there gave us a picture of racial reconciliation and one of the most transformative experiences of my life.

I wish we had more responses like that today. Sadly, we do not.


Today, there is a tremendous cross-cultural misunderstanding that takes place whenever incidents occur as in the cases of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, John Crawford, Eric Garner…

Today, these incidents occur and there is tremendous silence in and outside of the church, and especially within too many multi-ethnic contexts, and people are starting to notice. I have White, Asian, Latino, South Asian friends who are starting to look at their own people and get angry at their silence.

I have Black friends who have wept saying, “So many people not Black challenge me about being diverse and engaging in multi-ethnic ministry, but when these events occur, they say nothing. How can they be opinionated about everything but this? I keep waiting for them to say something. I say something. They say nothing.”

I know some may find it difficult to speak to their friends on the topic. You may struggle to find the words to say. That makes sense, but that is not what is communicated.

Friends, let me share with you three things your silence communicates:

  1. You are unaware.
    1. The danger: It says you have not attempted to be incarnational, to walk in the shoes of a people group you want to do life with. Their culture and experience doesn’t matter. You just want them in the room.
  2. You don’t think your voice is needed.
    1. The danger: It says you are apathetic and would much rather wash your hands of the situation than be a bridge-builder and agent of healing.
  3. You don’t care.
    1. The danger: It says, “You, your people, don’t matter to me.”

I am quick to speak up about a South Asian Miss America or a Hispanic kid that sings the national anthem when they are ridiculed simply because of their ethnicity. I speak up because I care. I speak up because I have been there. I speak up because I know what silence communicates.

When we are silent:

  • It breaks trust cross-culturally.
  • It builds a tolerance for injustice.
  • It communicates to your friends, “If this happens to me, no one will say anything.”

So, I implore you…please…

Say something.

Black and White Truth

CNN has posted an article stating the events in Ferguson have re-energized a conversation black parents have with their children about race relations and police interaction.

Here’s the link for the article: http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/15/living/parenting-black-sons-ferguson-missouri/index.html

It begs the question, “When does something become true?” When a black person says it, or when I white person says it or sees it?

This goes beyond racial tension. This is common American philosophy. Take Miley Cyrus for example. She twerked at the music awards. Suddenly, a new dance was revealed and a new word was added to the dictionary. Not that I affirm any of this, but black girls have been dancing like that since I was in middle school. The Yin Yang Twins made a rap about it over a decade ago, and nothing changed. Miley did one dance, and it is now truth.

Black families have never stopped talking to their children about race relations. We have never stopped warning our kids about the police. We never stopped saying we are disproportionately stopped, searched, arrested, convicted, killed, overlooked, underrepresented, misunderstood, and ignored.

The only difference this time is….people of all cultures finally listened.