The Rev. Herman Kelly is the pastor of Bethel AME Church in Baton Rouge
I teach a course called the Black Rhetorical Tradition at Louisiana State University in the African and African American Studies Program. In this course, we discuss the tradition of Protest and Rhetoric in the African-American diaspora. One of my students said, "Dr. Kelly, why be concerned? We are getting killed anyway." The statement chilled my heart. This is an engaging and intellectual African-American male student at Louisiana State University. My heart is troubled by the statement, and we also should be troubled by the statement. My job and calling is to teach and instruct students to be creative and reflective positive individuals. I was taken back by these words. Could it be that our most reflective and creative minds in society and in the academy are losing hope? I trust that we will all do some soul searching and deep reflection. I watched CNN as the community of Charlotte and Tulsa went up in flames. I thought about Rosa Parks and her defiant sit-in on a bus in Alabama; I reflective on Joann Robinson, who stayed up all night to print over 20,000 fliers before the technological era. I even thought about my friend who was placed in a trash can and pushed down the stairs of our high school because we wanted to desegregate Ribault High School in Jacksonville,Florida.
Protest is good, and protest is protected by the laws of this country. My issue and my challenge is protest requires an agenda and a goal. What is our goal today when we protest? Burning a police car and destroying our neighborhoods is not protest but only destructive behavior. Where is the mind of calmness and nonviolence? Dr. Martin Luther King called in nonviolent direct action. There was a plan and an agenda. After the protest was dialogue, after protest was discussion. Where is the dialogue? Where is the discussion? The beloved community is not just a dream, it is a goal for all of us.
Presently, in Baton Rouge, we all have been engaged in the Flood of 2016. We have reached beyond race and color to help those in need. Why can't we do the same to make the beloved community a reality. Guns, violence, and chats with no substance is not the answer. Yes! We all want justice. We all want a wholesome quality of life. I want our son to go home safe after his shift as an African-American male police officer. I want our daughter to be able to still reach for the stars in her career.
What is the answer? What should we do?
1. The protest must always be peaceful. The profile and description has been done before, in Freedom Rides, bus boycotts, lunch counter sit-ins.
2. We can involve the tradition and the new generation in dialogue and discussion for an action plan.
3. We all must be vigilant regarding our community. I suggest we all practice love and respect for all persons in this community and global community.
The Old Testament prophets have given us a prescription for justice moments like these:
"Let Justice run down like water, and Righteousness like a mighty stream" Amos 5:24
The civil rights leaders of the past are calling on us from the heavenly host to not allow violence to kill the dream, kill the hope, and future of our youth. I know there is blood in the streets of Baton Rouge, Tulsa and Charlotte. I know some families are in grief and pain. My heart aches also, but the violence must cease and calmness and dialogue must begin. Where is our faith? Is it only seen when good times prevail? East Baton Rouge Parish is my home and I will protest, dialogue, get upset, teach, cry, and pray for God's direction for us as a community and nation.
Keep The Faith
Dr. Herman O. Kelly Jr., pastor Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church
School of Education and African and African Studies Program
Louisiana State University