When marchers moved through Clinton on June 15, organizers joined the chorus of voices across the country while presenting their effort as a faith-base initiative.
Like predecessors who led the civil rights movement, the East Feliciana Ministers’ Conference sought to bring the methods and mission of the church to the current fight for social justice and an end to police brutality.
The Rev. Burnett King, a Livingston Parish resident, grew up in East Feliciana and helped bring his group’s efforts to the place he called home. King is the pastor of two St. Francisville churches, Hickory Grove Missionary Baptist Church and McKowen Baptist Church.
The march was not inside a church, but he sees the work as a part of the group’s agenda. “The church is the cornerstone of every community,” King said. “We should be out front and that’s where we are and where we will remain.”
The nation erupted in protests, marches and riots after the May death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. Groups took up the Black Lives Matter banner across the nation and world seeking, and getting, support for sweeping change.
King participated a protest march in Denham Springs on June 2 and was impressed by the outcome and the methods used to get the messages across. “Just two weeks before our event, my family and I took part in a peaceful protest in Livingston Parish and it was the same way — very peaceful and very orderly,” he said.
The group of ministers wanted to show solidarity with the national call for change while also putting an emphasis on youth development and voter education and registration.
Young people and children were encouraged to take leading roles in the Clinton event. One teen Broderick Brooks, of Asphodel Baptist Church in Jackson, spoke of police brutality. “The year 2020 has definitely been an eye-opener, but I think we should all come together as one because we were all made equally,” he said.
The Rev. Rick Williams, treasurer and community liaison for the ministers’ conference, said they wanted to give the children of the community opportunities to lead.
“We want our youth to be involved,” he said. “Our history of Black people hasn’t always reached them. They didn’t witness the struggle of Black people from all those years.
“Our ancestors wanted to make it better for next generations. Some people died for just the right to vote and our young people don’t always know that. They need to know of that history and keep the legacy going.”
The voting component was a big part of the march and a voter registration booth was onsite on the grounds of the courthouse. Voter education leaflets were distributed with the issues and candidates listed for the next three elections.
“It is very, very important that we not only vote on November 3rd, but everything that on this paper is a reminder to go out and vote,” said Ashley Dunne, the leader of the group’s voter initiative. “Each one of these elections mean a whole lot.
“We can’t skip over one and think it is OK to just vote in the presidential election. We have to make it to each one of these elections if our voices are going to be heard. If we are going to make a change, we have to step out and do our part.”
Williams said the East Feliciana Ministers’ Conference is an affiliate of the 4th District Missionary Baptist Association. It covers the six parishes of East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Iberville, Pointe Coupee, West Feliciana and West Baton Rouge.
The conference includes pastors, ministers and lay members of the churches in the area, Williams said. They provide ministerial services and support for the churches.
King said outreach is an important factor. “We wanted to do this for the community,” he said. “It’s not a Clinton thing. It’s an East Feliciana Parish thing that then spreads abroad. We believe that the church is the cornerstone of the community. We came to promote solidarity, love and peace among all people regardless of race, age, gender.”
King said his organization did not enter the sea of protests with plans to make one statement.
“Moving forward, we want to be a movement and not just an event,” he said. “This is a movement and we are going to planning other gatherings.”
Other activities will put more focus the smaller elements of the previous event. Kind said his group may have gatherings where voter registration is the only focus. The 2020 census year is also a topic of concern and something the group would like to help bolster engagement.
During the early days of the civil rights movement, the Black clergy and the Black church were instrumental in fueling and organizing the efforts on the local and national fronts and the communities looked to the church for leadership on both spiritual and social issues. King sees a revival of that mentality. “That’s the way it has been, and we should have never looked way,” he said. “Our eyes are once again focused.”
King said he believes the Lord is allowing social unrest as an instrument to draw people back to Him.
Many recognize all the duties of pastors inside the church, King said, but the role of the pastor in the community is much more. “We are counselors, we are social justice advocates; we are so much,” he said. “In order to fully grasp the ministerial office, you have to be involved in the community. Ministry is all about people.”
King was pleased to see the front lines of the march occupied by ministers. “I told them you lead from the front, you don’t lead from the back,” he said. “You have to get out front and lead and be visible and vocal. If we can do that, I believe God is going to get the glory.”