We asked a number of contributors to share their reactions to a post by activist and author Michelle Alexander that we published earlier this month in the aftermath of the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Here is a response from the Rev. Dr. James Forbes, senior minister emeritus of The Riverside Church in Harlem and president of the Healing of the Nations Foundation. You can view all other responses here.
As an octogenarian who has weathered the storm of deadly violence of the civil rights movement, the Middle East conflict, the South African struggle and too many episodes of violent confrontations between police and the community, I have learned the importance of listening for what life itself has to teach us about the path toward a less violent future. In the wake of bloody scenes of death, life shows up to try once again to help us recover the sensibilities and sensitivities which lead to a higher quality of human existence.
In reflecting on the tragic events of the past few weeks, this true-to-life observation seems to cry out for understanding:
Life is one. All lives matter because all life is interrelated. Protestors as well as policemen, black and white, gay and straight, Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor: Any human being denied full value, respect and protection must be named and conscientiously reclaimed as an essential part of the family of humankind.
Black Lives Matter is not only a protest against the persisting pernicious reality of oppressive devaluations, exclusion and death of people of color. It is also a refutation of the white supremacists’ distorted view that blacks are not full or equal members of the species. People of conscience chant “Black Lives Matter” as a way of making clear that we do not accept the societal norm of the dehumanization of black brothers and sisters. We lament the lie. We repent our complicity with it and we denounce the arrangement and the benefits that some have derived from this brutal racialistic deception.
We are committed to repairing the tear in the human garment by weaving together a new tapestry of red, white, brown, black and yellow threads of equal worth and unique beauty and strength. Henceforth, if any strand is pulled from the democratic fabric for destructive prejudicial treatment, we will name it and reclaim it, and make the necessary sacrifices to ensure that we are and shall be one people — not one race, one religion, one class, one party, one region, one gender, one sexual orientation, one ideology, one set of interests, one part of the species — but one nation, one family under God.
How much carnage and death will be necessary to help us grasp this simple and profound truth? Life is urging us all to lament, repent, denounce and repair so that we all may be whole.