I participated in my very first “Locked In Solidarity” (LIS) on Thursday, February 11, 2016 (see #LIS16). LIS is a national prayer vigil for the mass incarcerated. Nearly forty people met in a small downtown Christ Community Church (Kansas City, MO) to lament our broken criminal justice system and to pray for a powerful move of God, through us – His redemptive agents, to bring needed reform.
Little did I know that other prayer meetings were happening simultaneously in 31 other cities including Denver, CO; Atlanta, GA; Colorado Springs, CO; Oakland, CA; Elgin, IL; Waco, TX; Durham, NC; Raleigh, NC; Cambridge, MA; Boone, NC; Chicago, IL; Akron, OH; Portland, OR; Grand Rapids, MI; San Francisco, CA; Meriden, CT; Seattle, WA; South Bend, IN; St. Louis, MO; Pasadena, CA; and Bronx, NY. O God hear our prayers!
During the course of this 1-hour prayer vigil, stats were shared and cries were shared – some audible, some silent. I already knew that – whatever its intentions – the ‘war on drugs’ was actually a war on a particular demographic: black neighborhoods. This assault has ravished the black neighborhood in a myriad of ways: black fathers are absent and young black men lack vision.
Consider this – many young African-American men I have met have this hopeless vision, ‘dead or in prison by age of 25 years old.’ But what struck me (again) in February were the three challenges former prison inmates face: one, they cannot vote; two, they cannot find jobs because there is this little inconspicuous box on most employment applications that ask, “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” If a former inmate honestly checks the box, he or she will not expect a phone call for an interview. And three, they cannot get housing. Again, because of that little inconspicuous box on most housing applications that ask, “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” Again, checking this box means don’t expect to be called back when a vacancy occurs. Is honesty the best policy?
All this got me thinking about Dr. Christena Cleveland’s book, “Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces That Keep Us Apart.” She speaks eloquently and simply about this notion: “when them becomes us” we will be reminded of our common dignity (we are all indelibly stamped with the imago Dei) and our common shame (because of our sin nature, we are all capable of horrendous things).
Furthermore, when “them becomes us” we will hurt with those brothers and sisters that hurt; and rejoice with those brothers and sisters that rejoice. When “them because us” we will aggressively attack social injustices. When “them becomes us” we will seek to use our vocational capital and privilege to provide opportunities for all brothers and sisters in Christ because we are us.
Many former convicts who are released from prison are us. Many of them are simply looking for an opportunity; a hand up and not a hand out. I remember during my engineering days, a white female colleague said to me at the lunch table (I still remember her name), “Luke, you are different.” Translation? She meant that she had not met an educated African-American man like me before. I quickly responded, “No, I am not different, I simply have been afforded opportunities.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ who have paid their debt to society need us to use our vocational clout and privilege to help them with opportunities for employment and affordable housing. Similarly, brothers and sisters who are not in Christ, but who have paid their debt to society, need us to use our vocational clout and privilege to help them with opportunities for employment and affordable housing. Because after all, our vocations are granted to us to love and serve our neighbors…right? And as Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us, we cannot pick or choose our neighbors. And as Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us, loving our neighbors is risky, messy and costly – time-wise and money-wise.
Will we, as the universal body of Christ, stand up and help these dear brothers and sisters in Christ to gain access to opportunities we take for granted? Will we, as the universal body of Christ, stand up and help our ‘neighbors’? Will we, as the universal body of Christ, use our vocational clout for the common good?
Where do I need to risk to use my vocational clout for the common good?
Dr. Luke Bobo has experience in the corporate, educational, and not-for-profit worlds. He is the Director of Resource and Curriculum Development of Made To Flourish (http://www.madetoflourish.org/) in Kansas City, MO.