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Say her name and work for the justice you may never see

‘When Home is a Dangerous Place’ panelist challenges white Christians to ‘Step up, and not just in ways you’re comfortable with’

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Last week’s webinar was sponsored by two centers that are part of Union Presbyterian Seminary.

LOUISVILLE — Five panelists brought heart, soul and hard-earned wisdom last week to a Union Presbyterian Seminary webinar called “When Home is a Dangerous Place: Breonna Taylor and American Domestic Terror.”

The 90-minute webinar, part of the “Just Talk? Talk Just” series sponsored by the seminary’s Katie Geneva Cannon Center for Womanist Leadership and the Center for Social Justice and Reconciliation, featured these five panelists:

  • Hannah Drake, a Louisville, Kentucky-based author, activist, storyteller, spoken word artist, blogger, public speaker and poet.
  • Dana Purdom, a student at the seminary.
  • The Rev. Dr. Brandon McCormack, an associate professor and director of undergraduate studies at the University of Louisville.
  • Dr. Rodney S. Sadler Jr., associate professor of Bible at the seminary and director of the Center for Social Justice and Reconciliation.
  • The Rev. Melanie C. Jones, an instructor of ethics, theology and culture at the seminary and director of the Katie Geneva Cannon Center for Womanist Leadership. Jones was the webinar’s host and moderator.

Jones said that home was the most dangerous place for Taylor, killed by police in Louisville on March 13. “Her case raises significant questions about the value of Black life and the protection of Black women,” Jones said. “There is no such thing as a safe space for the vulnerable.” A grand jury decision not to charge any of the three officers with Taylor’s death “raises questions for all of us: Where is justice and how might people of faith cultivate a theology of liberation when home remains a dangerous place?”

Hannah Drake

Drake noted that the spread of the pandemic kept much of the public from learning more about Taylor’s shooting for at least two months after it occurred. “It was always an uphill battle for Breonna Taylor to achieve awareness and justice,” Drake said, “and as we see she didn’t get justice in the end.” Drake’s 24-year-old daughter has told Drake, “I don’t want to see my kids protesting the same thing,” Drake said. “Young people are energized.”

McCormack said it’s “important to acknowledge Black women’s leadership” in the protests following Taylor’s death, and to follow that leadership. Early on, he said, many people, afraid of contracting coronavirus, were afraid to take to the streets to protest. Then they heard Kenny Walker, Taylor’s boyfriend, cry with the pain of her death during taped police interviews. “People were so outraged that coronavirus became a second thought,” McCormack said. “People poured out into the streets. There were some very intense days in late May and early June. What we saw there was the naked and raw display of state power” with police and Guard troops turning out with “a militarized response.”

the Rev. Dr. Brandon McCormack

McCormack said his students “were met with such force that it awakened something in them.” Their chant was, “Why are you in riot gear? I don’t see no riot here!”

“People were figuring out, ‘What is the intervention I can make?’” McCormack said. “People were fighting the injustice at multiple levels.”

The treatment and murder of Black women and girls “has been relegated to secondary concern,” said Purdom, “because all of life has trained white people not to see us.” The ways that Black women’s bodies are commodified go all the way back to the biblical story of Hagar, Purdom said. To learn more, Purdom recommended viewers read an op-ed piece by Megan Thee Stallion published last week in The New York Times.

From Genesis 1:27 on, the Bible says that since we’re created in God’s image, “we’re all inherently valuable,” Sadler said. “Taking Breonna Taylor’s life is to take something incredibly sacred … Being Black in this country puts you at peril,” especially with the news that none of the officers would be charged in her killing.

The protests following Taylor’s killing and last month’s announcement by Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron of the grand jury’s decision “will not be the last [protests],” Sadler said. “It’s going to take us dealing with the issue of race once and for all, saying all human beings are valuable … We have to change hearts and minds to the life and value of Black lives in a very significant way if we are to have progress in America.”

Dr. Rodney S. Sadler Jr.

However, Sadler said, “we might be able to protect the next Breonna, a woman of the future … I hope we use this moment to say, ‘never again.’ And I hope we say, ‘We aren’t going to stop until we see something change.’”

While “this case tells us about the persistent vulnerability about Black women’s lives,” McCormack said he’s “heartened to see so many brothers turn out to speak in support of Breonna Taylor … As Breonna Taylor’s life was [seen as] secondary, or came to light after we talked about George Floyd, there is no one who has been talked about more than Breonna. Her name has become the most significant name of the movement right now because of the work of Black women who have forced us to say her name.”

Part of the job of the seminary, Sadler said, is to “frame this as a theological concern … There is not a Sunday that goes by when someone in the pulpit doesn’t mention Breonna Taylor’s name.”

That’s where “allyship” and “co-conspiratorship” come in, Purdom said. White Christians can “come on board and lend a hand and say, ‘How can we help?’ and take that back to their communities.” Activism activities include supporting food banks and bail funds and extending the reach of one’s social media platform, Purdom said.

Dana Purdom

“Use your voices to go into your churches and demand change,” Purdom said, while being fully aware that “with this work comes risk. You’re going to lose some friends, some church members and probably some family members. But that’s what it takes. We need you to step up, and not just in ways that you’re comfortable with.”

“The church,” Sadler said, “has got to be able to stand up and say, ‘All lives really are important.’”

“I can promise you this isn’t going to feel good,” Drake said. “You think ‘Karen’ isn’t you because you have Black friends. The only way to get through it is to face it … Pretending you don’t see color or denying racism exists, that’s not going to get us through this.” The reward will be this, Drake said: “You get to say that Black people are being treated like human beings.”

the Rev. Melanie C. Jones

“I understand,” Drake said, “that the work I am doing is for the generations that come after me. Dr. King said, ‘I may not get there with you,’ and in fact he did not.” Drake enjoys gardening. “We are planting seeds that some will water and others won’t. I encourage people to find out where you fit into the process. I am happy because I know somebody is going to enjoy the harvest.”

“Say her name, Breonna Taylor,” Jones said to close the webinar. “Her life still matters for generations that are now and generations that are next.”

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