After Trayvon Martin, African American pastors vow to be more than worship leaders

After Trayvon Martin, African American pastors vow to be more than worship leaders

By Hamil R. Harris, The Washington Post

Normally when Bishop Samuel Kelsey talks about sodas and candy in July it is in the context of the Vacation Bible School at the New Samaritan Baptist Church in Northeast Washington.

But Wednesday afternoon Kelsey and a host of District community and church leaders listened as Trayvon Martin’s father talked about the Skittles and tea his son was carrying just before he was fatally shot by George Zimmerman.

“What can we do as parents, what can we do as African Americans?” Martin asked during the hearing, “to ensure that our kids that don’t have to be afraid to walk out in front of your house and go to the store and get a bag of Skittles and ice tea?”

Kelsey said in an interview that the shooting of Trayvon Martin and trial at George Zimmerman represents the struggles that go on with people young and old in his church. “I got a call from a senior citizen in my church saying ‘they are saying all of this stuff but a young boy is dead.’”

“Trayvon represents young African American men around the country who are not caught up in this or that and can not just die,” said Kelsey who also took part in a rally in front of the Justice Department where the Rev. Al Sharpton and more than a dozen pastors talked about how Florida would be the “battle ground,” to fight the Stand Your Ground laws in 30 states.

But Tracey Martin, Trayvon’s father, said during the hearing that the activity now needs to lead to something permanent.

“Fifty years from now, when I am dead and gone I hope that the name of Trayvon Martin name is attached to some type of statue or amendment that says you can’t just profile our children, shoot them in the heart and kill them and say you were defending yourself.”

From Capitol Hill to the plaza in front of the Justice Department, national and local Civil Rights leaders and linked up with pastors this week to publicly asked the question as to what will happen in the wake of the Trayvon Martin saga.

“It is not just a moment, it is a movement,” said Bishop Jamal Bryant, pastor of Empowerment Temple in Baltimore. ”There is a need for a real sustained plan. Young African Americans in particular just don’t want a ‘rah rah’ moment but they want to talk about implementation focusing on an economic agenda as well as Stand Your Ground.”

While said some pastors don’t think clergy should get involved in Civil Rights issues, Bryant said people can’t be fooled into thinking that times have changed.

“Many people dilute themselves to think that just because we have a black president racism doesn’t exist, but if you look at the last three weeks, the verdict, he dismantling of voter rights and Paula Dean all within a 14 day period it is glaring apparent that we have work to do.”

Bishop Lanier Twyman, pastor of St. Stephens Baptist Church in Temple Hills and state president of the Full Gospel Baptist Fellowship, said “We have an obligation to speak truth to power as it pertains to justice. Mr. Zimmerman shot an unarmed man, a minor, we as an African American community have the responsibility to speak for the dead.”

Larry West, pastor of Mt. Airy Baptist Church in Northwest and Chairman of the Board of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc, said after he learned of the verdict, “I became angry.”

“I became angry because I didn’t understand how a young boy 17 years old could be walking home doing nothing and lose his life and nobody be responsible for it,” West said. “We will mobilized we will come together and we are in this fight for the long haul.”

Rev. Kendrid Curry, pastor of the Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church, said whether it is fighting against “Stand Your Ground,” in Florida or livable wages in D.C., African American pastors have to be more than worship leaders.

“This is a time for the church to rise up,” Curry said “We have to stand our ground based on ethical issues, we have to look at what is happening in our community.  How many young blacks boys die because of senseless violence?”

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) held the packed hearing Wednesday afternoon on black men that included Tracey Martin, Attorney Benn Crump, Professor Michael Eric Dyson and former congressman Kweisi Mfume.

“It is the tragedy of Trayvon Martin,” Davis said. But it is also all of the conditions that created  the environment where this tragedy has taken place.”

In terms of the case, Crump said, “It is very important that we can make something positive out of something negative.”