When my children were younger they would call me into a room and beg me to “look at what I can do.” Often their act was extremely miniscule in terms of theatrics or technical difficulty. As humans it was important that I could “see” them. All children have a need to be seen.
Kevin A. Slayton, Sr., M.Div.
The sad truth for most young African American boys is that they live in a space where they are often overlooked. They live in communities run by the political and financial machines that can’t see them beyond their skin color and their spending capacity. It’s apparent that the majority of society does not take the time to see these boys and men of color as equals. But we must. We must see them as equals worthy of the same recognition of ontological freedom, a form of equality that declares they have the right to be. However, society chooses not to see them.
What I find interesting is that this selective blindness is also a threatening condition for those Blacks legitimately rooted in the African American community. If you wanted to, you could easily escape the reality of poverty in Baltimore. All you have to do is roll up your windows and turn up your favorite radio station. Even though poverty is so entrenched in several prominent neighborhoods, the people who suffer there can be placed out of sight and out of mind. Recent events and decisions in this city show that not many are willing to open their eyes and see beyond their own interest.
But even that task becomes easier when you simply avoid living in the city all together. Maybe that’s what really bothers me about leaders that offer damaging support to efforts in a city, in which they don’t live. They’ve become so brilliant and connected that they can now speak for what’s in the best interest of poor and marginalized people, once again in the communities which they do not live.
Shame on those clergy that signed onto a letter drafted by Sagamore Development leadership, prior to having the interest of these communities assured.
The problem for dismissive African American clergy in Baltimore is that their success allows them to overlook the facts. The fact is that many, if not most, of the realities of impoverished communities also exist in the pews of their churches. Most of the issues that are disturbing their member’s homes are also concerns in the homes surrounding their churches. . The truth of this matter lies in the fact that too many of us are merely passing through. We rarely take the time to look and see our fellow brothers and sisters along the way.
Maybe this is best understood in “preacher talk.” In a story written by Apostle John, a young man who is blind has been recognized. John writes in the ninth chapter that the man is acknowledged by a passerby named Jesus. Once he is acknowledged the writer tells us that the other men traveling with Jesus want to know whether or not his blindness was a result of some sin committed by the man or his parents.
To be blind in the first century was considered a direct result of sin. The disciples’ response is further proof that ignorance has been with us for a long time. Over the past 260 years ignorance has stood at the door of progress for women, children, poor people, and most definitely people of color. We can stop the ignorance by starting with our own response to our people. We must do it now, because the current status quo is killing us.
In the end, I was once told that it’s better to be seen than viewed. So let’s begin to see them in the image that they were made: God.
Kevin A. Slayton, Sr., M.Div. is the senior pastor of New Waverly United Methodist Church in Baltimore. He is also pursuing a doctoral degree from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in Rochester, NY.