taking the words of Jesus seriously


I spent a few days this week away from Durham in another Southern town, visiting with young people who’ve relocated to under-resourced neighborhoods there. They told me what they’ve learned about themselves and their home communities, living on the other side of the tracks. I listened to them struggle with what they’ve seen and heard—and wonder aloud about what they still can’t see.


John Perkins taught us that relocation is about re-educating white folks as much as it is about redistributing resources to poor communities. There are some truths in this country that most white folks have simply never seen. Until we come close enough to care, we won’t see them.


Every afternoon, these white re-locators I was visiting volunteer in afterschool clubs for black kids. They weren’t doing the teaching or the motivating. A strong, black sister who was leading needed no help with that. But they sat at tables with the kids, talked about their days, listened to their troubles and ate lasagna alongside them. I was reminded why we started the Walltown Aspiring Youth program in our neighborhood. Because, as the Scriptures say, “a little child shall lead them.”


Statistics, of course, disagree. For every three young black men, the stats say one will go to prison. We watched 3 young people we were close to us get shot in our first five years here. Almost all of them felt like their opportunities for advancement were less than their parents.


That’s what the numbers say about young black folks throughout America.


But Deuteronomy says, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet… from among your own people” (18:15). Though Israel had suffered the oppression of slavery in Egypt and the temptation of despair in the wilderness, Moses told them to expect a prophet. Not a Messiah who would fix everything for them. Not a candidate who would give them programs. But a prophet–one of their own who could see and name God’s dream for them.


This is why I’m so glad in this season of protest to see students from Walltown participate in a die-in and to watch a young black man who attended one of our Weekend Schools leading #BlackLivesMatter protests on Durham’s streets. Critics have said that this “movement” lacks a constructive vision for change and that its tactics are too disruptive. But I’ve listened to enough young black men who can’t imagine overcoming the statistics that I see their action as a sign of hope.


Maybe the LORD is raising up prophets among us.


Indeed, the LORD has been for some time. A little over two years ago now, Rev. William J. Barber II came to Walltown’s St. Johns Baptist Church to preach during Advent. While we were all waiting to celebrate Christmas, he challenged us to not miss Jesus as Herod had 2, 000 years ago. When Jesus showed up, the local authorities criminalized him. They rounded up all the young men his age and tried to take him out. When God himself showed up in Bethlehem, the stats said he wouldn’t make it.


But God was raising up a new movement then, just as God is raising up prophets now.


The most hopeful, sustained justice movement in America today is the Moral Movement, rooted in the fusion coalition that Rev. Barber convened eight years ago. In two weeks, on St. Valentines Day, we’ll hold our eight annual Moral March and People’s Assembly on Jones Street in Raleigh, North Carolina. Last year, more than 80, 000 people marched on a state capital in a sea of moral dissent that had never been seen before. This year, after the march, we’re inviting the young prophets who are rising up around the country in protest movements to join Rev. Barber for a Symposium on Moral Leadership in Today’s Freedom Movements. I hope you’ll pray for us and with us. I hope you’ll join us. And, as we continue to pray for a #RacialJusticeEpiphany, I challenge you to invest in the prophets who are being raised up where you are.


About The Author


Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is a celebrated spiritual writer and speaker. Together with his wife, Leah, he co-founded the Rutba House in Durham, NC, where he also directs the School for Conversion (www.schoolforconversion.org). Jonathan works closely with the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II to spearhead The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Jonathan's newest book is "Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom from Slaveholder Religion" (InterVarsity Press).

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