Black Women & The Death Penalty

Earlier this year I was apart of a dialogue on the death penalty for Religion & Politics  The Table Dialogue where various faith leaders write responses on a pressing social issue from the perspective of their faith tradition.

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Never Murder.  –Exodus 20:13 (God’s Word Translation)

As an African American woman who identifies with the Hebraic roots of the Christian faith and who has found a theological home in womanist theology, my religious tradition informs my views of the death penalty in general and as it affects Black women in particular. As a follower of Yahshua (Jesus), the Ten Commandments are still very relevant to my life and shape my ethics. I do not separate the message of the Gospel from the cultural context that Yahshua was born into. In light of this I still observe the Sabbath and when I read in Exodus 20:13 that “we should not murder,” that applies to my brothers and sisters who are incarcerated as well. As a practical womanist theologian who works against mass incarceration’s impact on Black women and girls through the PICO National Network’s Live Free Campaign, which works to end mass incarceration and police brutality, I am grieved by how the intersections of racism, sexism and classism collide to send my sisters to death row. Do we see these women?

As a woman I am inspired by the account of the Egyptian enslaved woman Hagar, who after being unjustly cast out of the home of Abraham and Sarah with her son, encounters the “God who sees her” (Genesis 16:13). Like Hagar, African American women in the criminal justice system are usually unseen and unheard, especially those who are on death row. According to academics Harry and Sheila P. Greenlee, “The percentage of women of every race receiving death sentences is less than their percentage in the female population, except for African American and Native American women. The percentage of African American and Native American females receiving death sentences is more than double their percentage of the U.S. female population. Interestingly, this finding is not true for the other women of color.” It should also be noted that Native American women face disparities in the criminal justice system as well, and this reflects the ongoing injustice faced by the general Native American population since the inception of the United States, which prospered due to the stolen land of Native Americans and stolen bodies of Africa. Theologically I believe that sin is not only individual but also social and is embedded into the very fabric of American society. The United States’ original sin is racism, and the death penalty is just another reflection of this sin. Theologically we mustsee the millions of Black women and girls who are abused by the criminal justice system, whose lives end not only in murder on death row but also while in police custody. In July 2015 five Black women died in police custody and their names are:

Sandra Bland

Kindra Chapman

Joyce Curnell

Ralkina Jones

Raynette Turner

I would challenge advocates against the death penalty to expand their work to include advocacy concerning those who die in police custody, because in my opinion this goes hand-in-hand with the death penalty: One is formal, another is informal, but both are murder by our criminal justice system.

As a faith-based organizer I know that what must be done about the death penalty in general, and its impact on Black women in particular, is that we need to get organized. But this organization should be led by African Americans because we are the ones most affected by the injustice of mass incarceration. Ending the death penalty has to be a part of a holistic campaign to reform our broken, profit-driven mass incarceration system. African American women must organize against the death penalty in all its forms—whether it’s a sister sitting on death row for ten years or Sandra Bland who died in police custody. We have to organize with prophetic public actions, standing not for but withwomen on death row, because the most powerful movements are led by those closest to the pain.

We also must organize by withholding our money and our votes. According to the Nielsen Company study entitled “African American Consumers: Still Vital, Still Growing in 2015,” African American buying power is 1.1 trillion. According to the “Buying Power of Black America” report by Target Market News, “the purchases made by Black women are the single biggest influence on the growth of African American spending.” With this buying power we can begin to boycott those companies that utilize prison labor and those companies that invest in private prisons. According to my colleague Margarida Jorge, national director of the Women’s Equality Center, African American women are the most consistent voters for the Democratic Party. With this voting power, we should demand of all political parties, but especially the Democratic Party, that our support be tied to candidates willing to stand against the death penalty. According to research from Wesley Granberg-Michaelson in his book From Times Square to Timbuktu: The Post-Christian West Meets the Non-Western Church, the average Christian in the world today is a woman of African ancestry. Black women not only have buck and ballot power; we have the power to influence the Christian church to take on the issue of ending the death penalty. For non-Black women allies the death penalty affects all of us and your voice as an ally is extremely important in supporting a movement to end this sinful practice in our criminal justice system. We all must get organized to build a groundswell that says the death penalty is unacceptable in our society. We all must see those who are on death row because they are our brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, friends, and neighbors. It is only when we see the tragedy of a criminal justice system that murders rather than reforms that we will create a society that honors the lives of all.

Onleilove Alston, M.Div., MSW, is a native New Yorker and Executive Director of Faith in NY, an affiliate of the PICO National Network, where she leads A Women’s Theology of Liberation, training women of faith to organize through a gender lens rooted in their faith. She tweets@Wholeness4ALL

Also In
The Discussion

Capital Crime Calls for Capital Punishment

By J. Daryl Charles

The United States Should Abolish the Death Penalty, as Pope Francis Implores

By Joseph A. Fiorenza

For Mormons, a Contested Legacy on Capital Punishment

By Patrick Q. Mason

– See more at: http://religionandpolitics.org/2016/01/19/lets-reform-our-broken-criminal-justice-system/#sthash.tjxLcEFr.dpuf

#StandwithBlackWomen&Girls Reflection

Stand with Black Women and Girls

Devotional: The First Baby Shower Unites Women on the Margins

by Onleilove Alston

This piece was originally published in the NPR’s OnBeing Blog

(http://www.onbeing.org/blog/first-baby-shower-unites-women-margins/2738)

This season I am reminded of the meeting Mary had with Elizabeth to announce she was with child. Though this could have been a time of anxiety for Mary, with Elizabeth it became a time of celebration. I playfully call the following account of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth the first baby shower and in this account we an example of the deep sisterhood that maintains women on the margins especially Black woman during times of uncertainty.

“Mary didn’t waste a minute. She got up and traveled to a town in Judah in the hill country, straight to Zachariah’s house, and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby in her womb leaped. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, and sang out exuberantly, you’re so blessed among women, and the babe in your womb, also blessed, And why am I so blessed that the mother of my Lord visits me? The moment the sound of your greeting entered my ears, The babe in my womb skipped like a lamb for sheer joy. Blessed woman, who believed what God said, believed every word would come true!

And Mary said, I’m bursting with Good news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior Yahweh. God took one good look at me, and look what happened — I’m the most fortunate woman on earth! What Yah has done for me will never be forgotten, the Yah whose very name is holy, set apart from all others. His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before him. He bared his arm and showed his strength, scattered the bluffing braggarts. He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold. He embraced his chosen child, Israel; he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high. It’s exactly what he promised, beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months and then went back to her own home.”

In America, baby showers are times for women to come together and celebrate new life; presents are exchanged, advice given, and games played. Mary and Elizabeth celebrated the new life within them by exchanging presents of joy, encouragement, song, and prophecy. Both women were carrying children of promise: one would pave the way and the other would be the way.

John the Baptist, a prophet even from the womb, jumped for joy because he knew the baby Mary carried was the Messiah. Mary and Elizabeth were both silenced and marginalized in their society, yet in the company of each other they declared prophetic words of what God was doing in their midst. Neither woman had a convenient pregnancy — Mary being a teenager and Elizabeth being an elderly woman, but each allowed herself to be inconvenienced for Yah’s purposes. Mary and Elizabeth’s celebration shows the importance of women coming together for prayer, praise, and prophecy.

When Mary sings, “He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold,” we see that in the presence of Elizabeth she could freely declare words that may have been dangerous if spoken in public. Mary’s song was more than words of celebration, it was a declaration of the inevitable breakthrough of justice.

In my tradition as a womanist Sabbath Keeping follower of Yahshua (Jesus) I am in a season of waiting for the messianic age, but this season I am not waiting for Yahshua. There is no need to wait because his grace breaks into my reality each day. As a young African-American woman, I am waiting for the justice Mary sang about to break through into my community, into the U.S. prison system, into the shacks of South Africa, into the relations we have with each other. As I think about Mary being pregnant as a Hebrew woman living under Roman domination I am reminded of the thousands of pregnant incarcerated women that give birth while chained to beds every day. They too are waiting for God’s justice to break through, will we be like Elizabeth and stand by them?

 

This passage is an encouragement to me as I wait because it reminds me that when women gather in Jesus’ name He is in our midst. I believe that if we want justice to break through into our society we cannot passively wait, but like Mary and Elizabeth we have to actively wait singing prophetic songs and taking actions of justice. Let us not grow anxious by the circumstances we see: the holiday parties, gifts to buy and return, or seasonal loneliness. But, during this season of Advent, let us remember that the Gospels included everyday people who God used in extraordinary ways.

Women can continue to come together to rejoice, celebrate, and prophesy about liberation through collective action and prayer. This season I will actively wait by organizing for justice in my community, because when we come together the course of history will be interrupted, life birthed, and justice given.

   

Prayer: God of Sarah, Hagar and Mary please be with women who are incarcerated this season, especially be with our pregnant incarcerated sisters and the children they will bring forth. Give us the courage to be like Elizabeth and standby our sisters to sing and act in ways that will cause the powerful forces of injustice to fall. Amen

In light of the #AssaultatSpringValleyHigh my colleagues and I came together to call faith communities to Stand with Black Women and Girls and we created a toolkit congregations can use. The toolkit is subdivided into four sections: 1) Liturgical Resources; 2) Policy Options & Public Actions; 3) Social Media Campaign; and 4) Video Resources. Starting Friday, December 11th, the #StandwithBWG campaign will continue until Sunday, January 17th, 2016. To join the campaign or request further information, please email standwithbwg@gmail.com

The Stand with Black Women and Girls Planning Team:

Rev. Andrew Wilkes, Convener and Policy Options/Public Actions Director, #StandwithBWG

Rev. Jennifer Bailey, Liturgical Resources Director, #StandwithBWG

Kercena Dozier, Digital Campaign Director, #StandwithBWG

Rev. Dr. Traci Blackmon, Executive Minister of Justice& Witness, United Church of Christ; Senior Pastor & Teacher, Christ the King, United Church of Christ

Rev. Dr. Frederick Haynes, Chairman, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference; Senior Pastor,Friendship West Baptist Church

Rev. Shivonne McKay, Pastor, Galilee United Methodist Church

Rev. Willie Francois III, Pastor, Mount Zion Baptist Church

Ifeoma Ike, Esq., Co-Creator, BlackandBrownPeopleVote.

Onleilove Alston, Executive Director, Faith in New York

Carmen Dixon, Organizer, Black Lives Matter Chapter – New York City; Faith and Policy Organizer, Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies

 

The Black Presence in the Bible: Uncovering the Hidden Ones

The Last Supper from The Roman Catacombs

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while over the past few months I had a great deal of changes and additions to my life which I am grateful for. I recently started my own organization Prophetic Whirlwind: Uncovering The Black Biblical Destiny which is dedicated to producing Bible Study and devotional materials as well as workshops and lecturers concerning the Black presence in the Bible. I am a theology nerd but the spirit reminded me it’s not enough to collect all this info for yourself but you owe it to your ancestors to share it. Check on the Prophetic Whirlwind page on this blog for more information.

I hope all is well with each of you, remember stay connected to the Most High and you will be reminded of the truth.

Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.” –Psalm 68:31

This was originally published on Sojourner’s God’s Politics Blog

Isaiah43The Bible is a multicultural book. This statement may sound controversial but archeology, history, and the text prove it to be true. In 2013 this controversy played out in the media when viewers of The Bible miniseries were upset that Samson was played by a black man. A second controversy occurred when a Fox News broadcaster confidently declared that Santa Claus and Jesus were white, yet when people researched original depictions of Saint Nicolas, they found pictures of a dark brown man. It appears that our faith has been distorted. As we celebrate Black History Month and prepare for Lent, how can uncovering the black presence in the Bible aid us in mourning against the sin of racism? One of the effects of racism is the whitewashing of history and sadly this has taken place even in our biblical studies.

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‘Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won’t Do)’

PrayerRallyforTM

For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14

Revival is defined as: Restoration to life, consciousness, vigor, strength, and repentance (emphasis mine)http://dictionary.reference.com

Lord during my darkest hour I lean on you. You are all that I have. At the end of the day, GOD is still in control.”-Sabrina Fulton mother of Trayvon Martin

Saturday night as I was waiting for the subway to take me from the Upper Westside of Manhattan to Harlem I overheard an African-American cop tell his co-worker that George Zimmerman was not convicted of any charges. The face of his co-worker who was an African-American woman dropped and she silently turned towards the tracks to look for the next train. The scene was disturbing to me because I saw the powerlessness in both cops faces which is disheartening since these are “New York’s Finest” and yet with their badges and city issued authority they like many African-Americans were reminded of our powerlessness in a system that was founded on devaluing African life. As I sat on the train heading uptown I was outraged by the verdict but not surprised. When I arrived home I had to tell my African roommates from Tanzania the news and we had a long discussion about the case and one of my roommates stated “I guess we can only get justice from God.” My African roommates like myself are followers of Jesus who have had evangelical conversion experiences yet we know that our faith cannot save us from white supremacy. The Sinful fact is that though the Apostle Paul proclaimed in Galatians that: “we are all one in Christ” (Galatians 3:28) this oneness has not occurred in our daily realities.

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They Found Everything As Yahshua Told Them It Would Be

Mark 14:12-21

12 On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, ‘Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?’ 13So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, 14and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, “The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” 15He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.’16So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

17 When it was evening, he came with the twelve. 18And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.’ 19They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, ‘Surely, not I?’ 20He said to them, ‘It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. 21For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.’

Reflection by Onleilove Alston

Often when I have a need, I worry, fret, and plan though I know Yah’s word tells me “not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present my requests to God” ( Philippians 4:6). But like the disciples, I have a relationship with Yahshua. Yet I still struggle with trusting that he will meet all my needs. Countless times throughout the Gospels we see the Disciples struggle with trusting Jesus – Thomas who demanded a sign, Peter who stepped out on faith to walk on water but then denied knowing Jesus, even Mary and Martha felt Yahshua was late when it came to their brother Lazarus.

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