Ferguson: Truth in Action (by Andrew Gibson)

Andrew14a“To accept passively an unjust system is to cooperate with that system; thereby the oppressed becomes as evil as the oppressor. Noncooperation with evil is as much as moral obligation as is cooperation with good.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

On this day last year, we were holding our third annual Freedom Arts Expo. Recap collageThe sun was out, my people showed up, and we put on a great block party style art fair for our scholars. Yesterday we did it again and it was another successful, significant event. And yet someone I never met before was on my mind.
On this day last year, 18 year old Michael Brown was dying on Canfield Drive in Ferguson, just a bit north of where we were. He was shot and he died and then he laid in the street for four hours. And all I could think about was what if that was one of my scholars? What if that was one of my friends? Somebody I know and love?
The death of this young man that I never knew changed me. It changed me for the better. I’m thankful for that.
Yes, there have been different accounts and opinions of what happened on August 9, 2014. I’m not even going to get into that. What has remained true in all the accounts is that Michael Brown was killed by Darren Wilson who said he saw no other alternative than to take an 18 year old’s life. A trained, weapon wielding, experienced law enforcement officer saw no other alternative than to kill that young man.
Do we not see the problem? Forget all the rhetoric, agendas, and distractions. Do we not see the many problems?
It’s a problem that we aren’t overflowing with compassion and action. It’s a problem that white America struggles in grieving this young man. It’s a problem that to some it’s as simple as “well, he shouldn’t have been _____.” It’s a problem that we can’t have more compassion for someone who doesn’t look like us. It’s a problem that some of us believe he earned his death that day.

When we hurt or kill someone else, we are actually hurting ourselves too. We are striking down our own humanity.
Far too often, that someone else is somebody who doesn’t look like us. Even more often, that someone else is somebody who doesn’t look like me. That someone else is darker than me.
We need to quit arguing about what’s going on. We all need to step back and take a look at the reality of the world in which we live.
We need to accept the reality that people of color are mistreated due to systemic ethnic inequality. People of color are treated as less. As inferior. Or expendable. This is a lie that is pure evil. Have you ever felt inferior? Have you ever felt useless? Have you ever felt mistreated? Then have some compassion. Don’t argue about it.

My freedom fighting friends Alexis Coleman & Devon Durdin

My freedom fighting friends Alexis Coleman & Devon Durdin

We need to accept the reality that people of color are being killed every day and this has been our country’s history. We all know this inconvenient truth. We all know about this country’s historical attitude and treatment of people of color. What we don’t all seem to know is that it’s not over. Racism still lives, and it lives here, in our city. Racism lives in St. Louis, the city I love. That’s reality. Let’s face it. So we can change it. Let’s change this reality by realizing, accepting, and actively living the truth.

The truth is that we are all made in God’s image, and Black Lives Matter. That truth CAN define our reality if we put that truth into action. That’s the truth and I’ll say it until I don’t have to anymore. We are ALL made in God’s image. So, Black Lives Matter. The human race is a fallen, sinful one, but a perfect God created us in His perfect image. We bear that image, ALL OF US. I’ve seen that truth in action over the past year and it has been beautiful. I’ve seen people wake up and show up. I’ve witnessed artists, educators, and mentors become activists for this truth. I’ve seen God at work in St. Louis.

We are all made in God’s image, and Black Lives Matter. Realize this truth. Then get out there and put it into action.

Meanwhile, expect the nonviolent direct actions and civil disobedience to continue as long as the killing and abuse of authority continue. Expect your comfort and convenience to be put on the back burner while many of us fight to change the status quo.

I’ll keep speaking the truth and putting it into action.Andrew14b I’ll keep asking God to guide my steps, for He is the only one capable of reconciling power with love. I’ll grieve with those who grieve and stand with my people of all ethnicities and backgrounds. I’ll work to help people understand their God-given value. I’ll encourage all people in this struggle. I’ll fight for this city that I love so deeply. I’ll keep proclaiming the truth: We are all made in God’s image, and Black Lives Matter.

Andrew Gibson
(Executive Director, Music Coordinator, Music/Academic/Visual Arts Mentor)

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Ferguson: The Power of Our Voice (by Miles Dela Cruz)

I’m awake and I have a voice.
voice A

God has created each of us with a voice to proclaim who we are, what we believe, and what we perceive. This voice goes beyond the use of our vocal chords. Some of us are visual artists who can draw a picture that can illustrate over hundreds of thousands of words and feelings. Some of us are musicians who can beautifully pour our emotions into a combination of pitches and rhythms to create a soundtrack to our lives. And some of us are speakers and writers who can arrange a few words out of millions to craft a message telling us what is and what could be. However we find and use our voice, we all have the very daunting responsibility to use that voice for good, for truth, and to bring God glory.

voice B

Personally, I find it difficult to speak my emotions and opinions. I’m afraid of misusing words and then portraying my thoughts incorrectly. I want love to come from what I say. I want to inspire those who are lost. I want to comfort those who are in pain. I don’t want to tear anyone down with my words. I don’t want to discourage anyone looking for their own voice. But I’m not very good at using my own voice.

voice C

The evil one is hard at work in these times of despair. Pray for a shield against him. Pray for the words of wisdom from our Father. Our Father wants nothing but good for us. It’s especially hard to ignore the evil that is targeting us in the day and age we live in. We are constantly bombarded by information coming from everybody. Facebook was originally designed for college students to connect and communicate more easily. Now Facebook and all social media is the platform for people to voice their opinions and thoughts.

voice D

Throughout this year, we have witnessed the killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice, and the subsequent responses. Many have voiced their thoughts and opinions aggressively, which I understand. Emotions are running very high. I pray for even more understanding. I can’t help but ask God, “What now? What do I do? What do I say?” I’ve spoken to many people who have been “de-friended” on Facebook due to their voice. Who am I to be the one to devalue someone’s voice? I pray for more knowledge. I pray for a shield. I pray for more understanding for and from everyone,

voice E

I can’t sit here and understand the reasoning behind trying to shut someone’s voice down. So I continue to pray for more understanding. One voice can speak at a level heard in Heaven. Who are we to silence that voice here on Earth? One voice can bring light to the darkness. One voice can strike the enemy down. Do not let the enemy be the one to use your voice. Allow the Lord to be the one who sharpens your tongue and prepares you for battle. Do not let the darkness overshadow the light that your voice can bring. Be encouraged that you are being heard. Speak boldly! Our Father will echo your voice throughout the heavens and Earth. Listen for the wisdom from our Father and don’t be afraid to be a voice.

I am awake. I have a voice.
voice F
(“Listen up” by AG)

Miles Dela Cruz (Development Manager, Theater/Music/Academic Mentor)

Ferguson: The Light, The Dark, & The Need For Reconciliation (by Elisa Doty)

Listen here: 

(full transcript below)

EBD photo

“Words which do not give the light of Christ increase the darkness.”  – Mother Teresa 

To say that these past few months have been challenging would be an understatement. Both in my personal life and in my city, things have literally and figuratively been going up in flames. Like so many, my heart grieved after hearing of the tragic event that took place on August 9th and the reactions that soon followed. Since that day, emotion have heightened and have ranged from frustration and anger, to sadness and grief, to passion and joy. There has been much said and re-said, written and rewritten. At times, it’s simply been overwhelming! And honestly, you don’t need my opinions, my thoughts, or my proposed solutions. It would be wrong of me to assume that I have any real understanding of the issues that have arisen in the hearts of so many over these past couple of months. But I do see a need! My heart fills with compassion and is greatly burdened for ALL people, to know hope. A real and a tangible hope, a hope of healing and a hope of restoration.

Regardless of specific views, I’m daily confronted with people, who like myself, are longing to be a part of something bigger, longing for something to change, and longing for things to be made right……but what is right? Is there an answer?  We cry out for justice. We pray for peace. We speak of love, yet my own heart asks, do I know what love, peace, and justice look like?

As I went before the Lord, as I searched my own heart, and as I spoke with close friends, the idea of something bigger kept arising. Something bigger than you or I. Something that would transcend generations and cross racial and social lines.

Because, if we’re looking for our streets to be calm and crime free, if we’re looking for there to be an end to racial profiling, if we’re looking for some sort of government reform, or if we’re simply waiting for things to die down so that we can get back to life as usual, then our goal and our aim is too small! I implore you to see something greater!

We’ve all heard it: “every issue is ultimately a heart issue.” And yes, we’ve seen the very heart of our city exposed. St. Louis has been known for being hyper segregated. It’s a place where race and economic status have divided us for so long. And in many ways we have become calloused to the hurt in our city and to our very own prejudices.

I wish I could say that I’ve been surprised by the all the violence, by the destruction, by the rioting, by the protests, by the anger, by the passivity, by the insensitivity, or by the countless people now falling on their knees in prayer…but I can’t.

I can’t because I know my own heart, I know how easy it is for anger and pride to arise. I know how easy it is to be passive or passionate about something. Yes, I’ve experienced pain, but what I’m learning is that it’s through pain and the exposing of the darkness in my own heart that healing is then able to take place.

Mother Teresa said, “The way you heal the world, is you start with your own family.” And I would add, you start with you, with your own heart. You cannot lead anyone to a place of healing if you don’t know the way yourself. By God’s design our own journey of healing can bring healing to others. So let’s look at our own heart. Let’s ask, “am I willing for God to begin the work of peace, justice, and love in me? Despite how hard or uncomfortable it is, am I willing to allow Him to expose the darkness of my own life, the things that I would much rather leave untouched?” For many of us the answer will be no, but for some, I pray that the answer is yes.

I write these words with a heaviness of heart, because of the utter brokenness I’ve seen in homes across this city and region. I’ve seen the widespread effects of our wickedness, how jealousy can destroy a home and how anger plays out on the streets.

Every intention of the human heart is evil and sinful at its core. Not only does this divide us from one another, but it also divides us from the very one who created us, the one who loves us, and the one who ultimately gives value to each and every life. And although I may not yet know what our reconciliation really looks like, I know the God who does. The God who is love, the God who gives peace, the God who sovereignly sits on a throne of justice and who is righteous in everything that He does. It’s to Him we look. The grand solution that we’re all searching for in our lives and in our city comes from HIS powerful hand alone.  GOD, perfect in all His ways, looking on us the unjust and the unrighteous. Choosing to have compassion, when we ourselves were helpless and completely without hope. He chose to come. Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection we have hope of reconciliation, first to God and then to one another. Jesus alone is the source of healing. We look to Him, to his word, and to the cross. Because whether we know it or not, each and every one of us is in desperate need of a savior. And that savior is Jesus Christ.

And yes, JESUS is a NEED! He’s not like a drug that you try out to simply mask the problem in hopes that you get hooked and so that you won’t have to face or feel the pain anymore. He’s not about covering up the darkness. He’s about cutting through it with a light and a love that brings true healing. So despite all of the challenges we face, I’m excited, because I serve a God who works through our brokenness and He is faithful!

I urge you brothers and sisters, be reconciled to God and to one another through Christ Jesus. Don’t harden your hearts, but be willing to allow the Light of Christ to shine in the darkest of places. First in your own heart, in your own family, and then in our city also.

Romans 3:22-24  says,
This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Elisa Doty (Community Outreach Advocate, Academic/Visual Arts Mentor)

Ferguson: The Greatest Thing (by Beth Gibson)

Most of the time, I feel very removed from the situation in Ferguson. Teaching in a predominantly white elementary school in West County where roughly 11% of the student population is black, the terrible killing of Michael Brown sometimes seems as if it happened across the country, instead of a mere thirty minute drive northeast. The social injustice that is occurring today is an afterthought to many, and it seems as if some would like to sweep it under the rug rather than face the fact that there are people in our city who are denied rights and treated inferiorly every day because of the color of their skin. Comments such as, “When are they just going to stop already?” And, “Haven’t they gotten it out of their system already?” make my heart hurt because no they haven’t, and no they won’t, and no they don’t have to. 1 1st para
I think people should speak up about social injustice. A young black man was killed and nothing was done about it. The Bible tells us to weep with those who weep. People are weeping because of fear and anger. If you are removed from the situation, make an effort to understand what it is like to be a black person living in St. Louis today. That would be love in action.

In addition to working full time in a public school, I have the privilege of working at Freedom Arts. Our student population is predominantly black children from North City who suffer from poverty, neglect, and sometimes even trauma. I love them dearly and cherish the opportunities to spend time with them. After spending the afternoon recently with five of our little girls, my heart was full after we laughed together, talked about how much Jesus loves us, and how to treat their brothers with love and kindness. Though I met them three years ago, I feel like our journey together has just begun. Freedom Arts is committed to mentoring these little ones for many years to come and although I have answers and advice for them now, they are going to grow older and start asking questions about their culture and society that I want to be able to help them figure out answers to. As of right now, I still have a lot of questions myself. If one of these kids asked me, “Why did this happen to Michael Brown?” 2 2nd paraI would talk about sin and how it can consume us. I would lead them to the truth of God’s word, which is our peace. But…I’ve never been a little black girl from North City who suffered from poverty, neglect, and trauma. I’ve got a lot of learning to do. They are growing up, alright. I want to be there for them along the way because I love them.

As a Christian, I believe that we are called to do and serve more. We need to be a light for others, for those who don’t know the Lord. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. We know these things, so we should be sharing them. I refuse to forget it or sweep it under the rug. I come into contact with too many impressionable young people to forget how valuable they are. We need to be ambassadors of Christ by getting involved and sharing the love.

Be aware. Listen carefully. Be open. Stay humble

People can be fearful and angry and hateful. We should follow Christ’s example and love them. After all, that’s the greatest thing that there is…

3 very endHalloween

Beth Gibson (Academic Coordinator, Academic/Visual Arts Mentor)

Ferguson: A Better Way (by Miles Dela Cruz)

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” Dr. Seuss wrote this in The Lorax. It appears simple and straightforward, but carries deep meaning.

With the killing of young Michael Brown, the community roared out with cries of pain and injustice. People want change. People want better. We should always want better. These wounds and issues are now in our faces, and we have to face them as individuals and as a community. Instead of pushing for better changes using the ways that caused these wounds and issues, let us find a new way. That way is in Christ. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). There are a lot of things that we do not know or fully understand. We must pray and trust. We must pray for understanding and then trust that our Lord will guide us. He only wants good for us. We must trust that. Trusting that is the better way.

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:11). We cannot continue divided. Pray for each other. Pray for our government leaders and community leaders. Love each other. We all have faults. We all have problems. Help one another. Be united. Do not stand alone to fight against the world. Stand united to better the world. Stand together as a neighborhood. Then a city. Then a state. Then a nation. Then create a better world. We need to build a better world. Do not tear down our city through killings or riots. Do not tear down our world. We cannot continue divided. There is a better way. The better way is unity in Christ.

by STL street artist Ed Boxx

by STL street artist Ed Boxx

Miles Dela Cruz (Development Manager, Theater/Music/Academic Mentor)

Ferguson: Love Produces Hope (by Andrew Gibson)

On August 9, 2014, we had our third annual Freedom Arts Expo. We had over 50 kids show up and participate in music, dance, poetry, pottery, painting, drawing, jewelry making, and more. The rain stayed away, the sun shined, and our scholars learned, created, laughed, and smiled.

On August 9, 2014, young Michael Brown was dying after being shot by police officer Darren Wilson only 14 miles north of us in Ferguson. Whether you throw a tiny pebble or a huge rock into a pond, there will be ripples that will move across the water and hit the other sides. This tragic situation has created ripples. A young man is dead. His family will have to live without him. The city of Ferguson has been torn up. Issues of race have boiled over. Relationships between police officers and civilians are proving to be poor.

This matters to me. So I’ve prayed. I’ve cried. I’ve listened. I’ve vented. Prayed more. Cried more. Pondered. Stood with protestors. Prayed more. Pondered more. Went to meetings. Had conversations. Discussed solutions. Had arguments. Prayed more. Pondered more. Because this matters to me.
I think Michael Brown should still be alive. I think Darren Wilson screwed up big time. I think this tragedy is symptomatic of a much larger issue involving race and authority. I think all issues come down to being issues of the hearts of people. That’s what needs to be fixed first.

There were race and authority problems in Jesus’ time too. There was prejudice, corruption, crime, and hate. He was subjected to similar issues. He faced them. How? What did he do during his time?

He taught. He took a small group of people from all different walks of life and he taught them love and respect. He built them up. He healed people along the way. He walked away from the places and people that rejected him.

I discussed with my Freedom Arts staff what, if anything, we could or should do differently. My wise brother and Program Director Corey Williams reminded us that we are already doing something. We have been doing something. We’re teaching and building up the underserved and misunderstood. We’re teaching love and respect. We’re preaching faith, hope, and love. We’re preaching purpose, vision, and direction. We’re preaching God-given worth. We’re teaching that Jesus is the way, truth, and life.

So I challenged my team to do it more boldly, accurately, and often. I challenged them to consider their thoughts and feelings about this situation, and then share them with the community. I felt personally convicted to spread the message of Jesus that sometimes gets lost in church teachings: the message of true, sacrificial, unconditional love.

My friend, brother, and Freedom Arts Board member Kenny DeShields is an excellent songwriter who has several songs about love. One that comes to mind now says “when it’s tough, when it’s unfair, that’s when you love. When it’s uncomfortable, inconvenient, that’s when you love.” That’s the truth.

The Bible tells us to love each other and bear with each other (Ephesians 4, 1 Peter 4, the list goes on). It also tells us to weep with those who are weeping (Romans 12). That’s the truth.

We want justice. We want reconciliation. We want truth. All of those are found in love. It starts right there. Nothing changes without it. Start by loving. Start by lamenting, listening, and lifting up.

The truth is that there is no earthly solution for a spiritual problem. Situations are unfair, but there is justice in Christ. Relationships are broken, but there is restoration in Christ. Stories are skewed and biased, but there is truth in Christ. This truth is that he loves us, and this love produces hope.

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.  And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love” (Romans 5:3-5).

Follow Christ. Know the truth. Receive love. Get hope.

R Faith Hope Love

Andrew Gibson (Executive Director, Music Coordinator, Music/Academic Mentor)