Martese Johnson and the Unimpressive Work of Justice

Martese Johnson was bloodied by the police on Wednesday. The UVA student is a graduate of Kenwood Academy, our neighborhood high school and the school my boys may very well attend a few years down the road. You’ll not be surprised to know that Johnson is Black. Hopefully you’ll also not be surprised to know that he is double-majoring in Italian and media studies, has no criminal record, and is on the university’s honor committee.

Martese JohnsonBlack Lives Matter. And yes, this still needs to be made plain.

I was thinking the other day about some of the emails and comments I’ve received since our church participated in a Black Lives Matter protest in our neighborhood. People have seemed impressed by that protest. (Others, I’m sure, had other opinions but they’ve mostly been polite enough to keep those to themselves.) I’m glad we protested. It was the right thing to do. But, relatively speaking, it wasn’t all that impressive. It cost us a couple of hours, some time in the cold, and maybe a confusing conversation with our children.

Important as it sometimes is, protesting is easy. Changing the system that allows for Martese Johnson to be bloodied by those meant to protect him is hard. Very hard.

There are ways our church is taking small steps to be on the side of justice and systemic change. Mostly it’s complicated and involves a lot of conversations, meetings, organizing, and prayer. It’s hard to capture in a blog post or photo.

One of the groups I’ve been meeting with will gather on Saturday for another conversations. Over the past months this diverse group has been a safe place for anger and lament. We’ve done our best to tell the truth- all of it. And now we are asking about the next steps we must take together. What can be practically done? How might we measure momentum and success in ways not tied to supremacist and consumeristic metrics? It’s tough and good.

The video below is one we’ve share with each other ahead of our meeting. In it Michelle Alexander makes the case for a new civil rights movement and, in her own way, shows why people of faith must be deeply involved.

Each time I hear an ugly story like the one involving Martese Johnson I’m forced to evaluate my priorities. Am I contributing to the system that allows this to go on, or have I found ways to hinder and subvert it? We’ve got a long, unglamorous road ahead of us filled with many important moments, some impressive and others not. In Michelle Alexander’s speech I hear the provocative challenge for Christians to take seriously the way of our Savior. It’s a way that seemed highly unimpressive in the moment yet it’s the only way to find life where there should only be death.

Author: David Swanson

Pastor of New Community Covenant Church in Bronzeville. Collecting signs of life.

1 thought on “Martese Johnson and the Unimpressive Work of Justice”

  1. Reblogged this on Intersections and commented:
    Thank you, David, for this post and for the life, experience, and effort you’ve put into living under and around these words. You are a remarkable person, a brother from another mother, my Mama’s “white child” as she says, which is the highest compliment giveable. I’m sure giveable is not a word.

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