By Josie Gonsalves
Facilitator, Writer and Speaker on Racial Justice;
Nonprofit Expert, and Adjunct
He is Reverend Johnnie Green, pastor of Mount Neboh Baptist Church in Harlem, New York which proudly proclaims, “We are a church in the heart of the village, and the village is in the heart of our church.” Rev. Green sits at a core intersection of extended bourgeoning America: the Black Church. This cornerstone of America has long been at the forefront of the struggle, forcing white America to wrestle with its 400-year-old philosophy and manifestations of white supremacy.
As defined by Professors Anthea Butler and Jonathan Walton, the Black Church is widely understood to include seven major black Protestant denominations: National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.(NBC); National Baptist Convention of America (NBCA), Progressive National Convention (PNC), African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (AMEZ), Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (CME), and Church of God in Christ (COGIC).”
“The Black Church is the center and circumference of the black community,” said Reverend Green, who is part of a coalition called the Mobilized Pastors and Communities (MPAC), an ecumenical organization for social justice. This network of churches and communities stretches across the U.S.A.in metropolitan areas, including Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, and New York City. MPAC is grounded in a deep and abiding commitment to the philosophy of social justice; such is the long tradition and moral imperative of the Black Church.
Rev. Green recognizes holding such a central position obligates him [and his fellow clergy] to raise a loud and mighty voice drawing attention to the profound economic devastation and social dislocation that defines the experiences of the overwhelming majority of black and brown in this country. “America is built on inequities,” he stated. “It is failing to live up to the tenets of the Declaration of Independence. There must be a necessary reckoning and reimaging of America so that it can live up to its ideals.”
It appears that reckoning is upon us. The compounding issues of a global viral pandemic, an imploding economy, and escalating white violence on black and brown bodies tear away at a long-fractured society. The effects of COVID-19 reveal the grave racial disparities in healthcare access and health outcomes for black and brown citizens. More black and brown citizens are contracting and dying of COVID-19 than their white counterparts, according to the early data from the Centers for Disease Control. Over 41,000,000 people have filed for unemployment insurance as the economy continues to contract, and state and local governments grapple with limited responses to protect citizens from the pandemic. The unemployment numbers for black and brown Americans are at pre-recession numbers far—higher than for white Americans, and could reach close to 20 percent by the end of summer 2020. As the nation struggles with the consequences of a failed market structure and social safety net, police brutality has amplified the economic and health crises facing black and brown people. The lynching of George Floyd by the knee of a white police officer brought millions of people around the world into the streets in a single human cry for justice.
This moment beckons a concrete black agenda that is transformative, comprehensive, and systemic. The social and political awakening of those waging a social justice call to action tells us to heed the cry. For Rev. Green, the time is now. “A black agenda must include everyone at the table, or it will fail as it has in the past. We must improve the black economic landscape before we can advance and that demands inclusion of all black people. And, yes, the Black Church is integral to that agenda.”