Racism and hatred are cancers—cancers that ravage the heart of our communities, our cities, and our country.
These two ills are ones we must continue to address, being vigilant in our willingness to confront them wherever they exist.
However, two other cancers, far more malignant in their menace, threaten the health and stability of our existential pursuits and our collective consciousness.
You know them, and may be intimately familiar with them: fear and selfishness.
These cancers are much more potent in their potential for destruction because they are not often recognized for what they are, which removes the possibility of remedy. If we don’t recognize fear and selfishness as cancerous, we won’t see a need to treat them as such, leaving these maladies to metastasize unchallenged.
When we see a problem, in whatever form it comes in—social injustice, political corruption, systemic discrimination—and know unequivocally that it’s wrong but are unwilling to speak up because we don’t want to risk our prestige, position, popularity, prosperity, or otherwise, therein lies an issue of culturally catastrophic proportions.
The thought of risk can be debilitating for anyone. We ponder what we’ve worked so hard to earn, and wonder if it really is worth the risk to speak out. I wrestle with it myself. I see things that aren’t right and everything in me desires to fight it.
But then, I think about my kids being mistreated at school, becoming a bullseye for the news media and prey for those who wish to slander my name in exchange for a sensational social media caption.
I contemplate the perceptions that will belie my good intent, no longer being identified as the nice black guy, but now as a harbinger that triggers deep seated anxiety about what would happen if more of “us” start fighting back.
Not to mention the thought of losing the connections I have made or damaging the relationships I’ve cultivated that I deeply value for their personal, intellectual, and vocational reward. Being blackballed gives me pause.
I’ve been threatened and told that the system would make an example out of me if I pushed too hard or stepped out of my lane. This attempt to discourage me from pursuing what is purposeful is difficult to defy. I could be dispirited, and allow fear to keep me in the assembly line of life, like so many other would-be activists and nonconformists.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Fred Shuttlesworth, Ralph David Abernathy, Dr. Abraham Woods, Bishop Calvin Woods—my great uncle and grandfather, respectively—Harry W Turner Jr., the Foot Soldiers, Larry Langford, and countless unnamed others risked their own lives for the well-being of others, for something we no longer talk about called, “The Greater Good.”
In the words of President John F. Kennedy, “A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on.” These great men, with women alongside them, fought relentlessly for an idea. An idea that black people could no longer be relegated to second class citizens. An idea that we would be judged not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character. An idea that we would all live together in harmony. This idea was so powerful that we are now living in the manifestation of their imagination. BUT…
Tears fall as I type this. We’re so worried about people defaming us, not liking our statuses, and hating that we remain silent, when these individuals could have and some were killed for what they believed in.
My grandfather sat at a Woolworth counter and was beaten for us. My aunts were jailed during the civil rights movement. Despite Larry Langford’s misdeeds, his love for people is indisputable, and he contributed a great deal of his time and effort to ensure people of color could advance in progressive, equitable ways. He now sits handcuffed to a hospital bed dying.
Black, white, or brown, let’s come together and effect change. Birmingham was long heralded as a place of reconciliation and revolution. It was Birmingham that summoned America’s conscience to the stand and found her guilty of unconscionable crimes against humanity.
It was four little girls and two unnamed boys who were killed in a bombing on 16th Street that made America weep. It was children walking out of school and standing up to Bull Conner that sparked the movement. I firmly believe if Birmingham did it once, WE CAN DO IT AGAIN!
The city that was known as Bombingham will be known as Birthingham. This will be the place that births new dreams, new leaders, and new ways of thinking. We will inspire a renewed sense of hope, love, and change, which our city and country so desperately needs and deserves.
While we may not be able to make America great again, in the words of James Baldwin, “We can make America what America can become,” and it starts with you and me, right here in Birmingham.
Mike McClure Jr. is senior pastor of The Rock Church.