One year ago Charlotte, NC lit up in a blaze of social unrest. A literal uprising, “Charlotte Uprising” was a whirlwind of engagement in mass protests of communities rising up, grieving and healing together after the police shooting of Mr. Keith Lamont Scott.
I will never forget the call that came late that night from my fiancé, a pastor who was down at the protests when shots were fired and a protester was killed. I was two hours away in Asheville but I could tell by the sound of his voice that I needed to get there. He had witnessed the shooting, but didn’t see the shooter. At the time of the incident, his immediate perception was that the shots fired had come from the police. He had been very close to the victim at the time of the shooting. Other people we talked to also perceived the shots as coming from the police line.
The next morning we went into Charlotte for an organizing meeting. We offered the use of his church at the time where he was an associate pastor. I met with a representative of local Black Lives Matter and handed over the keys to them. What happened next was my dream of church. To me, it was like watching the kingdom of God inhabit a church. There was a full scale mobilization happening out of the church within 6 hours. Supplies were dropped off en mass, medic and first aid trainings were happening a few times a day, mass trainings and meetings, clergy events, a press conference, plus food and sleeping places for anyone who needed it.
Mobilization spaces are beautiful expressions of beloved humanity and community. It’s one of those rare times in life where we are a part of a crowd (the multitude) and have an experience of connection in community, in that liminal space that happens in trauma, when we are good to each other.
Don’t get me wrong, we can be very not good to each other at mobilizations too. We bring the pathologies and poison of the culture with us into movement spaces. It is why we have to be so vigilant in employing de-colonizing practices in our movement spaces.
I made a mistake that week. I had been told not to allow media into the building and we had passed that along. Well, one morning I had just arrived on site at the church and was trying to make coffee happen when I was introduced to a beautiful black woman who said she was doing a story on our support mechanisms and wondered if she could see the triage area where we do medic and first aid support for the protests. I got kind of lost in the yumminess of the interaction and ended up showing her around. Just then we got a call from the BLM activists who we were working for. They heard there was a reporter in the building and they were pissed. I was able to kill her story. She deleted the photos off her phone. I did the clean up work that needed to fix my mistake. I realized how my sense of safety isn’t everyone’s experience and that a reporter, however sympathetic to the uprising, can release information publicly that can compromise movement work. Again this work pushed me up against my own privilege and assumptions about life. I’m sorry I embraced that journalist when I agreed not to. My sense of safety and being accustoming to having the power and making decisions led me to making the wrong call in that moment.
SO what happened next was the senior leadership of my finance’s church flew back in town and showed up. The next day was, for me, the unraveling of the dream and the breaking of my heart. The senior leadership systematically shut down the church as a resource for Charlotte Uprising. The senior pastor maintained that having the Uprising at his church had hurt the reputation of the church. While this is going on, my fiancé was given an award for his work at Uprising, was included in a museum show for the same reason and was invited to be one of the grand marshalls of the MLK parade. Clearly there was a plurality of views on Uprising and how it impacted the church. It was difficult to believe that a progressive church was not fairing well post Uprising when he was receiving all this acknowledgement from the community.
But to me it’s not about how Uprising impacted the church. To me that’s the wrong question. How did the church serve the Uprising? That is the question I wish we would really rise to in Christianity. God is doing beautiful things for justice in and through the “multitude” and I really wish the church would honor that work as a divine expression and support it.