by Jeremy Langill
Last Sunday many of our parishioners, including over 50 of our own youth and parents, participated in a non-violent march to protest against the police brutality so unequally and disproportionately visited upon young men of color. It was something that I really wanted to do, a small but an important way to peacefully voice my frustration and anger at a system of justice that continually demonstrates its lack of care for the least of these.
Like most transformational moments, though, I didn’t realize what impact it would have on me. Let me share two quick stories from the afternoon that left a deep impact on not only my work here at All Saints, but how I see the work being done as we move forward to address the deep structural inequalities entrenched in our justice system and society.
First, the signs. You may have noticed from some of the pictures from Sunday these large, black signs with white lettering that spelled out “Hands up”, book-ended by two large hands saying “Don’t Shoot.” The story of how those signs came together is a testament to the kind of work that happens here at church every day, often going unseen. Isaac Ruelas, my colleague and youth minister, spent many hours designing them and then working with our youth on a Wednesday night to cut them out and paint the borders. Laura Thornton and the group she leads—God, My Parents, and Me—spent Thursday morning painting the letters white. On Friday, several of us (thanks Cooper and Tina!) spent the afternoon bracing the backs and attaching the poles. Sunday morning, a few of our youth at the Journey taped up the back to provide further support, and then throughout the march our youth (including some of our Seekers faith partners) and youth from First African Methodist Episcopal Church (FAME) carried them throughout the march and at the vigil that ended at city hall.
Wow…it really does take a village! For me, the signs provided a powerful backdrop to the event. As people gathered on the lawn at All Saints they were greeted by these huge signs that so many hands had touched in their creation, and then, as the march got started, the signs led the protest as we moved through the city.
A second transformational moment for me happened at the vigil. After a moving speech by Anya Slaughter, the mother of Kendrec McDade, an unarmed African-American youth who was killed by police in Pasadena in March of 2012, and several powerful sermons by local members of the clergy and residents of Pasadena, the police chief was invited to give a prayer for all who had gathered on the steps of city hall that afternoon.
In that moment I was suddenly reminded of how non-violent and peaceful our march had been, due in part to the fact that the police department had been invited into the process. They stopped traffic for us so that we could safely cross streets, they were helpful, courteous, and respectful—and above all, the officers present represented the diversity of all the people standing there at City Hall. Together residents of Pasadena, members of FAME, All Saints, elected officials, and the police department stood together praying for a better way to live together—praying for justice for all and rallying around our common humanity.
This year, advent has been a different experience for me. What in the past has been a more contemplative and reflective time of the year for me has turned into a powerful moment of putting my own faith into action and encouraging those around me to do the same—it has become a moment for me to experience the work of bringing peace, joy, love, and hope into the communities I work directly with and yes, even the world.