The Light at the Corner of Jennings and Lawler:
An Open Letter to Christian Intellectuals
The progress of time brought light down on dark streets everywhere. Candles, gas lamps and then, electricity! All created by some skilled hand, breaking open the darkness and inevitably, changing conditions; for some but not all. Many lighted streets, roads and paths span across our world, yet too many remain as dark, dark places. As a child of the South I recall the dim, dusty streets of my past. There were few lighted corners in the earliest history of my Country. Somehow southerners knew less light than most of the world. The life-altering crimes of rape, assault, lynching, and theft were easily hidden in the darkness of the south. Crimes of human depravity prevailed during those times overshadowing remote corners in wooded and barren places. Just as time has progressed, many Black children of the South and their children have lived with the damaging scars of those dark days. It is a scarring that migrated with us into many corners of the U.S. as we sought to leave it all behind. But it is a scarring that will not change by simple mental focus or determined effort or working hard. The scars inflicted upon an entire people group produced hardened hearts and souls that are harder still. It is strange that the hard scarred pasts that lie dormant in both Black and White cultures often go without speaking. Obscene is the idea, that people’s futures would not be severely damaged by the atrocities of Jim Crow, KKK terrorism, segregation and shameful abuses against those so unfortunate. Here we are, over 149 years since the drafting of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, finally realizing a glimmer of the freedom that was meant to shine through so long ago. Yes here we are, great-great-grandmother Jane Jennings’ African- American descendants struggling with that which we have not known: inherit social stability. Gratefully however, the world we now experience shares a glimpse of what darkness fights heartily to overshadow. Today we brace against the ever-standing socio-economic indifferences that render the American dream humanly impossible for poor people of all colors across the North American continent. There is no earthly light in the darkness of old roads paved in the tribulations of our ancestors left here for us to tread. Our marred streets and pathways are covered with the lashes first felt across Jane Jennings’ back. Those deep, bloody, fleshy cuts into her skin. Beatings deliberately inflicted upon my great-great-grandmother and others just like her as they were taken from Native American communities into slavery. The scars on her red skin were then transferred to the brown skin of great-grandmother Julia Lawler who felt no mercy and knew no earthly light. Grandmother Maude Lawler Thomas were handed down those scars and duplicated them purposefully onto her own children who then placed them on their children; children just like me.
I recognize, no matter the tone or color of skin, emotional scars appear as a lingering black shadow from an uneven pattern of past behaviors. Cultural patterns of neglect, mistreatment, degradation, shame, handed down from ship master’s from long, long ago. Each scar with lasting effects cast on my people and on each of us as individuals. Every remaining mark becoming a part of who we are as a people and as a legacy passed forward like heirlooms to innocent children who accepted abuse without knowledge or understanding of the same. Globally, poor people often experience the tragic debilitation of similar scars. As a people, America’s poor can only wish for the kinds of freedoms those with stable backgrounds and brighter futures enjoy. Today’s homeless children, like yesteryear’s socially oppressed, are robbed of their youth and childhood freedoms. he same children are often forced to make adult decisions too soon and end in the twisted debauchery of failure.
The South, the North, why all of the United States has not really known light, I fear. Not when Christian intellectuals stand in public arenas and say poor, broken people choose to be that way. My great-grandmother, Julia Lawler would not be surprised by the unabashed demeanor of rich Americans who deny choice, deny support and deny academic equity for those in need. The assumption that poor people are poor because they don’t try hard enough is simply ignorant and without basis. I challenge any intellectual, professional middle-classed person to walk in my shoes and still think I only got here because I worked hard. The results and achievements I can claim only came by the grace of an omnipresent GOD Who alone has quelled the hatred of earthly authorities on my behalf. How can I make this assertion? There is not enough time to tell the whole but one thing I know, much of what I have done in the past 40 years mirrors what my White-descended contemporaries have done and we have not had the same resulting progress. Not by a long shot.
As for the lack of light in this dark world, it is confounding but only temporal. Over the years, my extended family has only known the scars of our negative past, but we cling to a hope found in the only Omniscient Light. Seek the true Light, all of you who know so much about poor people and their ills. Receive the Light and know the Truth. He is waiting and He has waited for such a long time now. Be changed and know Him in fullness. You see, His name is Jesus Christ and He is the Light on the corner of Jennings and Lawler. Yes, He is the Light of the world. He is the Light that bring to Himself and a pathway to freedom of loving GOD first , others second and ourselves thereafter. The Light shines all about the corner of Jennings and Lawler. I am the corner where those streets meet.