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Juneteenth

The following is a reflection written for EDSD by Mr. Tomás Gayton, a retired Civil Rights attorney, poet and published author, and member of St. Luke’s, North Park.  

In this writing, Tomás shares parts of his and his ancestors’ pieces in our history and interweaves these stories of resilience and liberation from Jim Crow racism with the sobering reality of “The New Jim Crow” — a phrase first coined by civil rights lawyer and activist Michelle Alexander in her 2010 book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Alexander’s book examines racial inequities in America’s criminal justice system and delves further into how our systems of mass incarceration continue generational cycles of marginalization of the poor, and particularly those poor who are also people of color. 

I’m grateful to Mr. Gayton for this piece of truth-telling and for the reminder that, though we are no longer who we once were, there still remains a gap between our reality and the vision of Beloved Community. I invite each of you reading this, as siblings in Christ and co-creators in ministry, to sit with this reflection and to invite the Holy Spirit, particularly into the words that may feel the most uncomfortable or challenging to you. In this discomfort, how is God calling you to love? What might God be calling you to help transform, re-imagine, or co-create? 

For those of you looking for a more specific place to begin, I invite you to join our diocesan Racial Justice & Reconciliation Task Force, Diocesan Service and Justice Coalition, join or create a Sacred Ground circle, and/or talk to your clergy, vestry or Bishop’s Committee, and other pastoral and congregational leaders to help discern how Love might be asking you to move.

Grace and peace, 

Rachel Ambasing, Missioner for Multicultural Ministry 

—————– 

JUNETEENTH  

 This week we remember that on June 19, 1865, enslaved African-Americans in Texas finally received the Order that they were emancipated. Congress ratified the 13th Amendment–finally abolishing slavery on December 6, 1865. 

156 years later, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act on June 17, 2021, making it a federal holiday.    

Soon after the Civil War, we saw the rebirth of white supremacy and the rise of racist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Rutherford B. Hayes was elected the 19th President of the United States in 1877 and soon withdrew federal troops from the Confederate States. 

Fortunately for me, my paternal grandfather, John Thomas Gayton (JT) was a Black pioneer in 1889 when he escaped from the Jim Crow South and settled in Seattle, Washington. In Seattle, my grandfather, John T. Gayton, and his wife, Magnolia, were liberated from Jim Crow racism and prospered. 

Almost a century later, responding to the legacy of slavery, racial discrimination, and segregation, the Civil Rights Movement led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. took to the streets to end Jim Crow.    

My parents were both raised in Seattle, and my father, Leonard Gayton, was a prominent Jazz percussionist. My mother, Emma, was a loving wife and mother of four children. I was the oldest of three children. 

When Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States, we celebrated our nation’s “triumph over race.” Obama’s election was touted to be “the final nail in the coffin of Jim Crow.”  

Today, as we celebrate the liberation of my ancestors from slavery, we also see the legacy of slavery resurrected in “The New Jim Crow” and “The New Slavery” – the prison-industrial complex.  

According to a report from the US Bureau of Justice Statistics published in February 2023, at year-end 2021, 1.7 million African American adults were under supervision of adult correctional systems. Further, 1 in 19 African American adult U.S. residents were estimated to be under correctional supervision. This is in comparison to the statics for white adult U.S. residents at 1 in 62.  

Our adults who leave our prison systems are permanently relegated, by law, to second-class caste status. They are denied the right to vote, excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education, and public benefits like in the Jim Crow era. 

As we celebrate the end of slavery, and, in the words of Michelle Alexander, “let us not forget that the racial caste is alive and well in America.” 

 —–

“LEGAL LYNCHING” 

In a nation anesthetized by consumer capitalism 

its soul riven 

by George Floyd’s crucifixion  

on the cross of the Ku Klux Klan 

Protest and Rebellion  

against the legacy of slavery 

have risen on the city streets of America 

across the sea and around the world 

We repeat and repeat 

BLACK LIVES MATTER! 

I hope and pray you hear us 

—–

About the author: Tomás Gayton was born and raised in Seattle and lives in San Diego. Tomás is a retired Civil Rights attorney and published author. He co-founded San Diego Poet’s Press and taught poetry at the Writing Center and the Craft Center at UCSD. He is a world traveler. His poetry is his life in verse.  
For more of Tomás’ work, check out his website (www.sambajia.wordpress.com). You can also find his memoir, Long Journey Home, available on Amazon Kindle. 
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Category: #Advocacy, #Multicultural Ministry

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