by Mikel Kwaku Osei Holt
“It’s hard to be Christian,” I told the congregation at House of Grace two Sundays ago. “And it’s hard to be Christ like, particularly if you have a grasp of history and are challenged at every turn by people and institutions that are intent on keeping us down, if not out.”
The House of Grace is a new ministry pastored by my sister and brother in law, Reverend Deborah and Clarence Thomas. Our services are held at the Radisson Hotel on Highway 45 and Main Street in Menomonee Falls. What drew me to this ministry was the uniqueness of its services, which are traditional CME, but grounded in African communalism.
At the House of Grace congregants are not lectured to, but are instead truly part of the service. ‘Call and response’ is taken to a new level, at the church, as congregant participation and fellowship is optimized.
Each service begins with an opening prayer, followed by what we call ‘real talk,’ a segment during which congregants can talk about anything that touches their hearts, from biblical questions to current events. Almost mystically, the sermon that follows always seems to tie into the dominant theme of the real talk segment.
On this particular Sunday, I felt compelled to use the real talk segment to confess that my Christian faith was challenged by a scene I witnessed but a few minutes earlier while driving down County Line Q (the road that separates Germantown from Menomonee Falls). Parked on a lot was a late model pick-up truck with a ‘for sale’ sign in the side window, and a confederate flag brazenly filling the rear one.
I noticed the same vehicle a week earlier, and slowed down to watch as a young White man with short cropped hair under his baseball cap walking away from the vehicle. A couple of days later I intentionally drove past the vehicle and witnessed a White teenager in similar dress driving another pick up, proudly displaying another confederate flag leaving the same apartment parking lot.
Now you’re probably are wondering why I went out of my way to drive past that apartment complex. And I in truth I can’t fully explain it. Maybe it was curiosity. Or maybe I was doing reconnaissance of sorts. The only certainty is that my thoughts were unchristian-like and more along the lines of preparation…just in case.
In any event, after the most recent Sunday morning observances, an uneasy feeling started welling up in me. By the time I reached the hotel/church, it bordered on hatred.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Hatred is the most unChristian feeling anyone can harbor. But, as I told the congregation, sometimes it’s hard being a Christian when you’re a Black man who has stood under the shadow of apartheid all of his life.
It’s hard to be Christ-like when you realize you’re are standing on the shoulders of forefathers who fought and died for an elusive concept that has yet to fully materialize. It’s easy to cite Biblical scripture, but sometimes those words seem abstract when you notice that 60 years after the Civil and Voting Right Acts there is a resurgence of hatred in America and the number of groups who have pledged to eliminate you, Arabs, Jews and Hispanics has tripled since the election of the first Black president.
I asked the congregation to pray for me, but I admitted it’s a challenge on my part to forgive and forget.
Maybe I’ve been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but I’ve seen three confederate flags in as many weeks, and it’s obvious that somebody is trying to tell me something.
The confederate flag symbolizes hate, violence and oppression. It was birthed by bigots who sought to maintain the worst form of slavery known to mankind.
Bigots throughout the south proudly waved it as they sicced dogs on Black folks seeking equal rights.
It was flown over the burnt and castrated bodies of thousands of Black men lynched during the 19th and 20th centuries.
It again flies above the headquarters of hate groups in the north and south today, providing a warning and a political statement.
When I see a confederate flag, as I did two weeks ago, and a week prior during a speech I gave at the Aymaddiya Movement convention at the Sports Center in Franklin, I go through a series of emotions—ranging from revulsion to paranoia.
But allow me to scan forward to Sunday and Monday of this week, and two thoughts that deserve further scrutiny and analysis for they will shape my today and tomorrow.
Like most Milwaukeeans, my first thoughts upon hearing of the terrorist attack on the Sikh Temple Sunday were of shock and grief. But my second was that the horrific act was perpetrated by a member of a hate group; someone who shares the same warped values of those who fly the confederate flag over their headquarters.
In the diseased mind of people like the terrorist Wade Michael Page, Indians, Arabs and African Americans are ‘mud’ people, who have somehow destroyed America and must be exterminated.
The next day, Monday, my thoughts centered on a broader question.
I wondered if today’s generation, void of historical reference and several steps removed from the Black Power and Civil Rights Movement could understand or even remotely empathize with my generation’s fears and foreboding? There is obviously a generation gap; one we must take partial credit for.
My generation was born in and of the civil rights movement. As an infant, I marched with the NAACP for open housing. Tell youth today that Black Milwaukeeans could not live on the far north or south sides of Milwaukee and they look at you with bewilderment.
I was stationed in Norfolk, VA during my first year in the military, where cops had confederate patches on their sleeves and Black Americans were kept in their place through custom and force. Norfolk provided my first experience with police dogs. I watched in horror as police used German shepherds to attack Black citizens who had lingered around a downtown theater too long.
My next assignment was in Jacksonville, FL, where my first visit to a public establishment there was repelled by bigots standing under a confederate flag who told me and my fellow Black servicemen that ‘Niggers ain’t allowed here.”
(I’ll never forget that incident, which is one of the reasons I deplore the use of the adjective ‘nigger,’ whether it is uttered by a racist or a naïve Black person.)
Following Vietnam I returned to Milwaukee and engaged in dozens of civil rights campaigns, including confrontations with neo-Nazis, Klan and local bigots who fought us at every turn as we attempted to tear down the walls of apartheid. One of those culprits was the Milwaukee school board, which had to be sued in federal court for maintaining a segregated, and unequal school system.
I could go on and on. My generation opened the door for today’s generation that seemingly has neither an appreciation for, nor memory of the struggles and the shoulders they now stand on. That’s not only sad, but also culturally dangerous because without a historical foundation, we have nothing to stand on.
Is it any wonder then why our community is in its current state of cultural, political and socioeconomic stagnation? Why the Black nuclear family is growing extinct; why our children no longer value the education we fought so hard for? Is it any wonder why a new Negrocracy has emerged and we find ourselves fighting among ourselves over crumbs, an agenda and maybe even our Christian souls?
If the majority of our extended family doesn’t understand the significance of the confederate flag and is not alarmed by its resurrection in neighborhoods around us, then we are surely vulnerable to what comes next.
Amid the tragedy of a racist attack against people of color on Sunday—God’s Day—another thought occurred to me that will hopefully challenge that latter assumption.
If someone would lend me the money, I would like to buy that used pick up truck (assuming the short haired, cap and jeans wearing skin head look alike would sell it to me.) I would then park it, with confederate flag and all, in front of the Community Journal. If the windows were smashed within a day or two, that act of vandalism would give me hope.
And if not, I would write another column and use our various media resources to start a dialogue, which, who knows, may provide an avenue for a long over due family discussion that could open some eyes and replant some roots.