Archive Page 2

Tonight: Ferguson Grand Jury Announcement

As you may have heard, the Ferguson grand jury has reached a decision and is expected to announce its finding this evening.

This is a moment that will reverberate in communities across the country and even the world. And in these times, we want to create a space for our community to come together.

For those of us watching and waiting in Kansas City, Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church is opening its doors as a sanctuary and reflection space, starting at 7pm.

Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church
2310 E Linwood Blvd, Kansas City, Missouri

On a clergy call earlier today with Gov. Nixon, one pastor prayed, “History will record what we do this week.”

The first thing we want to do is stand with each other, in faithful witness and reflection.

You can also share your reflections, questions, or ideas here:
https://docs.google.com/a/cco.org/forms/d/16aoKHQ00IqXUoa9hBG8HX8DJ5H2TOK6qiO8c69L_2F0/viewform

There will be much more to say and do in the days ahead, but for tonight, please know that you are loved and you are never alone.

In faith,
Rev. Dr. Wallace Hartsfield and Damon Daniel

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I am not who they say I am

DV-header

DV-email-ask-GraphicAt CCO, I’m usually the quiet one with a coffee mug, scrambling around my cubicle, managing grant proposals, reports, and thinking how our money is driving our mission. However, I see you. I know your stories. Your pain and your hope matter to me.

As an Arab-American Muslim, I know that being heard as a community is an opportunity that does not come by very often in other parts of the world. My story is unheard because the microphone is given to extremist groups who think they can represent me. I am a Dignity Voter because I refuse to be reduced to someone else’s stereotypes of my community. I am not some simplistic national security interest. I refuse to walk into an incriminating frame that implies that my life is based on hate and violence.

As an Arab-American in Kansas City, I care about protecting our families from predatory lenders, respecting our workers with a living wage, expanding access to healthcare, and ensuring that every child has the opportunity to live a life of dignity. This is why I joined Communities Creating Opportunity. And this is why tomorrow matters.

There is an amazing buzz in the office right now. Volunteers are at every desk, phone banks and neighborhood canvasses are running throughout the day, printers are going nonstop, pastors are calling for people to use their vote to help move human dignity at the center of public life… it’s exciting. We are reaching out to everyone we can so that the neighborhoods and communities we love have a voice in their future tomorrow.

Click here to help us finish strong: http://www.cco.org/act?id=0003

Our work does not end on Election Day: I’m excited to let you know that we will be launching our membership program next week. You’ll hear more from me about that soon!

But in the meantime, please vote tomorrow. And please, even if you only have an hour to spare, help us bring more people out to the polls on Election Day. It’s a lot of fun, and it is making such a difference.

Thank you for everything you do,

Noor Higley

Development Organizer
Communities Creating Opportunity

Want to help fuel our organizing work? Click here to donate online.

Statement on Military Lending Act Rule Change

Early this morning it was announced that the Military Lending Act has been updated to close loopholes to better protect military families from predatory lenders. Communities Creating Opportunity has worked extensively on the issue of predatory lending. Our statement is below.

QUOTE:

“We applaud this strong step forward. Payday lenders have demonstrated repeatedly that they lack the moral restraint necessary to build a strong economy where everyone has a fair shot. The only drawback to this legislation is that not every American will get to enjoy its benefits – if military families need protection from predatory lenders, all our families do.”

Rev. Harold Johnson, Communities Creating Opportunity

CONTEXT:

  • Communities Creating Opportunity is a faith-based community organizing nonprofit in Missouri and Kansas that works extensively in communities afflicted by predatory lenders.
  • In response to community pain, in 2012 CCO and its grassroots allies spearheaded a massive campaign to cap the interest rate on payday loans to 36% APR. The industry fought a fierce and dirty campaign in response: http://www.propublica.org/article/how-high-cost-lenders-fight-to-stay-legal
  • The current average interest rate of a payday loan in Missouri is 455% APR.
  • Earlier this year, CCO and the faith community in Missouri successfully stopped the passage of an industry-sponsored sham reform bill that would have set maximum interest rates at 900% APR.
  • The payday lending industry relies heavily on lobbyists and campaign contributions in order to stay legal – donating millions of dollars.
  • Recent actions by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have revealed new and disturbing information about many prominent payday lending and online lending companies. (ACE Cash Express, Corinthian, the Hydra Group)

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Contact Andrew Kling, 816-920-0370, andrew@cco.org

Ferguson Reflection – Rev. Aaron Roberts

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Damon Daniel

1 Damon Daniel

Often I start my day with the prayer of St. Francis, and so I did as I settled into the train in my black clerical shirt on the way to St. Louis.

Damon Daniel from CCO (Communities Creating Opportunities) had emailed me his story from Ferguson. As a community organizer, he was there organizing youth in the community to register people to vote. The kids had successfully registered 50 new voters when, without warning, tear gas was used on them.

They ran.
They saw a police position, and Damon took the kids there to try to get them out of harm’s way. The officers seeing a bunch of kids running towards them, drew their weapons and pointed them at the Damon and colorfully told him to move away.
They ran.
They ran for about 3 miles to escape.

Damon asked for Kansas City clergy to come help. So the next day I got on a train. My spouse Carrie was supportive, but concerned – ditto for my son Paul. We didn’t tell Miles. He’s 8, and, LORD, let him have a little more time before he needs to confront this.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

2 Rev. Traci Blackmon

2 Rev. Traci Blackmon

I was glad to learn that I would be able to worship with the United Church of Christ General Minister Rev. Geoffrey Black. So I headed to St. Peter’s United Church of Christ in Ferguson to worship, and the highlight was connecting with my colleague Rev. Traci Blackmon whose ministry in Ferguson is powerfully connected to the Holy Spirit. She had just come to worship after praying with Attorney General Eric Holder and Governor Jay Nixon. We placed our hands on Traci and blessed and prayed for her. I got some video of her talking to us. She was going to the rally later, and I told her I’d see her then.

The businesses in Ferguson have suffered. Not just the ones that have been burned down. I saw the Quik Trip and others, which have been on the news. So, I decided to find a locally owned place in Ferguson to get an early dinner. I went to the African Palace. It’s West African style food, and I’ve only ever had East African. So, it was something new. The owner went over the menu with me, and I ordered a spicy beef dish that you eat with a dough. The owner hadn’t been able to get shipments in, so he didn’t have any Diet Coke for me.

We watched MSNBC on the TV which was covering the mobilization a couple blocks away. It was surreal as I ate my delicious meal.
As I left (big tip), the owner said to me, “I’m proud of you.” Honestly, I’m not sure what for. Coming to eat there? Trying a new spicy dish? Or, just dining out in Ferguson.

For it is in giving that we receive.

3 One of the cars in the parking lot I was filling up

3 One of the cars in the parking lot I was filling up

The rally was still an hour and a half off, so I drove to the grocery store parking lot where we were supposed to meet. It’s in a nice area of Clayton, and there was a Barnes & Noble with a Starbucks. I went in to read and get a nice iced tea to drink. There was an Episcopalian priest there all collared up too. After about 15 minutes, the store manager came around saying that we needed to leave in 5 minutes because the store was closing early. OK… So, I grabbed my iced tea and headed out. I went to my rental car to get a little AC because it was

really hot and humid. I saw my Episcopalian
friend doing the same. Another pastor
showed up, and then so did 4 police squad cars! Who knew that 3 pudgy pastors were such a threat!

We were told that we needed to leave since we weren’t “actively shopping.” I had my iced tea in hand and asked, “Does this count?” They just closed the Barnes & Noble, so my “active shopping” had to end. The officer sighed.

More pastors were arriving in the now vacated Barnes & Noble parking lot. A representative of the strip mall came out and asked us to leave because we were taking up parking for customers. Well, he had a point…if the main store hadn’t just closed. One of the officers was kind enough to check and let us know that we could park at the high school a few blocks away. So, we did.

Where there is doubt, faith.

The Rabbi that parked next to me at the high school and I talked about the Holocaust survivor who was hassled by the police. It’s on the news if you haven’t seen it. It is an embarrassment to this nation. He was quite concerned about the militarization of the police in the United States. This hasn’t historically gone well for Jews.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon.

5 Damon getting the rally going

5 Damon getting the rally going

The people for the rally were gathered in a parking lot. Lots and lots of clergy in collars and stoles and some youth too. I found Damon and checked in with him. He asked me if I would meet him at St. Mark’s Church in Ferguson after the rally. I agreed, and we began the pilgrimage to the County Courthouse to ask the County Prosecutor to ask for justice. The United Church of Christ was out in force. You’d think we were the largest branch of Christ’s church! I met Rev. Martin Copenhaver. Lots of Eden professors –

David Greenhaw, Deb Krause, Adam Ployd. I saw seminary friends. It was like a reunion! I also met some Kansas City clergy who I’m looking forward to getting to know better.

4 Some youth at the rally

4 Some youth at the rally

We marched and held a rally at the Courthouse. Speeches were made. I found the most powerful to be from my colleague Heather Archovich and from a Mom who lives in Ferguson. Voices like her’s are how resurrection is going to be experienced from this mess, I think. I silently prayed that God’s Spirit move her to run for office.

Damon and I caught up, and I could tell that he was tired. In a decade of community organizing, he’s never seen anything like this. For him, that’s saying a lot.

I got back to the car, plugged St. Mark’s Church in Ferguson into my phone, and off I went. Evidently, this church had been raided by police earlier in the day. Something about use permits. A computer may have been seized. It’s hard to know what happened exactly.

6 Rally reaches the Courthouse

6 Rally reaches the Courthouse

A thunderstorm broke en route. I found the church, and parked on a dark street. I couldn’t see well at all with the rain, and after accidentally walking into someone’s garage, they were kind enough to tell me how to find the church door.

Damon showed up a few minutes after I got there, and directed me to the church gym where we would be gathering. The gym was full of kids and clergy – some had come from the Clayton rally; others had been here a long time. It was the kids – not the official community organizers – who called things to order.

7 Youth leader of demonstrations.

7 Youth leader of demonstrations.

OK – these kids are angry. Really, really angry. An unarmed boy was shot 6 times a few blocks away, and it could have been any of them. They see no justice happening. They see lots of cameras. They have been trained in non-violent demonstration, but there are so young. One young woman is a particularly powerful leader, and she isn’t waiting hear what the pastors have to say. She has a job for us.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand.

Each night it’s as if a something new were being used on them – rubber bullets one night, tear gas another, sonic disruptors another. The police have become their enemy. They tell stories in tears about being taunted and mocked by the police. They’ve been hurt. The stories are powerful and the tears are real.

The kids would like the clergy to go with them essentially as human shields. The police may be less willing to pepper spray a pudgy pastor. Perhaps not.

8 Clergy dividing into teams to go with kids

8 Clergy dividing into teams to go with kids

We’re divided into groups to go with the kids. Each group receives training and there is a buddy system. You are responsible for keeping your buddy safe or dragging them to safety. I took a video of this. It’s getting very real.

The kids are angry. I mentioned that, right? They see these religious leaders as tools to potentially keep them from being targeted. There’s more going on here though. God is speaking. And a whole room of shepherds in Christ’s service are there.

This young woman – she let me take her picture – says that they believe that St. Mark’s Church has been targeted for a raid this evening. The church is the “safe zone” where people can come for water, to cry, and yes – to pray. Damon confirms that this is the case –

a raid is expected. They need some pastors to stay and keep this holy ground as a safe sanctuary. However, there is a very high likelihood that you will be arrested, if you choose to stay.

Some of the kids scoff as there is a pause when no clergy volunteer. Rats.
If we’re not willing to go the extra mile and put ourselves into danger of being arrested, we are just talking heads to the kids. But, we are called to be ambassadors of Christ, and it is by his authority that we serve. Rats. Rats. Rats.

I tell this charismatic teenager that I will stay. I am a shepherd and I will do my best to keep this holy place safe. I will do my best to keep her and these kids safe because I love them. A Franciscan friar, a professor from Eden, and an AME pastor from St. Louis, volunteer along with our captain, who writes the phone number I am to call when I am arrested on my arm in green Sharpie.

I get a huge hug from my colleague Nelson Pierce and lots of concerned looks from others. Maybe I should have thought this one through more.

We are taught how to treat tear gas victims, and my first aid EMT training from 20 years ago is coming back. I also clean up the snack table as all the other teams leave.

It occurs to me that I should probably let Carrie and Shea know what is happening. I could be delayed. And I pray.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

One of us goes to watch the backdoor. And a couple of us are out front. And, I’m in the gym waiting. So, this is a church, and God is pretty clear about hospitality. So, I clean. Groups of people come to this sanctuary, and I welcome them! I get them snacks and listen to their stories.

There is this cute couple from California who have come as legal observers. They have neon caps. They are nervous, and I point out that there is nothing illegal going on here. They had witnessed the police with shotguns drawn earlier, so they are nervous. They are recent law school graduates, and they are very concerned about the direction the nation is headed. Although they are not religious, they allow me to ask God to bless them and keep them safe as they head into the night.

Another group from Indianapolis has arrived to see the St. Mark’s Church they had heard about on the news. The community organizers are concerned about his group. Not that they are violent – just really naïve and scared. They’re not sure why they’re there, other than they want peace. I ask one of the young men what he’d like to see happen out of this mess, and he describes what I hear as a vision of God’s Kingdom here on Earth. I point out that what he envisions is a vision he shares with Jesus of Nazareth. We form a circle and pray.

People come and go. Twitter is showing that the clergy shepherding the kids is successful in keeping them safe. It also is creating conversation. God-willing that those conversations lead to a transformation of anger into focused commitment to make this world better. It’s what pastors do. God is working.

Eventually, our kids get back exhausted. The pastors are too. The police haven’t come. It’s early in the morning, and as I take leave I’m walking away from the building with two African American pastors who live in the area. They hug me, pray with me, and ask God to bless me.

That’s when the squad car comes. They want to come into the church.

I ask why. I ask if any of them follow Jesus. One officer says he does.
“Brother, you know this is holy ground. This is a place of sanctuary and worship. Let’s keep the peace tonight.” He shakes my hand – but not the hands of my black colleagues and leaves.
We’re a long way from the Kingdom of God.

But, it’s coming. I know it’s coming.
God’s Holy Spirit is working in Ferguson. Interlopers like myself have a little piece to play, but it is the Christian leaders like Rev. Traci Blackmon who will witness and work for the resurrection of Ferguson.

I come away from this night recognizing the need for Christian communities that are intentionally multi-cultural. There have to be places in our culture – demonstration plots – of God’s Kingdom. They are notoriously hard to create. But those communities of hope are good medicine for such a time as this. The walls of separation – racial, economic, political – must come down like Jericho. Otherwise, I fear that Ferguson is just a beginning.

They Chased Us Through the Streets

UPDATE:

Tonight, November 23, in light of the imminent announcement of the grand jury’s decision, Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church is opening its doors as a reflection/sanctuary space – 2310 E Linwood Blvd, Kansas City, Missouri 7pm

If you have thoughts, questions, reflections, or want to get more involved, please click here: https://docs.google.com/a/cco.org/forms/d/16aoKHQ00IqXUoa9hBG8HX8DJ5H2TOK6qiO8c69L_2F0/viewform

Original post:

I’m writing this to you from Ferguson, Missouri.

Our team has been here for days, working with the faith community and local allies in St. Louis, as well as our brothers and sisters at the PICO National Network. The family, the local community, and people of conscience from all around the world are seeking answers and justice.

This week has been one of the hardest I’ve encountered in my decade of organizing.

[Click here to join the faith community’s response]

On Sunday, as local youth conducted a voter registration drive and peaceful families marched down the street in the early evening air, police suddenly charged in hard, firing tear gas and flash grenades. It was completely inappropriate and unnecessary.

People were enveloped by the smoke as the crowd ran, and some brave young people stopped to help others get to safety, even though they were being burned by the gas.

We streamed away in chaos, eyes and lungs burning from the smoke. Confused, sad, and angry.

None of this had to happen.

Our leaders have faced choices in how to respond to this tragedy.

They chose to vilify a teenager who lay dead in the street.

They chose to antagonize a grieving and outraged community.

They chose to fire tear gas at peaceful protestors, and to attack and arrest journalists who were doing their job.

But the faith community also faces a choice.

The question we have been asking at CCO is this: As people of faith, what is our responsibility in this moment? How will we respond?

[Click here to join the faith community’s response]

Gov. Nixon has one thing right: The eyes of the world are on us.

Here are three big ways you can help:

1) March with clergy from across the state this Wednesday evening in St. Louis. One thousand youth and clergy will demand justice in this case and action from the county prosecutor. More details to come, RSVP here.
[UPDATE]

TIME: 6:30 PM CDT Clergy and participant arrival; March at 7:00 PM CDT

LOCATION:
Start Point—Schnuck’s at Ladue Crossing at 8867 Ladue Road, marching to County Prosecutor McCullough’s Office – 100 South Central Avenue, Clayton, MO, 63105. Park as close to Ladue Road as possible.

2) Donate to the campaign – staff and volunteer leaders are working around the clock with local community members and allies. Your support is fueling those efforts. (Be sure to select “Lifelines to Healing” under additional information)
3) Organize a prayer vigil in your community. If you cannot join us in St. Louis, raise your voice and your prayers where you are.

If you have ideas or reflections, or if there is another way you would like to get involved, please let us know here: http://tiny.cc/ccoferg

The faith community is playing a vital role in Ferguson. Together we will confront the hard racial truths facing our society. We will proclaim a vision of a society with human dignity firmly at the center of public life. And we will bring together a community response that will offer healing and justice to a people who desperately need both.

I will be thinking about this week for the rest of my life.

I pray fervently that we are up to the challenge ahead of us.

Thank you for everything you are doing,

Damon

Damon Daniel
Regional Organizing Director
Communities Creating Opportunity

 Want to make a financial contribution to our work? Click here to donate online

A Movement for Human Dignity

On June 24th, our nation honored the anniversary of Freedom Summer. Fifty years ago blacks and whites, Jews and Christians set their course south to record the stories of communities robbed of every day freedoms. In doing so, they challenged a set of laws designed to strip voting rights from black Southerners. (include Freedom Summer photo and CCO training photo as well)

 

This summer hundreds of leaders across the heartland are gathering to make decisions about how the community will again participate in a long-term relationship-building strategy that grows the voice and power of their people. Most importantly, they are creating space for the spirit and values of our people to excite a renewed movement for human dignity.

 

This past weekend, Rev. Lloyd Fields dozens of other leaders from across metro Kansas City stepped into that powerful legacy. They negotiated how to bring the interests of people of color and women into a powerful faith based neighborhood-organizing campaign. Rev. Wallace Harstfield II, pastor of Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church, hosted us in his congregation, a religious community long committed to neighborhood transformation and prophetic justice. He recognized the significance of our movement building work within our history. Rev. Hartsfield said, “we are building a movement that is incarnational and interventional. Instead of addressing a list of causes, our movement will be driven by the values that motivate.”

 

Communities Creating Opportunity is stepping into the legacy of leadership demonstrated by Freedom Summer in 1964. We launched a Freedom Summer fellowship for young professionals and students. Stephanie Feld and Isabelle Ciaramataro are volunteering their time to document stories that are all too close to the voter suppression experienced in the Jim Crow South. Congregational leaders from thirty communities such as St. Peter CME in Kansas City, Kansas and Grace Episcopal in Liberty, Missouri, and St. Mark’s in Independence, Missouri committed to continue the work of Freedom Summer leaders through Communities Creating Opportunity’s Dignity Votes campaign. This nonpartisan, values-driven voter engagement includes knocking on doors and following up with phone calls and regular contact to say to residents in neighborhoods around our congregations “your voice matters to us, and our community needs you.” While certain voting rights were won for women and people of color during the Civil Rights movement through a set of legislative advancements like the Voting Rights Act, we still have a long ways to go to achieve CCO’s vision for a society with human dignity at the center of public life.

 

In Kansas 20,000 voters are victim to the aggressive voter repression laws that go to extremes to limit voting rights. In Missouri Early Voting citizen led initiatives are being gutted and threatened by a state legislature determined only to listen to the highest bidder.  Despite the protections offered in the Voting Rights Act being steadily stripped away, Communities Creating Opportunity leaders continue to say ‘your voice matters and your community needs you.’ There are few other spaces where racially, religiously, and geographically diverse communities gather to prioritize their common interests, calculate their voting and leadership power, and step into a plan for realizing their community vision. They do this all through CCO and this past weekend, our inspiring team leaders from across typically divided metro boundaries presented a goal of engaging 22,000 voters in the communities we serve.

 

I am proud to serve the vision of this organization to move human dignity to the center of public life. Will you join us and bring the interests of your congregation, organization and community more deeply into public life?  Contact Molly Fleming, CCO Policy and Campaign Director, molly@cco.org

 

Thank you for everything you do,

Eva

Clergy Statement: End of the Missouri 2014 Legislative Session

As clergy representing hundreds of congregations throughout Missouri, we represent and transcend every racial, geographic, political, and class barrier across our state.

We stand united in a shared moral vision: we are called to imagine something better for our communities. We believe that every person in our state is a child of God, born with an inherent dignity that must be respected. Whether in our laws or our businesses, human dignity must be the measure by which our institutions are evaluated.

We are in the Capitol today, the last day of the 2014 legislative session, in a sprit of lamentation.

It is heartbreaking to see how far our elected officials are caught in ideological captivity. There is no good reason at all to deny 300,000 Missourians lifesaving healthcare. Something has gone horribly wrong when two or three senators can sacrifice the lives of 700 Missourians and call it liberty. Blocking a vote on Medicaid expansion is not ideological bravery, it is moral catastrophe.

We lament the injustice of inaction by politicians locked in ideological captivity.

We witness the pain of 300,000 vulnerable Missourians who are already living sicker and dying younger.

And we mourn the anticipated deaths of 700 of our neighbors, many who are the people in our pews.

Therefore, with deep passion, we commit ourselves anew, as faith leaders, to move human dignity to the center of public life in our state. Medicaid expansion remains a moral imperative!

 

The Rev. Dr. John Bennett, Jefferson City

The Rev. Dr. Wallace Hartsfield, Kansas City


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