Reflections on the road with NAACP

philReflections on the road with NAACP from Selma to Washington, DC by Phil Dage, life-long Detroiter, works to integrate music, social activism, historical studies, and faith in the pursuit of peace.

August 4, 2015:

My involvement with the NAACP began in Rosebud, MO. Driving my car in Detroit, last December, I heard an interview with the president and CEO of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks. While marching to the capitol, Jefferson City, Mr. Brooks gave a phone interview broadcast on NPR shedding light on the murder of Michael Brown and encouraging all sympathizers to join in the march from Ferguson to the Capitol. Like a strike of lightning, the words of the NAACP leader hit me. His words reverberated down into my soul and reinvigorated my passion for justice. And so I gathered a few of my friends and drove down to Missouri. We met the march in Rosebud (a story which deserves its own telling) and needless to say, the experience was profoundly impactful. After witnessing the NAACP’s firm commitment to nonviolent action firsthand, I became a strong supporter of the organization.

Now I am marching with the NAACP here in Montgomery, AL. Just a few weeks ago, one hot Summer’s day I received an e-mail from the NAACP calling for action in America’s Journey for Justice. Recalling my transformative experience in Missouri, I unhesitatingly made plans to join the march in Selma. My friend Calaen and I made it to the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, that battleworn bridge containing the blood of our forefathers, and began the 860 mile march to Washington, D.C. Here is what I wrote in my journal on that day, August 1st:

The beating sun guides our footsteps as we march toward justice. The holy spirit comes and mingles in our conversations. Step by step we unify ourselves. We take the practical action of eliminating barriers between us and work toward a common goal. It is impossible to struggle alongside an enemy. This community symbolizes the possibilities, while at the same time, working to change the apparent inequalities present within our current system. In order to work effectively, we must share a language. This shared language comes in the form of intentional, nonviolent action. I pay respect to those willing to work; this respect is reciprocated through inclusion–inclusion of the whole regardless of race, religion, class, or anything else which can be used to separate us. We are on America’s Journey for Justice. The community created by shared acts of self-sacrifice, humility, is undeniable. Working for something larger than yourself opens up your heart to empathy. Collective acts of humility build deep, heart felt connections. With this in mind, we struggle together and with the blessing of God we march toward truth.

After three days of marching in the scalding heat we have made it to the Capitol of Alabama–Montgomery. As I write, NAACP team members lead a teach-in about the school to prison pipeline. As we continue to learn and educate one another, our commitment to justice grows stronger. With each step we take, our commitment to justice grows stronger. With each conversation, each act of prayer, each meal we eat together our commitment to justice grows stronger. Love is a powerful tool. Tonight there will be a rally held on the steps of the Capitol building in Montgomery. I look forward to participating in this communal act of nonviolence and anticipate the words of our compassionate and thoughtful leader, NAACP President Cornell William Brooks.

September 8th, 2015:

Leaving the march in August was difficult because I felt a sense of responsibility; not only to the march itself, but also to the people I met there. Needless to say, rejoining the march will help me feel complete. I am called to focus in on the domestic issues plaguing our country, specifically institutionalized racism and its many manifestations. White supremacy rears its ugly head continuously; whether it be in the form of a white cop killing a young black man, or the lack of textbooks available to kids in Detroit Public Schools, or the quiet, unseen haughtiness held by “academic” intellectuals who believe we live in a colorblind society. The problem pervades all aspects of society, thus prompting this urgent action initiated by the NAACP. The Association decided to make the 860-mile march from Selma to D.C. because something needs to be done, now. And I am 100% in. The NAACP does a fabulous job on integrating direct action with educational forums, community building, and political rallies. Also, the organizers working for the NAACP are truly amazing individuals. People like Jonathon, Kevin, and Jamiah, these people are true warriors of justice. They do the nitty-gritty, often-unseen work of bringing people together from all over the country to participate in such a necessary action. I admire them. Further, the president of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks, truly deserves comment. I have not met a person who has a handle on the situation so completely as he. Being a pastor in the AME Zion church and also a lawyer, President Brooks is perfectly equipped to engage the beast of white supremacy. His conviction is strong, his voice does not quiver, and he knows that God is with him. I have already learned much from this man, and I hope to learn more.

And so as my train pulls into the station, I encourage anyone reading this to take time today to do something about the nasty racism still imbedded in our country: talk with a friend, volunteer in the inner-city, read W.E.B. DuBois, brainstorm ideas about what your community could do, say a prayer. No action is too big, no action is too small, but it will take action to combat the deeply implanted racism that exists. Often times we must start with the strenuous task of looking within our own lives and identifying those racist, exclusionary tendencies, which exist within our own psyche. Even me, I like to think of myself as a pretty democratic dude, who accepts everyone and loves all the children of the world. But that’s me at my best; there are times, usually under the cover of my internal thoughts, when racism appears. And it’s not because I am racist, but because we live in society that continually surrounds us with inequality and encourages, me as a white man, to feel a sense of superiority. And it would be easy for me to decide to live with this superiority and think everything was all right, but that is just not the case. I choose not to live that way. And so we are faced with a choice: to take the easy road of apathy or the hard road of action, of change. It is my prayer that we, as children of the world, choose to take the hard road of justice and know that God is with us.

September 9, 2015:

Today was my first day rejoining the march. Last night I arrived at the church and reunited with all my NAACP friends. I saw Keisha, Royal, Middle Passage, Ivan, Shelia, Kevin, Quincy, Carmen, President Brooks, Jonathon, Andrew, and many others. I was extremely happy to be welcomed home. I pretty much went right to sleep after saying hello and setting up my cot. This morning we rose early, about 5:45, and got ready for the day. We brushed our teeth, stretched our legs, drank some coffee, and devoured a delicious breakfast of eggs, potatoes, and biscuits. We then met up with the advanced team (they walked five miles earlier in the morning) and resumed the march in Diwiddie County, Virginia. Marching today was refreshing; it felt great to get back to it. I really missed all the people here!

I was part of the sprint team this afternoon, which consisted of Jonathon, Andrew, and I (all three of us marched in Missouri). Our conversation inspired me. We discussed the deeply imbedded injustice rooted in this country. I have regained focus on my new task: to give a presentation or lecture on the need for constitutional reform in this country. Here are the major talking points: the sham of two-party politics, the corporatocracy (oligarchy) running this country, the racism and sexism which exists in the Constitution, the tangential, far-fetched direction the Executive Branch has taken foreign affairs into perpetual warfare, and finally the call for Constitutional transformation. I truly believe that we, the people of the USA are sovereign, therefore, we have the ability to reconstitute our government. In this lecture I will present the argument for the desperate need for transformation evidenced by the apathy found in the voting population and the notion of voting for “the lesser of two evils.” The political discussion needs to be blown wide open. Because of two-party politics and popular media, our view of the political spectrum is restricted, which is wholeheartedly unconstitutional. Let us not forget that our current Constitution was developed under the auspicious of amending the Articles of Confederation, which obviously was thrown out in favor of framing a completely new document. In other words, the writing of the Constitution was an act of treason against the Articles. So, I will say it point blank, I am proposing something similar. Not so much an act of treason, but rather reevaluating our Constitution, seeing what works and what does not, and transforming out governing document into the 21st century. These thoughts are seedlings for further contemplation.

September 11th, 2015:

Today is a solemn day. Today marks the fourteenth anniversary of the infamous 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center Buildings. I cannot help but to think of the third building that collapsed that day, World Trade Center 7. This building was not hit by a plane, but collapsed in the same manner as 1 and 2. It makes me think: things are not always as they seem. Why did that building collapse? Is the story about 9/11 true? What information has been omitted to the general public? It’s curious.

With 9/11 in mind, we continue our march to the Capitol. We march for the truth. We march to speak truth to power. We march so our voices will be heard. Last night, President Cornell William Brooks gave a spirited speech at Virginia Union University. The President spoke beautifully about the need for legislative reform within the criminal justice system. The President reinvigorated and refreshed our spirits and refocused our energy it was needed. Today I marched with the truth in mind. I had another enlightening conversation with an NAACP staff member, Mendela, about what really happened on 9/11. We discussed the military-industrial complex and oil. Also, Mendela gave me a little glimpse into his own story, growing up with ex-Black Panther parents in Oakland, CA. The level of intelligence and the deeply rooted revolutionary struggle found within the people here on this march continually astounds me. This Journey for Justice is truly a radical act. I’m happy to be here and it is no coincidence that I am here. I am here as a member of the sprint team, but more so as a human ally in our struggle toward truth.

Throughout this entire March there have been a group of rabbis from the Center Conference of Reform Judaism. They carry the Torah in the same way Joshua Heschel carried the Holy Scripture with Dr. King during the Civil Rights Movement. The Torah is carried not only by the rabbis, but anyone who is willing and able. I am a frequent volunteer to carry the Torah. So as I carried the first five books of the Old Testament I reflected on the importance of faith in nonviolent action. Faith is our weapon. In such struggles of unfathomable magnitude, how can we hope to win? The struggle will not be won with bullets, for that is how our enemy wants us to respond. Rather, we must equip ourselves with the Holy Scripture. We must lean on the faithful traditions of our ancestors to give us strength in this great struggle. We must believe in the Supreme Being’s love for justice and align ourselves with this love. It is this love that will ultimately prevail. We may not see complete victory in our lifetime, but the love of God pervades throughout time and history. We must tap into this eternal pool of love to sustain us as we march. This tragicomic hope presupposes any action of nonviolence.

September 12th, 2015:

Middle Passage died today. Right around 1:30pm he collapsed while walking through Spotsylvania, VA on America’s Journey for Justice. MP was sixty-eight years old, a veteran, a father, a husband, a cowboy, a fearless foot solider on the journey toward justice. He passed after about an hour in the Spotsylvania Regional Hospital. I have never met such a genuinely light-hearted and spirited gentleman. As soon as I met him, August 1st, 2015 in Selma, AL, I knew there was something special about him. He loved to talk to everyone and meet all the marchers; he never had a nasty thing to say. I admired him right from the start. He died doing exactly what he wanted to do: giving glory to God. Middle Passage will forever be a true testament to holy perseverance. And so while I mourn his death, the tears I cry are not from sadness, but rather from the void left by his absence. My tears turn into laughter as I contemplate his ascension into the next life. Middle Passage has made into that Promised Land, and God bless him. He said it best himself, “Beam me up Scotty.” His life was a gift and I choose to honor it but reinvigorating my determination to work for justice. My hope is that we all learn something from this extraordinary human and carry his spirit in all of life’s activities.

I am endlessly grateful for the way the NAACP handled the passing of MP. We prayed in the Sanctuary together, we sang together, cried together, ate together. Luckily there were no shortages of ministers to help us through our mourning. The NAACP really has an unbelievable ability to integrate the events and energies of all of life’s happenings into our journey for justice. So, MP’s death will not be forgotten in vain, rather his death will give us newly inspired fuel to finish our mission to the Capitol. Even though we lost a member today, the community is stronger because of it. Like MP said himself, things do not happen by coincidence. I believe deep down inside he was ready to go. He knew what was going to happen. And he did not try to stop it. This march has become much more real, with a much more tangible purpose. Not only do we march for our lives, our votes, our jobs, and our schools, but now we march for Middle Passage.

Thursday September 17th, 2015:

We finished America’s Journey for Justice yesterday. We marched into the Capitol on Tuesday, joined by hundreds of other marchers, including a few U.S. senators and presidential hopeful, Bernie Sanders. Walking across the bridge toward the Lincoln Memorial, we invoked the spirit of Middle Passage. The gravity of the march hit me as I looked back and saw approximately 1,000 people. We marched 1,000 miles and the feeling of completion satisfied me. I feel very privileged to have been in such close proximity to President Cornell William Brooks and hear him speak as often as I did. He is an extremely talented orator, I observe his style constantly, and hope to implement certain aspects of his rhetoric into my own orations. I am planning on applying for a job with the Association. The NAACP is truly extraordinary at integrating different people’s energies, holding true to the goals they set out, and finally maintaining a firm commitment to nonviolence. This is key—the insistence on nonviolence. And this is why I feel at home with NAACP. I feel blessed to be a part of this march and hope to continue my involvement with the NAACP.

There is not much more to say. We did what we set out to do. And now I am planning, along with Sheila Bell, to organize a talk with the Detroit chapter of the NAACP to discuss our experience and brainstorm next steps. This journey was just the inauguration of a much larger movement. The beloved community must grow larger, and we must cultivate the space to allow it to grow larger. The community is real. The bonds we formed during this march will last a long time. Right now, I am staying at Genni’s house, a fellow marcher, she graciously invited Sheila and I to stay with her until Friday morning. This is just one example of the genuine connections established on the journey. A family was created and now it becomes our task to expand this family. Invoking the words of Dr. King we must create the space for all people to fit into the ‘world house.’ This is a challenge. How can we show love to those that disagree with us? How can we demonstrate the validity of our cause to those who spit in our face? Again, I return to nonviolence. Any actions we take must be done in the spirit of nonviolence; it must come from a place of love. Our steadfast reliance on nonviolence ensures Godly support in our struggle. And as humans I believe we are ultimately called to give glory to God, or the Supreme Being. This is how I choose to glorify the Creator, by struggling for racial equality and pursuing justice in the face of injustice and speaking truth to power.

One thought on “Reflections on the road with NAACP

  1. Pingback: Remembering the Cloud of Witnesses | Radical Discipleship

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