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Mt Zion to host Black Lives Matter event

Black Lives Matter. That's the title of a message being delivered tomorrow at Mt Zion AME Church.

Pastor Jahkimmo Smith shared with The Royal Gazette about what this powerful phrase means to him and how we start putting it into action.

What inspired Mt Zion AME to host this event?

Our sister AME churches in the United States have been very engaged with the ‘Black Lives Matter' protests. Over the past few weeks these protests have been going on in the United States as result of the shooting of unarmed Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the death of Eric Gardner in Staten Island, New York, at the hand of police officers who have not subsequently been brought to justice. The lack of justice in these incidents and others like them have fermented the feelings of many African Americans — that black lives have less value in the eyes of the American justice system. As a result, they are protesting and demanding justice and demanding a review of how America polices its citizens, especially those who belong to minority communities. We have been inspired to join in solidarity with our connectional churches as well as by our own issues and struggles with gun violence here in Bermuda.

What was it like for your church members hearing about the violence against black civilians at the hands of police officers and then the protests and civil unrest that followed? How did that make you feel?

When I saw the protest going on in the US, I saw people who refused to accept life as it was and who were willing to fight to make life better for everyone. It inspired me to want to the same in my community. It also reminded me that no matter how much progress has been made in race relations, there is still work to do.

What will be happening this Sunday?

Mt Zion is a part of the African Methodist Episcopal church, a denomination based in the United States. Our church leadership has asked for all AME churches to wear black on Sunday as a show of solidarity. With that said, the issue here on the Island is not with police killing unarmed black men. We support and stand by our law enforcement and call on the community at large to do its part to assist them in taking our Island back. Our issue is that our black men are killing each other. As such the focus of Sunday's ‘Black Lives Matter' message and services will focus on our own issues and struggles with gun violence. We will acknowledge and remember the persons and the families who have been directly affected by gun violence.

What does the term ‘Black Lives Matter' mean to you?

For me it's not a statement rooted in anger, hatred, self-pity or exclusivity, but rather a statement of affirmation. For me it's a statement affirming that black lives have equal value, not more value. It's a statement affirming that we are made in the image and likeness of God, not exclusively but uniquely and therefore have extreme value. When I say ‘Black Lives Matter' I am not discounting, devaluing or dismissing others, I'm simply affirming and acknowledging a statement of fact about my value and the value of those who look like me. ‘Black Lives Matter' is an affirmation and a positive declaration about the value of black lives not a denunciation of non-blacks lives or non-black communities. Jesus says in Matthew 22:39 ‘ ... love your neighbour as yourself'.

The take away is that we must first be able to love ourselves before we can fully love others. This is what this Sunday will be about, challenging us to radically love ourselves and our neighbours. My prayer is that our young people, and young men in particular, will be encouraged to live their lives out of a sense that they are extremely valued by God, rather than living their lives out of a sense of fear, anger or hopelessness. It will be an uplifting worship experience and all are welcome, regardless of colour.

Is there anything people in Bermuda can do to help in this situation?

We in Bermuda can help by getting our own house in order. While some of us stand in solidarity with those overseas, we cannot ignore what's going on in our own backyard. The issues are not the same, but require just as much passion, commitment and organisation. I'm an optimist and a person of faith and I refuse to become indifferent to gun violence and refuse to accept the morbid reality that those who engage in this lifestyle are trying to thrust it on our community.

Our community is small enough and our ideas/resources big enough to successfully combat this senseless violence from all angles (socially/spiritually/politically etc). We all must take ownership of this issue regardless of social standing, economic status and religious or political affiliation.

We all need to speak up, stand up and show up for a cause greater then ourselves.

Why is it important for us to show our solidarity?

It is important to show solidarity, because as [Dr Martin Luther] King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Pastor Smith: We cannot ignore what's going on in our own backyard

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Published December 13, 2014 at 8:00 am (Updated December 13, 2014 at 1:06 am)

Mt Zion to host Black Lives Matter event

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