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Season of Peace in Oakland June 8-15

Every year, the summertime brings danger for residents in neighborhoods of East and West Oakland.  Shootings traditionally spike in the summer.  People are outside.  The weather heats up and tempers heat up as well.  Some young people are nervous already and finding ways to stay indoors and out of the way.

Rev Jeffrey Brown has invited Oakland clergy members to participate in a nationwide Season of Peace June 8-15.  Oakland is already committed to the Ceasefire model of violence prevention and outreach, and Oakland churches organize weekly night walks to reach out to young people with presence and positivity.  For Season of Peace, Oakland Community Organizations is organizing additional night walks and services for youth and young adults who are at risk.  On June 8, Oakland Leadership Center will host a special additional night walk, starting at 6:30.  On June 11, Center Street Church in West Oakland will host a night walk, and on June 13, First Mt. Sinai will host the regularly scheduled night walk in East Oakland.

We are collecting diapers to be offered to young fathers who are at risk and in case management through the City of Oakland, and we will distribute some of those at OLC the same week.

Last but not least, on Saturday June 13, we are encouraging people to attend the SAVE stand in on the corner of 7th and Market at 11am.  Then from 12:00 to 5pm OLC is hosting an Aim 4 Peace Basketball Tournament for young men in sponsorship with Messengers 4 Change and the Eastlake YMCA, at the YMCA gym.  We will have a BBQ, and the public is welcome to come, cheer on young men doing something positive and break bread with us.

Many people and many organizations in Oakland are active in the struggle for peace and healing.  May God protect the young people and bring opportunities for life, joy and freedom.  Please consider joining our efforts this week!

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To my dear Christian brothers and sisters.  In this moment in time, let us listen to…

Pastor Michael McBride

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Christena Cleveland

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Leroy Barber

Ben McBride

Lisa Sharon Harper

Efrem Smith

…and so many other Black Christian leaders in the Bay Area and beyond who are writing, speaking and leading in the midst of the upheaval in our nation.

Let us listen, believe, follow and act.

 

#blacklivesmatter

That is all for now.

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Recently a friend asked me for some local voting advice, and when I told her how much I enjoyed sharing my thoughts, she encouraged me to not be bashful about sharing with others. So…here you go…just in case you are interested.

 

 Vote Yes on California Prop 47

 

Big Idea: Change the lowest-level, nonviolent crimes such as simple drug possession and petty theft from felonies to misdemeanors – and dedicate the savings to crime prevention, schools and drug treatment.

 

Story #1: A couple years ago someone picked a fight with one of the sweetest young men I know while he was at high school. Before I knew it, he was behind bars at Juvenile Hall. Fast forward a couple weeks and a judge is yelling at him, and his mother, and his sister, and me, essentially throwing the book at him while his public defender was literally half asleep. It woke me up to how out of control our criminal justice system can be in California, particularly for young people of color in under resourced neighborhoods. It also brought to light how well funded the Juvenile Hall appears to be, especially in comparison to that same young man’s high school.

 

Story #2: I get a chance to play basketball in San Quentin Prison on a regular basis, and I am consistently disturbed by the large percentage of people of color, predominantly African-American and Latino, who comprise the population of the prison. I am also regularly in awe of how kind and generous the inmates are whom I meet. I am also consistently in awe of the new and updated buildings in the prison. There is a wealth of research showing how systemic racism plays into who ends up in California prisons. There is also a wealth of research about how many people are in prison for low level, non-violent crimes.

 

Fact: Since 1980 California has built 22 prisons and 1 public university.

 

Fact: California spends approximately $62,000 per year per inmate and $9,000 per year per student for public education.

 

Fact: Various studies show that white people use drugs at approximately the same rates (or higher) than people of color, but people of color end up being prosecuted for drug possession at a much higher rate.

 

Details of the Act (from http://www.safetyandschools.com)

  • Stops wasting prison space on low-level nonviolent crimes: Changes the lowest level nonviolent drug possession and petty theft crimes from felonies to simple misdemeanors. It authorizes resentencing for anyone who is incarcerated for these offenses and poses no threat to public safety. These changes apply to juveniles as well as adults.
  • Keeps rapists, murderers and child molesters in prison: Maintains the current law for registered sex offenders and anyone with prior convictions for rape, murder or child molestation.
  • Stops government waste and redirects hundreds of millions from prison spending to K-12 and treatment: California counties will save hundreds of millions annually and state prison reductions will generate between $750 million to $1.25 billion in savings over the next five years alone. Those savings will be shifted into K-12 school programs (25%), victim services (10%) and mental health and drug treatment (65%).
  • Protects public safety: Focuses law enforcement resources on violent and serious crimes, and directs savings to programs that stop the cycle of crime. Prisoners may only be released if they demonstrate that they are no longer a threat to public safety.
  • Reduces the collateral consequences of felony convictions for low-level crime: Reduces the barriers that many with felony convictions for low-level nonviolent crimes face to becoming stable and productive citizens, such as employment, housing and access to assistance programs and professional trades.

So that’s why I’m voting yes on 47, and I’m asking my friends to vote yes with me.

 

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Flow

I’d like to flow

Just flow

 

Marching to the beat

Of the Spirit

With love flowing freely

Effortlessly, gracefully, powerfully

 

Love oozing out of my pores

Smelling up the room like roses

Infecting my block

Inspiring the masses

 

But truth be told

I’m working on breathing

Instead of swearing

At the top of my lungs

 

Because that old man in the truck

He is driving so slow

Doesn’t he know

I have things to do today

 

My pulse is racing

Sweat poring down my brow

All my energy

Just to stop tailgating

 

I’d like to flow

Love flowing freely

All day long

 

But I’ll start with a long breath

A short simple prayer for help

And a reminder

I have a long way to go

The Effects of Mass Incarceration

*This post originally appeared on The Burner Blog.

Several years ago I entered the yard at San Quentin Prison and walked towards the basketball court with my teammates.  To be honest, I had some butterflies my first time.  There is something unnerving about the whole experience.   Multiple security checkpoints, guards with large guns and instructions to never run off the basketball court, even to chase the ball, reminded you that this is not your normal city league.  A large crowd sat on tables and lounged around the edges of the court, mostly cheering for the visiting team and against their fellow inmates.

But then it hit me.  There are a lot of black men in this prison, far too many.

The next thing occurred to me was how incredibly kind and fun the inmates were.  We were warmly greeted and shown hospitality.  The more time I spent with these men, the more I genuinely liked them, and the more I tried to rack my brain for answers to the strange scenario I encountered.

What is going on here?

Since I moved to East Oakland the picture has come into focus a little more.  I quickly picked up on the rift between the police and the young black men I know.  I have heard more stories about police misconduct than I have ever wanted to hear, while also attending neighborhood meetings and chatting with some officers who I believe truly care about our neighborhood and want to simply serve and protect.

I have met far too many boys and girls and young adults growing up while their fathers live behind bars in Santa Rita or San Quentin or somewhere else.  I reached a tipping point when a 17 year old working in our after school program defended himself in a fight at school and found himself in Juvenile Hall.  I attended his hearing, sitting in the back like a deer in the headlights while the judge yelled at the boy, the boy’s mother and finally myself for no logical reason and quickly sentenced this kind and sensitive teenage boy to another 30 days in Juvenile Hall.  The defense attorney looked like he was asleep.

So when I read Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, and heard her speak, I was primed to receive the message.  We need to reform this system.  The “war on drugs” coined by Nixon and carried to new heights by the Reagan administration, put a target on young men of color in neighborhoods like East Oakland.  Three strikes laws and harsher and harsher minimum sentencing sounds good when a politician wants to be “tough on crime” and get elected, but the effects are problematic.

Drug use is remarkably even when compared across racial lines, but the war on drugs has targeted people of color in inner cities for decades.  We have new version of a racial caste system, and more African Americans are under correctional control today than were in slavery in 1850.  The war on drugs and harsh sentencing for non-violent offenders functions to relegate millions of people to second-class citizens, and former inmates can be legally discriminated against for the rest of their lives.  Many of these people are locked up for nonviolent crimes.  Our system is broken.

Just like the Civil Rights era decades ago, there are some churches and pastors leading the charge to bring justice to this system, but for many of us, it is easier to defend the rights of the “innocent” instead of the rights of the “guilty.”  I hope and pray that the whole American Church, of every race, from the cities to the burbs to the country, would become informed and then organize to reform this broken system.

May God’s Kingdom come and God’s will be done in our criminal justice system.

Let us care.  Let us pray.  Let us act.

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This is wrong.  This must stop.

A little story about privilege

It was a cool but sunny Saturday morning in East Oakland.  An old gymnasium sits surrounded by a parking lot on one side and a grassy field on the other.  In the front of the property, facing the street, is a brand new, beautiful sports complex with a large pool, but we are waiting to enter the old gym.  We are ready to play basketball, as others have for years and years.  My mind darts to the article about the new NBA rookie impressing the nation who grew up spending his Saturdays at this same gym.

 

We wait.  Whoever’s job it is to open the gym is not here yet, and some of us are getting impatient.  Since I organized this league, I am starting to get nervous.  I feel responsible for the fact that we are standing outside.  I make phone calls.  I text.  I look around impatiently.  I try to assure everyone that someone will come, but I am starting to doubt as the minutes tick down to our scheduled game time.

 

I decide to check one more time, to make sure there is not a city employee inside who does not know we have arrived.  I look through windows.  I check doors again.  Finally, a door creaks open, slowly.  We hesitate for a moment, and I enter.  I call out for someone.  I look around.

 

Suddenly, a horn is blaring.  The alarm is sounding.  It startles me for a moment, but I shrug it off and proceed to look down the hallway, hoping to find someone around the corner.  I turn back around to see a dozen or so young men sliding away from the gym doors, without breaking into a run, but quickly walking away from the gym.  They glance around nervously while they make their way towards the cars and trees around us.  I stay at the door, confused and feeling alone and vulnerable.

 

The light bulb turns on.  I am different.  I am white.  I am middle class.  I do not fear the police.  I have never been harassed.  I have never been questioned.  I am confident that I would calmly and firmly explain that I have paid to rent this gym, and it was not my fault that a door was left unlocked at the time that I was supposed to enter.  The arrival of any sort of authority figure does not bother me at all.  In fact, I welcome it.  I am getting upset that no city worker has opened up this gym for my basketball league.

 

We wear the same baggy shorts and play the same game.  We live in the same neighborhood, and we all listened to rap music in our cars on the way here.  But my life is different.

 

I stand alone, by the door, waiting for someone to come.

A Letter from Shalom of Oakland about Trayvon, Oscar, You and Me

(Below is something I wrote for Shalom of Oakland’s latest newsletter)

Dear friends,

One of Shalom of Oakland’s interns, who is a young black man, recently borrowed my boring but dependable gray Toyota Camry while his car was in the shop. He and a friend were in a suburb about 20 miles from Oakland. They parked the car and walked across the street to grab something to eat. Out of nowhere, a police car pulled a U Turn and slammed to a stop in front of them. An officer yelled at them to sit down on the sidewalk and then ordered them to stand up one at a time to be frisked. He sarcastically asked them if they knew why he was searching them. He called for back up and another police car with more officers arrived. They continued to question these two young men, both college students with part-time jobs. The officers accused them of stashing something around the corner and searched the area before finally letting them go. After telling them to go, the police car continued to follow them around town. They had been stopped for the crime of being young black men in a suburb.

A few days before that, two of our interns stood in front of a vacation house in a different town, on a Shalom of Oakland retreat. A white truck drove by, and a man yelled, “Niggers!” while he sped around them.

This is probably the first you’ve heard of these stories, but surely you heard that a man named George Zimmerman shot and killed a black 17 year old by the name of Trayvon Martin. There were marches and protests here in Oakland and around the country after Zimmerman was found not guilty, and the aftermath is making many of us realize that our country truly has a wide variety of perspectives about race and life in general in America.

Many white people in America wonder why black people are so angry about Trayvon Martin and also Oscar Grant, who was shot and killed by a police officer a couple of years ago at our local BART station in East Oakland.

A young man I know who played on one of our basketball teams is so distraught about what he perceives as injustice that he has earnestly created videos for social media where he attempts to show how Zimmerman’s story does not add up. On the other hand, another young black man I know grew visibly frustrated when a musician mentioned Trayvon at our recent neighborhood block party, asking why we had to keep talking about something that happened in Florida. I tried to explain that many people in the United States do not understand that racial profiling and discrimination still take place, and that the Zimmerman trial had sparked a national discussion about this. He looked at me in absolute bewilderment and anger, saying, “Are you serious? We just got followed yesterday, right around that corner! Right there! Yesterday!”

Our race, class, background and experience inform how we view reality. In many churches, it never crossed anyone’s mind to mention Trayvon Martin. In other churches, pastors and parishioners mourned. Pastors passionately and eloquently made the connection between current racial injustice and the stories and promises of liberation in the Scriptures. Hoodies were worn in solidarity. Communities cried together and then cried out to their Creator for help.

Today I ponder the words of Apostle Paul from Galatians, that “in Christ you are all children of God through faith… there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

I hope and pray that we really can become one, but, from my humble vantage point, we have a long way to go. We have a lot of work to do. We have a lot to learn. We have a lot of listening to do. I do not write this to criticize a verdict or a law, but to challenge all of us to learn to love one another, to humble ourselves, to care, to mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep.

As white pastor Greg Boyd has written, “The only way we can expand our horizon — and the only way we can begin to bridge the racial divide between whites and blacks in our country and in the church — is for white people to humbly acknowledge that our experience is a myopic, privileged experience and to listen and learn from the experiences of people who in many respects continue to live in quite a different world from our own.”

If you are interested, here are some simple steps that you could take with us…

· Pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ who have been mourning
· Come out to our next Real Talk event for an honest conversation on the theme of race
· Watch Fruitvale Station with some friends (The story of Oscar Grant, in theaters now)
· Read a book about Martin Luther King Jr. and the struggle for freedom in the 1960’s

Thank you for caring,

Nate Millheim for Shalom of Oakland

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