For pastors, march to racial harmony led pair to 'Selma' For pastors, march to racial harmony led pair to 'Selma'
Just as many Americans were celebrating the birth of the Prince of Peace, "Selma" marched into select movie theaters to remind us of a time not so long ago when peace was in short supply.
I experienced "Selma" last month. It blew me away. To say the least, the film captured in a way that is both visceral and instructional not only the Selma-to-Montgomery march for voting rights, but also a thick chapter of our history that is at once shameful and triumphant.
Someone once declared, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
The sad corollary is that people without knowledge of the past lack the context needed to understand current events.
That includes the recent attacks on voting and the disdain of protests over the deaths of unarmed black males at the hands of police — who under the protective wing of Jim Crow could brutalize and kill blacks with impunity.
For that, "Selma" offers clarity. Yet, perhaps the greatest service the movie provides — a lesson we desperately must absorb — is that the great unfinished march for civil rights isn't a black thang. It's an American thing.
What better reminder than seeing blacks, whites, Catholics, Jews, Christians and others locked arm in arm like a human charm bracelet walking into the heart of withering oppression at 30 frames per second.
Little did I know that harmonizing sentiment was rebooting here in Central Florida.
A couple of months ago, Joel Hunter received a phone call from Oprah and Joshua DuBois, who formerly ran the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships under President Barack Obama.
They shared a vision of multiracial congregations across the country watching "Selma" together and talking afterward about reconciliation.
Hunter, senior pastor of Northland, A Church Distributed, in Longwood, was sold. Indeed, for Hunter — for whom King's assassination inspired his turn to faith — the chat recalled a resonant failure.
In the Trayvon Martin aftermath, Hunter joined with Sanford Pastors Connecting, a multiracial group that Sanford police credit with helping tamp down simmering tensions. Quartets of pastors haunted the courtroom, prayed throughout the trial and plowed the way for meaningful dialogue in Sanford.
Yet after that initial cultivation, the reality of continuing, intentional interaction withered.
So Hunter phoned the Rev. Paul Wright. His church, Calvary Temple of Praise, hosted the first Sanford Pastors Connected group meeting. Wright relished the notion of joining Hunter's congregation for a march into "Selma."
Police, community leaders and congregants from both churches filled two theaters, some 500-strong.
For two hours, there was a hush as the n-word crashed into viewers' ears and tire irons, barbed-wire-wrapped sticks and billy clubs crashed into marchers' skulls.
When the lights came up, so did the stories.
Blacks of a certain age recalled the brick walls erected as they tried to register to vote in their own Selmas. Others recalled injustices they'd witnessed in Sanford.
"People literally were in tears after the movie, wondering how people could do that to one another," Hunter says. "Even though the mood was very sober, the conversation afterward was very hopeful."
Such success demands duplication. Communities everywhere should crib the idea.
For sure, "Selma" offers a fine opening gambit. However, these conversations to marshal thoughtful discussion and broker understanding and kinship needn't only occur in darkened theaters over hot-buttered popcorn.
"The need for dialogue is obvious because we don't have legal segregation, but we do have de facto segregation, in the way we live and in that most of our conversations are among those who look like us," Hunter says.
"... If we make the effort to talk often enough, have friends not of our race, not of our social groups, that will build a much better community in the future."
Now comes the challenge. Even if the spirit is willing, follow-through can be weak. "Selma" may have revived the conversation. But the connecting can't stop after the credits roll.
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