“He’ll end up dead before he can do any good.”
When I was volunteering in New Orleans in early 2007, Barack Obama’s name would often come up in casual conversations at bus stops or at the community resource center I was helping manage. Nearly every time a Black community member gave his or her opinion on Obama, there was some variation on the above sentence, that Obama’s safety would be at risk if he continued to gain prominence as an African American leader. I was struck by what I at first thought was fatalistic thinking, and the way it was often said in such a matter of fact way, with many nods of agreement from others in the conversation. But this is a reality they have lived as people of color in the United States.
Sadly, there is a long history of black leaders being assassinated in the United States. Martin Luther King, Jr is one a lot of us outside the African American community know about, but there’s also less well known names like Fred Hampton and Medgar Evers, leaders who had promising lives ahead of them, who were at the time of their killings becoming influential in challenging racism and economic inequality (and most likely targeted for that reason).
I was reminded of these conversations about Obama’s safety this morning when I went to Mass at St. Columba Church, an African American parish in Oakland. One of the announcements at the end of the service was about an ongoing weekly prayer service organized by some of the women of the church. These women hold many of the the same concerns I heard in New Orleans about Obama’s physical safety. Every Friday they gather to recite the rosary and offer prayers for Barack Obama’s protection.
Due to the church’s tax exempt status, the parish staff made it very clear that this prayer for Obama does not mean an endorsement. In writing about the prayer gathering in this week’s bulletin, the pastor carefully states: “Note that we said PROTECTION, not election. Catholic parishes and priests are NOT allowed to take public political positions on candidates for public office.” But, he goes on to say, “some members of our community are deeply concerned for (Obama’s) safety.” Given the history of racial violence against members of their community, their concerns are valid and warrant support.
Even if you don’t live in Oakland, I’m sure they would welcome you to join with them in prayer this Friday.