Michael J. Readinger

This column was written immediately after the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., on August 23, 2020.

As I reflect on another Black life tragically altered by an unwarranted police shooting incident, I was drawn to the How Long, Not Long speech delivered by Martin Luther King Jr. on the steps of the State Capitol in MontgomeryAlabama. Dr. King delivered this speech after the completion of the Selma to Montgomery March on March 25, 1965. He expressed great hope that it would not be that long before justice and equality would reign. “How long?” he asked. “Not long,” he hoped. In fact, although Dr. King’s hope for a new world order did make enormous progress from the evil era of slavery, Jim Crow laws and segregation, the systematic and institutional racism that defines our present-day society shows us how much further we need to evolve.

Dr. King’s inspirational and aspirational message of hope has been resonating with so many of us in the CHHSM family, and all our current and planned antiracist work and study gives me hope. Hope that we may indeed achieve a state of the world where the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice. Hope that prejudice will no longer prevail. Hope for a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. Hope for a day when wounded justice is lifted from the dust to reign supreme among our children. How long until these hopes become our reality? It has been too long.

And yes, I do have hope and I have heard many stories and messages of the hope of others. In March of 2021, the CHHSM Annual Gathering’s theme, worship services, and sessions will focus on that hope. In almost every single meeting with our membership, their team members, their Board members and any of our partners, we pray for people of color who are shot in radically disproportionate numbers. We pray for their deaths and their wounds. We pray for their widows, widowers, children, parents, loved ones and friends. We pray for those who are ensnared by racism and see these outcomes as the best option. We pray for those we call to serve and protect us. And we pray for ourselves — so that we may not just be non-racists (those who state that they are not racist), but that we can truly learn to be antiracist (those who work actively against racism). How long until our prayers are answered? It has been too long.

Sadly, we are reminded every day that hope is not enough. The list of the names of the victims grows longer every day. We must watch the videos they show us on the news so that we cannot forget what is needlessly happening to so many. We are all touched on a regular basis by hate, racism, violence and the deep pain and division that result. The peaceful protests that turn violent and destructive lead to further pain and suffering. It all seems like an endless cycle with no way of stopping the bleeding of our men, women and children — or our hearts. The sense of loss, the pain, the fear, the anguish, the hate, and the utter despair are overwhelming. How long until hope wins? It has been too long.

I am slightly encouraged as I think of these words by Elie Wiesel, “Just as despair can come to one only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings.” Feeling and seeing the despair is the more difficult, more pervasive and easier part of the world order. Finding the sources of inspiration, aspiration, justice, peace, love, and hope is a much more difficult task. Don’t turn your back on despair. Don’t stop looking for hope. They are both there. So, while I am alternately filled with hope and despair, my prayer is that the hope in my heart wins out over the despair in my mind. My prayer is for How Long, Not Long.

Read Dr. King’s speech.