THE ANGELA PROJECT
In September, hundreds of black and white Christians came together in Louisville to work on racial justice. Yes, Christian people, church people, across the racial divide. America often thinks that Christians are troublesome, hateful and partisan. True, but only sometimes. There is another side. On this occasion, brought together by love in a very large black church, the walls came down and the mountains moved. We call it The Angela Project.
In 1619, twelve years after Jamestown was founded, a year before Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, the first person stolen from Africa arrived in the North America. Enslaved. Not an indentured servant, not an immigrant looking for a better life, but against her will and her freedom. Historical records reflect that “twenty-odd” Africans arrived in 1619, but only one name remains. Stolen from Angola, they named her Angela.
That was 1619. In 2019, we recognize the 400th anniversary of black people in America. 246 years as slaves, until 1865. Another 100 years of failed Reconstruction, deep into the twentieth century, with prison labor, sharecropping, lynchings, KKK and nightriders, terror, segregation, Jim Crow, poll taxes, and more. Slavery by another name.
Then came the Fifties and Sixties, and hope for civil rights, equal education, and equal opportunity in voting and employment. And 1968, with the Fair Housing Act. But it’s also been fifty years since we lost Dr. King to terror in assassination, stopping that spring’s Poor People’s Campaign in its tracks.
In 2018, fifty years later, The Angela Project conference looked back over five decades of “the illusion of inclusion”, and looked ahead down a road toward zero wealth for black people in America. “The illusion of inclusion”- that a few high-profile athletes, entertainers and celebrities (and yes, even a President) are misleading indicators of a post-racial, diverse country and economy. Rather, the illusion masks desperate poverty for the masses, such that millions will have zero wealth to call their own in a very few years.
Experts spoke to a packed sanctuary of the clear and present danger to blacks in America. Unemployment is a huge problem, but not the only problem. The larger contextual danger is the wealth gap, driven by generational poverty, such that white workers with a high school degree have more wealth than black college graduates. Why? Because housing. Redlining segregating communities due to race began long ago, was set in law in the Thirties, and became ingrained for decades. It means that black people are in ghettoed housing stock and public housing, while whites have been passing down the American Dream to their children.
Faith leaders provided Christian prophetic insight and opportunities for hope. A white pastor spoke to his own white privilege. A legislative advocate described how churches can oppose predatory lending. An organizer explained pairings of black and white churches for fellowship and action.
I was a primary organizer of The Angela Project conference over the months it took to come together. As a lawyer, I also spoke to the good news of a litigation strategy to challenge the terrible losses to the community due to redlining in recent years.
The conference closed with a large worship service. The East Coast hurricane hurt our attendance, and cost us some speakers. But Rev Jesse Jackson of Rainbow PUSH made it in for last-minute inspiration, in honor of his service to the civil rights movement.
The Angela Project is a three-year movement toward a better day for black America beyond 2019. Next year, in Birmingham, Alabama. Stay tuned.