2020 has been a year overflowing with conflict: the pandemic, the economic and social shutdown, politics, and racial injustice. Perhaps by this point you, like many, have reached the point of conflict fatigue. Perhaps you’d just like 2020 to come to a very quick—and quiet—end.
Unfortunately, the suffering continues. Last Monday afternoon, a young man named Walter Wallace, Jr. was shot and killed by Philadelphia Police in the Cobbs Creek neighborhood of the city. He was shot as he threatened police responding to a 911 call. You see, Wallace’s mother called 911 after she was unable to calm her son, who had a knife and was experiencing some sort of psychotic episode. But she called for an ambulance, not for the police. Her son had a mental illness, and had not taken the medicine to control his condition.
At that time, Wallace had no ability to respond rationally to the police’s order to calm down. He couldn’t control his behavior. Because of his disease, he had temporarily lost the capacity for reasonable thought and impulse control. He needed medical intervention. Unfortunately, the intervention he received was not aligned with his needs.
Wallace was a father, a son, a friend. He was loved, and loved others. He had an intellect, interests, and made an impact on the community in which he lived. And he was African-American…the latest in an all-too-long list of African American men and women killed by police just this year.
But he was also a man. A man created in God’s own image. He had value, and his life had value because God chose him to exist, to impact and to influence the lives of others. That life was tragically taken from him and as a result his parents, children, friends, and community have all suffered incredibly. We at Children’s Jubilee Fund grieve with them the loss of Walter Wallace, Jr. And we pray he is the last to senselessly lose his life.
Students of color compose the vast majority (97%) of students who received Jubilee scholarships in the last fiscal year. And of that group, the majority identified themselves as African-American (71%). Imagine what impact the deaths of at least 164 African-American people at the hands of U.S. police in 2020 could have on the minds, the hearts, the self-images of the hundreds of students of color whom we serve annually.
Imagine the self-talk that might develop in those young hearts and minds. Here are some reasonable examples: “The world isn’t fair.” “White people don’t care about me.” “The police don’t care about me.” “God doesn’t care about me.” Imagine what it might feel like for that young person not only to decide that he or she is unworthy of care, but that it’s because he or she is worth less than others. Those thoughts can lead to worldviews that wind up limiting that young person’s potential.
But the damage goes much deeper than limited potential and self-image. The damage impacts us all—because more and more people in an already deeply-divided society withdraw from that society because it’s too risky, too unsafe. When any part of society withdraws, it weakens us all.
As Christians, we at Children’s Jubilee Fund call for others to stand up and defend Black lives—and to defend all lives—because Black lives do matter. Not just to other Black and Brown people, but to all people, no matter the color of their skin or their racial identity. This is what it means to be human. This is what it means to be Christian. Whether we like to admit it or not, God created us to depend on one another, to build one another up, to help one another, to love one another. To the extent that we fail to realize the consequences of systemic racism, we fail to love our Black and Brown brothers and sisters. To the extent that we fail to put an end to systemic racism, we do violence to the youngest generation—and doom them to repeat the suffering and sins of their forebearers.
I’m not at all suggesting that the path away from systemic racism is simple. To the contrary, it will require patience, forbearance, and forgiveness on behalf of its victims, and repentance, compassion, and empathy on the part of Caucasians. Caucasians will need to commit to a zero-tolerance policy regarding racist thoughts, words, and actions. Predominately White churches will need to build relationships with predominately Black churches. Historic injustices must be undone. Law enforcement must adapt, and work to restore trust among all citizens. We must all seek the Lord’s help to recognize the image of God in the other, and to honor and respect the Father of all through honoring and respecting all of His children.
It will take time, cost us all a great deal, and at times, it will be painful. But we must begin now to heal the deep wounds of 400 years of injustice. That begins today by choosing to actively love our neighbors, and to affirm that the lives, dignity, and significance of Black and Brown people do matter.
Tim Geiger (M.Div.) is Executive Director of Children's Jubilee Fund. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Tim has lived in or around the city most of his life. His undergraduate studies done at the Community College of Philadelphia, Tim went on to earn a Master of Divinity Degree from Westminster Theological Seminary. He is ordained as a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. Prior to serving at Children's Jubilee Fund, Tim worked for the Internal Revenue Service, The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and Harvest USA, where he also served as Executive Director and then President from 2012-2019. Tim lives with his wife and daughter just outside of Philadelphia.
Children's Jubilee Fund is a 501(c)(3) organization established in 1997 to provide tuition grants to Christian schools in the Philadelphia metro area that serve underprivileged students. These grants are then awarded by the schools as scholarships to students who meet income and residency guidelines. Each year, Jubilee provides hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants that, in turn, help hundreds of students in Philadelphia, Delaware, Montgomery, and Camden Counties achieve their God-given academic and personal potential. Children's Jubilee Fund is an entirely donor-supported organization.