Blessed are Those Who Struggle

By Rev. Anthony Everett

BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO STRUGGLE

Good evening to the leadership of our very prestigious Lexington, Kentucky Chapter of the NAACP.  Just as I was honored to be the keynote speaker at the Social Justice Luncheon for the 64th State NAACP Convention, I am honored to be one of our guest speakers this evening!

In every place that I have lived, there were always community people who continue to stand up and make a difference in the lives of others, even when no one else is looking!  It’s easy to be seen when the cameras are on, the reporters are out, and the people are praising you!  Some people orchestrate and relish that opportunity.

But, oh, when the cameras are no longer around and no one is singing your praises, it takes godly integrity to continue to stand up and make a difference in the lives of others!  One of those persons of godly integrity is the person for whom this Freedom Fund Banquet is named after – none other than Mrs. Flora Mitchell!  Mrs. Mitchell has been a Sheroe of mine ever since I came to Lexington, Kentucky from Washington, D.C. via Flint, Michigan, via Dallas, Texas.  Let us applaud Mrs. Mitchell and the work that she has done for our community in Lexington!

I am honored today to be one of the two keynote speakers this evening, the other being the phenomenal Dominique Wright, someone who is well known in this community for her selfless service to others.  Let us applaud her and the children that spoke, also.

I am a preacher and I am used to preaching every Sunday at Wesley United Methodist Church and I want to share with you this passage of scripture.  It’s a different kind of scripture, a “Beatitude” if I may.  You won’t find it in your Bible or other Holy Book.

It goes into great depth in speaking to the movement that is, has been, and will continue to be underway for the victory of the oppressed over oppression.  This beatitude is in the form of a poem, written when I was coming of age as a seventeen-year old senior at Cardozo High School in Washington, D.C. and becoming a first-year student at Howard University.  The poem sounds more like modern day hip hop.

I didn’t write this beatitude poem, but I remember it.  This Beatitude comes from the scriptural text of the 8th Book of the Last Poets – Delights of the Garden – the 3rd Chapter entitled “Blessed Are Those Who Struggle!”

“Blessed are those who struggle
Oppression is worse than the grave
Better to die for a noble cause
Than to live and die a slave

Blessed are those who courted death
Who offered their lives to give
Who dared to rebel, rather than serve
To die so that we might live

Blessed are those who took up arms
And dared to face our foes
Nat Turner, Vesey, [Mandela], Chinque
To mention a few names we know

Blessed are the memories of those who were there
At the Harper's Ferry Raid
Strong were their hearts, noble their cause
And great was the price they paid

Blessed are the voices of those who stood up
And cried out, Let us be free!
Douglas and Garvey and Sojourner Truth
Dubois and [Muhammad] Ali

Blessed are the giants that we have loved
And lost to the bullet's sting
Like Malcolm and Medgar and the Panthers who fell
And Martin Luther King

And blessed are the bodies of those
Who were hung from the limbs of the sycamore tree
Who found end to their hope at the end of a rope
'cause they dared to attempt to be free

Up through the years we've continued this fight
Our liberty to attain
And though we have faced insurmountable odds
Yet the will to resist remains

Blessed are the spirits of those who have died
In the prisons all over this land
Who committed one sin, stood up like [women] and men
And got iced for just being a [human]

Blessed all you who will join with us now
In this struggle of life and death
So that freedom and peace will be more than a word
To the offspring that we have left

[So] Blessed are those who struggle
Oppression is worse than the grave
Better to die for a noble cause
Than to live and die a slave”

These prophetic poets are no different than the poets, like King David, who wrote psalms to address the life and death issues of oppression they faced each day.  They are like Nas, Lupe Fiasco, M.I.A. doing “Bad Girls,” or NoName Gypsy talking about “Sunday Morning.”  These are the “new” Last Poets speaking to the present and future times.

I know that President Colt 45 will have many people believe that the name of the game is how much money you attain in your life time that makes you a great person, regardless of how unethical, corrupt, and immoral your methods might be.  For him, it’s okay to be the liar and thief in Chief!

When I look at the news coverage of this president in comparison to President Obama, the real president, I am thinking that I am watching another reality TV show.  I think I can just turn it off and everything will be alright.  The Real Poli-tricks of the White House!  But then I wake up to the reality of a Nightmare that I seem to have no control over!

Everything that President Obama has done, 45 wants to change it for no other reason than his ego cannot handle a less wealthy, person of color doing anything better than him.  We see this in Tax Reform that takes away from the poor and provides for the privileged.  We see this in Health Care Reform that takes away from the poor and provides for the privileged.  We see this in a Prison Industrial Complex that imprisons the poor and provides for the privileged.  45’s mandate is to take away from the poor and provide for the privileged!  He has had practice as a New York ghetto slumlord!

Each of these have a component of racism attached to them, but they have a new twist today.  What was once covert has become overt systemic racism.  Because we can turn to CNN or MSNBC and see Neo-Nazis’ and Klansmen terrorizing people in the streets of Charlottesville, and in an instant, see and hear a president who says that these were decent and moral people, Americans have become desensitized and think that this is okay.

We can see mass murder by gun violence at the Pulse night club in Florida, at the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas, and now at a little country Baptist church in Texas and become desensitized.  All of this is not race-based.  Let’s not begin to talk about the continued killing of unarmed Black women and men in this country for no other reason except being Black.

It’s a culture of violence by domestic terrorists and racists, especially gun violence, that begets more violence!  I am not surprised when I see 45 throwing toilet tissues to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico but fighting against people, based on sexual orientation, for their right to use the bathroom of their choice.  It’s the same mentality that says it’s okay that more than 20% of voting age African Americans cannot vote in Kentucky.

It comes down to who is in control of whose body.  Well, 45 has already told us what he thinks about women’s bodies, and he still got elected.  He’s told majority Black NFL Players that their bodies need to stand for a national anthem whose third verse says, “no refuge could save the hireling and slave from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.”

Those lyrics celebrate the deaths of enslaved Africans who were fighting for their freedom in this country!  Like the California State Branch of the NAACP which is pushing to replace the national anthem, we have to stay awake and we have to take action!

The NAACP has been in the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement.  Now it’s time for all of us to take action in the intersectional human rights movement!  This is a movement of those who are oppressed against a common oppressor.

This movement includes Black Lives Matter!  We can’t be afraid of Black Lives Matter like some were afraid of the Black Panthers.  Fear comes from ignorance.

We are struggling for the very same things that we have had to struggle for since the first enslaved African landed in America.  It began with the Abolitionist Movement because we were enslaved and sought our freedom.  Then, it was Emancipation because freedom was not enough.  Then, it was the Civil Rights movement because we didn’t get everything with emancipation, and now it is Black Lives Matter because we are on the short end of the stick once again!

But, because it’s more than Black Lives at stake, this struggle is now more diverse, intersectional, and connected.  Not only do we stand against the continued racism and bigotry that threatens to destroy the lives of our progeny.  Like Colin Kaepernick who took a knee to protest the ever-present violence and taking of Black lives in America, at this time we too must take a knee!  If you hear something that touches you join me in taking a knee!

We take a knee in solidarity with women, girls, men, and boys who suffer the ill effects of sexual harassment and abuse from powerful misogynist and sexists who prey on them.  We take a knee in solidarity with our Jewish sisters and brothers who fight anti-Semitism from Neo-Nazis terrorist who frequent bars in Lexington.  We take a knee in solidarity with our Muslim sisters and brothers who fight against religious terrorism and violence just for wearing a kufi or hijab.

We take a knee in solidarity with our LGBTQ sisters and brothers who fight against homophobia and heteronormativity.  We take a knee in solidarity with our Immigrant and Refugee sisters and brothers who fight against Xenophobia and unjust and unsafe deportations.  We take a knee in solidarity with our first nation sisters and brothers who fight against centuries of genocide from land rights to polluted drinking water.

We take a knee in solidarity with the poor over the powerful and privileged.  We take a knee in the continued fight of good over evil, oppressed over oppressor, and life over death!  We take a knee for the Noble Cause represented by all who struggled before us!

“Blessed are those who struggle
Oppression is worse than the grave
Better to die or [take a knee] for a noble cause
Than to live and die a slave”

Keynote speech by the Reverend D. Anthony Everett at The Lyric Theater in Lexington, Kentucky at 6 pm Friday, November 10, 2017 for the 2017 Lexington NAACP Flora Mitchell Freedom Fund Dinner.  The title of the speech and the adapted poem, “Blessed Are Those Who Struggle,” are copyrighted by the Last Poets from their 1977 album, “Delights of the Garden (Poets: Jalaluddin Mansur Nuriddin and Sulaiman El-Hadi).”

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