Sometimes when we are led to pray for others, we tend to forget that we are not exempt from those prayers ourselves. On Memorial Day, I joined a group of leaders and pastors to pray against racism and social injustice. Each of us was given a topic to cover in prayer. My prayer focus was for God to heal those who experienced injustice and for the Lord to grant them beauty for ashes according to Isaiah 61:3. Little did I realize that this moment would begin a journey I did not plan to take.
A few days after the prayer event, the prayer request that I had made to the Lord for others still pressed upon my heart. This time the Holy Spirit led me to reflect on myself. His words to me were, “You are not exempt from those who need to be healed. You have experienced injustice too.” At that moment, a 21-year-old secret surfaced.
On June 14, 1999, my parents received a call that changed our lives forever. My oldest brother was dead—shot and killed by the Baltimore police. Unlike many innocent black men and women shot by the police, my brother wasn't doing the right thing and was rightly to be arrested. Yet he resisted arrest and led the police on a high-speed chase until his vehicle crashed. At the crash site, a police officer approached his vehicle and reported that he thought my brother was reaching for a gun and fired as many as 10 shots into my brother’s body. As a result, the officer was placed on paid administrative leave.
During a private investigation, the original police report was found to be falsified. Instead of one officer being involved in my brother’s killing, there were three officers. The death certificate read “shot numerous times” and revealed more than 10 bullet wounds to the back of my brother’s body and head. The investigation also indicated that his gun wasn’t under the seat but in a different part of his vehicle. The crash details made it physically impossible for my brother to do what the police reported.
As my brother’s defense was developing, the police department locked away important files and refused access. After months of fighting against the unjust system, his mother gave up the defense. My brother’s case and his 21-year-old life was closed. #SayHisName: #VinnieDobsonJr.
For years, I questioned Vinnie’s actions and tried to make peace with the unknown. In my heart, I knew something wasn’t right about what the officers had done, but I was too young to understand or fight. Then came the 2010s and 2020s and the resounding unjust deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, and many more. With each untimely and unnecessary death, the wound of my brother Vinnie’s murder was ripped open afresh. Two decades have passed and yet the same systemic racism, social injustice, and lack of accountability among police officers prevails.
As a black Christian, a black professional, and a black woman who lost her brother to police brutality, I am exhausted. Once the hashtagging and protesting ceases, a distressed family is left alone to fight against injustice. “How long, O Lord, must we continue to endure such trials?” The question almost every black person asks is “Am I next?” We pray for our family members, friends, and ourselves daily, hoping that needless death will not be our portion. We plead to be hidden under the shadow of the Lord’s wing for protection. Heart-cries for justice progress to war cries of vengeance as another black life is taken. Officers receive paid leave, never get charged, or are acquitted. How long, O Lord, must this go on?
Despite so much violence in America, I still believe in God for true liberty and justice for all. These chaotic and pandemic days have forced the world to listen to the cries of black people. The world has been pressed to witness the deep hurt racism has caused. The world has been pushed to confront racism as sin because black lives and black tears matter.
The pain of 400-plus years of racial sin will not disappear instantaneously. There is so much work to be done. Solutions offered by white brothers and sisters have been poor bandages. As a black Christian woman, I desire to offer better solutions derived from my own experience:
Repentance is more than asking forgiveness of your ancestors’ pasts.
Over the past three years, I have sat in silence during racial reconciliation services where white ministers brought black ministers up front to publicly ask for their forgiveness. Without fully realizing, these same white ministers also publicly supported leaders and policies that systemically oppressed people of color, just as their ancestors did.
I wish my white brothers and sisters in Christ understood that repentance is more than asking for forgiveness. Real repentance requires intentional behavior change. White allies can demonstrate repentance to the black community by voting for laws and policies that do not oppress or legislate double standards toward people of color, and by supporting systems and leadership that reflect visions of liberty and justice for ALL.
Love is a verb. Do something.
God so loved the world that he did something: “He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). To be Christians is to model our lives after Jesus’ life and live love as a verb.
While Jesus walked the earth, he demonstrated God’s love for people. Jesus so loved the world that he spoke up for the voiceless and against systems of injustice. He so loved the world that He endured injustice on the cross so others could receive justice. As a Christian, it is not enough to take a knee before the Lord in private. You must also take a stand before people in public. Proverbs 31:8–9 says, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
My professor Lee June once said, “Love is willing to enter other people’s mess and provide a solution to help.” As Christians, we must love our neighbors enough to enter into their mess and help.
Love and hate are learned at home.
No one is born racist; racism is taught. Working as a swim coach, I watched as young black swimmers attempted to befriend white teammates only to have the white teammate ignore them or treat them as though they were not good enough to be their friend because they were black.
Children do what they see done and say what they hear said. They observe their parents’ interactions with people of color. Swimming and coaching while black showed me how white Americans can respect our skills and talents while disregarding our humanity. After practice is over and a competition is finished, it’s as though a black swimmer has nothing else to offer as a person.
Children must be taught to show kindness and to break the cycle of generationally learned racism. Parents are responsible for how their children perceive others.
White privilege has power.
When Amy Cooper called the police and make false allegations against a black man, she used a common and deadly stunt called “white woman’s tears.” Empowered by white privilege, white women’s tears have decimated the black community throughout history.
Women who play the “damsel in distress” understand the power of their white privilege and have used it for evil rather than for good. The murder of Emmett Till and the Massacres of Rosewood and Black Wall Street all happened due to a white woman’s dishonesty and refusal to acknowledge the truth, or own her own faults and failures. Many people of color have missed opportunities to excel or be promoted in their careers because they were accused, even falsely, of making a white woman cry. Studies have shown that compared to people of color, a white woman’s tears carry more weight and her “hurt” is considered more legitimate even when it stems from manipulation. A white woman's tears do not threaten white men, only men and women of color. These tears shed are a familiar form of social and economic micro-oppression.
One of the greatest ways white Americans can be effective allies to black Americans is by understanding the power of white privilege and using it to love. For there to be change, our white allies must use their privilege to fight against systemic racism and injustice, and to hold other white Americans accountable. Whatever the sphere or level of influence, white privilege must support, provide, and empower people of color with opportunities to better themselves and their families’ future. If white privilege can be used to promote a person of color to a higher position in their career field, do it! If your white privilege can provide a black family the fair opportunity to become a homeowner, do it! If the power of white privilege can be used to destroy the community, how much more could it be used to rebuild?
Racism in America is a white person's sin issue that can only be resolved by white America. People of color do not have the power and privilege to free themselves from systemic racism and oppression. If the church desires a revival of truth and justice, we must remember that revival first starts in our own hearts. I pray more of our white friends and allies will repent beyond asking forgiveness, and will do love and use privilege as power for good and for change. As long as one part of the body of Christ is oppressed, we can never be the functioning body Christ intended. In the land of the free, we are not free until we all are free. All lives and blue lives do not matter until black lives matter as well.
Until then, #SayTheirNames. #SayHisName. #VinnieDobsonJr.
Charlie B. Dobson is a minister at Epicenter of Worship Church of Lansing, Michigan. An author residing in Flint, Michigan, her first book is set to release this fall.