By Jason Coker
It has been difficult for me to wrap my head around Civil Rides, which makes writing about it nearly impossible.
The space we inhabited along this three-day, 200-mile bike ride was sacred and made sacred by the blood that had once been spilled there. From Memphis at the Lorraine Motel on the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s martyrdom to Jackson, Mississippi, site of the martyrdom of Medgar Evers — among many others — we traversed from one sacred place to another. The funeral home that prepared Emmett Till’s young, brutalized body for burial, Fannie Lou Hamer’s grave, and the town where she was illegally arrested and nearly beaten to death in a jail cell were not merely stops along the way, but heavy anchors that held us in stunned silence at times as we rode our bicycles from one historical marker to the next.
While this was the history through which we rode, the reality of the present was also heavy. The Mississippi Delta continues to be the poorest region in America and we were riding to shine a light on that poverty, hoping that Civil Rides would awaken our moral centers to issues of poverty. The poverty that shook Dr. King in Marks, Mississippi, over 50 years ago is still there — and perhaps has only grown worse. Together for Hope, CBF’s rural poverty coalition, certainly attempts to work against this grinding poverty, but almost all our programs across the country are interventions into the system that has actually created the situation.
We have educational interventions such as after-school programs and tutoring programs. Paula Settle, former CBF field personnel in Kentucky, even works as a substitute teacher at times. However, none of these interventions address the systemic problems in America that create failing public schools.
We have health and nutrition interventions that provide meals to kids through the summer time and kidney dialysis for some in Marion, Alabama — thanks to Frances Ford of Sowing Seeds of Hope! But these interventions are not answering the systemic questions about why children go hungry in the wealthiest country in the history of the world or why so many in rural America have kidney diseases.
The blood of the martyrs is speaking to me. It is a scary voice because it demands something more, something great. It is a voice calling all of us to peace — real peace. For over a decade, I have seriously grappled with the notion of peace. It is the opposite of poverty, which is a word for lack and brokenness. Peace is wholeness and wellbeing. This is our calling. Together for Hope is being called into the wholeness and wellbeing of God.
How do we begin to leverage our practitioners, our programs, our innovation, and our resources to establish peace and end poverty? How do we begin to align all our pieces into a mosaic of God’s peace for rural America? What does wholeness look like for Bridger, South Dakota? What does wellbeing look like for Lake Providence, Louisiana?
We are not at peace when there is persistent poverty — none of us can be — because we are all pieces of the mosaic ourselves.
When my brother in the Delta is in the vice grips of systemic poverty, I cannot be at peace — the blood of the martyrs cries out. When my sister in the Cotton Belt is being squashed by predatory lending, I cannot be at peace — the blood of the martyrs cries out. When our children in Appalachia are being orphaned by addiction that has made billions of dollars for pharmaceutical companies, I cannot be at peace — the blood of the martyrs cries out. When mi familia on the border is facing military force because they seek a better life, I cannot be at peace — the blood of the martyrs cries out. When our native sisters and brothers are told that more of their land will be taken, I cannot be at peace — the blood of the martyrs cries out.
Is there hope in a world that is so anti-peace? Absolutely!
There is hope when each one of us recognizes that we are a single “piece” in the larger “peace.” No one is exempt from creating and passing the peace. Hope is not a simple belief that things will get better. Hope is putting your hands to the task and your body on the line for peace. Hope is the work we do. So get involved with Together for Hope!
We have locations in South Dakota, Arizona, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky, South Carolina and North Carolina. We are in the process of expanding our work in all of these states as well as beginning new work in Georgia, Virginia, West Virginia and Alaska. If you can’t go to these locations and work with our practitioners, give of your resources to Together for Hope.
Make a difference with your time and/or your resources. As we continue to intervene in the system, we are building new methods of systemic transformation. This is how hope becomes tangible. And this is how hope turns into peace — the peace of Christ, sisters and brothers.
Jason Coker serves as the field coordinator for CBF of Mississippi and leader of Together for Hope. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.