“Finally, be strong in the Lord, relying on his mighty strength. Put on the whole armor of God.” Ephesians 6:10a
Recently, I spoke on behalf of a man of African descent at his parole board hearing. He had been incarcerated for more than 41 years. As a juvenile, he was arrested and sent to prison. His resilience and self-determination over the ensuing years were evident in his accomplishments, despite incarceration. We hoped that this would lead to his return to his family. The parole board decided to release him to a halfway house. While his return was welcomed news, he and I both knew that he would still face many of the same historic inequities that contributed to his sentencing more than 41 years ago.
The historic and continuing structural inequities of race, caste, wealth and income have led to the disproportionate numbers of people of African descent living in hunger and poverty. Black fathers are being removed from their families and communities through mass incarceration, unjustified police killings and COVID-19.
The Economic Policy Institute reports that 1 in every 3 Black men will be incarcerated and that the mental and physical health of their children will be diminished as a result. Statista reports that this year the rate of fatal police shootings of Black Americans was much higher than for any other ethnicity. COVID-19 has killed 1 out of every 800 African Americans. ProPublica cites a 2020 study that finds Black people ages 35 to 44 die at nine times the rate of white people the same age.
Even in the face of their public removals from their families and communities, fathers of African descent demonstrate resilience. African descendants of enslavement pioneered their way to the northern regions of the United States during the period of Jim Crow laws and have continued to fight for life. Just like families coming from countries south of the U.S. fight to overcome historic inequities.
This month, as we celebrate Father’s Day and the anniversary of Juneteenth, which celebrates the Emancipation Proclamation. All of us are called to stop the removal of African American fathers and their children. We are called to build up personal and communal resilience with them and return our fathers and our children back to their families.
In the case of the man I met at his parole hearing, the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018 contributed to his return to his family and community. The 2019 passage of the First Step Act was a critical win in the fight to reduce mass incarceration. The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan is combating the COVID-19 pandemic. Today the George Floyd Policing Act is being debated.
Advocacy matters! You are invited to partner with Bread for the World to advocate for Black men at bread.org.
Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith is senior associate for Pan-African and Orthodox church engagement at Bread for the World in Washington, D.C.