After another week of headlines about Black Americans dying at the hands of law enforcement, leaders of Boston’s Black churches again took to the Sunday pulpit to comfort their communities, calling on them to lean on their faith.
In the first Sunday services since former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty on Tuesday of murdering George Floyd, a Black man he had arrested a year ago, preachers wrestled with the symbolism of the case and others that unfolded in the hours and days after the verdict.
Just before the verdict was announced, a 16-year-old Black girl, Ma’Khia Bryant, who was allegedly brandishing a knife, was fatally shot by a Columbus, Ohio, police officer. The next morning, a Black man in North Carolina, Andrew Brown Jr., was fatally shot during a warrant search, while another in Virginia, Isaiah L. Brown, was shot multiple times after police allegedly mistook his cordless house phone for a gun.
The Rev. Willie Bodrick II, senior pastor at the historic Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury, characterized the string of headlines simply: “constant crisis.”
That feeling resonated at Black churches throughout Boston, where Sunday sermons touched on the verdict and the episodes that followed.
“We are still yet fighting a battle for our very lives,” said the Rev. Khaden V. Nurse, Sr., associate pastor of Charles Street AME Church in Roxbury. “As many of us were re-traumatized by the Derek Chauvin murder trial, reliving the image of a Black man, George Floyd, who was killed in broad daylights right before our very eyes.”
“We were forced to relive not only that horrific murder, but many other cycles during these last few weeks,” he said, pointing to other forms of racism in education, the justice system, and housing.
Most said that any relief provided by a guilty verdict was quickly eclipsed by other events and the feeling that such moments of justice are few and far between.
“Unfortunately, the execution of justice is abnormal,” Bishop John M. Borders III of Morning Star Baptist Church in Mattapan said in a prerecorded message, addressing the Chauvin trial. “We cannot exhale while racism and injustice still exist,” he said in the message, which was posted on Friday and played before his sermon on Sunday.
“We must cease inflicting violence upon ourselves. And until human life is respected and criminals are tried and judged, whether in law enforcement or not — even without video evidence — justice will remain an uphill battle.”
Bodrick, who also held a service for healing on Friday, said the verdict was followed by an onslaught of bad news: the shootings in Ohio, North Carolina, and Virginia, the burial of Daunte Wright — a Black man fatally shot during a traffic stop in Minnesota after an officer allegedly mixed up a Taser and a handgun — and the deaths of two prominent Black Bostonians, businesswoman Beth Williams and basketball prospect Terrence Clarke.
In a sermon, Bodrick spoke of “the impact of constant crises that have been happening in this world, particularly to those who are Black and brown and have had to experience this bombarding of tragic stories each and every day of this week.
“And if we’re honest, church, many of us are feeling anger,” he said. “Many of us are frustrated; some of us are numb; some of us feel hopeless; some folk feel traumatized to the point where they don’t know what else to do and in situations like these they feel as if I don’t know what is going to happen next. The crisis just won’t end.”
At Greenwood Memorial United Methodist Church in Dorchester, the Rev. Dr. Imani-Sheila Newsome-Camara also spoke to that feeling of hopelessness.
“Why pray?” she asked the congregation, some gathered in the building and others following online. “Is anything better than it was last week? Black men [are] still dying. Still more.”
Newsome-Camara encouraged congregants to keep their faith and said she hoped that time and effort would someday bring a “healed land.”
“We will walk the walk in the name of Jesus,” she said. “We just need some strength right now.”