Contributor: Charnell Peters

Dr. John Perkins comes from a sharecropping family, a small plantation, and the bleak conditions of Jim Crow era Mississippi. As a young man, faith in a just God anchored him as a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. Now, Perkins is a renowned speaker, community builder, and prolific author. He has dedicated his life to help the Church heed the call of the gospel to engage in social justice.

In TR-BE's video “Legacy: The Story of Dr. John Perkins", Perkins talks about what it has meant for him to be a Black man in America. One of the stories he recounts is witnessing a White police officer murder his brother. Perkins describes cradling his dying brother in the back of a car as he bled out from the bullet wounds, and he says his brother was “painin’ so.”

That phrase dragged me into a different story—the one of my Great Aunt Francis, who died at eleven years old at the neglect of White doctors in Jim Crow era Arkansas. When my Great Aunt Louise tells the story of her sister’s painful death, she, too, says Francis was “painin’ so.” These family histories, however tragic, are not anomalous. They are paragraphs in a centuries-long story of racial injustice that is still unfolding today. And their significance has not been forgotten.

Those who have lived, remember. Their experiences are witnessed, told, and retold, even re-experienced, and, as a result, Black people in America have a particular collective memory. Like any group of people, Black people have passed down memories from generation to generation. Our memories are not limited to but certainly include gruesome, personal, true stories like Perkins’ of people loved and lost, of justice trampled upon and dangled out of reach. The collective memory of Black people in the US is that of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, the fight for Civil Rights, resource inequality in every sphere, and incalculable personal accounts of prejudice and discrimination, all of which continue to have material consequence today.

We remember.

In Luke 22, at the last meal with his dear friends, Jesus broke the bread and gave a piece to each of them, and he said “remember me.” He passed the cup of wine, and they each drank a portion, and he said “remember me.” Each of the apostles had a piece of the body and the blood of Christ, and Jesus commanded them to re-member him, to put him back together. They were not to run away with their own, small portions, their own individual experiences and knowledge of him. But they were to come together to collectively recall the whole picture of him, the re-membered Christ.

The collectively rendered picture of Jesus that they gave their lives to pass on to others and to preserve and write in the Bible, includes the Jesus who, as recorded in Matthew 25, will say when he returns, “…Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Jesus, in his exalted position, has and will continue to come to the aide and come beside the lowly, the imprisoned, the impoverished, the hungry, the homeless, the naked, and the underprivileged, the least of these.

If the least of these is not a poor Black sharecropping family in Jim Crow era Mississippi, then who is? If the least of these are not the Black people whose loved ones have died unjustly because of racial discrimination, then who are the least of these?

Blessed are those who mourn and are painin’ so, for they will be comforted.

Black collective memory is, at times, heavy with mourning, and the Church would be remiss to ignore that. Jesus did not ignore mourning. Dr. Perkins does not ignore mourning either. With the weight of the Black collective memory on his heart, he has worked tirelessly to induce tangible change. The gospel that Perkins preaches is powerful enough to reconcile people across chasms of historical, racial disparity, and it’s gentle enough to guide believers through that often painful process. I invite you to listen to Perkins’ personal yet shared history of oppression and peacemaking and learn how his life has helped the Church re-member Jesus by ushering in the justice that he will complete when he returns.

Photo Credit//Joanna Kosinska