by Elle Dowd
Despite growing up with the privilege of a good public school system, I didn’t learn about who Fred Hampton was until I was well into adulthood. My education taught me white-washed, feel good stories about mythically distant Civil Rights heroes like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Rosa Parks, but the names and stories of revolutionaries birthed out the Black Power movement were kept locked away. It wasn’t until I found myself baptized in teargas in St. Louis during the Ferguson Uprising with the voices of modern day Black revolutionaries ringing out all around me that I learned more about Hampton’s legacy.
I am convinced that this omission is intentional. Chairman Hampton was the kind of leader who was particularly threatening to the establishment because he preached a message of solidarity for people across racial lines. He organized his own people, Black folks in Chicago, but he also organized students, poor white and Latinx people, Chinese-Americans, gang members, Puerto Rican and Chicano freedom fighters, and more. In a system whose strategy is to keep oppressed people divided in order to more easily control and repress them, Hampton’s ideas were dangerous to the status quo. It’s why the United States’ government conspired to murder him in his sleep 50 years ago.
When St. Luke’s began our journey into anti-racism ministry, In worship, we each took time to hold a pebble in our hands, and to write or draw on it why anti-racism work matters to each of us. We all named why anti-racism work matters to us, and it matters to us for different reasons based on our experiences. For those of us who are white, like me, the work of naming our stake is really important. Otherwise, oftentimes when white people think about racism, we distance ourselves from its effects and by doing so, we risk taking on the harmful orientation of a white savior complex. But understanding that all people, including white people, have a personal, communal, and spiritual stake in anti-racism work resists the tendency towards saviorism and empowers us to move towards deep solidarity. Fred Hampton’s clarity of vision about the importance of recognizing our shared interest in our mutual liberation serves as a historic witness to this truth.
During the season of Advent when we prepare for God to be born, we listen to the prophets of the past and present who offer us words of lament and hope. Fred Hampton is one example of these prophetic voices, and his words continue to have an urgent relevance for us today.
In honor of Fred Hampton and in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of his assassination on Wednesday, December 4, we commissioned and collaborated on a liturgy with St. Louis activist and poet, Jamell Spann, a leader in the Ferguson Uprising. We will be worshiping together at 7 pm at Holy Family Lutheran Church, an African descent Lutheran church with historic ties to the Black Panther Party located just a few miles away from St. Luke’s in the Cabrini Green neighborhood. Tanya Watkins, the Executive Director of SOUL (a Black Liberation organization in Chicago) will be offering a reflection. Our hope is that our time together honors Hampton’s revolutionary spirit and dreams of cross-racial solidarity by connecting his legacy to the work we bring with us into the present day.
Commemorating Fred Hampton; An Advent Service of Lament and Hope
7:00 pm Wednesday, December 4, 2019
Holy Family Lutheran Church
542 W. Hobbie Street, Chicago
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by Elle Dowd