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‘James Baldwin Would Have Been Pleased’ With North Jersey Pride’s Spotlight on Civil Rights

The Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell (right) stands with the Revs. Martin Luther King Jr. (left) and Virgil Wood on the roof of a Boston public school in 1965. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell.

On June 20, North Jersey Pride held a screening of “From Selma to Stonewall: Are We There Yet?” The film was followed by a panel discussion featuring Rev. Gil Caldwell, a foot soldier of the Civil Rights movement; Rev. Kevin E. Taylor, senior pastor of Unity Fellowship Church NewArk; Rev. Jerri-Mitchell Lee, educator, mental health counselor and co-pastor of Unity Fellowship Church NewArk; Elaine Helms, founder of RAIN (Reaching Adolescents in Need) Foundation; and WNYC’s Nancy Solomon, who moderated. Rev. Caldwell shares his thoughts about the evening here.

The Rev. Gilbert Caldwell (center) in Maplewood, NJ. June 20, 2019.

Last Thursday night, North Jersey Pride sponsored a screening of the documentary, “From Selma to Stonewall: Are We There Yet?” Marilyn Bennett, the originator, director and co-producer of the film, linked Selma to Stonewall as a way to focus on the Black and gay rights struggle/journey. The film reminds the viewer that the Black/gay rights struggles are far from being over, because we have not yet understood nor embraced our failure to fully acknowledge how the Black justice journey informs the justice journeys of LGBTQI persons, and all persons in pursuit of authentic justice. I have been pleased to be, with Marilyn, the co-producer and a participant in the film.

Why the mention of the bold, brave, bodacious, unapologetic Black James Baldwin? When I publicly asked C.J. Prince of North Jersey Pride, who invited me and the other panelists, “Why invite an all-Black panel, and the Black co-producer of the film?” she said it was an intentional and deliberate effort to give space, place and visibility to Black voices—voices that in the LGBTQI rights struggle too often are “invisible.” Baldwin, I believe, would have been proud of North Jersey Pride. He had the ability to address Black justice by pointing out the constant illustrations of “blindness to Blackness” that affect/infect those who are not Black. What Baldwin would have observed last night:

  1. The “story telling” capacity of the panelists to speak/share their truth with all of its twists and turns. Their/our willingness to be autobiographical with honesty, not arrogance, enabled others to do the same. “Black history, heritage and hope,” when articulated by Black Folk, has the capacity to liberate those who are not Black. I felt that with North Jersey Pride last night.
  2. Baldwin would have appreciated our efforts to use the “news of the day” to illustrate blindness/tone deafness by white persons who are committed to racial justice, but who have not yet fully internalized the 400 years of slavery, segregation, lynching, abuse and double standards Blacks have known and still know. Joe Biden would not have used, as an illustration of his bi-partisan capacity, overt anti-Jewish senators with whom he proudly worked to pass legislation. But two overt anti-Black senators became illustrations of his political gifts. Four hundred years of Black dehumanization in the USA have not yet penetrated the justice DNA in our country. As theologian Reinhold Niebuhr said—I am paraphrasing—most of the evil is not done by evil people, but by good people who do not know they are not good.
  3. James Baldwin, if he had been present with us last night—I believe he was there spiritually—would have forcefully reminded us that we were there the day after “Juneteenth” and the discussions about reparations in Congress. He would have suggested there was some kind of “Divine Meaning” in the calendar coincidence of the North Jersey Pride showing of the film, amidst all of the “Black Stuff” being talked about everywhere.
  4. Blacks and Browns and Stonewall. In Go Tell It on the Mountain, Baldwin writes: “Go back to where you started from and tell the truth about it.” Marilyn, in our film, deliberately in pictures and interviews, reminds the viewer that Black and Brown transgender persons are essential to the telling of the Stonewall story. I am sure that during the 50th anniversary celebrations of Stonewall, panels of Black and Brown LGBTQI persons, will have opportunities to speak as the panelists did last night. Marilyn is in New York City for the celebrations; hopefully, the planners of the Stonewall observances will find place and space for the showing of “From Selma to Stonewall,” and take the time to honor Marilyn. If not: another illustration of, “Why we are not there yet?”
  5. James Baldwin, son of a preacher and a preacher himself, would have appreciated my sharing copies of “Beware of Authoritarian Christians,” by Rev. William Alberts, posted on Racism, sexism, and heterosexism have been energized by Christian misuse of the Bible to create negrophobia, gynophobia, homophobia and transphobia. His article is a must read for United Methodists whose Church is on the brink of being taken over by authoritarian traditionalists who seek to destroy the UMC via their obsession with the notion that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” I believe Baldwin would join with all of us in the UMC who are resisting the takeover by white traditionalists. They have gained the White House—God help us if they succeed in seizing the United Methodist Church.

What happened in Maplewood, N.J. last night at a North Jersey Pride event must not stay and die there. That is why I have written what I have written. May others do the same!

Rev. Gil Caldwell

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