After my father accepted Jesus, our family moved to Wichita, Kansas. Wichita was a bit better than our family’s previous home in Guthrie, Oklahoma, but it was still one of the most racist cities in the nation. “Better” meant that there were no white and colored water fountains, but a Black person still couldn’t eat at drugstore counters and restaurants.
As young men, my older brother Thurman and I, as well as many of our friends, decided we had had enough of Jim Crow and segregation. We decided we weren’t going to take it any longer. We were going to change it or die. Our parents’ generation didn’t agree with our rebellion.
They didn’t care for the injustices and segregation still evident every day, but considering where they had come from — and especially the horrid atrocities their parents and grandparents had experienced — they liked what they had at that time as Blacks in America. They had grown content with the lifestyles they had achieved, segregated or not.
Our generation felt differently. We took our frustrations (and a few rocks) to the streets. When the cops came, we said we wouldn’t budge. We would stand our ground. If the 500 of us didn’t move, one or two police officers couldn’t move us. So the cops would have to mobilize too. And when they did that, we’d bring out thousands. This became our way of standing up for ourselves in the early to mid-’60s. Any Friday or Saturday night, we’d just ask, “Where we gonna gather?”
The protests on Wichita’s streets inevitably became violent. Thurman and I knew that something had to be done to help our community. The elements that were coming out were starting to destroy property.
People were getting hurt. It was no longer just a revolutionary movement. It was getting serious.
In an effort to help, Thurman and I made the decision to join the police force. We became two of nine Black police officers on a force of three hundred. The Wichita police officers were not trusted by the Black community at the time. Thurman and I hoped we could help stifle the growing violence by patrolling the Black neighborhoods ourselves.
Since I’d had spent so much time protesting before joining the police force, everyone I dealt with as an officer already knew me. I could act as a mediator. The precedent my brother and I set by going from the streets to the academy began to influence the scene in Wichita. Within two years, the number of Black officers in the city had grown from nine to 25, with several new Black officers coming up through every academy class.
Looking back this time in America — the riots, the fights for civil liberties, the peaceful protests of Martin Luther King Jr. — I think back to the prejudices I experienced. I think about the change of hearts and attitudes I watched happen during that time. It was a growing up for the nation. King freed a lot of people, but only a few of them were Black.
Despite this newfound freedom, our nation continues to wrestle with the issue of race. As a nation, we were drawn to progressive socialist programs that lead the Black community toward the destruction we see today. Worse, the nation failed to embrace the teachings of King to demonstrate love for our fellow man and judge others by the content of their character.
We need unity. For that unity to begin, we have to recognize that we are all sinners. We won’t find unity by pointing to any other form of oppression than the oppression of sin. The answer to the challenges we face won’t be found in revolutions like my brother and I were involved with in the ’60s. It won’t be found by accepting the current state of the world or in seeking to police it.
The various experiences I’ve had in my life remind me that the answer to the world’s problems — even the problems of racism — is not found in critical race theory or the Black Lives Matter movement, but in Jesus Christ. It is only in Christ that we can overcome sin and find ourselves capable of forgiveness and reconciliation. It is Christ who redeems us from slavery to sin.
Throughout the generations of my family, we chose to remember who we belonged to. It wasn’t to slave-owner James Mallory who bought my great-great-grandmother. It wasn’t to the Civil Rights movement or the Wichita police. It isn’t to Black Lives Matter or critical race theory. My family belonged to Christ. In Christ we found more than an escape from the sort of slavery that is part of my family’s history in the United States. We found redemption from sin. We belong to him. Like all others who belong to Jesus, no matter their story or color, we now have the opportunity to be one in him.
My hope is that we can come to realize that there is no solution to human sin outside of Jesus Christ. By devoting ourselves to observing all of Christ’s teachings we can come together as sinners saved by grace. And our unity is crucial because, as D.L. Moody once said, “I have never known the Spirit of God to work where the Lord’s people were divided.”
• Founder and CEO of D. L. Moody Center, Emmitt Mitchell is passionate about the gospel of Christ and currently spends his time speaking into ministries on local and national levels.
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