On the steps at San Francisco City Hall, ten of the Bay Area's leading black ministers held a "socially distanced sermon" Memorial Day afternoon, advocating for churchgoers to uphold social distancing practices — and continue "worshiping in place."
Underneath Monday's blue skies and beating sun, almost a dozen notable African American religious leaders — including Reverend Amos C. Brown, the pioneering civil rights activists and president of the SF branch of the NAACP — urged clergy to keep their churches closed amid the pandemic. Brown also reminded those in attendance (and watching live) that, much like the fight for civil rights, progress doesn't occur overnight, and, as a collective, we need to respect social distancing practices for however long we must.
“You only have to go back a few decades in history to remember the Montgomery bus boycott, when for 381 days not one black person got on a bus, even though that meant walking to work, to shop, to worship,” said Brown. “Yet here we have people who are giving up after not even ninety days in the face of a deadly pandemic, knowing that the animated and celebratory worship in black churches is incompatible with the social distancing we must observe to prevent the spread of the virus.”
Monday’s gathering came just days after President Trump — who one pastor said wouldn't notice intelligence if it "tapped him on the shoulder" — declared houses of worship “essential,” calling for thief swift reopenings.
"Don't let our stupid president endanger our lives, " Brown remarked from the podium. "Listen to the scientists, listen to the medical workers, listen to the people who know this virus the best. Only when they say it's safe to open our doors again is when we should start to think about going back into our churches."
“We reserve the right ourselves, to determine the things we should do to that would be in the [best] interest of our people,” Brown continued, lambasting the circulation of “alternative facts” and other misinformation.
Brown, too, made it a point to explain that worship is not regulated to any one physical place or institution: “Pastors of all faiths and in all communities should take advantage of technology to keep in touch with their members [...] continue worshiping in place."
Among the pleads for churchgoers to worship inside their homes, with many of the in-attendance pastors even citing growth in their congregations since going virtual, cases were made to expand COVID-19 testing in predominantly black and brown communities.
"The black and brown communities have been disproportionately affected by this pandemic," said Dr. Jonathan Butler, the minister of health and social outreach at Third Baptist Church.
Currently, 20,000 African Americans have already died from the disease — dying at a rate three-times faster than white Americans.
"We need more accessible, widespread testing to determine who this virus has infected, so we can provide the appropriate medical care and preventive measures," another speaker suggested.
But the pandemic hasn’t just exposed the cracks in our nation's healthcare system, either. It’s also laid bare the disparities in how we educate children and young adults in this country.
Per a press release for the event, black students in the Bay Area’s public school system are already behind their peers due to long-standing issues of inequality, poverty, and systemic racism. With in-person classes canceled for the perceivable future, the group advocated for online tutoring and virtual educational programs — and the equipment and internet connections need to access them — to be made easily available to black and brown students, so they don't fall further behind.
As the gathering began to wind down, Brown again took to the podium, reminding everyone to support and respect each other's health during this global health crisis.
Last week, on May 17, marked the 66th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown v Board of Education ruling that ended segregation in public schools.
Image: Matt Charnock/SFist