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It's time to say the words out loud: Racism exists, and must be stopped

It's time to say the words out loud: Racism exists, and must be stopped

Social Justice

“Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King said those powerful words on August 28, 1963, in what we know as the “I Have A Dream” speech.

Alas, as the hate-fueled murder of three Black citizens in Jacksonville on August 26 proves, the nation remains stuck in those quicksands of racial injustice. That thought went through Rev. Dr. Debbie Salinger’s mind when she learned of the killings on Saturday afternoon.

“My first thought was, ‘Oh no, not again,’” she said.

Rev. Dr. Debbie Salinger

She is the Senior Pastor at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Jacksonville, about 20 minutes from the Dollar General store where a man driven by racial hatred entered with a sole mission to kill as many Black people as possible.

The next morning, she faced her congregation to offer the kind of sermon too many pastors have had to give to too many people seeking answers to an impossible question: Why?

“I want them to think about how racism is still prominent in this world. Let’s not act like it’s not there,” she said. “We need to be in conversation about that disease that is still among us. We’re going to talk about where God is calling us to go.”

Before Rev. Dr. Salinger’s sermon, the church’s lay leader told her of a time around 1960 when someone bombed a Black family’s home just two doors down from where she lived. How much has really changed since then?


In another part of Jacksonville, Rev. Eric McCrea of Arlington UMC relied on scripture to get across a message of comfort as well as a challenge.

“The pastoral prayer focused on the grief and call to be people who are actively anti-racist.  We are in a message series on the Proverbs, and the scripture for the week was Proverbs 6:16-19.  This scripture lists things that God hates.  On that list is "hands that spill innocent blood,” he said.

“I spent some time relating this to Saturday's shooting during the sermon with an emphasis on thinking about things we each can do to combat racism and hate.  Our congregation has a significant number of African Americans, and the area surrounding the church has a high percentage of minorities, so this event is prompting us to think about what we can do in the wake of this kind of violence.”

What can we do?

Bishop Tom Berlin of The Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church offered a prayer that expressed what so many now feel as we confront seemingly never-ending violence.

It read in part, “How long, O LORD, will some have to live in fear, while others read the news with docile sadness, as though a shooting in a Dollar General is a normal day?

“How long, O LORD, before we conform to your commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves? How long before we see your commandment as more than an aspiration, or suggestion, or a good intention that we should hold for some day in the future that we sense we will never live to see?”

How long?

The echo of Dr. King’s words from all those years ago still sits on our lips as we ask the same questions he did. He had a dream. We do, too.

Rev. David Williamson of Grace UMC in St. Augustine shared an email with the Conference about how the timing of this attack with the anniversary of Dr. King’s speech should serve as a call to action for everyone.

He urged people to listen to the speech again, and wrote, “As you listen, imagine yourself standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. looking out over the many impossibilities and injustices of today. Perhaps you simply name them out loud and write them down.

“With eyes open to these many devastations, and with a long, slow, deep breath, allow yourself to dream of things being made right. That is the literal meaning of justice - making things right. That’s different from vengeance, which is about trying to control others. Consider starting your dream not with what you wish others would do differently, but with what you might do differently. What would it look like for you to make things right and well in your own soul? What would it look like for you to be part of the world’s healing this day?  What does that dream look like?”

It would look more like the justice Dr. King sought and fought for with great courage and commitment to change. It was a charge to keep pushing forward and to never give in to hate.

Rev. Dr. Salinger invoked those words as she worked through her sermon by reading excerpts from that speech.

“Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends,” Dr. King said. “So, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.  It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

They are created equal, yes, but too often aren’t treated that way. For Rev. Tiffany McCall of First UMC in Jacksonville, that reality stokes fear and anxiety. 

Rev. Tiffany McCall

“When I heard the news, honest to goodness, I was horrified. It makes you feel uneasy to feel you could be a target,” she said.

“I know that Dollar Store; it’s about 2 ½ miles from our church. I’ve been in that neighborhood to work with nonprofits. I feel a deep-seated anguish. You don’t know what to do at this point. How do we change the mindset of people?”

You change that mindset through Jesus’ great commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself.

With that in mind, Rev. McCall reached out to the funeral home that removed the bodies of the victims. She told them to tell the families that they could hold services at First Jacksonville free of charge if they wished.

Kindness is one way to combat hate and racism.

“I want people to know that this is real. It causes real fear in the lives of people who are targeted in many ways. It causes anxiety and struggle. I would like people to really listen to what the family of the victims has to say,” she said.

“Really lean in and learn, do the work that God has called us to do. Learn about ways to prevent this kind of thing. How do we become anti-racist? Challenge ourselves to have empathy and compassion for people who aren’t like us. And don’t give up. We have to keep moving forward and PUSH – Pray Until Something Happens. And do the work.”

Joe Henderson is the News Content Editor at

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