A message from God to the nation

At Bread for the World’s social media booth, participants were invited to use social media to ask California candidates for U.S. Senate Kamala Harris (D) and Loretta Sanchez (D) what they would do to end hunger. Robin Stephenson/Bread for the World.

By David Gist

“Now is the time for a justice revival! We need, as Dr. King told us, a ‘radical revolution of values.’ The people of this nation must clean up the mess of this election cycle and get their act together!”

Like an Old Testament prophet, the Rev. Dr. James Forbes Jr. says he received a message from God to deliver not only to the people gathered at First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles, Calif., but also to the nation at large.

Longing for systemic change in the area of criminal justice and policing, local leaders gathered Thursday at the historic black church for a justice revival. Committed to criminal justice reform as a means to overcome hunger, Bread for the World cosponsored the revival.

A longtime friend of Bread, Forbes met with leaders concerned about the many people of color who are targeted by law enforcement and incarcerated for minor, non-violent offenses. Over 6 million people live below the poverty line in California, where Latinos and African-Americans are nearly two times as likely to live in poverty as white people. Amid this landscape, mass incarceration fuels hunger and hardship, particularly in communities of color.

Forbes delivered his message and called for a “racial-ethnic justice audit” in 2017 to help the nation determine where we are and what we must do. Following Forbes, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom reminded local leaders that California is ahead of most of the nation on reducing prison populations and returning people to their families.

The challenge, Newsom pointed out, is making sure people leaving prison have adequate support and economic opportunity to succeed and avoid recidivism. Making sure that people who have “paid their debt to society” have a balanced playing field and a fair chance to earn a living and feed their families is an essential component of Bread’s vision of criminal justice reform.

In closing, Newsom shared the example of a billboard alongside a stretch of freeway that is frequently characterized by gridlock. The billboard proclaims in large letters, “You are NOT stuck in traffic.” Below, in smaller letters, it reads, “You ARE traffic.”

The implication is that sometimes we are not merely victims of a larger problem but part of the problem ourselves through our own inaction. Forbes and Newsom urged the leaders gathered at First AME and those throughout the country who hear this message to resist inertia and achieve justice by moving forward as God’s people.

David Gist is a senior organizer at Bread for the World.

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