Voices from Lafayette's Black community explore the role of education in reconciliation.

Elevation is the solution

Abram Freeman
Abram Freeman is the pastor of Acts of Love Christian Fellowship and the president of Acts of Love Foundation. Photo by Travis Gauthier

August 2023 should make 404 years since the first Africans landed on our shores. The Europeans who brought them did so for the purpose of profit and greed. Let’s be honest. Anytime one group uses its power to control the other group, for whatever reason, the results are lasting and, in most cases, very disastrous.

To reconcile means to harmonize, become as one and to bring back into harmony. It means to restore friendly relationships with. This definition would assume that those of African heritage were at one point thought of as equal to the standing of other children of God. Is this possible for all shades of people? Notice I did not say race.

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place. (Acts 17:26)

Yes, most modern theologians agree that there is but one race/blood of mankind. If this is the case, races are a man-made invention. Not God made. It’s widely believed that Francois Bernier in 1684 developed the first comprehensive classification of race. Race has always been used to separate and classify people in groups based on appearance, culture, language and perception. By classifying Africans in the lower tier, this gave Christians and some other groups the ways and means to become the guardians and masters of mankind.

So why is it difficult to even discuss the results of systematic separation? For European Americans, it seems to be the struggle of dealing with the past hurt and pain, the guilt and shame and the unwillingness to let go of the benefits their ancestors here gave them because of their actions.

For African Americans, it is very deep as well indeed. African Americans as a culture suffer from what I call AAE — adverse adult experiences.

So, let’s talk about it. The Constitution’s promises were not extended to Black Americans. Even some Americans who say they are resolutely opposed to racism agree with Chief Justice Roger Taney’s claim in the 1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford decision that the Constitution regarded blacks as “so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect, and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.”

So when the Chief Justice of the American judicial system gives the green light to accommodate white supremacists, the door of hateful speech and abusive physical aversions by so-called Christians became rampant.

When America finally came to the decision that slavery was destroying the country and the war ended, African Americans were sent into the world with nothing. How were the children to be fed with no land, job or family structure? They left with nothing.

Real estate has always been the preferable way to make wealth, yet they were promised 40 acres and a mule but received slavery in a different form.

Ask yourself: Why are there so many Black people on welfare? Because the ability to own land and produce their own food was taken away. Why did African Americans lag so far behind in education? Because it was illegal to educate Africans for many years. Even after it became legal, many areas set up a secondary education system bent on a separate but not equal basis.

So, you can say that was then. Well, in the 1930s President Franklin Roosevelt created the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation to purchase homes being foreclosed at the end of the Great Depression, they drew red lines around risky (Black and inner city) areas and forbade the extension of loans there. The same thing happened when the Federal Housing Administration was created for the purpose of building new homes. Banks, mortgage companies and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs followed the same practice. No matter how financially successful one was, he was destined to live where the system desired him to, regardless of his ability to do otherwise.

Now back to education. There were and still are hidden figures in African history who we have yet to recognize because our educators are afraid to tell history as it truly was. Perhaps some feel as though our country is too young to deal with the truth. Yet we have great institutions whose entire existence is to tell the truth but we in our wisdom wash over hurts and pains and make up our own versions to protect the American Dream. For so many in our country it has been a nightmare. Even today in our great Parish we have a problem. There is a group of citizens who have taken upon themselves to hide books and displays to celebrate diversity and still the masses are quiet.

“The hottest place in hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict,” said Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis,” wrote Dante.

So, it’s not over.

As I said, African Americans as a culture suffer from AAE, adverse adult experiences. The reason for this is unresolved childhood experiences.

Adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood (0-17 years), according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary. For example:

  • experiencing violence, abuse, neglect, substance abuse and mental health challenges
  • witnessing violence in the home or community, hunger, and helplessness
  • The inability to concentrate in school or pay attention during class times

ACEs are linked to chronic health problems, mental illness and substance abuse problems in adolescence and adulthood. ACEs can also negatively impact education, job opportunities and earning potential. ACEs can be prevented.

The best way to lift a people from poverty to prosperity is education and having a safe family environment. But when children are dealing with adult situations at home they miss out on the wonders of childhood.

In 2020, Stanford University researchers found that data they collected don’t “support the common argument that schools themselves are to blame for low average test scores” among Black students. Stanford’s research linked student performance to “socioeconomic resources” and “a child’s early experiences.”

So, the solution is not education — it's elevation. We know that the richest school districts have safer schools, cleaner campuses and offer nurturing environments conducive to learning. Racial reconciliation — or a better word Unity — can only be accomplished when we invest real money in minority neighborhoods, better integrate our schools, universities and neighborhoods.

We also understand that America still allows its political machine to disenfranchise minorities using an antiquated voting system called gerrymandering, manipulating electoral boundaries in favor of one party or the other. Some continue to use tests like the SAT or ACT to measure intelligence and aptitude, despite their history of explicit bias toward black and brown youth. The use of this test is becoming increasingly obsolete.

So here we are in Lafayette Parish celebrating 200 years as a family, but we have so far to go. Let’s make a commitment to celebrate Juneteenth, a holiday that promotes unity and love, that begs the participation of all shades of God’s people. Let’s not hide or be embarrassed about who we are and how mixed we are. Without Louisiana there would be no Juneteenth. We started the journey back in 2005 and finally have this holiday that remembers the beginning of the end of slavery. Come out and prove to your darker brothers that you are one of us, American.

Removing obstacles confronting people of color will benefit the nation. Look at all the great accomplishments attributed to those of color in our country. Instead of passing “tough on crime” laws, how about a war on poverty, welfare reform, gun reform, cleaning up the state legislatures, the Electoral College and building affordable homes and businesses all of us can enjoy.

Don’t fool yourself, there is a reason why 11 a.m. on Sunday is the most segregated hour of the week. It’s because we are afraid of each other.

Yet we say in church, God has not given us a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7). When we allow a minority of Americans to hijack the narrative by making it evil to learn about the history and experiences of other people without interference, we give our explicit permission for that spirit of fear to continue.

Instead of dumbing down education, we must look at every culture that has contributed to this great country. Our children deserve to know about all cultures. It is their right.

Instead of being troubled water, we must become a bridge.