BMH Books author Robert W. Kellemen, Ph.D. (right), who has written Spiritual Friends and Soul Physicians, is also the author of a recent book entitled Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction. Kellemen, who is head of the counseling program at Capital Bible Seminary, wrote the following reflections on the current Jena Six issue:
Jena, Louisiana, has become a national hotspot after over a year’s worth of racial tension. In September 2006, latent animosity boiled over when a black high school freshman asked if he could sit under what had become known as the “White Tree.”
The next day, three white students hung nooses from the tree. When the principal’s attempt to expel the students was shot down by the board, more racial friction erupted.
A little more than three months after the unconscionable noose incident, six black students beat up a white student until he was knocked unconscious. After a three-hour hospital visit, he was released. When the town prosecutor initially charged the “Jena Six” with attempted murder, charges of racism rose again.
It would take the proverbial wisdom of Solomon to dissect the truth in this difficult situation. Clearly, a more strident response against the initial hate crime of hanging the nooses should have occurred. Shame on the school board for backing down.
And while charges of attempted murder never were judicially appropriate in this case, those who minimized the attack also have some explaining to do. What would people call it if six white students punched, stomped, and beat one black student until he was unconscious?
But I don’t have the wisdom of Solomon to sort through all the claims and counterclaims to uncover the facts. What is needed is a modern-day Solomon, and not even the Solomon of the Bible, but a black man named Solomon Northrup who spent twelve years enslaved in Louisiana.
This Solomon had the ability to look at life without having the color of one’s skin color his perspective. He could objectively evaluate situations based upon foundational principles of justice.
Born a free black man in 1808 in Maine, at age 33 Northrup was kidnapped and spent twelve years enslaved near the Red River in Louisiana. A learned man and a successful businessman, he penned his own story in 1853. In his narrative, Northrup had no problem condemning cruel slave owners such as John M. Tibeats, describing his repeated brutality and malice.
However, Northrup could see beyond the color of one’s skin and even beyond religious hypocrisy and social injustice. Though recognizing the inconsistency of his white master, William Ford, a slave-owning Baptist preacher, Northrup still could note, “It is but simple justice to him when I say, in my opinion, there never was a more kind, noble, candid, Christian man than William Ford.”
Northrup detailed page after page of Ford’s encouraging preaching and caring personal ministry to him and to other black men and women.
Solomon Northrup displayed the wisdom of Solomon that the people of Jena, Louisiana, and of all America, could use today. He had the discernment to recognize evil and call it such unashamedly. But he also demonstrated the ability to recognize good in others—even in others who were imperfect, even in others who were of a different hue, even in others who were treating him unjustly.
Nationally, pundits, people, pastors, and politicians are taking sides, pitting themselves against each another, claiming to have cornered the market on the truth of the “Jena Six” case.
Yet, everyone seems to see the truth through colored lenses filled with preconceived notions, personal ideologies, and cultural baggage. Can’t someone step back and see the big picture with the eyes of Solomon—of Solomon Northrup?