August 2, 2016 under Faith Based Work

The Evolution of Leadership in the Movement for Justice

By Brian C. Ellis-Gibbs, FPWA Faith Based Community Engagement Coordinator

It was in my history class that I began my journey of learning about the vast number of leaders in the movement for social justice; leaders who were catapulted to the forefront by their peers in the struggle for worker rights, equal access to resources, and the actualization of civil and human rights. Yet, as I grew older, I saw that significant leaders were dying and because of this the momentum towards justice slowed down, and in some cases, ended.

Afterwards, the movement began to search for its next Dr. Martin Luther King or Malcolm X. A few men and women who continued the work were considered, yet they had not reached the stature and prominence of Dr. King or Malcolm X. A generation looked for a single leader to galvanize the community, the cities, the country; yet, what appeared was a new form of leadership, one of partnership and collaboration which challenged the single leader construct and replaced it with a network of leaders. These new leaders would come from all spaces and places within our communities. They would not be defined by one ethnic, cultural, or linguistic group. They defined their own culture and language, and gave birth to a new methodology and praxis of leading movements. It is reminiscent of how Jesus empowered a team of 12 to lead the movement after his death and ascension.

Throughout the transition of leadership, there was one element of the movement for justice that continued to be present, the element of faith. Faith has always been central to the movement; faith in God and a faith in a future without walls. No matter the religious background, or non-religious background, there remained and remains a faith in the potential of human capital and a faith in the possibilities of what the world can be; a faith that continues to compel persons to work together in partnership for the greater good.

For a period of time, it appeared that faith communities were silent, not challenging systems that denied rights while diminishing and dehumanizing God’s people. Some credited this silence to a fear of being assassinated, alienated and/or eliminated. Many faith communities turned inward; others continued their work to provide services in their local neighborhoods. But there were persons within the faith community that saw the need to galvanize people of faith and reclaim their role in the movement towards transformation. FPWA has been one of those spaces birthed for people of faith to be educated and empowered, to come together as a collective body and advocate and fight for justice in every sector of society, in particular for the most vulnerable within the population.

For me, FPWA is important because of its role in calling the faith community and non-faith communities to a place of partnership for creating and implementing strategy that addresses the basic human needs of all persons. It creates the space for conversation and dialogue around systemic issues, such as poverty, so as to deconstruct and rebuild for fairness, justice and equity, rooted in faith and grounded in love for humanity

We have this incredible opportunity to participate in the reshaping of a narrative about low-income communities, about people of color, about persons who have been made invisible and expendable. This reshaping is not just in language, but in tangible ways that are impactful and life-changing. For this reason and the potential to participate in the movement for justice, I believe God gave me this opportunity to serve with FPWA; an opportunity for which I am grateful.