Freedom Ride: Jackson, Mississippi

I was excited when we pulled up to the Spencer Perkins Community Center in Jackson.  I’d heard about the work and writings of John Perkins and was expecting this place to feel like home.  We pulled up to a cute little house and playground and waited for our host.  She quickly came out to greet us and walked us across the 4 lane busy street to the guest house where we would be staying.  The walls of the guest house were filled with collage pictures of volunteers.  There is an enviable humongous dining table in the eating area that seats at least 19 and a full service kitchen from which we cooked and served dinner and breakfast for our group.  The house sleeps 20+ volunteers and has three bathrooms and a laundry facility.

Our host gave us a quick lay of the land.  She told us that the Perkins Center has three “legs” of ministry.  1)  Reconciliation, 2) Community Development, 3) Youth Development.  She told us that the Center has just completed a full summer of kids’ camp and that they were on the break between summer activities and school-year activities.  Empathizing with a full summer, we released her of any and all hosting responsibilities and spend the evening playing together as a group.  (Anyone wanna play Dutch Blitz?)

Before she left the guest house, our host instructed us to take all of our belongings out of our vehicle and to leave our van doors unlocked.  “That way, folks who walk by can see what you have inside the car and get what they need without breaking the windows.” This statement came as a shock to our youth and especially to our youngest (5 and 7 year old) Freedom Fighters.  There was much discussion among our group members about leaving the doors unlocked and the needs of the neighbors in our midst.

The next morning, we woke up early and prepared breakfast for Dr. John Perkins to eat with us.  He arrived at 7:45am.  His first greeting to us was, “I come with the intentions of speaking a language of love.”  He sat down at the table and asked our youth, “I want to know you better.  What is it that you like about yourself?”  Each youth introduced themselves and with every individual, Dr. Perkins took the time to reflect back to them something meaningful that he perceived about them.  “You are a beautiful child of God.  I can see a streak of joy in you.  You seem to have a servant’s heart…”  Dr. Perkins went on to say, “If you can’t think of something you like about yourself, then you are not thinking very deeply.  You need to think deeply.  God calls us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.”

We listened attentively as Dr. Perkins shared his faith journey with us.  He proclaimed a mission statement for himself, “For the rest of my life, I am seeking a love language.” Dr. Perkins was an embodiment of this mission statement.  He drew us all in and made us feel significant, like he cared about us.  “All of you in here look like God,” he told us.

Dr. Perkins also said some very truthful and challenging things.  He declared that “Integration” is the “time between when the first blacks get there and the last whites leave.”  I said that Integration, in the way it had been organized by the government was not effective.  It had not been fully thought out.  “It out to be the rich trying to integrate with the poor and lift them up.  Instead, it is the blacks being integrated with the rich [whites]and the rich in charge.  The rich are saying ‘If you can buy this car like me and if you can clean yourself up like me, then you can have the honor of living near me’….We have to spend our means to obtain the status of ‘human.’ This is evil.  We ARE human, made in God’s image.”  He continued…”Yall ca’nt be like me.  You oughta be like you and use that for God’s glory.”

Dr. Perkins made me ask myself, “What is really reconciling?”  He explained, “This society has benefited so much from holding people a slave.  They say, ‘be reconciled to us.”  This results in people chasing after the wind.  They need to be reconciled to Christ.  Integration isn’t enough.  It is focused on human desire rather than seeking reconciliation and guidance from God.  Silver and gold don’t make you closer to God…The purpose of life is to be a steward of God’s earth and to manage it so that the poor are not left out. ”

Other quotable quotes from Dr. Perkins include:

“As a person thinks in his heart, so is he.”

“If you tell the truth, the truth has life in itself.”

“Truth, pressed down to the earth long and hard enough, will rise again.  Ignorance will not stay on the throne forever.”

After a well nourished from a full and inspiring breakfast with Dr. Perkins, we repacked the van and headed back down the road.  This time, to Selma…