By Clint Confehr
NASHVILLE, TN — Public policy must change, metro’s new NAACP branch president told a full-house last week with several more civil rights groups celebrating his installation.
The Rev. Keith Caldwell of Key United Methodist Church, Murfreesboro, thanked that
congregation — “If they didn’t give me the nod, I couldn’t be here” — and praised Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. Du Bois and Mary White Ovington as civil rights trail blazers.
Then he began to preach.
“We’ve always known the NAACP is the fighting arm of the church… An overwhelmingly Christian nation [has] too many contradictions, so we needed to change this oppressive world view… We had to go to the scripture … used to oppress us and find … liberation…
“What is your identity before the law? Are you three fifths human? Are Jim Crow laws at
your back? Is immigration of folks making 35-cents for picking 35 pounds of tomatoes in 2018; we see these things…
“We have to change pubic policy… We need to bring it to our social, political, economic and cultural reality…
“Black and white folks … came together to make change” with the NAACP, Caldwell said. “I’m excited because you see these groups … coming together.”
Showing Up for Racial Justice Nashville Steering Committee member Nick Cavin said SURJ “organizes white folks to dismantle white supremacy … for our collective liberation, not as … saviors of people of color.”
Beech Creek Baptist Church Pastor Davie Tucker Jr. introduced Caldwell as “one who I trust; one who not only expresses the theory, but one who lives the practice, and doing so means he has scars to show.”
Pastors agree, nonviolent direct action is a source of power until justice makes it irrelevant.
“I’ve had 20 years in the street,” Caldwell said, naming friends “in the grass roots” who’ve been with him.
Encouraged by shouts of “tell it preacher,” Caldwell addressed a conundrum of change,
calling Black Lives Matter a “nonviolent, overwhelmingly baptized Christian movement … in the streets doing a liturgy of lament because the church had been so silent … [With members] in the church saying ‘What you doin’ out there?’ and we said, ‘No. What you doin’ in there?’
“Sometimes we play respectability politics,” he continued. “But pulling up your pants didn’t help Sandra Bland,” the black driver found hanged in a Texas county jail cell, three days after being stopped in 2015 for not signaling a lane change.
A resonating message that night stems from a promise of justice on the other side of the grave, Caldwell said. “We want you to be saved in every dimension of your existence. Don’t think that somehow, somewhere else, it’s going to be all right. You don’t have to die to experience justice… Look around … see other people experiencing justice on this side of the grave.”
“Keith Caldwell is dear to my heart,” ABC President Forrest Elliot Harris Sr. said before praying for the leader when America’s “moral compass is broken.”
The Rev. Harold Love Jr. of Lee Chapel where branch leaders were installed Dec. 13, said it can be a “second home” for the NAACP. Its issues — education, criminal justice reform, affordable housing — match “much of what most of our faith leaders have been doing. One
of the dilemmas we’ve had … across the country, is that traditional leadership has aged-out. When you have to plug-in new leadership, there can be a learning curve… The blessing is that we have a person who understands the dual missions of the church and the NAACP.”
Caldwell said, “We’re going to do a clean passage of the baton.”
Out-going president Ludey Wallace is a branch executive committeeman.
Tennessee State Conference NAACP President Gloria Sweet-Love “celebrates” the leaders, offers guidance to “reimagine” the branch, and announced executive leadership training in January.