Years ago, when I was a graduate student in the History Department at Tulane University, I spent most of my research time buried in primary documents related to the life conditions of African American slaves in the American South. My special emphasis had to do with how slaves related to life inside the white church.
It became clear to me that faith provided these oppressed people a source of hope in the face of grave and tragic difficulty on a day-to-day basis.
Slaves endured unimaginable cruelty at the hands of countless white slave drivers and owners. The religion of African Americans in the antebellum South provided solace and direction through the horrors of life in the slave South.
Most of the time slaves retreated into their faith to cope with the abuse and injustice.
Occasionally, the slave community would erupt in rebellion against the unfair, cruel and harsh restraints imposed upon its members--men, women, children and entire families. Slave revolts were fairly uncommon, but there were significant eruptions of violence over the course of this bleak period of our national history.
Oppressed peoples eventually react to what they suffer. They also usually depend upon a deeply rooted spirituality to cope with the realities of life in any oppressor state.
It seems to me that most people never consider the oppressive impact of poverty on modern urban population centers in the United States.
Thankfully, the days of slavery are behind us. But the effects of poverty in our urban centers endure. Various social and community maladies endure among the poor because of the despair that attends any environment largely defined by generational poverty.
Crime, unemployment, teenage pregnancy, high drop out rates for students, deteriorating housing stock, disrespect for traditional seats of authority--the list of issues is not short. Any effort to understand causes, effects and solutions must transcend traditional emphases on individual effort or simple personal responsibility.
Despair, a lack of hope works itself out in behavior and in social consequences. Despair also leads people to retreat deep into the world of faith as they seek relief, answers and remedies for hopelessness.
Breakthroughs and progress will follow concentrations of effort and redefinitions of faith by the larger communities involved--both poor and rich.