The Wisdom of Jerome

The Wisdom of Jerome Revisited by The Rev. Bill Terry, St. Anna’s Episcopal Church

There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

Buffalo Springfield For What it’s worth , 1967.

I realized that in my last article titled, The Wisdom of Jerome, that I did not say a word about Jerome – so much for my own personal A.D.D.!

There is a wizened old face with creases that speak of time and trials. He is a denizen of the Treme and Seventh Ward. This old face that smiles on occasion and frown’s on others has assumed an almost mystical presence. He is tall spare and moves with a slowness that only time and burden can induce. Some admire him, some despise him, he is often harshly critical using the language of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s which gentrified white’s have a hard time with. In this day and age his language seems harsh and out of place. This is some of that uncomfortable language:

Jarvis DeBerry quotes him as saying, “young white people are valued as children while their black counterparts are “still seen as cargo.

Our “mission is not civil rights. We demand that our humanity be respected.”

Feeling a little uncomfortable at this point? I know that I always feel a little uncomfortable around Jerome. Yet, Jerome represents a creditable and important part of our community – yes, A Community within Communities. He represents a part of our ‘Downtown” culture and people that still need listening too. He hasn’t given up the cause. Jerome was a Freedom Rider in 1961; he was in the ‘sit ins’ later in New Orleans; he was a member of CORE and spoke directly to Dr. King, he is a living legacy that still has voice and still has the tenacity to see bigotry and call it out. Beyond calling it out he does something about conditions for these little souls that are “still seen as cargo.”

A couple of articles ago I wrote about the nexus or meeting point of several things happening in a quickly changing world: The Wimberley flood, Sister Emmanuel Church, local murders, and the Supreme Court ruling on same sex marriage all in two weeks. Jerome’s focus might be singular in that his passion is for the children of Treme and likely all children of color. We share this desire to see our children, particularly Black-American children, prosper. Jerome heads up an organization called Tambourine and Fan which provides a life line to history and culture in this quick paced world. He has taken children who are at risk and found safe places for them. He has taken children to stand in rallies in Washington D.C. he has taken them to Selma to relive “the movement.” He has kept the Dream Alive.

In the same way Anna’s Place NOLA provides a safe place, a harbor from the storms of disinterest, despair, and dehumanizing violence. Jerome and Anna’s Place share this – Communities within Communities. Jerome will come by the church on occasion seeking a little financial support usually for one of these important trips. A few weeks ago he came by and we began to chat a bit which brings me to Buffalo Springfield and that anthem from so long ago.

There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

It seemed to both of us that something strange is unfolding in our country. As an example: Police shootings aplenty which seem, in most cases, to be unwarranted. Then there was Emmanuel Church and the ensuing conversations about Confederate symbols and what they mean to our constituent community members. Alongside of all of that are recent deaths of Police Officers. These deaths and murders and increasing violence both by Government and citizens seems to be a gathering storm. It is like watching a thunderhead gathering great boiling clouds of darkness blotting out the sun with a chill wind sweeping the land before the tumult of thunder, lightening, and torrential rains. Such visions are powerful and sometimes intimidating. Do you see storm clouds gathering?

I am not an alarmist and I am not proposing a massive riot or revolt I am not a survivalist. I am, I hope reasoned, yet there is something going on. That something is not an optimistic sense of prosperity; it is not a sense of hope and unbridled possibility. That is what it is not, “What it is ain’t exactly clear…” With those old eyes Jerome looked out of time and space. Like old men who have seen a lot we both quietly nodded and quietly murmured to ourselves or no one in particular, “something is going on.” That “something” is “something” that we can all see and feel.

Any community that has been exposed to violence can more sensitively and acutely sense the violence and boiling discord that seems to be rising more each day. Perhaps it is the summer heat that permits us to reflect more on the state of our nation because it is too hot to do much more than reflect and think. Perhaps it is simply a rapid case of violent acts punctuated by moments of ironic joy. The Supreme Courts on the one hand affirming freedom to marry and on the other hand the Government striking down the Voters Right Act as no longer a necessity, “Telling me I got to beware” in ways I’ve not thought of in so long. Complacency, perhaps that is the demon that is the gathering vortex. “It didn’t happen in my neighborhood.” Those people have language instead of ‘We the people’ language. Communities that are subject to hatred, bias, prejudice, and dehumanization probably get this or at least a whiff of what it smells like.

The wisdom of Jerome, I hope, will find its way into our hearts, our minds, our faith, our churches, and our community. If we demand respect for our humanity we must demand respect for the humanity of all of God’s children. We must do so not by simply saying we agree but by actively engaging in that agreement. It is no longer acceptable to be of kind heart and relying on “can’t we all just get along.” Such seems to be too passive for this gathering storm. As we have consistently preached, written, proposed, and hoped we must be an engaged Community within Communities that goes beyond our own boundaries. We may not always like what we hear especially if it is honestly critical of how we have lived our lives. But let us at least listen instead of polarizing ourselves. Jerome makes me uncomfortable and I want to thank him for this discomfort. In my discomfort I am energized to insure that the children of Treme can and must be respected for their humanity beyond good wishes and invested in with vigor or there may be no end to the demon of poverty and disenfranchisement in our little piece of New Orleans or Atlanta or Houston. WE THE PEOPLE must be the starting point not, “There’s a man with a gun over there, telling me I got to beware…” Jerome asks this, ‘do what Jesus did.’

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