Philadelphia activist, Asa Khalif, supports Pennsylvania church that came under fire for their #BlackLivesMatter sign.
It was an hour-long drive from Philadelphia to Lansdale, Pennsylvania, and the occupants of the car were silent for most of the excursion.
In the back seat, sitting alone listening to old-school gospel music and praying, was Mr. Asa Khalif, who, along with his father and cousin, were preparing themselves to enter a tense situation: a church, who after putting the phrase “Black Lives Matter” on the sign outside the building, received major backlash—hate mail and death threats—from neighbors and wanted to smooth things over with a talk—Mr. Khalif, whose affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement in Philly and New York City, was an invited guest.
Mr. Khalif, often portrayed in the media as a radical, quasi-anarchist and racist, reached out to the Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, The Rev. Paul Lutz, a white man, after hearing him tell his story on the radio.
“They needed to be supported,” said Mr. Khalif, who, seconds before speaking at the town hall meeting organized by Rev. Lutz on Wednesday evening, introduced his father, a white man, and his cousin, “a hard-working black man.” “I wanted to start the conversation by breaking down stereotypes,” added Mr. Khalif, noting that the gathering was catalyzed by “hate, misunderstanding and misinformation about the Black Lives Matter movement.”
The event, consisting of a panel—which Mr. Khalif was a part of–and breakout group discussions, took place in the church’s gymnasium, and the tension at the onset, Mr. Khalif observed, was heavy.
“The heavy hearts of members could be seen on their faces. It’s hurtful when neighbors are putting people against one another.”
The church is mostly all-white—only about five black people were in attendance—and Mr. Khalif was the only African-American on the panel. Those who were responsible for the off-putting messages either didn’t attend or opted to remain silent during the discussion.
The panelists all spoke with notes or vocalized prepared remarks said Mr. Khalif, who, in contrast, spoke from his heart and eased the thick tension that consumed a portion of the room and allowed for dialogue to flow naturally.
A lesson was learned on both sides: Mr. Khalif learned that “white people still have courage,” and not the white activists who he agitates alongside of regularly, but those who for activism is a foreign concept.
And whites who attended the meeting learned that, among many things, a “racist element lives in their community.”
Mr. Khalif classified Wednesday evening as a “special night,” simply because of the peace birthed out of so much strife and due to the fact people “were talking to each other, not at each other.”
It, too, was a high profile moment in which Mr. Khalif, without words, shut down his critics.
“My critics had nothing to say; it’s hard to paint me as a racist when I’m here sitting and interacting with an all-white congregation,” he said.
Mr. Khalif, in the rounds of television interviews that followed his appearance in Lansdale, help to shed the “ignorant and rambunctious” image that critics of the movement are promoting.
In last week’s news cycle, Mr. Khalif, along with his comrades in the Philly Coalition for REAL Justice, shut down a lecture featuring the Philadelphia Police Commissioner. The police commissioner, Mr. Charles Ramsey, then appeared on Fox News and called the protesters ignorant.
This week’s news cycle portrays the opposite: the same Black Lives Matter activist extending an olive branch to an unknown constituency in an effort to improve race relations and clarify the goals of the movement.
Mr. Khalif, who noted he was pleased with the way the media covered this story, said the press often ignores when he, in his capacity as the President of Racial Unity USA or otherwise, sits down with his white counterparts in a peaceful manner.
“We are not about just shutting people down in protest and screaming.”
Mr. Khalif’s goal—to humanize the movement—was accomplished and he and Rev. Lutz have become allies.
“It took a lot of courage for the Reverend to face this head on, and not run away. I commend all of them for coming out to deal with it. And I’m glad I went to Lansdale, because I needed to let that church know their courage was not in vain.”
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