Rev. Kamal Hassan: “What will we do?”
on November 1, 2009
A photograph of Malcolm X and paintings portraying Jesus in shades of brown and black adorn the walls of Rev. Kamal Hassan’s office, where he sat after Sunday service, his face illuminated by the blue, red, and orange light shining through the stained glass.
“The task of the church is to be involved in social justice and social change. Part of what’s happening is that churches have retreated from that role,” Rev. Hassan said.
Rev. Hassan had just delivered a somber sermon to about 100 people at Sojourner Truth Presbyterian Church in Richmond. The towering 52-year-old pastor spoke in a low, soft voice addressing a “deep wound in the community” that the congregation had been talking about: gang rape.
Last weekend, a group of up to seven men raped, beat, and robbed a 15-year-old Richmond High School student on campus after she left the school’s homecoming dance. Some onlookers took photos and laughed during the assault.
Rev. Hassan said that Sojourner Truth Presbyterian is the sister church of the congregation that the rape victim attended. Rev. Hassan has been working with that church’s pastor and has attended several meeting about the rape at Richmond High.
“How could something like this happen?” Rev. Hassan said in his sermon, his voice rising in a crescendo. He slapped his open palms rhythmically against the sides of the podium, emphasizing each word: “See it and not report it. And take pictures. And not come to this young woman’s aid?”
Rev. Hassan decried the devaluing of young women’s lives and bodies that the attack represents. He added the young men who allegedly perpetrated the crime are not the only ones who bear fault.
“These young men, so filled with anger and hatred at such a young age,” he said. “Help us Jesus, for these young men have deep needs that are not being met.”
After the service, some churchgoers lingered on the sidewalk in the front of the church, discussing the Richmond High rape. Precious Knighten, an 18-year-old Berkeley High student, saw the violent attack as an isolated incident.
“It’s not about the church, it’s not about the community, it’s about some sick individuals,” Knighten said. “The community is trying to help, trying to get better. I don’t think you can look at this and say that it’s the community’s fault.”
Others, such as Gloria Gideon, said that the church can play a greater role in preventing youth violence.
“What we need to do in the African American church is bring more young people in. What’s happened in the last week, it just shows you that,” Gideon said.
Rev. Hassan said that local churches can and must assume greater responsibility in driving change, as African American churches historically have done. The apathy and brutality surrounding the crime signifies nothing short of a spiritual crisis, he said.
“It’s first a crisis of spirit before it’s a crime, a physical crime,” Rev. Hassan said after the sermon. “What we’ve got here are wounded individuals who go out and wound others.”
Problems like violence and misogyny in Richmond began long before the homecoming incident, Rev. Hassan said. He spoke with anger when he said it shouldn’t take such an egregious event for the public to pay attention to persistent social injustices.
“In our society, we’re willing to allow a certain sense of misery in poor communities and in communities of color that we’re not willing to tolerate in other communities.”
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