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Ebony joins faith leaders for ongoing justice fight for Kwame Kilpatrick and Black farmers

By Michael Z. Muhammad -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Jul 9, 2020 - 12:06:42 PM

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As the country moved to celebrate its Independence Day, on July 4, justice for Black people seems as elusive as it was when the holiday was founded. Ebony the premier Black news and cultural magazine joined a who’s who of leading Black pastors to call for the release of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and debt forgiveness for Black farmers.

The Zoom press conference included 20 of the nation’s most prominent pastors, including Bishop T.D. Jakes, senior pastor of The Potter’s House in Dallas; Bishop Vashti McKenzie, presiding bishop of the 10th Episcopal District, AME Church; Rev. Samuel Tolbert, president of the National Baptist Convention of America; and Evangelist Alveda King, author, and niece of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Also, in attendance was Suzan Johnson Cook, U.S. ambassador-atlarge for International Religious Freedom.

The faith leaders appealed to President Donald Trump for justice for Mr. Kilpatrick and Black farmers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture continues to foreclose on the properties of thousands of Black farmers despite the stipulation of a court judgment that their debts be forgiven. Approximately 7,000 farmers in the South who collectively own about 1.5 million acres stand to lose their land. Many of them were part of a 1999 lawsuit that, among other things, sought debt forgiveness.

Former Detroit Mayor Kilpatrick was sentenced to 28 years in prison in 2013. It ties the record for the longest sentence in American history for an elected official. His supporters argue he was the victim of a clear case of excessive sentencing indicative of the victimization of Black men by the criminal justice system. Further, Mr. Kilpatrick has been identified by prison officials as being at high risk for Covid-19 and has been placed in solitary confinement.

The July 3 press conference and session was moderated by Reverend Keyon Payton, The Ebony Foundation’s national director for community outreach. “We are here to meet the moment” he said during his opening remarks. “America will never be great until the issue of equal justice is addressed.”

Talking directly to Mr. Trump, Rev. Payton stated he had faith he would hear the plea.

“Black people are the first responders of democracy,” said Rev. Willie Francois, president of the Black Church Center for Justice and Equality as he opened the forum in prayer. He noted the Black church has been protectors of democracy. “We are here to ask that America be what it says on paper.”

“The same government that freed the slaves reincarcerated their families for financial gain,” said Dr. Robert Shumake, CEO/Chairman of Ebony referencing the government land grab from Black farmers. “Ebony has been the DNA code for Black America and that code has awakened again,” he added.

Bishop Jakes in a passionate plea spoke about the personal relationship he had with Mayor Kilpatrick and the fierce moment to act. He discussed his life work with the rehabilitation of people who had been incarcerated. “I worked with Kwame personally and intimately when he resided in Texas prior to his incarceration. I found him to be honest and transparent about his mistakes. When justice takes on the character of revenge something has to be said. The exorbitant sentence that has been placed on Mr. Kilpatrick needs to be reexamined,” said Bishop Jakes.

“We are calling on the president to reconsider the sentence made in the heat of passion by an angry city. We are asking the president to give the most earnest heed to our plea and request to open up the doors of your compassion and make a way for Kwame to return to his family,” Bishop Jakes concluded.

Perhaps the most potent remarks were made by Rev. Eddie Slaughter, a Black farmer who is a double amputee and blind in one eye, yet he continues to fight the good fight. “What is our crime?” he asked. “We are Godfearing, hardworking and tax paying folk. Pay the Black farmers,” he pleaded.