On Saturday, June 20, 2020, hundreds of youth and young adults took to the streets of Minneapolis, Minnesota, with “A Cry for Justice and Healing,” an outreach event aimed at rebuilding the city and regaining a sense of peace.
The event, held in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder on May 25, was attended by more than 350 volunteers, 16 Adventist churches, and officials from three conferences (Lake Region, Central States, and Minnesota conferences).
The day began on the steps of Minneapolis First Church, located eight minutes from the scene where Floyd’s life was taken. In lieu of a traditional Sabbath worship service, volunteers, most of whom were under age 35, dispersed to one of seven outreach locations in Minneapolis.
Each station had a unique mission tailored to the needs and demographics of the neighborhood. All offered supplies, lunches, prayers, and a place to submit ideas of ways churches can sustain aid after the media attention subsides and police brutality is no longer a trending topic.
Participants regrouped for a peaceful march to the George Floyd memorial located at the intersection of East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue (dubbed George Floyd Avenue as an online petition to rename the street has more than 26,000 signatures). As the crowd marched together, wearing “#I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts, singing “When We All Get to Zion,” a sense of urgency arose.
Speakers included Ezra Kenyanya, youth pastor of Kenyan Community Church, and Abraham Henry, Lake Region Youth director, who passionately articulated how seeking justice and defending the oppressed are biblical practices.
In his address to the crowd, Henry based his exhortation on Micah 6:8: “Today we walk because we believe we’re walking humbly; today we talk because we are seeking justice, and today we stand because we stand for those who can’t stand. Remember this moment as a day where we stood up, a day where we spoke up, and a day where we command that we seek justice.”
After 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence to commemorate the length of time Floyd was pinned to the ground by the police officer, flowers were laid at the site and silent prayers offered up for all victims of racism and police brutality.
Kenyanya, from Kenya, associate youth pastor of Kenyan Community Church in Minneapolis, helped organize the event and credits the young people who pushed adult leaders to do something. “They kept on asking, ‘What can we do?’ “In Zoom townhalls, they would ask: ‘We know what the world does, but what does the Adventist church do?’” Kenyanya explained that during the unrest a lot of the young people were already on the front lines protesting.
Kenyanya and his young members began thinking of what they could do that would speak to the world in a way that was different. “One thing was that they didn’t want to be silent,” he said.
George Obwogi, a young adult from the Kenyan Community Church, said that he was one of those young people who couldn’t remain silent. He had watched the Floyd video and had to call out sick from work the next day. “It had me down. I had to make sense of what was happening.”
As he mingled with the other young protestors on Sabbath afternoon, George said that it felt good to see what his church was doing. “This is exactly what Jesus wants us to do. Show love. People see it from your action that you care. It’s beautiful to see that we can come together to not only preach the word but also show it in action.”
Lake Union Conference Youth director, Ron Whitehead, who was in attendance helping the organizers, said, “As Adventist Christians, we need to be salt and light in our community. I’m so proud of my Adventist brothers and sisters and how they’re representing Jesus. I was moved by their love for their community, God and the Adventist church.”
Henry remarked that he was gratified to witness the diverse crowd taking a stand against hate, racism, injustice, and authority abuse. “Our church is not silent; our actions were loud!” he said. “I am proud to be a part of a church that runs to the fire, instead of away from it.”
“My heart is filled with joy to see how God is working through us,” Kenyanya said. “In moments like this that our Christianity shines the most. It’s times like this that we have a chance for people to know who the Adventists are and what we stand for.
“I hope this doesn’t happen anywhere but if happens, may our church be out there, rebuilding the bridges, speaking against the injustices in a Christian way.”
— Janel Davis is a young adult from the Minneapolis Glendale Seventh-day Adventist Church who participated in the protest march and rally.