The Plagues of East Flatbush. by Lou Cespedes

Last summer I was asked to give a speech to a local business network. I spoke about the Three Plagues of E. Flatbush. As we currently find large quarters of our black and brown community ravished by COVID-19, I thought it might be relevant to revisit this topic as we slowly make our way through this epidemic.

Many of you already know, I am somewhat of an unconventional Christian. The Lord is still
working on me, but I’m not one to sugar coat the bad, not even when it affects me personally. I
believe in the word and in the promises of G-d. Moreover, I also believe that G-d speaks
through our daily experiences and manifests Himself in our environment, not only in the good, but also in the terrible. G-d is sovereign. It will not sound odd to you then that I see this epidemic in continuum with other tribulations in our community that we cannot afford to overlook at this time. In the last year, since I began writing for this publication we’ve discussed many difficult topics (Rezoning, Criminal Justice, Education, The Gun and Clergy enterprise, and
Gentrification to name a few) but our current quarantine has allowed me to probe deeper into scripture and these issues, and the compounding challenges through which G-d speaks to us.

In my new series I will discuss the three plagues in E. Flatbush and our greater black and brown communities. The first is Language, the second Religion, and the third Politics. Having just completed a series on Gentrification, I want to use this next series to explore some questions that begin to deal directly with our post-Coronavirus reality. In particular, I’d like to discuss how these three plagues; Language Religion and Politics, frame our values, our conduct, our enterprise as a community, our communal failures and successes. In our community composed largely of “religious” people, the triangulation of language, politics and religion may be the biggest hinderance toward achieving equity, good representation, transparency, and effective policy. I will not deny that this might be controversial for some, but I must ask: Why is our faith and our leadership not yielding the results we need? Now more than ever, we should be about getting to the bottom of why the complex of faith, language, and politics only seems to work really well for the population on the other side of Flatbush Avenue.

More importantly, the idea of discussing these foundational concepts of civil society as
“plagues” offer an important analysis of the faults this pandemic has exposed in our country for all to see. We hear it in press briefings, we see it in our economy, in our healthcare system, in our social safety net. This nation is not that mighty after all. This is made all the more evident by the glaring failures of our local leaders to respond quickly the effects this virus is having in Black and Latinx communities, with twice the rate of infection and death than white communities. Infection and death now compound our community’s already persistent unemployment, incarceration, homelessness, and ignorance.

In Jeremiah 15 v.2, after the Lord has told Jeremiah that he has rejected his people Israel, it reads: “And when they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD: “‘Those who are for pestilence, to pestilence, and those who are for the sword, to the sword; those who are for famine, to famine, and those who are for captivity, to captivity.”

In the last 20 years, we have lived through terrorist attacks, a financial meltdown and housing crisis, and now a pandemic. It is true that neither of these events have been specifically directed at our community, but it seems our community always bears the greatest burdens. The “War Against Terror” became an excuse to unleash the police state on black communities. The 2008 Fiscal and Housing Crisis set black homeownership back some 40-50 years. Today the
pandemic in New York City is decimating black and brown working-class people, essential
workers and civil servants that live among us, tend to us in our hospitals, nursing homes,
schools, public transportation, and jails – with unforeseen consequences to our families and the social fabric. As new habits form, have you thought about how new language and expressions will affect our community? Will “social-distancing”, “self-quarantine” and “stay home – stay safe” make our community even more fragmented and broken than we already are?

As we complete our sixth week of quarantine, questions may be asked about what kind of
community and what kind of city we will have when this crisis ends. I contend that this is the wrong question. Rather, we should be focused on building the kind of city and community we want after our brief captivity. This will require new language, new faith, and new leadership.

Take the time to think about it.

Twitter: @loufor45 Instagram: Loucespedes

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