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Confronting Racism Head-On

July 25, 1993| The Rev. Leonard Jackson has been in the ministry of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church for six years. The FBI has charged that a group of white supremacists had planned to bomb and fire on the congregation at the West Adams church, the oldest black church in Los Angeles. Jackson was interviewed by Monica Gyulai.

Racism is alive and well in the world and we need to face it head-on.

We always receive threats. People try to strike where they know it hurts and people hurt most where they put their faith. So the church, where at least 2,000 people come out to each of our three Sunday services, is a likely target. Some threats you take seriously while others you assume just come with the territory--and you go back to work.

An FBI agent named Charlie J. Parsons came to the church about a month ago to tell Dr. Cecil Murray, our minister, and me that our church had been selected as a target by some white supremacists.

Parsons said that he came to First AME personally so that we could understand the severity of the situation. But he was confident at the time that the FBI was in control. He said that if the situation were to change--if danger became imminent--we would be the first to know.

Meanwhile, we couldn't tell many people about the threat. Parsons stressed the need to keep the situation confidential to protect the FBI people who were working on the inside. In order to fully enforce and step up our regular security, Dr. Murray and I told a few folks here a little of what we knew.

I didn't feel conflicted about not telling the congregation because doing so would not have changed the situation. There comes a time when you either have faith in God or you question your faith.

Parsons convinced me that the FBI was on top of the matter. He told us that the FBI officer working on the inside was working in the highest position. He gained my trust when I realized that he was the chief agent for the Los Angeles area and that he was a Christian.

There's an aura about Christians; you don't have to wear a collar for people to realize exactly where you stand. His heart was in the right place and we had no other recourse than to put our faith in what he was saying.

We talked with Parsons about the FBI in general and how it had changed since the J. Edgar Hoover era (1924-1972). Today, the agency recruits minorities. I mentioned to Parsons that several of his agents had volunteered their services. As African-American men, they wanted to promote positive role models by participating in our mentoring program.

At the church, we have over 33 outreach programs aimed at teaching people skills and turning over money in the community. The No. 1 problem in the world today is racism. The solution is not money, it's what you do with it. A portion of the money now spent on the penal system should be put into educating young people.

At First AME, we run programs that put people into immediate jobs and we bring polarized groups together. We brought the gangbangers and the police together downstairs to talk their problems out. There was a lot of arguing, but that's part of the healing process. In the end, all the problems were out on the table, where we could begin to deal with them.

After Parsons came to the church, we continued the work we were already doing to build the kingdom. So much happens here in a month that you can't dwell on just one issue. And you can't let yourself be manipulated by the 2% of the population that deals with hate.

But all of us need to take a hard look at ourselves in the mirror and face our prejudices. I believe Christianity should be our common denominator. Through Christianity, we can learn to live together.

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