June 21, 2015. Where were you?
Like me, you probably don’t remember. But my church members do. It’s hard to forget throwing your child to the ground, covering her with your own body and demanding that she stay down as bullets fly all about you. Especially when it happens on Father’s Day.
The shooting took place in Douglass Park and, like most, I read about the shooting that injured four and killed Kwame El Amin, a Lexington father and business owner known to many as a provider and protector. I also watched it on the news. But, I didn’t realize my church members — a father, mother and their two children — were there that day. I didn’t know the father, a PhD candidate at the University of Kentucky, performed CPR on the murder victim. I didn’t know a bullet struck the family’s car.
I didn’t know until the father shared his story at a BUILD rally on March 14.
BUILD stands for Building a United Interfaith Lexington through Direct Action. It’s made up of 27 congregations or faith groups and it embraces various denominations, races, cultures and political affiliations. The organization is now 11 years old, and I’ve participated in various meetings off and on over the years.
But BUILD never really got my full attention until March 14. Now, I’m starting to see its importance.
Though I’ve always believed in collective action and social responsibility — and participated in many projects — I’ve grown weary over the last few years of the political climate in our country and the ability to engage the masses in transformative projects.
So, I’ve chosen more singular pursuits, like mentoring, prayer and helping others as needed. Of late, however, I’m more willing to try collective, direct action. I attended the BUILD meeting and I was moved by the experiences of my church members, as well as that of Cheryl Birch.
Birch, a nurse, took out a payday loan of $400 to buy food and pay utilities one month when she came up short. When it was time to repay it, she didn’t have it, so she took out another payday loan. And the cycle repeated itself viciously – until she wound up paying back $9,000 or so over three years due to soaring interest rates.
When I first heard that BUILD was working to get payday-lending rates capped at 36 percent, that seemed ridiculously high to me. Then, a BUILD member explained that interest rates now soar as high as 400 percent annually on payday loans. And, suddenly, 36 percent felt worth fighting for — as are each of the causes BUILD embraces.
Each year, BUILD identifies three key issues. This year, they are addressing violent crimes and drugs, lack of access to mental health care and the outrageous fees and interests of the payday-lending industry.
Participants researched these issues for months. They met with experts in each field and have identified solutions that have successfully alleviated these problems in communities across the country similar to Lexington.
Next, BUILD discussed its findings with local and state policymakers, and has invited them to an April 12 Nehemiah Action Assembly, where they stand before the public and give a public yea or nay to the resolutions offered. None of the political acrobatics or doublespeak politicians have become accustomed to getting away with just “yes” or “no.”
And each of us gets to hold them accountable — later, in the privacy of voting booths, because BUILD is not about protest or telling participants how to vote.
The assembly is called Nehemiah Action because it’s based on the biblical story in Nehemiah, Chapter 5, where the people of Jerusalem assembled and spoke as one voice to the moneylenders about their mistreatment and asked for justice — and got it.
So far, BUILD holds a pretty good track record.
In one of their biggest and most recent victories, BUILD tackled the lack of affordable housing in Lexington, and Mayor Jim Gray and the Urban County Council agreed by unanimous vote to a $2 million fund to build and renovate affordable housing in Lexington. BUILD has also successfully addressed issues with code enforcement, LexTran, the courts and the school system.
So, I’ll be there on April 12, and I hope you’ll join me.
It’s about healing.
It’s about reclaiming.
It’s about restoring.
It’s about recognizing our collective power to create the society we want to live in.
If you want to be a part of an interfaith, interracial movement for social justice, then this is our moment, according to Nehemiah 2:18, to “rise up and BUILD.”
Le Datta Denise Grimes of Lexington is a freelance writer and doctoral candidate in history at the University of Kentucky.
If you want to go: BUILD Nehemiah Action Assembly, 7 p.m. April 12 at Heritage Hall. Free, open to the public. Registration starts at 6:15 p.m. Free parking in lot off Manchester Street. For more information: (859) 367-0152