Why? That is the question that kept swirling in my head on Thursday, February 9, when I had the unique experience of standing alongside some of Los Angeles’ leading religious leaders on a walk down “Skid Row” in the heart of downtown. The 90-minute tour and subsequent discussion, organized by Councilwoman Jan Perry (CD-9) and the Rev. Sylvester Laudermill of Ward A.M.E. Church, among others, opened my eyes to the way Los Angeles is failing its citizens. Why has this happened? Why isn’t more being done? Why?For me, the experience was:* Nauseating. The stench of desolation, the putrid smell of inhumane and unsanitary conditions, the plight of these persons left for dead, is more potent that the slightest drop of the Syrup of Ipecac. To see God’s people suffering – too afraid to report crime, resigned to relieve themselves along the sidewalks and streets, themselves the victims and purveyors of crime and violence – left a sinking feeling in my stomach.* Heart-wrenching. For every cocaine addict or drug dealer, there was a businessman who fell on hard times or a proud woman who fell prey to an addiction to escape her circumstances. For every expectant mother refusing prenatal care, there was a woman struggling to provide for her family. For every mentally disturbed individual, there was a genius in need of genuine love and guidance. And for every child, barefoot and bereft of their being, there was the potential curer of cancer. There walked, crouched, laid and prayed some woman’s son, some father’s daughter and some brother’s sister, niece or nephew. They too are American citizens; they, too, are guaranteed the unalienable rights and privileges of the same. And but for the grace of God, there went I.* Incomprehensible. Nearly 230 years after our nation was born, thousands of its citizens lay destitute, depressed and disenfranchised on the streets of one of its most celebrated cities. How the home of so many “stars” can turn their backs on this area as if it were a “black hole” is unconscionable. How one of the wealthiest cities and counties in America can treat its poor so poorly is simply unfathomable.* Unacceptable. Soaring high above this swath of the city – its white lights radiating the night sky – is U.S. Bank Tower, the tallest building west of Chicago. On Thursday, President Bush announced that the federal government, in a well-orchestrated, textbook-perfect operation, foiled an al-Qaeda plot to destroy the structure with an aircraft. Yet, 1,000 feet below the Tower’s peak and a few blocks away from its base, no government agency has been unable to address the breadth of the needs of its neediest citizens.Following the walk, as I listened to each speaker address the assembly, I could not help be reminded that there is a “Balm in Gilead.” As preachers, teachers and leaders in our respective churches, we are they who must spread the news that Jesus is the answer. Jesus’ ministry was to the people of Jerusalem’s Skid Row. And upon His return, his ministry would surely be to the Skid Rows of Los Angeles and other cities in our great nation.In my mind’s eye, I envision the Biblical man along the Jericho Road on Los Angeles’ San Julian Street. On San Pedro Street was the woman with the issue of blood or the woman at the well. Sixth Street was home to the ten lepers and on Seventh Street sat the pool of Bethesda. Here in Los Angeles – away from the glitz and glitter of Beverly Hills and the wealth of the surrounding communities – is where Jesus’ liberating Gospel is needed most.It is high time that the Church stop turning a deaf ear to its parishioners of the streets, and band together to address this problem. Let us hold our elected officials accountable for the use of our tax dollars. Let us be responsible to the communities we serve. For Jesus said, “When I was hungry, did you feed me? When I was naked, did you clothe me? When I was in prison, did you visit me?”Together, we can, as someone asserted, transform “Skid Row” into the “Hope District.”Ed. Note: Rev. Taylor is an associate minister at Grant A.M.E. Church in Watts, under the pastoral leadership of the Rev. Leslie R. White.
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