My Neighbor’s Keeper

Dylan Novacek July 2, 2020

Voices From The Clergy March, Part 2
Written by Dylan Novacek, Content Specialist

“We march together to let people know that we are the church and we hear your pain,” cried out Presiding Elder Rev. Stacy L. Smith of the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church at the clergy march she helped organize for the loss of George Floyd.

Empowered by her words, members of Beacon’s collaborative participated in this march led by Black members of the Twin Cities faith community. Among those in attendance was Rev. Michael Gonzales of Wayman A.M.E. in Minneapolis.

“We need people to listen and to stand with us. We wanted to show that we can’t do this by ourselves,” Rev. Gonzales said with passion. “We are working as a collaborative to make this happen. No matter your creed or race, this is the time to stand with our neighbors.”

With Black clergy members taking center stage, and other clergy following behind, Rev. Gonzales felt a sense of empowerment at the clergy march and felt the message was clear as crystal. For him, standing up against racial injustice is embedded in his faith tradition.

“The A.M.E. Church was born out of a response to discrimination,” he said, reflecting on the years of systemic oppression that weighs on all communities of color. “We’re called to seek justice against the many inequities our neighbors face. Housing is one of the most important pieces of that puzzle.”

With George Floyd’s memory on everyone’s heart, Rev. Gonzales reiterated that this is one of many cases which are emblematic of a larger issue.

“We have to know that there are so many components that go into what we’re seeing. We need an improved justice system. We need better education. And of course, we need better housing opportunities!”

For many, their wealth is their home. As the chair of Beacon’s Race Equity Committee, Rev. Gonzales understands the importance of home, and how current inequities create a disproportionate gap in wealth and opportunities.

“Redlining is a covenant that was built among neighborhoods. It locked people out. People of color could not grow their wealth in the same ways as others because of this,” Rev. Gonzales insisted. “This has wide reaching implications and long-lasting consequences for everyone.”

He describes home as a place of his own, where he can unwind and lay down the stress of the world. However, he has not always lived in a stable environment. When he first came to Minneapolis in 1973 he had to sleep on concrete floors of a family member of a friend. So, he never takes his stability for granted, knowing that things could change in an instant.

“Working with Beacon, I got to see each step that went into creating Great River Landing,” he beamed, celebrating the creation of one of our most recent buildings which serves 72 men, many of whom are people of color leaving incarceration.

“Before there was Great River Landing, I remember a congregation member coming to me. They said, ‘My son is leaving jail and has nowhere to go!’” He paused emotionally. “This is the case for so many people. I am so glad there is a place for men like him to go now.”

What inspires Rev. Gonzales in his Beacon mission is seeing how effective our work has been.

“We can do better when we know better. Beacon is bringing people into housing with support services built around them. These young people and people who have experienced chronic homelessness need healing and support. We are providing this high level of care to our community.”

To provide this care, it takes $12 million over three years. A goal we are half way to meeting! Pushed forward by the need to do better, and the need to address the systemic racism that causes housing disparities, we rely on voices like Rev. Gonzales to lead the way.

“Every time we welcome shelter families for Families Moving Forward, the volunteers tell me what a blessing these people are. They say that the families blessed our congregation more than we blessed them,” he exclaimed, smiling ear to ear.

The key to seeing change is starting with your community. As we continue in our vision to see that all people have a home, advocates like Rev. Gonzales insist that we need to watch over each other.

“You need to ask yourself important questions. Are you your neighbor’s keeper? Whatever you do to help someone else, whether large or small, makes a bigger impact than you think.”

Are you ready to stand with your community? Join our Beacon mission and learn how you can help see that all people have a home. Click here to learn more. To read our part one of Voices From the Clergy March click here.