WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Rev. R.B. Holmes, a civil rights leader and pastor of the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee, Fla., is heading up a task force of 40 ministers to undertake a 12-point action plan to revitalize the black community, taking on issues ranging from the repeal of controversial “Stand Your Ground” laws to supporting Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Holmes made the announcement here last week at a news conference at the National Press Club.
“In our 12 Point Action Plan, we will take the leadership to save our boys and girls, to build schools in our own neighborhoods, to repeal and repair ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws across America, to support historically Black colleges and universities, and the importance of business ownership and the significance of marriage and the family,” said Holmes.
He said the action plan also includes evangelism, renewable energy and preservation, restoring voting rights for ex-offenders, social justice, advocating for veterans, health care support and increasing the minimum wage.
Holmes also announced plans to run for president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., “the nation’s oldest and largest African American religious convention with an estimated membership of 7.5 million,” according to the group’s website. The election is Sept. 4.
“In a time when it seems more popular to be a celebrity than a servant, we stand behind Dr. Holmes with great expectations,” said the Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant, pastor of the Empowerment Temple AME Church in Baltimore. “Jesus gave the clear indication that if you want to be great all you have to do is serve.”
Noting that the black church has always been on the front line, giving a voice to the voiceless, Bryant said something has to be done to repeal “Stand Your Ground laws” that basically empower a person to use deadly force if they merely perceive that their life is in danger.
“We hoped that government would do it, but they have not. We hoped that legislators would do it, but they would not. Whenever there has been real change in America it has always been under the leadership of a preacher,” said Bryant.
The so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws have been enacted in nearly two dozen states and research has shown that the laws disproportionately affects blacks.
Parents of high-profile children personally affected by Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” laws were at the press conference.
Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed Florida teenager shot and killed by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla., in 2012, applauded the work of the new task force.
“It’s bringing the conversation to the table. A lot of people don’t want to talk about it, because it’s an uncomfortable subject, but we need to bring it to the table, we need to talk about it, so that we can resolve these issues,” she said.
Phyllis Giles, mother of Michael Giles, said that the role that the “Stand Your Ground” law plays in court cases is unfair and often carries racial undertones.
In 2010, Michael Giles, a 26-year-old active duty United States airman, went to a Tallahassee nightclub with some friends. When a brawl broke out at the club, Giles was separated from his friends. Giles had a concealed weapons permit for a gun he had in his car. As he searched the raucous crowd for his friends, someone punched Giles in the face knocking him to the ground. Giles pulled out his gun and fired, striking his attacker in the leg.
Giles, who served two tours in the Middle East and didn’t have a criminal record, was arrested and charged with attempted second-degree murder. The married father of three was convicted of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. He is serving a mandatory 20-year sentence.
Phyllis Giles said black ministers should lead the charge against disparities associated with the “Stand Your Ground” law. It starts in the church and it will end in the church and God will bring it all together, said Giles.
Ron Davis, the father of Jordan Davis, the Jacksonville, Fla., teen who was shot and killed by Michael Dunn, a white computer programmer who objected to the volume of music playing in the SUV carrying Davis and his friends in November 2012, said when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. andother pastors stood up in the 1960s, it really made a difference.
“People forget that these were pastors getting their heads busted for better civil rights, so we need the pastors on the front line again.”
A bill slowly working its way through the Florida state legislature seeks to clearly define who can use the “Stand Your Ground” defense and would also allow law enforcement to set policies governing neighborhood watch groups.