Ed Williams wasn’t even a teenager when he experienced police racism for the first time.
Driving around their new neighbourhood with his father and uncle, they were suddenly pulled over for no apparent reason. ‘Just listening to how tense that car was that night, it really showed me this thing is real. It actually put me in a place where I was like, I’m African American, and for whatever reason, that can be assumed as a negative thing.’
The 26-year-old singer feels privileged to have avoided some of the persecution he has seen others face. Growing up in Mississippi, he credits his parents and his church upbringing for helping him control his anger and remain compliant with police in tough situations. But his encounters with police have all been marked by an undercurrent of fear.
‘Those events in my past, those events that I saw on television, they really scarred me. And so it’s been a blessing for me to navigate throughout life without having to get into much trouble. But it’s also been challenging because, in the back of my mind, one moment can literally make or break. I don’t know if I reach in my pocket, that something is going to happen because I’m reaching for my ID. Stuff like that crosses my mind when I get pulled over. Do I need to have my phone on record?’
The senseless murder of George Floyd earlier this year, which lead to a wave of protests throughout the US and around the world, was just the latest in a long series of killings of African Americans by police. ‘Seeing a person of your own ethnicity not even given an opportunity to really defend themselves, legally or physically, it’s really hard.’
Ed says this incident has forced him and others to be uncomfortably transparent about the pain they’ve experienced as a people, and the urgent need for change. ‘It is a beautiful thing that there’s hope in Christ,’ he said, ‘but it’s also challenging to think that we have so much more work to do here in America. And are we willing to actually do that?’
Despite some reports of violence, rioting and looting, the vast majority of protests have been peaceful, even in Mississippi, where there has been a long history of racism. ‘And the fact that it wasn’t just African Americans protesting, but it was people of multiple ethnicities, it shows we are stepping in the right direction.’
if we don’t get outside of our Churches, and reach people who are not like us, we’re going to miss a moment
During the pandemic, Williams found amazing opportunities to act as a witness to God’s grace for people who were frightened about the future, and struggling with isolation and job losses. But being a black Christian in the midst of this new crisis was far more difficult for him. ‘I have so many friends of different races, different cultures, some of whom are not even Christian. And having a conversation about Christ with some people who are not as willing to change, and see racism for what it truly is, that’s the kind of harder part for me to adjust to. And I’ve actually had to go back to the drawing board, and say: “How can I present Christ in such a conflicted moment in our history?”’
If the Church is to make a positive impact right now, Ed believes it’s vital that we talk, and especially listen, to people who aren’t Christians. ‘This moment is a great opportunity for the Church to be the hope and light of the world. But if we don’t get outside of our comfort zones, if we don’t get outside of our Churches, and reach people who are not like us, we’re going to miss a moment.’
‘Even if we’re not protesting on the frontlines,’ he said, ‘just reach out to somebody, somebody that may not even be the same race as you. Check on them. See how they’re doing. Develop relationship with them.’
‘Also I think it’s really important for us to not be ashamed of our faith. Because I believe that even though things are really twisted here, that the spirit of Christ triumphs, and trumps the law, like Jesus did in the Scripture. If it had not been for His spirit, we would still be bound to something that we could not do on our own.’
If we are to work together toward a better, more compassionate world, Ed knows it’s more important than ever to remind people of God’s love for each and every one of them. ‘I don’t have to be dogmatic with Scripture,’ he said, ‘but just point them towards the thought, “Hey, God has this under control.” Let’s take our time. Let’s step back. Let’s reassess the moment. And let’s just find the good things in life.’
‘So I really think it starts with having conversations, building relationships with people. I think that’ll really move us forward.’
Listen to the full interview below.
Check out Ed’s music! Our pick is Destiny — listen below.