Sunday, July 23, 2017

Birth of an Activist

July 12, 2017 by Las Vegas Black Image Magazine  
Filed under Community

At 22, Stretch Sanders fuses his ministry to the struggle for social justice.

Stretch Sanders

Activism can be born in many ways. It can begin after a lifetime of suffering and inhumane treatment — think Nat Turner, circa 1831 — or simply by learning more about the ongoing struggle for human and civil rights.

Today, the headlines alone are enough to kindle an activist spirit. The epidemic of police killings of unarmed African- Americans — the recent chokehold death of Tashii Farmer-Brown, at the hands of a white Las Vegas Police officer, has led to outrage and questions about the seemingly muted community response — has given rise to the Black Lives Matter movement and inspired thousands to take to the streets.

One the most promising thinkers in the new generation of activists is a young man of faith in Las Vegas: Stretch Sanders, 22, a new associate minister at Greater Evergreen Missionary Baptist Church.

A native of Chicago, Sanders says activism is in his genes and part of the family dynamic. His mother played a tremendous role in raising his consciousness about black history.

“Growing up … I was very alert and conscious of black history and my grandmother’s brother was a part of the Black Panther Party,” he said. “My entire life, I heard the names of Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale — and from there I became very aware of social issues affecting black people. I was intrigued by the pride and self-love that manifested in the 1970s, with so many people wearing their natural hair in afros and saying, ‘Black Power.’ I researched so many African-Americans who fought against discrimination and wanted to bring positive change — not just for black people, but for all people who were socially disadvantaged. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. became my hero when I was 11-years-old, and [his teachings] shaped … my personal calling to make things better.”

As Sanders sees it, there is no separation between his ministry and his activism.

Stretch Sanders arrested by Metro Police for Las Vegas strip protest.

“I believe that your ministry has to reach the people you serve,” said Sanders, who will enter UNLV in the fall with a major in African American Studies. “The organization I founded and serve as the president is called All Shades United. It is a revolutionary and solidarity organization for the red, white, black, brown and yellow. We believe that there are ethnic groups that are oppressed and the others are not. But, at some point we have to work with each other to come up with positive solutions to better the conditions for all. Nevertheless, I do not believe that an ‘all lives matter’ society [will exist] until black lives matter.”

The Black Lives Matter movement, in fact, is what galvanized Sanders and helped put his role into focus.

“When I saw the Black Lives Matter movement taking place in other cities after the killings of black people at the hands of some police officers, I felt I was missing out,” he said. “There was no real movement in Las Vegas, and I went to various organizations asking why. But I received no response. So I was inspired to start a movement of my own, All Shades United, and organized a stand-in at MLK and Carey streets when Sandra Bland was found dead in a jail cell in Texas. When I got involved with ministry at 19 years of age, I thought that the movement was something separate from my work in the church. But after reading the Bible, and understanding more, I realized that activism is a part of the church. And if it is not, then it should be. The black church, from the beginning, has always been involved with the struggle for freedom and liberation.”

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