Youth Sunday Sermon

Good morning, All Saints. 

My name is Olivia Fergus-Brummer. I’ve been a member of this church for about 12 years. Some of you might recognize me as a faithful participant in the Christmas Pageant, that annual All Saints celebration of love, the birth of Jesus, and the music of Journey.

I proudly took on the roles of an archangel cheerleader, donkey barista, an Adele-like Gabriel, Magi Freddie Mercury, and Mary… Eliza Hamilton with a cast of talented friends—and a driven … but encouraging … director. 

“That one wasn’t half bad,” Bonnie would say as we tore off our wigs and mustaches after our fourth run-through “Under Pressure.” 

Those pageant rehearsals, the subsequent sleepovers, and the 9 and 11 a.m. world premiers are some of my favorite childhood memories. I have no doubt that Bonnie and those truly inimitable pageants fueled my love for the arts. 

It’s easy to focus on the fun. Vital, really. Especially when a global pandemic brought my senior year—and everyone’s sense of normal—to a screeching halt in mid March. 

At first, I’m ashamed to say, it felt unjust. My high school, Lane Tech, shut down just as we were about to celebrate International Nights, a spirited schoolwide event that celebrates culture and diversity. It would be like closing All Saints the night before the Christmas pageant. 

What was supposed to be the most fun months of my life became unforgettable for different reasons. 

Instead of scrambling to meet deadlines with the school newspaper or having heart-to-hearts with friends about picking a college during lunch on the lawn or getting ready for prom, I played Scrabble. With my parents. 

For a couple months, I sat through 30-minute Google chat classes listlessly waiting for my teachers to excuse us and facetimed friends about virtual college tours. 

Then, just as I began to accept and appreciate a new normal, George Floyd was murdered.

His death was terrifying and gut-wrenching. But it wasn’t a shock. An unarmed Black person killed by police is a story we all too familiar with. 

When I walked with All Saints in the march against gun violence last April, I listened to testimonies of the ways guns are used to disproportionately target black and brown communities in Chicago and across the country. 

Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Ezell Ford, Laquan McDonald, Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor. I knew their names but what had I done to fight for justice? 

Like many of you, I immediately took to the streets. I protested downtown, in the West Loop, down Clark Street and even in my own neighborhood this week right after my drive-through graduation. 

That call to action came from this church. All Saints parishioners have shown me thart when I’m enraged at the state of the world, I must act. 

For me, that has meant protesting, reading everything I can about Black history, and checking my own white privilege. And re-thinking my despair about being stuck in a safe home, with loving parents and a scrabble board. 

I don’t know what the next few months will bring. None of us do. I may go off to UCLA in the fall as planned or I may start college in my childhood bedroom. But just like we will never completely go back to our pre-corona ways of living, I will not go back to merely acknowledging racial injustice. 

I can’t.

There is far too much work to be done while we wait to figure out our next Phase. We need a transition plan for living in a Just World. We are still in Phase One now in Illinois and most of this Country. 

Phase One means we are still reflecting and reacting to how we came to be a place where a police officer could take a knee to another man for eight minutes and 46 seconds – while three other officers stood silent. Phase One means we are not only crying “Black Lives Matter” but we are trying – really trying – to explain it to those who just don’t understand. In Phase one, we are angry and hurt and mad at ourselves for all the lives lost before George Floyd and why it took us  – mainly those of us who are white – so long to get this angry. 

The other phases will bring us closer to freedom and unity but just like the phases for re-opening our state, they should come only after we show evidence of progress—of gains in equity, declines in wrongful arrests and convictions, increases in high school and college graduation rates for students of color. Let’s re-write this script quickly and take active steps each day to bring it to life. 

Have we started having uncomfortable conversations about race with friends and family? Are we supporting black-owned businesses as much as we can instead of filling Bezos’s pockets? 

Have we demanded that our classroom lessons reflect the true history, the lives and the contributions of people of color? Most of my knowledge on racial injustice came outside the classroom. How can we make sure it’s part of our textbooks and classroom discussions? 

How do we demand a new manner of discipline in our school hallways that doesn’t perpetuate the school to prison pipeline?

How do I, as a young aspiring theater major, make a difference? I am grateful that this holy place on Hermitage Avenue nurtured and supported my love for the arts, and for laughter, and for fun.   I am just as grateful that this community taught me that we must not accept the status quo or our own comfortable place in our pageant.