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Entering 'promised land' requires sacrifice for Joshua generation, says MLK celebration speaker Tawan Davis

Tawan Davis

Tawan Davis

In the “Joshua generation,” priests and politicians are to lead the way, to “stand in the river,” risking their lives in dangerous currents for the sake of the people, said Spokane’s Martin Luther King remembrance celebration speaker Tawan Davis.

Born in Tacoma, he grew up in the inner city of Portland with a single mother and a sister.  His mother divorced early.  He did not meet his father until he was a teen.

Tawan did not let those credentials hold him back.  He preached his first sermon at the age of seven and was ordained a minister in the Church of God in Christ at 18.

He was student body president at Lincoln High in Portland and the first African American student body president at Georgetown University, where he graduated with honors—the first member of his family with a college education. 

After earning a master’s degree in business at Howard University in Boston, he worked two years at a financial firm in the World Trade Center, but left after surviving Sept. 11, 2001, to study for a master’s degree in social and economic stratification at Oxford University in England.

NBC and Newsweek have featured him as a national leader, said the Rev. Ezra Kinlow, introducing Tawan as a friend he knows through the national Church of God in Christ.

Tawan, 25, is “a young man who dared to dream when circumstances of his home meant that at times he had nothing to eat, but he learned to sing songs and ask God for help,” said Ezra, pastor of Holy Temple Church of God in Christ where about 300 gathered for the annual Martin Luther King, Jr., remembrance service in Spokane.

“Without God, I would be nothing,” Tawan opened his address in song.  Turning to the third chapter of Joshua, he described himself and his peers as the “Joshua generation,” following the modern Moses, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tawan said King’s words on April 3, 1968, tie him with Moses: “I have been to the mountain top and seen the promised land.” Like Moses, King knew he would not enter the promised land.

“Some in my generation are unconscious of what King did.  We never met Jim Crow laws.  We never marched, fought or sat in for freedom.  We are the Joshua generation.

Tawan preaching

Tawan preaching

Tawan reminded listeners that Africans survived crossing the ocean in slave ships in the 1600s and spent 300 years in bondage.  When they could not cross their Red Sea, they had the Civil War that won full freedom and citizenship through the 13th and 14th amendments to the Constitution.

“For 100 years, we wandered in the wilderness of Jim Crow laws that made us feel of less value because of our skin color,” Tawan said, reminding African Americans they were not alone in the wilderness. 

Others excluded and oppressed included Irish Catholics who left British oppression and a potato famine, Polish, Jewish, Italian, and Native Americans.  Asian Americans were profiled and forced into internment camps.

“They all wandered in the wilderness,” Tawan said.

“The Joshua generation needs to pause and thank those who brought us to the Promised Land.  We need to thank those who went before: Nate Turner who led a rebellion; Harriet Tubman who left her home in the North 19 times and went to the South to bring slaves to freedom; Quakers who risked their lives with other abolitionists, and Fredrick Douglass, who advocated abolition.”

Tawan then thanked those who started and carry out the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), the Legal Defense Fund, the Black Panthers, the civil rights movement and civil rights marches, and all people who took a stand, like Rosa Parks.

“We thank King for marching from sea to sea so we can join hands.  Most of all we thank God for seeing us through the difficult times—the dark days of history—and for intervening in the miracle of life to make a difference,” Tawan said.

God visited Joshua after Moses died and told Joshua to lead the way into the Promised Land, crossing the Jordan River when it was flooded.

“God was not going to part the river—representing the conflicts and contradictions of life,” he said.  “While the United States is more open than it once was, minorities still have the highest dropout rates; minority schools often fail; minorities may no longer be chased by dogs when they march, but many march with gangs, and the cycle of poverty passes on from generation to generation.

“Doors have opened in sports that once kept blacks out, but some sports have turned into brawls.  Some black singers celebrate the worst in us—violence, sexual lasciviousness, using people and abusing drugs.  Some drive fancy cars and live in fancy houses, but are caught in a blame syndrome.  Some put diamonds on their fingers before they invest in their children’s education.

“We may have Condolezza Rice in Washington, D.C., and Barak Obama in Chicago, but who in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, California, Tennessee, Oregon or Spokane speaks for voiceless people?” he asked, concerned that young people with too little love become parents, young people cycle through the criminal system and people are intimidated at voting booths.

“The Moses generation brought us to the water’s edge. What are we to do?  We are to do what God told Joshua to do:  to go and stand in the river, to gather the priests and the Ark of the Covenant and go into the river.  To carry the heavy box into the swift river would mean they would drown,” Tawan said.

What did God mean? 

“First, God wanted them to do something sacrificial and selfless for someone else,” Tawan said.  “God wanted the people to be where they needed to be—in danger and ready to sacrifice for all the people.

“God didn’t tell preachers and politicians to wait until they had power and prestige in their denomination or community.  God told them to risk their lives. 

“Sometimes preachers, who are central figures in their communities, have squandered their role.  It’s time for them to sacrifice something for someone else—to fund a drug rehabilitation center, talk with school leaders, go where people need them, visit someone in jail, feed a hungry child, pick an issue and advocate, not to stand by, but to go stand in the river.”

It’s difficult and dangerous to enter the currents of poverty, violence, drugs, poor education, joblessness and brokenness, Tawan said.  “God did not tell me to be important, but to stand in the river to help someone.”

Second, to stand in the river means to do amazing things together.

“Sometimes one man like Moses or King leads a generation, but ultimately, we are all to work together, to stop scrambling for position and power,” said Tawan, who sees that some in the King generation lost their fire by living in the success, sickness and comfort of suburbia.

“My generation cannot cross the river alone.  We need to grab someone, look him or her in the face and say, ‘Let’s go together!’  I may achieve and make a difference, but I can’t do it alone.”

Third, going into the river means having the faith to do something radical and risky.

“If God is with you, who will be against you?” Tawan reminded from Scripture.  “God will renew your strength so you will open a community center, start a program, embrace a young person. 

“Why should I stand in the river?” he again asked rhetorically, “Because I believe.  I have not always believed.  As a young man, God helped me. I understand what it means to see God in a hummingbird, a flower, mountains, the ocean—in everything all around us,” he said, listing many common scenes.  “I see good all over me.  The first thing I need to believe in is God.”

Some people know God exists without reading theologians or philosophers. 
“We may not believe all the complex tenets of our denominations or may not memorize the Bible, but we know we believe,” he said.
“Once I was blind, but now I see,” he said, telling of his experience Sept. 11, 2001.

Tawan arrived for work by subway.  Smoke surrounded him as he stepped onto the platform. On the street, people, were running.  Over his shoulder, he saw the World Trade Center on fire.  He headed to his office, but it was closed.  Outside, a woman told him to come with her to the river.  They crossed the Hudson River by boat as the second tower went down. 

“The boat dropped me five blocks from my house.  You ask me why I believe?  My life was not worth any more than any of the 3,500 who were lost.  I knew I couldn’t have a spared life and spend it on a bank!”

Now studying in England, he realizes “America exists so the many do not trample on the few.  America is the hope of the world.  Let’s not be confused by what is happening in Washington, D.C., or Olympia.

“Yes, there are moral issues, and I am with you on them, but moral issues also include educating people, making jobs available, keeping people off the streets, providing access to health care and assuring benefits for senior citizens,” he said.

“Nothing can disqualify anyone from sharing in the dream,” he said.
“In my neighborhood, I often went with the pastor to pray over those shot down in the 1980s by drug dealers.  I don’t care if it’s poverty, family issues, your past—you cannot be disqualified from the dream,” he assured.

“You are part of what God is trying to do, so go stand in the river:  Do something brave, bold and beautiful to make a difference for someone else. 
“Go stand in the river,” he said.  “When we realize the dream for ourselves, we can then sing:’ Free at last!  Free at last!’”

Copyright © February 2005
- The Fig Tree