Dr. Melina Abdullah — a professor at California State University who also leads the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter — recently summoned the spirits of several deceased people to fill a Methodist church with ethereal energy, including Martin Luther King, several other slain civil rights leaders, victims of police brutality, and an African warrior named Shaka Zulu.
“This is not just a social justice, a racial justice, an economic justice struggle,” Abdullah told a crowd gathered at Hollywood United Methodist Church on Thursday night. “This is also a spiritual struggle, so it’s appropriate that we’re here in this setting. It’s also important that we summon the right energy into this space no matter what faith you are.”
The church was hosting a townhall organized to stop two new jails from being built in Los Angeles County. The meeting opened with Abdullah leading a ritual called the “pouring of libations,” which she defined as “a summoning of energy” in “the names of our ancestors.”
Donning a camouflage jacket, Abdullah joked that John Brown — a white abolitionist hanged in 1859 — would be the only spirit that occupied a white person’s body that was invited to participate in the evening’s séance.
Do spirits have a color?
Abdullah proceeded to enumerate the names of several departed black icons and martyrs — including Eric Garner, who died after a being placed in a chokehold by a police officer. While announcing each name, Abdullah methodically poured bottled water into a potted plant displayed before the pulpit as the audience responded by chanting, “Ase,” awaiting ancestral energy to fill the chapel.
“We summon those spirits that are still with us. We summon those people whose bodies have been stolen but whose souls are still here,” Abdullah said as she went on to conjure the celestial presence of departed, notable radicals like Malcolm X, slave rebellion leader Nat Turner, and George Jackson, a member of the Black Panther Party who founded the Black Guerilla prison gang.
“We ask that you be with us,” Abdullah entreated. “We ask that you work through us. We ask that we do righteous work on your behalf.”
She continued, “We call on our warriors into this space. We know that when we fight we win. When we struggle we win. When it’s a strong, righteous struggle, victory is certain. We call on momma Ella Baker into this space. We call on momma Ida B. Wells into this space. We call on Martin Luther King into this space.”
While parts of the video might appear to be edited, the excerpt was taken directly from the Facebook Live transmission, where the broadcaster explained, “The wi-fi was not the best as it’s a brick building.”
The Hollywood United Methodist Church has partnered with the ACLU and more than 40 activist groups and community-based organizations that form Justice L.A. — a coalition created by Patrisse Cullors, who is also a co-founder of Black Lives Matter. Mark-Anthony Johnson, a lead organizer for Justice L.A., was awarded a paid fellowship from George Soros’ Open Society Foundations last summer to “push for progress toward a more humane criminal justice system in the United States.” Cullors and Johnson, both prison abolitionists, were featured speakers at the forum.
They launched the Justice L.A. campaign last September at the L.A. County Hall of Administration. As politicians adopted an upcoming budget, coalition members were outside the building blocking traffic while assembling 100 replica jail beds in the middle of the street. Police confirmed that organizers had not obtained a permit for the demonstration, which shut down a major thoroughfare in downtown L.A.
The coalition organized another jail bed drop on Christmas Eve, erecting more than 50 replicas strategically placed throughout the county. According to the Los Angeles Times, “Justice L.A. selected artists to curate a bed and design a message focusing on a topic related to the criminal justice system or to incarcerated individuals.”
Follow Jeffrey Cawood on Twitter @Near_Chaos.