Making Bricks Without Straw… By Mark Lampkin

For the Christian Bible scholars among us, you probably know the story better than I, where in Exodus, Chapter 5, the Pharaoh tells Moses to now make bricks without the use of straw. Moses had gone to see Pharaoh to ask that he and the Israelites be allowed to go into the wilderness for three days to worship God. I guess it would be like all of the Amazon delivery drivers wanting to take a 3-day weekend to worship.

To punish these slackers, Pharaoh takes away one of the main ingredients for brickmaking…straw. Sometimes, we as a people just have to realize who we are dealing with. They’d been in bondage (slavery) for a number of years to this Pharaoh, and likely knew he was not one to be open to suggestions that would stifle his authority or his business enterprises. Yet, Moses gave it a shot. And we know that it did not go well.

Imagine having to go back to the people and report that not only was our request for time off denied, but we will have to work harder and with fewer resources. No doubt there were more than a few Israelites who called Moses something other than his given name.

What does this mean to us today, as Black men and women in America? I am glad that you asked.

In my assessing the past 40 years, the citizens in the USA have been in the proverbial wilderness of biblical times. We have been working more and making less, yet believing the lie that we could dine at Pharaoh’s table and live lifestyles of The Rich and Famous (remember that show with Robin Leach). All the while, our communities are being deprived of the elements that made them strong and self-sufficient.

The jobs that sustained our communities were being reduced and ultimately eliminated via automation and outsourcing to “developing nations” whose people would work for much less than you and me. The 40-hour work week expanded to 50 hours, and now the housewife/Mother had to also work to help pay the ever-expanding costs of living in America.

The local mom and pop grocery stores soon gave way to corporate stores; Safeway, Publix and Wal-Mart. Instead of having a line of credit with the local merchant, we had the embarrassment of putting something back that we could not afford. Our schools were allocated fewer dollars to support educating our children for a future that would not look anything like what we had envisioned.

And with the election every four years of a new Pharaoh, we just kept making bricks – with less straw. Never did we consider standing in unison and building our OWN COMMUNITY. Again.

Maybe the COVID-19 virus and the subsequent economic devastation that it has wrought will give us the time and motivation to shake off the belief that Pharaoh will ever give us what we need to survive, and THRIVE, in this land of plenty. We are now awake and aware that the changes we need to see in order for us to Rise Up will only come about from our collective and collaborative sharing of resources.

Let’s take inventory in our family, our worship community, our alumni associations and determine what we each can provide that will sustain us and create leverage. A very wise and successful Black businessman once told me that a banker will treat you better when you sign the front of a check versus the back of one. Creating online businesses has never been easier nor more necessary. Digital payment is now common and accepted, and more secure. We do not have to beg Pharaoh for the straw. We can get it ourselves. Delivered to our doorsteps.

I pray that you and your family are remaining safe and healthy during this time of COVID-19 and the recalibration of the US marketplace. Our ancestors made do with much less than we have at our disposal. Let’s do our best to make them proud. And tell whichever Pharaoh is in charge that we will see you when we come back from our three day weekend.