Nine years ago, it was my honor but also my unenviable task to deliver the eulogy for 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died of injuries sustained while in Baltimore police custody. That dreadful afternoon of April 27, 2015, having no idea that we were mere hours from perhaps the most turbulent night in the history of my beloved hometown, I preached a sermon from the seventh chapter of Luke. I sought to inspire young Black men everywhere to hear the voice of God metaphorically calling them to “get up,” as Jesus said to Lazarus as he lay dead in this miracle well chronicled in sacred text.

Newspaper and television reporters from around the globe homed in on my oration as I proclaimed to those in attendance and to literally millions watching, “Ain’t no way you can sit here and be silent.”

As much as I was preaching to an audience, I realize now that I was also challenging myself.

So Friday morning in Atlanta will constitute a déjà vu experience for me as I stand to speak on behalf of another young Black man, Roger Fortson, who was shot and killed in his own home, fired upon by a deputy from the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office in Florida.

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This brilliant young man, who enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, rose to the rank of senior airman and was a leader among the troops at Hurlburt Field. I’ll be able to eulogize Roger, the doting older brother and his mother’s dream, and speak about all that he accomplished in his 23 years of life. But, if allowed to let my humanness eclipse my pastoral assignment for a few moments, I will tell you that I’m just an angry Black man and there ain’t no way I can sit here and be silent.

The hard truth is that in the United States of America, whether you’re a corner boy on a bike in Baltimore or a decorated airman, you’re equally susceptible to fall at the hands of law enforcement. When you’re a young Black man in these yet-to-be-United States, your ZIP code, your grade-point-average, your occupation and your aptitude will not shield you from being overpoliced and undervalued.

So, Friday morning, as I seek to comfort a mother during the worst time of her life and to encourage thousands who mourn young Roger around the nation, I’m really preaching to a constituency of one: That’s me.

Trust me. You can be anointed and angry, sanctified and sick of it, trusting God and ticked off — all at the same time. Because, as a pastor or a civil rights leader, the post-traumatic stress is real, and I am horrified to be in this space — again.

Elected officials and leaders around the country will come to pay their respects, but I need them to know their proverbial thoughts and prayers are not enough — not this time. I need them to act and act now. Give us a police force that is better trained, more culturally competent and less trigger-happy. Stop asking for our votes until you can commit to protecting Black lives from state-sanctioned terrorism at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve.

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Botham Jean. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. Rayshard Brooks. Freddie Gray. Roger Fortson. When will it stop? The loss of potential greatness in those taken so violently is incalculable for these families, for our communities and for this country.

The death of Roger Fortson has caused me to be more introspective and more prayerful. Though I am angry, I am not without hope. I still believe, despite much evidence to the contrary, that America can be as good as its promise. I, an avowed irrational optimist, cling to Psalm 30, in which David sang, “weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

Even amid tragedy, injustice and trauma, I know that God is with us, and I shall never be silent — for Freddie, for Roger, for all of us.

Dr. Jamal-Harrison Bryant, an author, philanthropist and activist, is senior pastor at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Stonecrest, Georgia, and was the longtime pastor at Empowerment Temple in Baltimore.

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