Our history books frequently recount Black faith leaders taking charge, organizing, and speaking out against laws that disproportionately harm their communities. At a press conference on Thursday, July 7, several community figures announced their intention to continue this tradition of advocacy under the name Clergy With A Candle, a new organization highlighting inequities in American society.

Their chief issue is the FDA-proposed prohibition on menthol-flavored tobacco products, which promises to vastly impact majority-minority neighborhoods.

“Let us state clearly that we are not organizing to advocate for cigarette smoking,” says Rev. Shanan Jones, president of Concerned Black Clergy of Metropolitan Atlanta. “We know that cigarette smoking causes many health issues and even death. We also know that 85% of Black and Brown smokers favor menthol cigarettes and a ban targeting this kind of cigarette will potentially create an illegal underground market that disproportionately places Black and Brown Americans in the crosshairs of the criminal justice system.”

This month, Clergy With A Candle is traveling to Washington, D.C., where the group will meet with Georgia’s federal lawmakers to outline how this proposal is reminiscent of other misguided policies throughout our history, including redlining, stop-and-frisk, and mandatory minimums. All those ideas severely damaged community-police relations – a menthol ban is no different.

“As Black clergy, we are on the frontlines attempting to heal the breach which exists between our community and law enforcement,” observed Bishop Aaron B. Lackey, Sr., presiding prelate of the United Churches of God In Christ, Inc. “This Biden administration ban would add another barrier of division rather than the hoped-for bridge towards mutual respect. We certainly hope that the Georgia congressional delegation will receive our message and join the fight against this FDA ban.”

To wholly consider any policy, let alone a broad proposal such as this, we must view everything through a lens of racial equity. It’s time to heed the concerns and fears of our communities rather than ignore them and enact narrow-minded, disastrous laws.

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