With us being several weeks into 2019, you might have already gotten slightly discouraged or fallen off track when it comes to the goals you’ve set for the year, so we thought it may be a good idea to revisit those resolutions with an update. While setting goals, people tend to be very whimsical and sometimes unrealistic with their New Year’s Resolutions and how they want things to manifest in the upcoming year. So to assist with maintaining your goals, serving your purpose, and most importantly achieving the goals you’ve set, here are few tips:
SET SMALLER GOALS
Yes, I said it. You have to begin small. I know that you probably aren’t use to people telling you to think smaller when it comes to achieving something, but studies show that when you attempt to achieve smaller goals, you are more likely to be successful at reaching them. If one of your goals this year is to lose a substantial amount of weight, instead of aiming straight for the intended target, set a smaller one. If you want to lose 40 or more pounds, instead of focusing of the entire 40, concentrate solely on losing the first 10 to 15. And, don’t forget to congratulate yourself when you reach your halfway mark.
SET MORE PURPOSEFUL GOALS
Maybe this year you want to travel more, but what else? The point of a resolution is to make a positive change, but remember to ask yourself: “Will this change also be beneficial to my overall purpose?” While working towards your 2019 goals, think about the positive outcome in completing these goals and how it contributes to your purpose. And, as the months go by, remember to keep in mind how successfully completing such goals will positively affect those around you. Make sure that you are allowing the light that shines within you to beam and even reflect onto others. To be able to share your life’s purpose while achieving your goals? I’d call that a true win!
YOUR PURPOSE IS NOT THEIRS
Your year won’t look the same as the next person’s simply because your purpose is not the same. While nurturing and tending to your goals this year, make sure to focus on your own individuality. Your resolutions will never be identical to someone else’s and that’s ok! No one has the same purpose, therefore no one will have the same goals. Staying focused on one’s self is key to achieving your greatest potential. Think of it like coloring, if you stay within the lines, you will create your own beautiful picture.
“As Americans, we face challenges head-on. Climate change is not a Democrat issue or a Republican Issue. It is a human issue. This crisis is complex. It impacts all of us and future generations. And those with the least resources are impacted first and worst,” testified Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., president and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus, before the House Committee on Natural Resources a few weeks ago. “If this committee and both chambers don’t urgently come together, put the people of this country first, put God first and put your political party to the side to solve climate change, we don’t make it beyond 12 years from now without huge amounts of death, destruction, and suffering.”
For more than a decade, Rev. Yearwood and his celebrity-infused, non-partisan Hip Hop Caucus have been hyper-focused on voter turnout, but also tackling big issues, such as climate change and environmental justice, civil and human rights, voting rights and election system reforms, and economic empowerment. The Hip Hop Caucus is the result of four voter drive organizations merging back in 2004: Russell Simmons’ Hip Hop Summit Action Network, P. Diddy’s Citizen Change (“Vote Or Die!”), Jay Z’s “Voice Your Choice,” and AFL-CIO’s “Hip Hop Voices.” It was the force behind the 2008 “Respect My Vote!” campaign, which touted registering the most voters in one day: 32,000 people across 16 U.S. cities.
With the 2020 presidential campaign season kicking in, Urban Faith reached out to Rev. Yearwood to chat about social justice, Christianity, his spiritual journey to fighting for underserved communities, and what’s up next for the Hip Hop Caucus.
Some Christian leaders believe that social justice is not “Christian.” How do you respond to that?
I think there’s nothing more Christian than having social justice. I can’t understand how folks can say they’re Christian and not, to me, see how many times Christ literally fought — fought for the woman by the well, fought for those who were out in the desert who were hungry, fought for those who were infirmed, fought for those who were hurting because there was no fish in the net. I mean, there’s story upon story upon story upon story, even to the very end with the thief on the cross.
I can’t understand how you could not connect social justice and overcoming when people have been wronged, with Christ. So that baffles me a little bit. To me, if your faith is not connected to justice, it doesn’t have the kind of power that it could have with a faith based upon justice and freedom.
You received your bachelor’s degree from the University of the District of Columbia and your Master of Divinity from Howard University. What led you to do what you do? What was your spiritual journey?
I grew up around the church, so the Christian faith was not something that was unusual. I have many ministers in my family. My uncle was a Church of God in Christ bishop. My aunt has her own church. I grew up around a number of faith-driven people who were Christians. My background was one in which I came from a very spiritual background.
I was the student government association president at the University of District Columbia. It wasn’t so much that I was in a situation that I had something that went wrong, so to speak, and was called into ministry. But I believe very strongly in helping people, and I could feel a definite call when I was finishing up my last term. I was also SGA president when I was at divinity school too, but in my second term I began going to homeless ministries here in Washington, DC, and was also very dedicated to working with young people, and a more of social justice type of ministry.
When I went to seminary, my first calling was to go and teach. I was extremely good at the Old Testament and became the first person at Howard Divinity to be a teaching assistant for both the Old Testament and the New Testament because I could speak Greek and Hebrew. I was going to go up and get my Ph.D. in Old Testament studies, which was normal because my parents both had Ph.D.s. My mom has her Ph.D. in psychology, and my dad a Ph.D. in African and social studies — he was a dean at Howard. So it wasn’t a long stretch for me to go that way at all, and to teach.
But it was also a retreat because I was at the time very frustrated with the church. There was a lot of emphasis around prosperity ministry, and that wasn’t for me. I think the calling came when the war was going to break out and we were getting ready to invade Iraq. I was a chaplain, and I began to speak out against the war while I was in the Air Force — I was in the Reserves on the weekends. It wasn’t the best career move.
I got a call from Dr. Ben Chavis, who was working with Russell Simmons, and he says, “Would you like to work with organizing young people?” So, at the time I’m going through a situation with the Air Force. I said, “Well, why not?” Might as well. You know, I didn’t know my journey. I may be thrown in prison. I don’t know what’s going to happen to me because of me speaking out.
It all sounds heroic, but at the time it was very much a situation with my lifestyle of being a middle class, African-American with two very small children. I literally put it on the line for what I believe and trust in God that I was doing the right thing. What I began to see is that I had to give up all of my privilege. My privilege of growing up with parents who had Ph.D.s. My privilege of growing up middle class. My privilege of going to good schools. My privilege of being an SGA president or being on a basketball team. All those things that I would use as privilege had to be stripped away, and I realize that now. They had to be stripped away before I could do effective ministry, so I could be at the bottom. Then, once you get to the bottom and you feel vulnerable, you can connect. Not in charity, but in solidarity with those who have been oppressed. Your whole mission can change and that’s probably where I am now.
I am in a position where I can connect with young people, folks who are from really tough situations, because I’ve been stripped down and can connect with them through faith and Christ.
What are your plans for the 2020 Presidential election? Is the Hip Hop Caucus doing a bus tour again?
Yeah, yeah. We’re going to get out the vote. Just last year, our “Respect My Vote” campaign celebrated ten years, which is exciting. It was an award-winning campaign. We’re going to continue that. We take a lot of pride in being nonpartisan. When the “Respect My Vote campaign” was created in 2008, I mean, clearly there was a tremendous amount of excitement around Barack Obama, and for a good reason. Nothing wrong with that. But we felt that it was important that young people kept their lane in that. We got a lot of heat back then for not supporting any candidate, and if you were going to support one, that probably would have been the one to support. But we didn’t. We were like no, we want to make sure that we can also hold that person, he or she, accountable, and that’s what we did, and that’s important to us.
We want to make sure that whoever is in office, Democratic or Republican or Independent, we’re able to hold you accountable and measurable. Millennials and Gen Z drive us — I mean, we let their issues regarding the economy and climate change and civil rights be at the forefront. Right now, we’re very concerned about what’s going on with the voter suppression and what we saw in North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. We have issues that affect everybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re Republican or Democratic if you want clean air. I think we all want clean air and we want clean water.
We also challenge ourselves as an organization. We know that in general, our movement and sometimes the culture can be very patriarchal, very male-driven, and so we are actually board-mandated that anything that we do has to have gender balance, or even more so, we have to put forth women in our movement, because it’s such an important thing in that process. We’ve been very blessed doing that for the past 10 years.
The United Methodist Church teetered on the brink of breakup Monday after more than half the delegates at an international conference voted to maintain bans on same-sex weddings and ordination of gay clergy.
Their favored plan, if formally approved, could drive supporters of LGBT inclusion to leave America’s second-largest Protestant denomination.
A final vote on rival plans for the church’s future won’t come until Tuesday’s closing session, and the outcome remains uncertain. But the preliminary vote Monday showed that the Traditional Plan, which calls for keeping the LGBT bans and enforcing them more strictly, had the support of 56 percent of the more than 800 delegates attending the three-day conference in St. Louis.
The primary alternative proposal, called the One Church Plan, was rebuffed in a separate preliminary vote, getting only 47 percent support. Backed by a majority of the church’s Council of Bishops in hopes of avoiding a schism, it would leave decisions about same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBT clergy up to regional bodies and would remove language from the church’s law book asserting that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”
Monday’s voting did not kill the One Church Plan but makes its prospects on Tuesday far more difficult.
As evidence of the deep divisions within the faith, delegates Monday approved plans that would allow disaffected churches to leave the denomination while keeping their property.
“This is really painful,” said David Watson, a dean and professor at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, who was at the gathering. “Our disagreement has pitted friend against friend, which no one wanted.”
Formed in a merger in 1968, the United Methodist Church claims about 12.6 million members worldwide, including nearly 7 million in the U.S. While other mainline Protestant denominations, such as the Episcopal and Presbyterian (U.S.A.) churches, have embraced the two gay-friendly practices, the Methodist church still officially bans them, even though acts of defiance by pro-LGBT clergy have multiplied and talk of a possible breakup has intensified.
The strong showing for the Traditional Plan reflects the fact that the UMC, unlike other mainstream Protestant churches in the U.S., is a global denomination. About 43 percent of the delegates in St. Louis are from abroad, mostly from Africa, and overwhelmingly support the LGBT bans.
Althea Spencer Miller, 63, assistant professor of New Testament at Drew University Theological School in New Jersey, and a pastor, poses for picture Monday, Feb. 25, 2019, at a national Methodist conference in St. Louis. Miller, who identifies as lesbian, said the United Methodist Church has an opportunity to show that “God’s kingdom is a kingdom of such diversity” by opening the door to same-sex marriage and LGBT ministers. The potentially divisive vote will be Tuesday. (AP Photo/Jim Salter)
“We Africans are not children in need of Western enlightenment when it comes to the church’s sexual ethics,” the Rev. Jerry Kulah, dean at a Methodist theology school in Liberia, said in a speech over the weekend. “We stand with the global church, not a culturally liberal church elite in the U.S.”
The Africans have some strong allies among U.S. conservatives, including the Rev. John Miles II, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Jonesboro, Arkansas, who opposes same-sex marriage and gays in the pulpit.
“I have a very difficult time even though I have gays in my family and in my church,” he said. “I know it grieves them and it grieves me to grieve them. But it’s just what we believe is the truth.”
In recent years, the church’s enforcement of its LGBT bans has been inconsistent. Some clergy members have conducted same-sex marriages or come out as gay from the pulpit. In some cases, the church has filed charges against clergy who violated the bans, yet the denomination’s Judicial Council has ruled against the imposition of mandatory penalties, which typically called for an unpaid suspension of at least one year.
The Traditional Plan would require stricter and more consistent enforcement.
Among the outspoken supporters of the more permissive One Church Plan was the Rev. Adam Hamilton, a pastor in Leawood, Kansas, who said it offered a way for Methodists “to live together — conservatives, centrists and progressives — despite our differences.”
For LGBT Methodists, it is a time of anxiety.
“For me it’s about who’s in God’s love, and nobody’s left out of that,” said Lois McCullen Parr, 60, a church elder from Albion, Michigan, who identifies as bisexual and queer. “The Gospel I understand said Jesus is always widening the circle, expanding the circle, so that everyone’s included.”
It has been said many times that the Marvel movie “Black Panther” is an important landmark. I’m not referring to its deserved critical and box office success worldwide, the many awards it has won, or the fact that it is the first film in the superhero genre to be nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards.
Instead, I’m focusing on a key aspect of its cultural impact that is less frequently discussed. Finally a feature film starring a black superhero character became part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – a successful run of intertwined movies that began with “Iron Man” in 2008. While there have been other superhero movies with a black lead character – “Hancock” (2008), “Blade” (1998), “Spawn” (1997) or even “The Meteor Man” (1993) – this film is significant because of the recent remarkable rise of the superhero film from the nerdish fringe to part of mainstream culture.
Huge audiences saw a black lead character – not a sidekick or part of a team – in a superhero movie by a major studio, with a black director (Ryan Coogler), black writers and a majority black cast. This is a significant step toward diversifying our culture by improving the lackluster representation of minorities in our major media. It’s also a filmmaking landmark because black creators have been given access to the resources and platforms needed to bring different storytelling perspectives into our mainstream culture.
And beyond all this, “Black Panther” also broke additional ground in a way most people may not realize: In the comics, the character is actually a scientist and engineer. Moreover, in the inevitable (and somewhat ridiculous) ranking of scientific prowess that happens in the comic book world, he’s been portrayed as at least the equal of the two most famous “top scientists” in the Marvel universe: Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic). A black headlining superhero character written and directed by black artists is rare enough from a major studio. But making him – and his sister Shuri – successful scientists and engineers as well is another level of rarity.
The history and evolution of the Black Panther character and his scientific back story is a fascinating example of turning a problematic past into a positive opportunity.
Created in 1966 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, he’s the first black superhero character in mainstream comics, originally appearing as a guest in a “Fantastic Four” Marvel comic. As a black character created and initially written by nonblack authors, guest-starring in the pages of a book headlined by white characters, he had many of the classic attributes of what is now sometimes controversially known as the “magical negro” in American cultural criticism: He ranked extremely highly in every sphere that mattered, to the point of being almost too unreal even for the comics of the time.
Black Panther is T’Challa, king of the fictional African country Wakanda, which is fathomlessly wealthy and remarkably advanced, scientifically and technologically. Even Marvel’s legendary master scientist – Reed Richards of the superhero team Fantastic Four – is befuddled by and full of admiration for Wakanda’s scientific capabilities. T’Challa himself is portrayed as an extraordinary “genius” in physics and other scientific fields, a peerless tactician, a remarkable athlete and a master of numerous forms of martial arts. And he is noble to a fault. Of course, he grows to become a powerful ally of the Fantastic Four and other Marvel superheroes over many adventures.
The key point here is that the superlative scientific ability of our hero, and that of his country, has its origins in the well-meaning, but problematic, practice of inventing near or beyond perfect black characters to support stories starring primarily white protagonists. But this is a lemons-to-lemonade story.
Black Panther eventually got to star in his own series of comics. He was turned into a nuanced and complex character, moving well away from the tropes of his beginnings. Writer Don McGregor’s work started this development as early as 1973, but Black Panther’s journey to the multilayered character you see on screen was greatly advanced by the efforts of several writers with diverse perspectives. Perhaps most notably, in the context of the film, these include Christopher Priest (late 1990s) and Ta-Nehisi Coates (starting in 2016), along with Roxane Gay and Yona Harvey, writing in “World of Wakanda” (2016). Coates and Gay, already best-selling literary writers before coming to the character, helped bring him to wider attention beyond normal comic book fandom, partly paving the way for the movie.
Through all of the improved writing of T’Challa and his world, his spectacular scientific ability has remained prominent. Wakanda continues to be a successful African nation with astonishing science and technology. Furthermore, and very importantly, T’Challa is not portrayed as an anomaly among his people in this regard. There are many great scientists and engineers in the Wakanda of the comics, including his sister Shuri. In some accounts, she (in the continued scientist-ranking business of comics) is an even greater intellect than he is. In the movie, T’Challa’s science and engineering abilities are referred to, but it is his sister Shuri who takes center stage in this role, having taken over to design the new tools and weapons he uses in the field. She also uses Wakandan science to heal wounds that would have been fatal elsewhere in the world.
If they can do it, then why not me?
As a scientist who cares about inspiring more people – including underrepresented minorities and women – to engage with science, I think that showing a little of this scientific landscape in “Black Panther” potentially amplifies the movie’s cultural impact.
Vast audiences see black heroes – both men and women – using their scientific ability to solve problems and make their way in the world, at an unrivaled level. Research has shown that such representation can have a positive effect on the interests, outlook and career trajectories of viewers.
Improving science education for all is a core endeavor in a nation’s competitiveness and overall health, but outcomes are limited if people aren’t inspired to take an interest in science in the first place. There simply are not enough images of black scientists – male or female – in our media and entertainment to help inspire. Many people from underrepresented groups end up genuinely believing that scientific investigation is not a career path open to them.
Moreover, many people still see the dedication and study needed to excel in science as “nerdy.” A cultural injection of Black Panther heroics helps continue to erode the crumbling tropes that science is only for white men or reserved for people with a special “science gene.”
The huge widespread success of the “Black Panther” movie, showcasing T’Challa, Shuri and other Wakandans as highly accomplished scientists, remains one of the most significant boosts for science engagement in recent times.