End-of-Life Decisions an Act of Justice

End-of-Life Decisions an Act of Justice

Updated from UrbanFaith (2019)

Not long ago, I was sitting at the bedside of my mother as she lay in a hospital bed in the critical care unit on a ventilator. With a tube in her throat, her voice was silenced. We had no idea who she wanted to make decisions for her. We didn’t know her wishes should she experience a decline — we didn’t even know if she wanted to be intubated in the first place. In this case, her right to make decisions about her healthcare was not stripped of her but rather was not exercised.

As a justice-seeker and end-of-life spiritual care practitioner, I often bring up advanced care planning to my family’s dismay. My mother had been reluctant to have any conversation about it, shrugging me off, quipping, “Just make sure they don’t put any makeup on me in the casket.” Thank God, she has recovered and is doing well, but the reality is that she, like many African-Americans, do not participate in advanced care planning and making end-of-life decisions.

Poet and social activist Langston Hughes wrote, “There is no color line in death.” Yet, when it comes to advanced care planning and end-of-life care, the color line is obvious. African-Americans disproportionately engage in advance care planning and utilize hospice and palliative care at lower rates than whites, thus affecting the quality of life as death approaches. The reasons are myriad: cultural factors, economic concerns, negative perceptions of hospice and palliative care, and mistrust of physicians and the healthcare system. African-Americans have a strained relationship with the healthcare industry rooted in historical facts such as the exploitation of Black bodies for medical research throughout American history, such as the Tuskegee experiment, a decades-long “study” on African-American men with syphilis performed without informed consent and leaving the disease untreated, even after an effective cure had been found. Also, embedded in this lack of advance care planning and underutilization of hospice and palliative care is the theological understanding that pain and suffering are part of God’s plan for our lives. There are many people I have encountered in my work in hospice and in church ministry that bear unnecessary suffering, whether physical pain or emotional burdens because they believe that is their cross to bear. This is not solely my experience, but a widely held belief that hinders patients from managing their pain and families from receiving the additional services that would ease their burden of care.

Besides, we’re living our best lives and who has time to plan for healthcare crisis or think about death?

But what if living our best lives means considering healthcare decisions and end-of-life planning? What if making healthcare decisions is not merely a matter of physical health, but a matter of justice? In addition to racial, gender, economic, and educational equity, quality healthcare is a justice concern. And I would argue, given my particular role as a hospice chaplain providing spiritual care and emotional support to patients and families during end-of-life, that advanced care planning and comprehensive end-of-life care are part of quality healthcare. In the National Hospice and Palliative Care “Outreach to African Americans Guide,” Dr. Richard Payne, Professor of Medicine and Divinity at the Duke Institute of End of Life Care wrote, “Hospice offers the best hope not to be alone, to be with family, to have pain controlled, and to be connected to your faith and beliefs. We are as entitled as anyone else to have these hopes fulfilled.”

If Black lives matter, and they do, then one way we proclaim that we matter is by exercising agency in our healthcare, including making decisions about who can speak for us when we are unable, whether or not we want aggressive treatment such as resuscitation and intubation, and how we want to be treated at the end of life. Given the historical exploitation of Black bodies in medical research—often carried out without our consent or after death—raising our voices and making our own decisions related to healthcare is an act of resistance, declaring our dignity and worth in a country where our personhood is devalued a daily basis.

I hear you. People of a certain age should engage in those conversations and make their healthcare decisions known. But I’m young, I’m healthy, and I’m living my best life. I have plenty of time before I have to think about advanced care planning.

Just as there is no color line in death, there is also no age line. Crisis, disease, terminal illness, and death can come at any age—including in your twenties and thirties. And while healthcare decisions can be made at any time, the best time to make healthcare decisions is during times of calm, clarity of mind, and relatively good health.

Not sure where to start? Here are some practical suggestions:

  1. Consider: Reflect upon what quality of life and a good death means for you. Think about the person who would best speak for you in the event you cannot make decisions for yourself.
  2. Voice: Use one or more of the many tools available (living will, power of attorney, advance directive, or the Five Wishes document) to put your healthcare decisions on paper. If you have a chronic health issue, consider completing a Physician Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) with your physician. When choosing a healthcare proxy, but sure to dialogue with them about your wishes and their ability to carry them out.
  3. Engage: Share your decisions with your loved ones and friends and encourage them to have the conversation and make their choices known. Move the discussion beyond your immediate circle to your congregation and community. As a matter of justice, the conversation on advanced care planning should be had far and wide.
  4. Revisit: Healthcare decisions will evolve as we do. It is important to note that these are not static documents, but that they should be revisited and revised as our lives and perspectives change. A general rule of thumb would be to revisit the document every ten years and with major life changes (marriage, children, the onset of disease, etc.).

Making healthcare decisions is not only wise for personal quality of life, but it also bears witness to the power of agency, advocacy, and the humanity of African-Americans. For some, it may seem like just a document, but for African-Americans, it is an act of resistance, and an act of freedom, and an act of justice.

For more information, visit theconversationproject.org.

Seeking unity, Biden should look to Nelson Mandela

Seeking unity, Biden should look to Nelson Mandela

Video Courtesy of Biography

RELATED: Nelson Mandela was noted for his integrity

Encountering Nelson Mandela in person for the first time, I remember thinking he looked more daunting and noble in person than he did in photographs.

It was December 1999, and I had gone to South Africa to help organize the youth program of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Mandela was the keynote for the event. After the thunderous applause died down, and after a chant from the Xhosa tribe washed over the crowd, Mandela began to speak. He related how proud he was that people from a range of religions, races, ethnicities and tribes were working together to build a “rainbow nation.”

The apartheid past, he emphasized, was a foreign country. South Africa needed to forge ahead, focusing on reconciliation and cooperation. He advised this as the way forward for all the peoples of the world.

It is easy to forget how justified Mandela would have been in choosing a different path, the path of retribution. The apartheid regime not only oppressed entire racial and ethnic groups in South Africa, it sought to destroy Mandela specifically, imprisoning him for 27 years on Robben Island.

But as his close friend Archbishop Desmond Tutu was fond of saying, there is no future without forgiveness. And Mandela was all about the future.

Together, Mandela and Tutu organized the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which invited both the perpetrators of racist evils and the victims of those evils to give public testimony. In this way, the brutality of the apartheid system was laid bare for all to see. The victims could begin healing, and the perpetrators would be allowed to apply for amnesty.

Putting the brutality of evil regimes on public display has long been a strategy of social justice movements. Martin Luther King Jr. knew that peaceful marches would be met with violent police truncheons, vicious dogs and punishing fire hoses. The images would unstick people from the status quo, and move their sympathy squarely to the side of social change.

The ugliness of the Trump era has always been visible to those with eyes to see, from the racist “birther” campaign against President Barack Obama, to the racist Muslim ban, to referring to COVID-19 with the racist phrase “China virus.”

But on Jan. 6, reality was undeniable, even for those who did their best to ignore the brutality and bigotry that went before. A crowd, fired up and sent forth by President Donald Trump, chanted “Hang Mike Pence,” swarmed into the Capitol building with weapons and attacked police officers, killing one.

The rioters were roundly condemned, and even their family members reported them to authorities. The public placed the responsibility squarely on Trump, sending his approval rating plummeting. Liz Cheney and nine other House Republicans voted for impeachment. Major companies pulled their support from elected representatives who continued to embrace the debunked conspiracy theory that Trump had actually won the election.

As more details emerge of the nature of the insurrection, the level of premeditation and coordination, I suspect that the number of people willing to follow the so-called Q Shaman deep into crazyville will dwindle further and further. Yes, we will see a rise in recruits for right-wing militias, but a significant number of the 74 million Americans who voted for Trump in 2020 will be looking for an off-ramp.

That is the group President Joe Biden should have top of mind. He should craft a strategy that welcomes the willing from the other side back into the circle of decency. He should look to rebuild the American big tent, the civic center, that every president from Ronald Reagan to Obama has extolled.

I am not proposing some kind of truth-and-amnesty for Trump or for his political allies and enablers. I am certainly not advocating for the insurrectionists to get off without appropriate time in prison.

I am simply suggesting that Biden keep the Oval Office and the bully pulpit focused elsewhere.

Let the American majority get to work stitching the fabric of our nation back together, led by Biden following the model of Mandela.

There are many examples of Mandela reaching out to those who worked in the apartheid regime, from forming friendships with his guards at Robben Island to speaking to the white staff holdovers in the South African government in their native Afrikaans and requesting that they remain in their posts.

But perhaps the most dramatic example of Mandela’s commitment to reconciliation and cooperation was his very public embrace of the Springboks rugby team, the subject of the film “Invictus.” Long a favorite symbol of white Afrikaner pride, the Springboks were generally hated by Black South Africans. Mandela made it clear that the Springboks were his team, and should indeed be viewed as the team of all South Africans as they competed in the World Cup.

His message was clear: For the future to have a chance at all, parts of the past had to be left behind, and all of us have to convene around common symbols.

Along the way, Mandela found a powerful partner in team captain Francois Pienaar, a white South African of Afrikaans ancestry who welcomed Mandela’s embrace of the Springboks and insisted that his teammates learn the Black liberation song “Nkosi Sikelele.”

To move the nation forward, Biden must fully embrace this template. He must choose to embrace a symbol that is generally associated with red America and find partners in that world willing to convene around a common symbol and meet on common ground.

My suggestion: decent policing, the sort that is needed in both Black communities and on Capitol Hill. The sort that would have kept Black people like George Floyd and Laquan McDonald alive, and the kind that would have properly prepared to protect Congress from a white mob.

Biden has knelt with Black Lives Matter protesters, an act of reverence for the lives that have been lost to violent and racist policing. What if he stood now with police chiefs committed to positive reform, perhaps at an interfaith prayer service, an act of commitment to a more perfect union?

Following the example of Nelson Mandela, Joe Biden can be a commander in chief of cooperation and unity.

Following Biden, we can all play a role in uniting our nation.

Eboo Patel is founder and president of  Interfaith Youth Core and author of “Out of Many Faiths: Religious Diversity and the American Promise.” The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

‘This is something I can do now’: What Kamala Harris’ ascension means for girls of color

‘This is something I can do now’: What Kamala Harris’ ascension means for girls of color

Video Courtesy of NBC News

RELATED: Kamala Harris, America’s first female vice president-elect, makes history

Across America, Black, brown, and Asian students look to the Biden administration with hope, pride, and great expectations.

As Kamala Harris becomes the first woman, the first African American, and the first person of South Asian descent to become U.S. vice president, many girls of color will be celebrating the multiple historic barriers coming down with a single oath.

In the days leading up to the inauguration of Joe Biden and Harris, Chalkbeat spoke with Black, brown, and Asian teenagers about the significance of this moment. They discussed the importance of having elected officials who look like them, wondered why it took so long to get here, and told us how they plan to hold the new administration accountable. These young women also shared their wide-ranging policy priorities, including COVID relief, combatting climate change, increasing the minimum wage, and defunding the police.

Their stories are interspersed with poetry by younger girls, and a performance of “Represent” by 16-year-old spoken-word artist Ife Martin of Detroit. “Do you feel that?” she asks. “The roar of change rumbling under our feet, under our All Star Chucks and church shoes. It’s hard to find but long overdue.”

Kellen Zeng, 17, Staten Island, NY

Senior, Staten Island Technical High School

I saw something on Twitter about all the vice presidents throughout the years. It’s all white men and then, all of the sudden, you see Kamala. I find that really inspiring.

I want to follow in her footsteps in a way. I’ve always had an interest in policy and advocacy and activism but I told myself: “No, you have to play it safe. You have to reach financial security.” And then there’s the whole idea that as a woman of color, you have to work twice as hard. But now, having a female vice president and seeing BIPOC women in office, I want to be able to pursue that path, too. I’d love to see the day that having a woman in office isn’t something to celebrate. It’s not a success story; it’s just a norm.

Courtesy photo
Kellen Zeng is a member of the nonprofit civic engagement organization YVote.

For now, there’s a lot of pressure on Biden and Harris during their first 100 days. What are they going to do about the pandemic? How are they going to help Americans who are currently unemployed? The economy is not doing the best right now, and that should be one of the priorities. Both of my parents were unemployed at the beginning of the pandemic. My dad helps out in his friends’ restaurants, and my mom has a beauty salon that wasn’t open for a long time. They are immigrants from China, and I had to help them apply for unemployment.

The most pressing thing right now is rolling back some of the damage done during the Trump presidency. A lot of LGBTQ rights were violated. I know that the fight isn’t over. Just because Biden and Harris won the election, it doesn’t mean America is great again.

Ife Martin, 16, Detroit, Michigan

Junior, West Bloomfield High School in West Bloomfield, Michigan

Ife Martin performs an original poem titled “Represent,” reflecting on Harris’ historic role. Ife is a member of InsideOut Literary Arts and the Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit. She is the winner of the 2021 National YoungArts Award in spoken word.

Ashton Mayo-Beavers, 18, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Freshman, Mercer University in Macon, Georgia

When I moved from Tennessee to Georgia to start college last fall, I was expecting, well, another version of Tennessee.

Growing up in Knoxville and Chattanooga, I saw policies that impact women’s health designed by men. I saw a lack of representation of Black women in government. I saw police brutality and inequitable justice systems.

Photo by Nathalie Lopez
Ashton Mayo-Beavers started college during the pandemic.

I still see many of those things in Georgia from my dorm room. But now, I also see Stacey Abrams. I see Kamala Harris. I see the importance of local elections, and that every single vote really does matter.

Fall of 2020 was a crazy time to start college. The COVID-19 pandemic meant that some of my classes were online and some were in person, and I had to navigate the tension of trying to focus on friends and classes while staying safe. As we were trying to prepare for our first final exams — and on top of the pandemic — there was this election. One of my professors called it the most important election of our time. For me, it was the first election I ever voted in.

On Election Day, which was more of an election month, we were told by older African American students that we shouldn’t go out. Even though Kamala Harris, a Black woman, was on the path to one of the most powerful positions in our nation, I, as a Black student, didn’t feel comfortable going to all-campus debate watch parties. I worried that the color of my skin would make me a target if tensions escalated.

Even now, I’m not sure I have processed how big it is that Kamala Harris is going to be so many firsts. For so long, I was waiting for the results to be official. I was waiting for the carpet to be dragged out from under us. It’s happened before.

No one is fully processing how big it is or how long it took. There already are so many great local leaders that are women of color, and that’s amazing. But the fact is, we will have a woman vice president who is a person of color that’s going to open the doors for so many people to envision themselves as our nation’s future.

Kimora Guy, Memphis, Tennessee

First grade, Power Center Academy Elementary School in Memphis

I can
I can do what she can do…
She went to a Black college.
I can too.

She wrote a book.
I can too.
Look! She’s running to be Vice President for the United States.
Can she do that?

Not only can she do it, but she has done it!!
So I can too!

Munaja Mehzabin, 17, Queens, New York

Senior, Academy of American Studies in Queens

Growing up South Asian, I saw brown actors and actresses while watching Bollywood movies with my parents. When it came to Hollywood films, Jasmine from “Aladdin” was the closest it came. Of course, when I was younger I didn’t think about representation, about not seeing people like me in TVs or movies. (The exceptions were side characters in stereotypical roles — a math whiz, or an owner of a gas station store.)

Courtesy photo
Munaja Mehzabin has critiqued Harris’ record as a prosecutor.

These days, there are more and varied roles for South Asians, and I’m extremely glad. But representation is about more than entertainment. Representation also matters when it comes to who is representing us in government.

Kamala Harris will be the first-ever South Asian vice president, even though that tends to go over people’s heads, and the first-ever African American vice president. She will also be the first-ever woman to be vice president. In this role, she is changing things for women of color. It is so important to see people who look like you make a change because it can push people to be “the next first.” Young girls can look to Kamala Harris and feel like it’s possible to have a seat in the White House. Sure, there will always be men who don’t think a woman is capable of an important job, but we must prove them wrong.

Even though Kamala Harris has accomplished something so extraordinary, she’s far from perfect when it comes to racial justice. She was previously a prosecutor, and has sometimes sided with the police. As California’s attorney general, her office fought to keep a man named George Gage behind bars even though there was evidence that he had been wrongly convicted. She also opposed a state bill that would have regulated the use of police body cameras.

As citizens, we have to hold our leaders accountable. We have to make sure they hear us. Vice President Kamala Harris will inspire others and hold open doors. I am extremely grateful for that. At the same time, I will not glorify her.

Brooklyn Cauley, 16, Rockwall, Texas

Sophomore, Rockwall High School

I live in a predominantly white community and attend a predominantly white school, where I’m a National Honor Society student and participate in several clubs. I’m the only Black girl and the only Black person on my robotics team. I used to mentor a younger robotics team, and I felt like I was showing others that Black girls — and girls in general — can excel in STEM. That’s a big, progressive step.

Courtesy photo
Brooklyn Cauley has mentored younger students who are interested in robotics.

In a political office, where there is not that much diversity, Kamala Harris’ win is a big thing. It shows that people are moving forward. It’s making a change. Our voices are being heard.

Biden talks about raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15. This increase would bring so many people out of poverty in the U.S. This could help make so many Black communities better.

I also hope they get more vaccines out, and they actually focus on the coronavirus. [President Trump] made a joke out of it. I know a lot of kids at school don’t believe that the virus is dangerous. I’m also in the agriculture program at school, and a lot of the students tend to be big Trump supporters, which is fine. I’m not judging anyone based on their political views. We are required to wear masks to school, but a lot of students don’t keep it up over their nose. Some won’t even wear them at all when school staff is not around.

Biden’s message at the inauguration should be something like: I know the country hasn’t been the greatest this past year. I know we have had a lot of racial issues, but we can persevere.  A lot of people are struggling financially with job losses, and some are struggling mentally. We can’t just break away and say, we hate this person or that person. We have to come together to fix these issues. They are not going to be resolved by violence or fighting with our neighbor. I believe we need to pray more.

Sharona Nagamuthu, 17, Queens, New York

Junior, Scholars Academy in Queens

When the election was called for Biden and Harris, I was sleeping because [since Election Day] I was staying up until ridiculous hours of the night, glued to my TV. I checked my phone at about 11 a.m., and all of my friends were texting me: “Oh my God. They won.” It was an instant sense of relief. It had been this whole week; it was this whole long process. I’d be in my classes online, and I’d have another tab with the news open just so I could keep myself updated. After I heard, I actually went back to sleep — that’s how relieved I was, that I could finally sleep.

Courtesy photo
Sharona Nagamuthu said the new administration comes as “a relief.”

It was a relief because it showed me that this state that we’re in right now hopefully won’t always continue to exist, and we can ultimately improve on our lives and — especially, as a person of color — that new policies can be enacted that will help me and many others.

I’m an immigrant from Guyana. My family immigrated to the U.S. when I was 2. [Through YVote], I’ve done a lot of research on immigration policies, and we know the Trump administration has enacted a lot of policies that have impacted immigrants negatively — the travel ban from some Middle Eastern countries and countries in Africa and also the construction of the southern border wall. I know the border wall has done a lot of environmental damage. To add onto that, I’d also like to see policies that combat climate change. I think it’s kind of ridiculous that you have people who don’t recognize that climate change is real when scientists are literally proving it, and you can see the impacts in our life.

Megan Davis, Memphis, Tennessee

Fourth grade, Power Center Academy Elementary School in Memphis

A Little Girl’s Dream
Roses are red and violets are blue
The next Vice President is Black and she’s a woman, too!
2020 has been hard, but also great.

I can’t believe a woman is part of the Head of State.
This changes everything, history too.
Madam Kamala Harris, I want to be just like you.
The path you’ve set out for me and others means we can do anything,
if we help one another.

I’m proud to be Black and a young girl, too, so I can grow up and be just like you.

Melanie Gonzalez Castillo, 19, Newark, New Jersey

Freshman, Villanova University in Villanova, Pennsylvania 

As a feminist, I am happy a woman is becoming vice president in the U.S. for the first time. This inspires me. Kamala Harris’ parents were immigrants to this country. I moved to New Jersey from Mexico when I was 14 years old. This gives me hope for me and for my future children.

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Melanie Gonzalez Castillo says Kamala Harris’ rise gives her hope.

I have been watching old interviews with Kamala, and she said that DACA recipients —  undocumented young people, brought to the U.S. as children — come here believing in the democracy of the United States, and it’s beautiful to see them trust in this democracy.

A lot of people don’t trust in this country right now.

With everything that happened in the Capitol this month, I’ve been thinking more about what it means to believe in democracy. Throughout history, a lot of negative things have happened in this country, but it is my second home and has given me much. Yet people from this nation are the ones tearing it apart.

It’s so disturbing to see what this has come to, but I do have a lot of hope for the future. I have hope because of my dad, who came to this country and works hard every day. He taught me how important the work ethic is when paired with honesty and positivity. I have hope when I think about my sister, who is about to graduate college with a psychology degree.

Even though there’s still a lot to be done, and many things we must change, I have hope when I think about the generations that will come after me. They won’t think of it as revolutionary to have a woman in the White House. I hope the new generation grows up in a world where they can see equality and opportunity as something normal — not something they have to tirelessly fight for. It is up to each of us to create that change.

Ama Russell, 17, Detroit

Senior, Cass Technical High School

When I heard Biden and Harris had won, I was with my 92-year-old grandma, so it was a really big deal. She didn’t think we’d have Barack Obama [in her lifetime], so it was special to share the moment with her.

Later that day, organizers in Detroit held a Count Every Vote action, celebrating that we got Trump out and gearing up to hold the Biden-Harris administration accountable. We were very excited because Detroit, and most importantly its Black voters, carried Michigan [for Biden].

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Ama Russell says representation is important, but it’s not enough.

Holding the Biden-Harris administration accountable means they are centering Black people in their policy, making sure that people don’t think that just because we got Trump out that injustices are solved. We will put pressure on them to do more for environmental issues and more for social justice, that we are pushing them to defund the police and to push the envelope to liberate Black people. Representation is important, but it’s not enough.

Before Biden chose Kamala Harris, there was talk that he was going to pick a Black woman as his running mate. When my father announced it was Kamala, I was like, “Oh, yay,” even though I really wanted it to be my girl Stacey Abrams. It was Stacey Abrams who ultimately made it possible for Democrats to win back the Senate. I think it’s important to honor her and all of the Black organizers who made space for Kamala.

For young girls, like myself, Kamala will make them see themselves in American politics. It will make them feel like they belong, in some sense, and see that they can do this. This isn’t a “when pigs fly” kind of thing. This is something achievable, it’s attainable, and it’s not something that has to happen in the next century. This is something I can do now.

This article originally appeared on Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

How the Ebenezer Baptist Church has been a seat of Black power for generations in Atlanta

How the Ebenezer Baptist Church has been a seat of Black power for generations in Atlanta

Video Courtesy of 11Alive

RELATED: Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.

The high-stakes U.S. Senate race in Georgia catapulted the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church back into the spotlight. For 135 years, the church played a vital role in the fight against racism and the civil rights movement. It was the spiritual home of the civil rights leader, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

It is now the home of the state’s first Black senator – the Rev. Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor at the church.

As a scholar of African American religion and Christian theology, I believe it is important to understand how the Ebenezer Baptist Church has been a seat of Black power and organizing for generations in Atlanta.

‘Stone of help’

Ebenezer Baptist Church, a predominantly African American congregation, was founded in 1886, nearly 20 years after the end of the Civil War. The pastor, Rev. John Andrew Parker, served as Ebenezer’s first pastor from 1886 to 1894. Little is known about Parker and Ebenezer’s early years. But according to historian Benjamin C. Ridgeway, Parker organized the church in a small building located on Airline Avenue in Atlanta.

The name Ebenezer, meaning “stone of help,” comes from the Hebrew Bible. In the First Book of Samuel, the Israelites are said to have gathered in the town of Mizpah to offer burnt offerings to God. When their enemies, the Philistines, received notice that the Israelites were in Mizpah, they sent forces to attack them.

With God’s help, the Philistines were eventually defeated. Prophet Samuel then named a large stone “Ebenezer” to remind the Israelites of God’s intervention in their battle against the Philistine army.

As historians Roswell F. Jackson and Rosalyn M. Patterson observed in their 1989 article, “The selection of the name Ebenezer, ‘Stone of help,’ was profoundly prophetic.” In their view, Ebenezer’s name proved fitting to describe the role the church would come to have in the subsequent civil rights movement.

Growth of the church

The Rev. Adam Daniel Williams, the maternal grandfather of King, served as second pastor from 1894 to 1931. Williams led the Ebenezer Church into the 20th century as a religious community mobilized to fight the segregationist policies plaguing the African American community in the state of Georgia.

By 1913, the church had grown from 13 to nearly 750 members. Williams developed a distinct form of the social gospel, which emphasized the importance of African Americans owning businesses and taking social action against racial and economic injustice in their local communities.

Known for his powerful preaching, impressive organizing and leadership skills, Williams led several initiatives, including boycotts against a local Atlanta newspaper, “The Georgian,” which was known for using racist language against African Americans.

In 1906, Williams led a fight to end the white primary system which prohibited African Americans from voting in the Georgia primaries. In 1917, Williams helped establish the Atlanta chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the NAACP.

A year later, he was elected as branch president of the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP, and, within five months of his tenure, the chapter’s membership grew to 1,400.

As religious historian Lewis Baldwin remarks in his book “The Voice of Conscience,” “Clearly, Williams used the [Ebenezer] church as a power base and rallying point for such activities, an approach that would also be used by [Martin Luther] King, Sr. and King, Jr.”

Working for social change

Following Williams’ death in 1931, the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr., Ebenezer’s assistant pastor and Williams’ son-in-law, became the church’s third pastor. During his 40-year tenure as pastor, “Daddy” King, as he was affectionately known, led Ebenezer with a mixture of evangelical faith and progressive social action.

Finding warrant for social action in the Christian scriptures, King Sr. challenged other Black churches to embrace the social gospel – a late 19th-century Protestant movement that emphasized the application of the Christian message to the social and moral concerns of society.

Moreover, King Sr. led marches and rallies to protest discriminatory and segregationist policies in the city of Atlanta, including the desegregation of the Atlanta Police Department and the Atlanta Board of Education. In the first 15 years of King Sr.‘s pastorate at Ebenezer, church membership grew to 3,700.

MLK’s spiritual home

Martin Luther King, Jr., Ebenezer Baptist Church
Martin Luther King Jr. Annual Commemorative Service at Ebenezer Baptist Church on Jan. 21, 2019 in Atlanta, Ga.
Paras Griffin/Getty Images

Ebenezer came into the global spotlight when Martin Luther King Jr. accepted the call to join his father as co-pastor in 1960. Before then, King had pastored Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama from 1954 to 1959.

During his tenure at Dexter Avenue, King served as president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, the organization which successfully led the Montgomery Bus Boycott from Dec. 5, 1955 to Dec. 20, 1956. In 1959, King resigned from his position as pastor at Dexter Avenue to serve alongside his father as well as serve as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which is also based in Atlanta.

From the pulpit of Ebenezer, King preached some of his more memorable sermons. In one of his sermons published in a collection titled “The Strength to Love,” King describes racial prejudice as indicative of “softmindedness,” a person’s tendency to uncritically adhere to unsupportable beliefs.

In the same sermon, titled “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart,” King argued, “Race prejudice is based on groundless fears, suspicions, and misunderstandings.” To overcome this, King argued that human beings must cultivate both a tough mind and a tender heart, a joining of a critical mind with a concern for fellow human beings.

This message reverberates in contemporary movements for racial equity and justice, including the Black Lives Matter movement. While many BLM members are not affiliated with any organized religion, the movement emphasizes the importance of spiritual wellness for African Americans as they fight for Black liberation.

Since its inception, Ebenezer Baptist Church has been an institution in which evangelical fervor and progressive social activism joined to foster societal change.

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented the spiritual home of King from hosting the annual commemorative service in honor of the slain civil rights leader, which usually draws 1,700 attendees. But attention to the church has been renewed following the election of Pastor Warnock to the U.S. Senate.

One cannot appreciate the importance of MLK Day without understanding the tradition that formed one of America’s most influential civil rights leaders.

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Jason Oliver Evans, Ph.D. Student in Religious Studies, University of Virginia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Kamala Harris’ swearing-in will feature other trailblazers

Kamala Harris’ swearing-in will feature other trailblazers

Video Courtesy of Howard University

RELATED: Kamala Harris, America’s first female vice president-elect, makes history

Originally published by The 19th

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ swearing-in Wednesday will highlight   two other trailblazers, as well as a woman who had an impact on her as a young girl.

The ceremony will reflect her lived experience as she makes history as the first woman, African American and South Asian to become the second most powerful person in the country. Harris is set to be sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina member of the court, who was nominated by the first Black president, Barack Obama, in 2009, according to the transition team. The plan was first reported by ABC News.

Harris will take the oath of office on a pair of Bibles. One was owned by Regina Shelton, who lived two doors down from Harris’ family in Oakland and who was considered a second mother by Harris and her sister, Maya. Harris used the same Bible when she was sworn in as the first Black person and woman to serve as attorney general of California and the only Black woman currently serving as a U.S. senator.

The second Bible belonged to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to serve on the court and a personal hero of Harris’. Marshall and Harris also share an alma mater — he the valedictorian of the 1933 class at Howard University School of Law, and she a 1986 graduate of the historically Black college.

Harris and President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration had already been altered dramatically by the novel coronavirus pandemic, and now security measures have gotten even tighter after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump.