I was three months pregnant and working as a Web editor in New York City at iVillage.com when tragedy struck at the World Trade Center buildings. That particular morning, I had scheduled a prenatal appointment before going in to work. A mere few minutes after hearing my son’s heartbeat for the first time, a nurse burst into the room and said that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. The doctor and I were puzzled, but we figured it was some random accident by a confused pilot in a small private plane.
But not after I left the doctor’s office, I realized what happened was no accident. When I first arrived at work, I learned that another plane had hit a second building. And these planes didn’t hit just any buildings — they made the World Trade Center buildings burn down in the most depressingly spectacular way. The entire staff was crowded around a small TV and quickly became very emotional. No one knew all the details, and my coworkers were telling fantastic stories, such as eight hijacked planes were circling all across the country. When I heard a plane hit the Pentagon, it became personal. My brother-in-law worked across from the Pentagon at the time. I couldn’t help it; the tears started to flow. The fear and sadness were overwhelming.
Fortunately for my coworkers and me, our company had a corporate apartment in the city. Most of us lived in Burroughs outside of Manhattan, and all the trains and busses were shut down. Around 15-20 of us squeezed into a one-bedroom apartment, but at least we had a place to go. That said, we still had to get there, which required a long, sad 17-block walk from upper Manhattan towards downtown and the direction of “Ground Zero,” which was the destroyed World Trade Center site’s former name. As we walked, we passed by several first responders, all covered in ash. Everything was covered in ash. Once in the apartment, we saw a hospital right outside the window. Several medical workers were clearly on high alert outside, waiting to take in survivors — but the slew of patients in need was far lower than expected. I called my husband. He never left Brooklyn, where we lived. He started work later than me and was standing on the train station platform waiting to board when he saw one of the buildings go down. A lady on the platform with him fainted.
The next day, I was so afraid to take in the air, fearful of its effect on my unborn son. It took me more than a year before I braved going down there, still afraid of what was in the air and how it might affect my breastmilk. It turns out that it was a smart move. We all know about the many 9/11 heroes who suffered from complications due to the poor air quality. When I was finally able to catch the train home, I saw flyers posted by loved ones desperately seeking information asking about missing people. The entire city was in mourning.
My son is now an 18-years-old son and grown into a young man. I’ve made sure to tell him about that day and those who we lost. I know that I am Blessed. For so many people, that painful day stole their children, parents, and loved ones. I saw firsthand the devastation and the deep wound inside the hearts of New Yorkers. I realize that 9/11 affected all Americans differently, but even amidst this ongoing and insufferable pandemic, we owe the victims and their families a moment of recognition and remembrance. I’m heartened by the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Tomorrow is not promised. We must #NeverForget.
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Rosyln M. Brock reflects on how her great-grandmother, Cousie Pittman, could not vote until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed, despite the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote in 1920. On a video published by the First Woman Voter Campaign, she talks about how Ms. Pittman, who lived in rural Florida and the segregated South, cast her first vote in the 1968 presidential election.
“My family often shares the story of how my grandmother would get dressed up in her Sunday Best, and wait for a ride to the polls on election day,” said Brock in the video.
Brock is Associate Minister at the historic Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, VA, and a nationally recognized health policy advocate, social justice change agent, and noted public speaker. She holds the distinct honor of being the youngest person and fourth woman in 2010 elected to the role of National Board Chairman for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in its history. Brock currently serves as its Chairman Emeritus.
The First Woman Voter campaign and national women’s organizations, such as the National Women’s History Museum, the League of Women’s Voters, and Obama’s When We All Vote, celebrate the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. This bipartisan campaign encourages women to pay tribute in a unique and personal short video to the first woman voter in their family or the one who most inspired them to vote. Four former first ladies, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Rev. Bernice A. King, and other high-profile women in academia, business, the arts, entertainment, government, and more fields are participating in the virtual video campaign. Even with the heartwarming messages by women of all races noting the 100-year milestone, Brock’s story and others underscore acknowledging that the struggle didn’t end in1920 for many Black women in the South.
“The history has to be told that black women were fighting for the right to vote in the 1800s, through the AME clubs, the black women’s clubs … the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs were active in the early 1800s well before the white women were organizing to think about coming into the public square,” said Brock. “White women can celebrate that they marched in 1912 or 1913 and then seven years later, in 1920, when the 19th Amendment was passed. Black women had to wait almost half a century until the 1965 Voting Rights Act before they had full, unfettered access. Now, many black women in the 1920s lived in the North and were able to vote. I was from South Florida. My grannies … it took us a little longer.”
August 2020 marks the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act’s passage, which, according to the Justice Department, is hailed as the single most effective piece of civil rights legislation ever passed by Congress. However, in 2013, the Supreme Court gutted a vital part of the Voting Rights Act, which required municipalities, counties, and states to get federal approval before changing their voting laws. It didn’t take long for voter suppression efforts to resume.
“I chose to participate in the campaign because it gave me an opportunity to share my great-grandmother’s first voting experience. And I believe it’s important as a black woman in today’s society to acknowledge the role that we did play and continue to play in securing the right to the franchise,” said Brock. “As many of us know, voting remains the only power that we have to affect change in our communities. And the only language that politicians seem to understand is the power of the vote. That’s why I believe so many today are trying to suppress votes by those in minority communities.”
According to a study last year by Pew Research, Millennials and Gen Z will make up 37% of the 2020 electorate. However, older generations are more likely to go to polls or actually vote. This year, voters are highly engaged, but concerns are mounting about difficulties in actually voting. That’s a big deal when so many critical issues are top of mind for many voters — access to affordable health care in the era of COVID-19 and beyond, violence and discriminatory policing, climate change, unemployment, and homelessness.
As a leader in the social justice, racial equity, and community investment space, Brock is inspired and hopeful as she sees the next generation push forward despite the obstacles and political games. Her philosophy is embodied in an African proverb: Care more than others think is wise, risk more than others think is safe, dream more than others think is practical, and expect more than others think is possible.
“Courage must not skip this generation. And as Black women stand confidently now in their place of power, they no longer have to accept that they don’t belong at the political table or don’t have a seat. We’ve got to remember Shirley Chisholm, who said, “If they don’t have a seat for you at the table, you come in and bring your own folding chair, and you sit down.”
With some safety measures in place, 70% of churches are holding in-person services, eschewing virtual services until the pandemic is under control. Unfortunately, there are more than a few churches that are having in-person services without personal protections in place, avoiding masks and social distancing altogether. But if churches do adhere to the CDC Considerations for Communities of Faith, there’s a lot of cleaning, disinfecting, ventilating, social distancing, mask-wearing, messaging, refraining from singing, temperature-taking, monitoring, and educating that needs to happen. With that in mind, even with best CDC practices in place, is it really safe?
Bishop Joseph W. Walker, III, Senior Leader of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Nashville, doesn’t think so. His 33,000+ member congregation will stay virtual until there is a vaccine. He is asking that other faith leaders do the same. And for those who don’t believe virtual church is a viable long-term solution, he offers eight ways to make virtual church engaging.
1) Don’t Be Tied to a Building.
Our expressions of worship and what we do as a church can happen even without the building. My understanding of 2000 years of church history proves that the church was meant to be without walls. Our work really happens outside the four walls. To reinforce this idea that there’s a necessity of needing a building to validate our experience as Christians is preposterous to me. I think that we have to reimagine what our role responsibilities are in the community. You can do that without being in a building.
2) Creatively Find Community in a Virtual Space
In a crisis, folks either crack or they create. The beauty of being a Christian for me and understanding God’s creative power is that God created something out of nothing. This is an opportunity for us to think through ways to have community in the virtual space.
In our ministry, we are doing some things like virtual connects, where social distancing doesn’t have to mean social isolation. Community is still strong in those spaces — very, very strong. That hour in traffic to come to sit at an administrative meeting at six o’clock in the evening before we go home? Now we can actually go home, have dinner with our kids, do a Zoom, and already be home when it’s done. It’s the same thing. You have to look at these things differently now and think about a post-quarantine post-COVID reality in terms of what the church looks like.
3) Look for the Low Hanging Fruit
Connect with folks who are doing virtual church well and find out the best practices. We’ve made ourselves available as a resource for thousands of churches around the country.
Facebook is free. Zoom is free. Esther Stories are free. There’s a variety of different platforms that folks can get on and create these kinds of opportunities. The other day, I had a call to all the single folks in my church who were home by themselves. I wanted to encourage them and give them some strategies on how to navigate that space being by themselves. We had 300. It’s the capacity for Zoom, and it sold out. It was free, but it was maxed out in 24 hours.
4) Change it Up
I change it up. For instance, our Mt. Zion Nashville app is free and you can access video on demand. There’s all the Bible studies I’ve done all year going back as far back as you should want. Also, the notes for the Bible studies are there as well. So anytime you want to watch, it’s like Netflix. You can go in there and join it.
There are times at which I may deal with the book of Isaiah. But then, for instance, now, we have a series called Life Plan, helping people think through purpose and strategies for your next vision assignment. So, it just fluctuates between biblical literacy and practical life application. I think people need a compass to navigate the space in terms of thinking about what their next career path is going to be. What does God’s Word say about faith and stepping out in those spaces? And so that’s what I’m hearing and moving into.
5) Be Forward-Thinking
We’ve done a lot of training on the front end. We were very blessed with the fact that Mt. Zion Church was seven years ahead of a lot of African American congregations in technology. A lot of my colleagues around the country will tell you that because they were the ones who were reaching out to me saying, “Man, how’d you do that?” We established Mt. Zion Anywhere, as a virtual space because we saw this trend coming. And many churches began to see that in the physical building, people were not packing them in like they used to. But yet when you got home and realized the level of engagement in terms of giving was going up or still consistent, you realize that there’s a shift. People find it easier — rather than just come to Bible study at seven o’clock at night, I’ll just go home, get my kids fed, get in the bed, and watch Bible study. I’m already home. The convenience, right? So, you’re really selling time if you will.
6) Lead and Be Innovative
Anytime you walk into a new space like that, there is always some small pushback. Not pushback so much from Mt. Zion Church as much as from other folks in the community. We were trying to figure it out. You got one leader who actually said, “I’m not going to stream, man, because people are not going to come to church. They are going to have an option.”
Let’s be very clear if you really think about it. In-branch banking — six, seven years ago, the banks were clear. Nobody’s coming into the branch anymore. We need to make sure we do everything right here. You can check everything on your phone. The educational system, same thing, right? You guys can go and pay tuition from your phone. See where I’m going? The church needs to lead this and be innovative enough. When you build your church on a revival-less model through your charisma, then right now, you’re struggling because there’s nobody to preach to. Nobody to say, “Man.” When you build your church on infrastructure, strategy, and technology, it sustains you in seasons like this because it becomes a normal way of existing.
Our choir has done a variety of Zoom choirs with the soloist in the middle. We’ve had guest artists to sing their particular songs with our choir surrounding them. We’ve had different camera shots of people singing from home. We’ve had our folks who dance in ministry do their dances in homes. When you see it in real-time, it’s an amazing thing. So yeah, again, it goes to just being innovative and say, “This is possible. You really can do this.” It’s just how far do you want to take it?
7) Be Present in the Community and the Giving Will Come
I think the fundamental response to giving is tied to a ministry that is doing the work. When people see you engage in the community, see you feeding 10,000 families in the city, see you constantly meeting these folks, they give. They believe in the work you’ve done. And we’ve onboarded new folks in our church who are giving, and people are joining. I’m doing new member fellowships every month. People are joining our church from everywhere now. They are giving. They’re engaged because they believe in the mission. And I think that those who are active givers are going to continue to give. Those who are looking for an excuse not to give, that’s just the way it goes.
8) Stay Connected
We do the virtual connects. Every Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. and every Thursday at 9:30 p.m., members have a chance to talk to their pastor like I’m talking to you. Ask questions. They come on. We have virtual villages — singles, married, men and women. Those are great communities where people are engaging and sharing stories, encouraging. Every Saturday night at 10 o’clock, our youth have a place to go and hang out with each other. So we’ve developed all these different communities in the virtual space that make the church still feel connected. Do we miss being with each other? Of course. Can’t wait to get back? Can’t wait. But at this point, we’re just making the best of this situation and keeping people safe.
We are made in the image of God, and then there is John Lewis. He was truly one-of-a-kind, a moral compass who always knew where to point us and which direction to march. To John’s family, friends, staff, and constituents, Jill and I send you our love and prayers.
Congressman John Lewis spent his life fighting racism and injustice wherever he confronted it, from boycotts, sit-ins, and other protests in the streets, to championing bold, progressive policies in Congress. #ripjohnlewispic.twitter.com/Sj3joYHWni
With the passing of John Lewis, America has lost not only a man of history, but a man for our season; O how we need such men of unwavering principle, unassailable character, penetrating purpose, and heartfelt compassion.
.@RepJohnLewis was a titan of the civil rights movement whose goodness, faith and bravery transformed our nation. Every day of his life was dedicated to bringing freedom and justice to all. pic.twitter.com/xMbfAUhLUv
As a young organizer in politics, John Lewis was an icon. He was among the first Freedom Riders at 21 years old risking his life to desegregate public transportation, was a leader in organizing his generation for Civil Rights, & spoke at the 1963 March at 23 years old pic.twitter.com/SSMCCbVmI0
John Lewis was an icon who fought with every ounce of his being to advance the cause of civil rights for all Americans. I’m devastated for his family, friends, staff—and all those whose lives he touched.
John Lewis’s impact extended far beyond America’s shores. His example inspired civil rights activists in Northern Ireland where, six years ago, he joined another remarkable John crossing the Peace Bridge in Derry. His legacy on our island is a great one. He will be sorely missed. pic.twitter.com/3L9Z1OeXmT
Hillary and I were blessed by his friendship, support and wise counsel. We’ll miss him so much, but we’ll always be grateful that he lived to see a new generation of Americans take to the streets in search of his long sought “beloved community.” https://t.co/gKDuLmUMLQ
My friend, role model, and activist extraordinaire has passed. Congressman John Lewis taught us how to be an activist. He changed the world without hate, rancor or arrogance. A rare and great man. Rest in Power and may God finally give you peace. #RIPJohnLewispic.twitter.com/uQY48LoFzx
To quote him,“every generation leaves behind a legacy. What that legacy will be is determined by the people of that generation. What legacy do you want to leave behind?” His presence in the halls of Congress and his legacy in our continuous fight for justice will be deeply missed pic.twitter.com/eoW5lA4pV1
John Lewis was the truest kind of patriot. He believed America could be better, even live up to its highest founding ideals of equality & liberty for all. He made good trouble to help us get there. Now it’s up to the rest of us to carry on his work. Rest in power, my friend. pic.twitter.com/a3gEAiMzp3