As the number of funerals mount that are linked to black males dying after encounters with white police officers, the appropriate response to promote change has become an issue. Join the marchers in the streets and take part in die-ins by lying prostrate with hands folded across the chest? Support professional athletes and others who wear T-shirts with phrases such as, “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe” on them?
What about the response of some NYPD officers, who, as they mourned two of their comrades (one Hispanic and the other Asian) assassinated by a mentally disturbed Baltimore black man simply because they wore blue, turned their backs on New York Mayor Bill de Blasio at the funerals? The officers felt de Blasio failed to support the NYPD when he shared that he has warned his biracial son to be cautious when confronted by police officers.
The merits of these passionate responses can be debated endlessly. However, the majority of people who have been deeply moved by the senseless deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY and Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu want to engage in positive and respectful actions that will lead to real change.
Mocha Moms, Inc., a support group of mothers of color, launched the #blackboysmatter social media campaign to attack what many believe is at the root of the problem – fear of black and brown males that has been fueled by decades of negative stereotyping via the media. The campaign which is active on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, began a day after the Ferguson grand jury ruled in November against indicting then-Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson (Wilson has since resigned) in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Women – mothers, wives, sisters, etc., — from across the country submitted/are submitting positive photos of their sons, husbands, brothers and so on to humanize black and brown males, particularly boys. It eclipsed 10 million impressions in less than two weeks, according to Mocha Moms.
“I literally just put an appeal out to our Mocha Moms on all of our social media resources…” said LaShaun Phillips-Martin, the organization’s national social media director who thought of the campaign. “I asked them to submit photos of their sons and husbands to change the view of how our black and brown men are being viewed across America. We were just flooded (with photos) from day one.”
The mother of two young girls, Phillips-Martin said she was frustrated by the negativity and wanted to express herself and give people a place to share their frustrations in a positive way. Among the many photos that moved Phillips-Martin, was of a toddler with his father, grandfather and great-grandfather. All of their names are “Eddie.” The caption written by the boy’s mom said that she wanted to make sure that her baby had at least the same opportunities as the men who had come before him.
Other moms post photos with captions such as, “Here’s my college graduate.” Still, other moms express their fears. One mom wrote a caption saying that she was holding her son “a little tighter” as unrest erupted in the streets of Ferguson and New York, after a Staten Island grand jury dismissed all potential charges against NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo. The officer was videotaped choking Eric Garner, an asthmatic who later died after he was heard on video gasping, “I can’t breathe… I can’t breathe.”
Social media provides a way for people to express themselves and let off steam. However, just like offline conversations at the dinner table, workplace, or church, the venting isn’t always positive or productive. For example, much has been reported about cyber bullying, or how people anonymously post rants and spew hatred during chats. But when used strategically, social media can be an extremely effective tool for galvanizing people around a cause in a productive way. According to the HuffingtonPost.com, hashtags such as, #BringBackOurGirls, #BoycottClippers and #WhyIStayed have been among the most socially impactful in 2014.
The mass media industry is among the key reasons black males are, for the most part, perceived negatively in society. In 2011, Opportunity Agenda, in three studies, observed a pattern of distorted images of African American men and boys. For example, black men are underrepresented as experts on news talk shows and overrepresented in reports on crime and poverty. If there are positive images, they are still stereotypical with Black men shown as sports and entertainment figures only. The lives of black boys are often ignored. Since Americans are inundated with negative stereotypes of black males, fears are heightened. Encounters can become unnecessarily volatile instantly, including when black and brown males encounter other black or brown males.
“I want to make sure that my girls are seeing our black and brown boys differently,” Phillips-Martin said. “They see their father, my husband, in a certain way. They see their grandfathers in a certain way and their uncles in a certain way. I want to make sure that that image that they see of all of these positive black and brown male figures in their own lives is the same way that they see all black and brown boys and men across the country… We as parents we have to make sure that we are our children’s first teachers.”
We also have a responsibility to the next generation. Recently I saw the movie “Selma,” which shows the behind the scenes work of the civil rights leaders led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A major takeaway of the film is their calculated, strategic approach that led to the successful Selma to Montgomery march that began with a bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettis Bridge. They had specific goals in mind, which were to change discriminatory laws. They succeeded. In 2015 and beyond, protests must also achieve specific, substantive goals. For example, getting police forces to reinstall community policing policies that encourage partnerships between residents and the police, or that a special outside prosecutor is brought in for all local police brutality cases. If we believe a radical change in how young black males are perceived (and perceive themselves) could prevent some senseless deaths, perhaps strategically boycotting advertisers who support media (ex: films, TV shows) that promote negative black male (and female) stereotypes would lead to more positive depictions.
The fact is that #BlackLivesMatter, #PoliceLivesMatter, #AllLivesmatter.
Some other Positive Black Male Image Websites
Is it a good idea for pastors to hold political office too?
It’s certainly not a new “separation of church and state” issue, especially here in Virginia where Thomas Jefferson drafted the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1777. The statute is the foundation of the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guarantee freedom of religion.
Ministers have been among the nation’s political leadership since its founding. However, this past Election Day as I voted, I found myself wondering about this issue of pulpits and politics. My daughter made the observation that a church hosted our polling place. What if the pastor of that church became a last minute write-in candidate on the ballot for Virginia Beach City Council, where we live? What about voters who are atheists and perhaps uncomfortable with going into churches? The issue arose again as I read an article in my local paper, The Virginian-Pilot, noting that in nearby Portsmouth, five clergy members will sit on either the City Council or School Board. This will be the most to ever serve simultaneously in the city and the highest number of clergy in elected positions in this region. One of the seven council members is a local bishop and four of the nine school board members are ministers. Is this cause for concern? The article cited at least one community member who believes it should be.
“I was just brought up to believe that pastors and politics don’t mix,” Joe Wright, a civic leader was quoted as saying. “If you’re a pastor, that’s your main concern, and I don’t think you can serve both masters.”
But why not, Joe? Isn’t the nation fed up with the political bickering that is rampant from city hall to the statehouse, to Congress and the White House? Wouldn’t moral men and women of God bring peace and govern justly and fairly over all people in a community, you know, like how they miraculously do in problem-free churches? Wouldn’t they have the wisdom to vote to protect the rights, even of those for whom they disagree with spiritually?
A recent Pew Research Center study indicates that nearly 75 percent of Americans believe religion is losing influence in America. Citizens want more religious leaders to weigh in on political issues. What better way to accomplish this than to be voted into public office, right? Well, what “the people” may want (or what members of the clergy think they should do) is not always what’s best for the church. A situation in Chicago potentially illustrates this point.
Chicago Sun-Times Columnist Mary Mitchell wrote about the church of the Rev. Corey Brooks, pastor of New Beginnings Church on Chicago’s South Side, being burglarized and robbed of $8,000 in cash from a collection box. This happened apparently after Brooks received several threats because of his endorsement of the Republican candidate for governor. The endorsement included Brooks appearing in a commercial. The race had become extremely divisive (Republican Bruce Rauner defeated incumbent Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn), and Chicago is a Black democratic stronghold. After the incident, Brooks moved his family temporarily to a safe place.
Mitchell wrote: “Yet this kind of behavior (Brooks’ aggressive political endorsement) explains why there’s been such a huge loss of respect for the black clergy. Religious leaders are supposed to serve the community, not serve up the community to politicians.”
And to think, what might have befallen Brooks and his church had he been running for office.
Brooks responded to Mitchell by saying he was merely following the tradition of Black clergy being aggressively engaged in the political process. He accused Mitchell and other critics of being blind followers of the Democratic Party. Brooks has a point, but would you rather your pastor be embroiled in a political war or leading a spiritual one?
America has a strong history of clergy engaging politics. Christians led the fight for freedom and justice and also strove against it. Leaders of the Black community typically rose through the church (and/or were business owners), and naturally moved into politics to champion policy changes to help Blacks. In the book “African American Preachers and Politics” Dennis C. Dickerson chronicles how Archibald J. Carey, Sr. and his son Archibald J. Carey, Jr., tried to navigate the troubled mix of the pulpit and politics during the mid-1900s. Ironically, also in Chicago, both men were aldermen and became political appointees to commissions. The elder Carey helped Blacks to gain civil service employment, but became embroiled in an “alleged impropriety for selling jobs.” His son was able to help many Black federal employees, but he was closely associated with then FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover who targeted the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Both Careys believed politics offered clergy the best opportunities to empower the black population,” Dickerson wrote. “Their imperfect alliances and mixed results, however, proved the complexity of combining the realms of spirituality and politics.”
In Portsmouth, Va., the Pilot article noted that the clergy member on the city council recently cast the lone vote to block a 7-Eleven store from opening on a corner near a church. Apparently the bishop disapproved of the store selling liquor. What? Deprive churchgoers from getting their morning coffee, donut and breathe mints before the 8 a.m. service? C’mon bishop!
Seriously, there is a clear difference between advocating for political justice from the outside as the Rev. King did and being an insider like say, the legendary U.S. Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Powell, pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York, rose from a community activist to New York’s first Black member of its City Council, to being one of the most influential members of the U.S. Congress from 1945 to 1971. However, towards the end of his career, in which his accomplishments include passing anti-lynching legislation, Powell was accused of mismanaging his House Education and Labor Committee budget. Powell’s colleagues stripped him of his committee chairmanship, excluded him (the U.S. Supreme Court later ruled in Powell’s favor that this was unconstitutional) effectively ending his political career. Powell resigned as pastor and retired to Puerto Rico.
Clearly members of the clergy have a right to engage in politics and run for political office. Many have been successful over the years. However, they should at least take a leave from pastoring while holding political office. Legally, clergy can speak out as individuals on political issues, but their churches cannot. Doing so puts the ministry’s tax-exempt status at risk. This is a delicate balance that a growing number of churches are tipping by participating in Pulpit Freedom Sunday. Each year churches designate a Sunday to take a stand on a political issue and dare the IRS to sue.
I agree with Peter J. Leithart, president of the Theopolis Institute who wrote recently that pastors should realize that they already serve in a public office that is vitally important to their communities and the nation.
“For good or ill, pastors will have a major role in determining the future of the church and our country, but not primarily as pastor-Congressmen,” Leithart wrote. “The future rests more with pastors who aren’t tempted to run for office, not because they want to keep their cushy curate but because they are convinced that, teaching the word, offering prayer, sprinkling water, and breaking the bread, they are already at the center of the universe.”
The down and dirty, wheeling and dealing nature of politics doesn’t bode well for members of the clergy – men and women who are charged to stand firm on the word of God. A pastor is better off being a trusted advisor to politicians in the way that the Rev. Billy Graham had been for several U.S. Presidents, and or perhaps Bishop T.D. Jakes is now. In this way, pastors can have significant influence on policy makers without getting their hands soiled – or even worse – having their souls polluted.
What do you think?
“The church should be on the frontlines to bring peace to violent neighborhoods.”
It seems like an obvious statement rooted in the Word. But when church leaders are killed in gang crossfires, church folks also adopt the code of the streets, “No snitchin.’”
“No snitchin’” is a troubling concept that says, “Why cooperate with police if it means I could be shot and killed out of retaliation? Better to just let “street justice” handle it.”
Eugene Schneeberg, Director, Center for Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships
It’s a big challenge faced by Eugene Schneeberg, director of the Center for Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships for the U.S. Department of Justice. Schneeberg (pronounced “Shnay Bor”) travels the country to encourage people of faith to fight crime, particularly gang violence. A native of Boston’s tough Roxbury section where he escaped gang violence, Schneeberg brought his message to Newport News, VA, where at least two church leaders were recently shot and killed in the city’s predominantly black and poor Southeast neighborhood. Invited by U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, Schneeberg spoke at Gethsemane Baptist Church to a group that consisted of about 30 city officials, law enforcement, and members of the clergy.
Violent crime in Newport News has decreased from 2012 to 2013, but the killing of two deacons this year has alarmed the faith community in particular. In January 71-year-old Joseph Henry Williams Jr., a deacon, was fatally shot by a stray bullet. He was caught in the crossfire between two gunmen. In April, Clinton Stonewall Jackson Sr., a 79-year-old deacon was shot to death in his car. Police say the shooter was inside of Jackson’s vehicle. Both shootings are believed to be gang-related.
Before joining the Justice Department, Schneeberg, who is an ordained minister, worked with a faith-based group in Massachusetts that focused on preventing gang violence. He told the Newport News gathering in February that he can help the church learn how to calm gang violence and get grants to fund its efforts. He touted his agency’s website for having a wealth information to assist faith-based organizations.
Schneeberg credited pastors who, instead of focusing on erecting lavish sanctuaries, build facilities that can be used by the community at large. Churches can start after school programs and advocate for prison reentry programs, he said. Churches must build bridges between the community and government officials. But mainly, church folks have to get out of the pews and into the streets to show love to young people, particularly gangbangers, he said.
“Gangs are just groups of boys trying to teach each other how to be men,” Schneeberg said, adding that he never met his own father. “If dads are not there or if there are not healthy men in the community, gangs become the next logical step.”
If young people don’t find love in a healthy way, they’ll fall for its counterfeit in unhealthy places, Schneeberg said.
“Churches can provide a neutral place where clashing teens and gangs can resolve issues,” he said. “Without a safe place they are constantly in ‘protect your turf’ mode.”
And it is this “mode” that typically leads to senseless random shootings and murders of innocent people, like the deacons in Newport News.
The church leaders were attentive to Schneeberg’s strong pitch. Pastor Beverly Ashburn of Friendship Baptist Church in Newport News asked the question on most people’s minds: How can local churches get involved without becoming targets of violence? In other words, how can the church avoid being labeled as “snitches” and the consequences that comes with that?
Schneeberg suggested churches do community events that make them highly visible, such as prayer walks.
“Presence brings crime reduction and the more visible you are the less likely they are to victimize you,” he said. The approach has worked in cities such as Lynn, MA, Fort Myers, Fl., and Baltimore, where gang violence has declined, he said.
After the meeting, Ashburn, who gave the invocation at Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s inauguration in January, said she believes churches need special training to minister specifically to gang members.
“I think you have to have training and be knowledgeable of what is the right approach,” she said. “Even though our intent may be good, a lot of people are dead because of what they simply didn’t know how to do.”
The Rev. Dr. Dwight Riddick, Sr. pastor of Gethsemane Baptist Church is also a member of the city’s task force that is addressing a strategic plan to fight gangs.
“We’ve always had communication (with the city), but it has not been clear in terms of what the church’s role is,” Riddick said. “Many churches are doing a lot of things. The question is whether what we are doing is effective. We want what we do to have impact and that most importantly lives would be changed.”
Dear 33 black law students at UCLA,
I saw the video you made Feb. 10 — apparently in honor of Black History Month – about how “stony the road” has been for you all while trying to earn your degrees.
The video is well done, has gone viral, and is apparently generating substantial sympathy from several black people and probably some whites. As somber piano music plays gently in the background, you all are shown one by one pleading your cases about how “bitter the chastening rod” has been.
“I have to plead my humanity,” one of you says.
“I feel like I’m from another country – a European Country,” says another
“A lot of pressure… A lot of weight…Feels like I don’t belong…Unwelcoming and hostile.”
“It’s so far from being a safe space, that staying at home would be better for my mental health…”
“I have to police myself.”
“I’ve never felt the burden to have to represent my community until I came to law school.”
Lonely? Pressure? Burden?
You all are enrolled in one of the most prestigious schools in the country, which means you are among the best and brightest. Most of you are hopefully preparing to enter the criminal justice system, where your black perspective is sorely needed. Certainly you are all familiar with the book, “The New Jim Crow,” where attorney Michelle Alexander shows how prison has become the new plantation for black and brown people. You witnessed George Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict in the death of Trayvon Martin. And now “stand your ground” has deadlocked a jury on whether to convict Michael Dunn of murder in the shooting death of Jordan Davis. But instead of “facing the rising sun” and marching on, you turn a video camera on yourselves and whine?
Don’t misunderstand me. I actually get where you all are coming from. You see, growing up in the late 70s and 80s in Brooklyn, NY, I went through a traumatic academic experience. I was bussed away from my black low-income neighborhood to predominantly white middle class public schools. In middle school when we “bus kids” (that’s how they labeled us) stepped out onto the streets, we faced a gauntlet of screaming mad grown white folks spewing hateful threats of death for attending their school. We bus kids had to plead our humanity. We felt that we were in another country. Our parents told us that we had better police ourselves because we were representing our entire race. And to think, we were only children.
Have you all had it so good up until now perched upon the shoulders of previous generations that have sacrificed for you that you are now rejecting your birthright? How can your feet already be weary at “the place for which our father’s sighed?”
Sorry, but you’re not facing pressure. You’re facing your duty. Pressure is sneaking into the plantation down the road to set your wife free. Pressure is going to war for America in the hopes that your death will enable generations of black children to live free. Pressure is raising five children on your own in poverty because your deadbeat husband split.
What pressured W.E.B Dubois at Harvard into becoming the first African American to earn a Ph.D.? What burdened Paul Robeson while being an all-American athlete, multitalented artist and scholar at Rutgers who went on to earn a law degree at Columbia University? What loneliness drove Jane Bolin to not only become the first African American woman to graduate from Yale Law, but the first black woman judge in the United States?
“We have come over a way that with tears has been watered
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered…”
Here’s some advice that helped me when I was “the only one” while earning a master’s degree at the University of Arizona and even now as I pursue a doctorate at Old Dominion University in Virginia. Look to the past for inspiration. Read essays by African-American Jeremiads such as Maria Stewart and David Walker. Read poems like “I too Sing America” by Langston Hughes and “We Wear the Mask,” by Paul Lawrence Dunbar. Sit down and really digest “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (a.k.a The Black National Anthem) by James Weldon Johnson, who, by the way, was also a lawyer:
“…Out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
Thou Who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou Who hast by Thy might, led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee.
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee.
Shadowed beneath Thy hand, may we forever stand,
True to our God, true to our native land.”
Finally, a defense of marriage act that may be even timelier for today’s church.
You’ve probably heard of Jacksonville-based preachers H.B. Charles, Jr., and Rudolph McKissick Jr. whose sermons against “shackin’ up” led to mass weddings at their churches.
Three of the nine couples who participated in the mass wedding. (Photo Credit: News 4 Jacksonville)
Pastor Charles of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church told his members that “Anyone who wanted to actually take the commitment of marriage seriously, we would do whatever we could to help them by sponsoring this mass wedding.” After six weeks of group counseling 14 couples tied the knot.
Bishop McKissick of Bethel Institutional Baptist Church told his flock, “You’re saying we love the Lord too much to keep living out of His will as a couple. I want you to come to the altar right now.” After weeks of counseling and with the help of volunteers such as, makeup stylists and florists, nine couples said, “I do.”
Recent talks about marriage have focused on debating the rights of same-sex couples. But these sermons are more impactful because the preachers, instead harping on what people should not do, passionately and graciously emphasized to their members, what they SHOULD do according to the Bible. The preachers then left it to the couples to decide for themselves whether to do the right thing. They also delivered resources to help make the weddings happen. But is tying the knot instead of cohabitating truly necessary for Christians these days?
Culturally, it certainly seems that cohabitation is here to stay. U.S. Census data shows that in the 1960s some 450,000 unmarried couples (Christian and non-Christian) lived together, compared to more than 7.5 million now. Why do people choose shackin’ over jumpin’ the broom? The sexual revolution and improved birth control are typical explanations, but also finances. In previous generations, particularly for women whose career options were limited primarily to working in the home, marriage was a financial safety net. Many now see cohabitating as a money issue. If two people are dating and find themselves spending most of their time together at each other’s homes, the idea of cutting two rents and cable bills down to one seems logical. Cohabitating is like being roommates with extra benefits. Couples don’t necessarily plan to shack, they slide into it.
Another reason is that couples say they’re giving their relationship a trial run. By living together you supposedly get to see what the other person is truly like, and whether you want to deal with them “until death do us part.” However, studies indicate that women tend to see shackin’ as a stepping stone to marriage, while men often see it as a way of enjoying the benefits without the commitment. Meanwhile, many who have shacked first and gotten married know first-hand that people STILL change once the rings are exchanged. Unrealistic expectations can still rise among husbands and wives. And unfortunately for many, divorce still happens even after shackin’.
Yes there are many couples who cohabitate successfully. The label of marriage CAN also increase pressure that can boil an otherwise peaceful home. These couples say that if the partnership ain’t broke don’t fix it with two rings and a certificate because that’s what friends, family and the church say to do. Since God is omnipresent, God knows whether our hearts are committed, they say.
Both Pastor Charles and Bishop McKissick stressed the importance of counseling, which is the key. Their couples underwent weeks of sessions to help them truly understand what they were getting themselves into; that marriage is not an adult version of playing house; that marriage is not merely a financial arrangement, though money is often a major issue. For the Christian, marriage should be a spiritual journey, a covenant that enlightens us to the divine nature and unity of God, Jesus, The Holy spirit and the church.
Sadly, many of us Christians lack successful marriages in this holy image because we too often did not receive quality pre-marital counseling. We fail to grasp this deeper understanding of what we’re truly engaged in. We often jump in and swim based on the models we saw from our parents (if we had two in the home) that were likely flawed. We go into marriage thinking of what we observed from other families or on TV. We get hitched for the children born out of wedlock, not realizing that we’re unequally yoked. The cliché “If you keep the Lord in the middle, everything will be alright” becomes our guide. But how do you accomplish this? Quality pre-marital counseling can help light the way.
There are several Bible verses that illustrate God’s stance on marriage and particularly Hebrews 13:4 touches on cohabitation too: “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all sexually immoral.”
So why were these couples shackin’ despite knowing what the Word says? The answer is in our own homes. We are ALL flawed. We have ALL sinned and fallen short of God’s standards. We are ALL human wrestling with the “law of sin” as articulated by Paul in Romans 7 – doing what we know we shouldn’t do. Many of the couples in the mass weddings said that they where planning to get married, but lacked money for the big ceremony that our culture says a wedding should be. For the Christian, though, the primary concern for marriage should be spiritual not carnal.
Adrian Thatcher, a religion professor at the University of Exeter, UK, urges the Christian church to return to the theological and doctrinal roots of marriage, in order to defend it as “indispensable for the regulation of sexual expression, the raising of children and the pleasing of God…”
Shout out to Pastor Charles, Bishop McKissick and the many other leaders out there who are preaching just that.