It’s no secret that the Democratic Party cannot win national elections without the black vote. Less well understood by major Democratic candidates and donors is that black voters are not a monolith. Particularly in the black church, we fall along a wide spectrum of conservative and liberal social values. Our intersections related to race and gender are complex and nuanced.
When black people say that they are tired of our votes being taken for granted, we are referring in part to this lack of understanding. Gaining our vote requires gaining more than a cursory understanding of who we are as a people. Candidates will need to be able to speak to a full range of issues and concerns and, just as importantly, feel comfortable engaging directly with a range of African American people.
Three years ago, the Black Church PAC was formed to give our historically critical voting demographic a greater voice before we go to the polls. On Friday and Saturday (Aug. 16 and 17), the PAC held its first candidate forum, with an audience of 5,000 African American Christian millennials from 42 different states at the Young Leaders Conference in Atlanta.
Seven of the top-tier candidates were invited, and five attended: Secretary Julian Castro, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sens. Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at the Black Church PAC forum during the Young Leaders Conference on Aug. 17, 2019, in Atlanta. Video screengrab
The forum not only gave candidates an opportunity to make their case for why black voters should entrust them with their vote; it tested the candidates’ ability to connect with young black churchgoers who lean in a socially conservative direction — a voting bloc that is not necessarily well acquainted with long-established Democratic politicians and that has not necessarily bought in to the traditional progressive talking points.
Candidates got a chance to address the full conference but also met with small groups of voters and engaged in spirited dialogue about critical issues ranging from gun violence and the criminal justice system to student loan debt, immigration, education, health care and reparations. These sessions tested candidates’ expertise on critical issues but also revealed how comfortable they were listening to and being challenged by those with experiences very different from their own.
During the meeting, we ran a survey of close to 800 conference attendees to gauge their opinions about the candidates and issues, in addition to gathering qualitative responses. We plan to have a briefing with candidates to share these results before we make them public, but some quick takeaways include:
Candidates who attended experienced a significant bump in their support; candidates who didn’t experienced a significant drop in their support.
Close to 10% of respondents are unfamiliar with the candidates who were listed.
The most important issues among those to take the survey: jobs/economy, gun violence, white nationalism.
A critical finding here is that most candidates have simply not broken through to young African American voters. This is alarming because, if this vital demographic is not actively engaged in selecting the eventual nominee, Democrats may end up with a nominee who fails to engage a significant voting bloc in the general election.
Sen. Cory Booker addresses the first day of the Black Church PAC presidential candidate forum at the Young Leaders Conference in Atlanta on Aug. 16, 2019. Video screengrab
Compounding this problem is the fact that Democrats have a miserable record of investing in black grassroots organizers, black community-based organizations and black political consultants, who are often best equipped to mobilize black voters.
Steve Phillips, the civil rights lawyer and founder of the website Democracy in Color, has described at great length the billion-dollar blunders Democratic and Allied Progressive groups continue to make in their political spending. The lessons to take from these unforced errors, he has said, are clear: Political spending in the Democratic ecosystem must be early, often and targeted to groups who register; and we must educate and mobilize black and brown voters, especially for turnout on Election Day.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, left, takes questions from moderators the Rev. Leah Daughtry and the Rev. Michael McBride during the Black Church PAC forum at the Young Leaders Conference on Aug. 17, 2019, in Atlanta. Video screengrab
The same kind of results could be achieved in swing states throughout the country if, rather than centering their campaigns around convincing white “Reagan Democrats” to stay blue, candidates doubled down on turning out reliably blue African American voters in places like Milwaukee, Detroit and Philadelphia.
We suspect that when candidates and their teams forgo this approach, it is because they do not have either the cultural proficiency or the willingness to make the black grassroots investments required to pull off this type of strategy. No one expects large numbers of blacks to vote for President Trump; however, operating as if African American and other voters will come out in droves simply to vote against Trump — without giving them someone who is compelling to vote for — is a risky and reckless approach.
Even within the more conservative bloc of the black church, Trump’s message is repulsive to millennials and their black elders. Unlike white evangelicals, whose support for Trump still hovers above 80%, socially conservative-leaning black church members detected very clearly the racialized rhetoric and dangerous policies of Trump and overwhelmingly do not support him. With meaningful engagement, these voters can be activated to vote for a candidate who promotes a compelling vision of belonging, justice and opportunity for all.
Through this election cycle and beyond, we will continue to give candidates opportunities to make their case and truly listen to black voters.
Presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg addresses the first day of the Black Church PAC presidential candidate forum at the Young Leaders Conference in Atlanta on Aug. 16, 2019. Video screengrab
(The Rev. Michael McBride is pastor of The Way Church in Berkeley, California, and national director of Faith in Action’s urban strategies and LIVE FREE Project. The Rev. Leah Daughtry, former CEO of the Democratic National Convention Committee, is presiding prelate-elect of The House of the Lord Churches and a founding board member of the Black Church PAC. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)
Holding pictures of migrant children who have died in U.S. custody and forming a cross with their bodies on the floor of the Russell Senate Office Building, 70 Catholics were arrested in July for obstructing a public place, which is considered a misdemeanor.
The protesters hoped that images of 90-year-old nuns and priests in clerical collars being led away in handcuffs would draw attention to their moral horror at the United States’ treatment of undocumented immigrant families.
American Catholics, like any religious group, do not fit neatly into left-right political categories.
American Christianity is more often associated with right-wing politics.
Conservative Christian groups advocating for public policies that reflect their religious beliefs have conducted extremely visible campaigns to outlaw abortion, keep gay marriage illegal and encourage study of the Bible in schools. Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, an Apostolic Christian, was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses after the U.S. legalized same-sex marriage in 2015.
But there’s always been progressive Christian activism in the United States.
So it’s not quite right to herald the “rise” of a religious left, as several think pieces have done since Christians began openly resisting Trump’s immigration enforcement and other policies. That erases the historic resistance of religious communities of color.
In the Biblical text Matthew 25, the “Son of Man” – a figure understood to be Jesus – blesses people who gave food to the hungry, cared for the sick and welcomed strangers. And in Leviticus 19:34, God commands: “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you.”
These texts help explain why support for immigrants crosses traditional left-right religious boundaries.
Connecting to politicians and interfaith cooperation
The 2020 election season has brought Christian faith-based activism into the political fore. Several Democratic presidential candidates have spoken openly about the faith-based roots of their progressivism.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren has referenced the biblical text of Matthew 25 as a touchstone for her critique of wealth inequality and insistence on universal health care.
In pushing for criminal justice reform, Sen. Cory Booker speaks about the Christian tradition of “grace.” He’s also been known to quote the Prophet Muhammad, Buddha and the Hindu god Shiva.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg is a devout churchgoer who is also gay. He says that his sexual orientation is God-given and that his marriage, in the Episcopal church, to another man, has brought him closer to God.
Talk of an emerging “religious left” is ahistoric. American Christianity has always had its liberal strains, with pastors and parishioners protesting state-sponsored injustices like slavery, segregation, the Vietnam War and mass deportation.
But the high profile, religiously based moral outrage at Trump’s immigration policies does seem to be spurring some long-overdue rethinking of what it means to be Christian in America.
Originally posted on Chalkbeat by Kathryn Palmer on July 19, 2019
Rodney Robinson will never forget how isolated he felt as one of the few black faces at his Virginia high school.
“Growing up as the smart black kid in a white school is traumatizing,” said Robinson, who was named 2019 National Teacher of the Year. He spoke to more than 200 Shelby County Schools educators and summer school students at Southwind High School earlier this week as part of a two-day districtwide training.
Robinson, who teaches social studies at the Virgie Binford Education Center, located inside the Richmond Juvenile Detention Center in Virginia, recalled how as a high schooler that trauma came to a head in the mid-1990s when a white teacher made a racially insensitive remark.
“In my anger, I turned over a desk,” Robinson told the audience who attended his presentation Tuesday.
“The teacher sent me to the assistant principal’s office,” he continued. “I was scared because the code of conduct said damage of property could result in expulsion,” said Robinson, who has written extensively about rethinking school discipline.
Robinson’s experience resonated with local school officials, who are focusing new attention on ending Memphis’ school-to-prison pipeline, or punitive discipline tactics that can lead to higher rates of incarceration, especially for black boys. In the 2017-2018 school year, Shelby County Schools issued almost 2,500 expulsions, according to district data. That’s about 300 more than in the previous year — when, according to federal data, the district already had one of the highest expulsion numbers in the country.
“I care about all 110,000 students in Shelby County Schools,” said superintendent Joris Ray in a speech ahead of Robinson’s presentation. “But this priority group [of black male students] needs us the most.” Black boys, who make up about 38 percent of the district’s more than 100,000 students, accounted for 67 percent of expulsions in the 2017-18 school year.
“Relationships are the key determinant in changing student behaviors,” Ray said after the event. “For students to succeed in school, someone has to show interest in them, and set high expectations.”
Hiring more black male teachers, who make up 9.5 percent of the district’s workforce, is critical to making that happen, Ray said. He is about to start his first full year as superintendent and said next week he will give more specifics addressing the systemic barriers that have impeded the academic achievement of black male students.
Although the problem of black male students facing suspensions and expulsions at a disproportionately higher rate than their white peers is especially prominent in Memphis, it has pervaded nearly every district, city, and state in the country for decades.
But Robinson’s story had a better outcome than those statistics suggested it would, which he attributes to having a strong, relatable mentor. The assistant principal, Wayne Lewis, was one of a handful of black authority figures working at Robinson’s school.
“I sat down in front of Dr. Lewis and he asked me ‘where are you thinking about going to [college]?’” Robinson said.
The comment surprised Robinson. He was bracing for a harsh punishment, but instead, Lewis told him about Virginia State University, where Robinson received his bachelor’s degree in history several years later.
Then, the conversation circled back to the reason Robinson was in Lewis’ office. He said he wasn’t going to suspend Robinson because “he knew I was going to go home and do something stupid. But he told me I couldn’t curse at teachers and flip over desks — no matter how upset I was — so he gave me in-school suspension instead.”
And when Robinson showed up for his in-school punishment, Lewis did, too, carrying college application materials.
“He took time to get to know every student on a personal level — black and white,” Robinson said. “He took me from a confused teenager to a confident young man. He showed me what a black man should be,” Robinson said.
Now in his 40s, Robinson said all students, especially black boys, need more culturally responsive, empathetic teachers. “Our kids are coming into our schools dealing with problems we can’t even imagine,” he said.
Although his students are already incarcerated, he suggests a four-pronged teaching approach that can be applied to teachers in any classroom, regardless of the demographic of students they serve:
Don’t put students in a box — get to know them as people.
Make learning relevant.
Create new experiences.
Be a mentor.
District leaders are already working to putting those practices into action to prevent students from ending up in a juvenile detention center like the one where Robinson works.
“Kids don’t wake up one day and end up in a situation like that,” said Angela Hargrave, director of the district’s Office of Student Equity, Enrollment and Discipline, which organized the teacher workshop.
“It starts with addressing some of the minor behaviors first,” Hargrave said. “We want to make sure our first response is about support not punishment.”
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.
SBC President J.D. Greear speaks on a panel discussion about racial reconciliation during the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention at the BJCC, June 11, 2019 in Birmingham, Ala. RNS photo by Butch Dill.
At their annual meeting, Southern Baptists re-elected their president, adopted statements on their views about major cultural issues, and discussed how to deal with sexual abuse and racial discrimination in the church.
They also brought to center stage questions about church leadership roles that are appropriate for women in the church.
North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear, who was elected Tuesday (June 11) to a second one-year term as president, had emphasized a “Gospel Above All” theme for the meeting. He said that message was linked to multicultural worship music throughout the meeting and the inclusive approach Baptists took in appointing leaders to the convention’s various committees.
“We’re not where we need to be on those things, but I believe a signal has been sent that we believe that’s where we need to go,” he said at a news conference at the conclusion of the meeting on Wednesday.
“Now it’s on us to take the right steps at the right time and to move in a way that shows that it’s not words or virtue signaling but it’s something that we mean because we believe the Bible teaches it.”
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. said that in the past, issues of diversity were usually discussed mostly in hallways among small groups of church delegates, known as messengers. At this meeting, the conversations were held on the main stage of the gathering, which drew more than 8,000 messengers.
A Wednesday panel discussion on the value of women talked about whether a woman could be pastor (no, since the SBC’s doctrine limits that role to men) and whether a woman could one day become a president of the Southern Baptist Convention (maybe, since nothing in the SBC’s governing documents precludes women from that role).
A messenger speaks to a motion during the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention at the BJCC, June 12, 2019 in Birmingham, Ala. (RNS Photo/Butch Dill)
Panelists in a Tuesday discussion on racial reconciliation addressed how the issue affects both local congregations and the larger church. A pastor on the panel mentioned how a church member left his congregation when the congregant disagreed with the minister’s support of Baptists’ vote several years ago to repudiate the Confederate flag. Another mentioned how people of color are not likely to get to executive meeting rooms until they are in the same dining rooms with influential white leaders.
“It was definitely a different convention,” said Mohler. “There were more women’s voices and, by intentionality, more voices from African Americans and others who we very much want to be a part of the future of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
“It was clearly a move in that direction, stronger than I’ve ever seen, and I welcomed it and celebrate it,” he said.
Still, McKissic was concerned about a lack of diversity in the leadership of major Southern Baptist entities. He noted that the trustee chairman of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary told messengers the search committee had considered several minority candidates when hiring a new president. But McKissic was disappointed that the board chair of the Executive Committee declined to be as forthcoming about details of its recent hiring process for a new president.
Abuse victim advocates noted the many actions Southern Baptists took on the abuse issue — including the introduction of “Caring Well” handbooks and video resources. But they still urged the convention to set up a database to help track abusers and keep them from moving from church to church.
Messengers hold up an SBC abuse handbook while taking a challenge to stop sexual abuse during the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention at the BJCC, June 12, 2019, in Birmingham, Ala. RNS photo by Butch Dill
“A clergy database must be established, documenting confessed, convicted or credibly accused abusers,” said advocate Cheryl Summers at a rally she organized outside the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex on Tuesday. “We have seen some progress, but there is a lot more work to be done.”
On Wednesday, Baptists also passed resolutions, nonbinding statements that give a sense of the views of those gathered for the annual meeting. They included:
Urging the Supreme Court to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion and celebrating “recent bipartisan gains in state legislatures that restrict abortion.”
Calling the U.S. government to make religious liberty “a top priority of American foreign policy in its engagement with North Korea and China.”
Recognizing critical race theory and intersectionality as “analytical tools” but repudiating their misuse.
Urging the president and Congress to not include women in the Selective Service military registration, “which would be to act against the plain testimony of Scripture and nature.”
Affirming their “commitment to Christ comes before commitment to any political party.”
Pope Francis has deemed the first known black Roman Catholic priest in the United States to be “venerable,” positioning the former slave for possible sainthood.
The pontiff’s designation of the Rev. Augustine Tolton as venerable, meaning the church intensely scrutinized his life and recognizes it as one of “heroic virtue,” puts Tolton two steps away from possible canonization, the Diocese of Springfield explained in announcing the designation.
Born to a Missouri slave in 1854, Tolton, his mother and two siblings, with help from Union soldiers, eluded Confederate guns and escaped across the Mississippi River into Illinois in 1862, settling in Quincy, a river city about 110 miles (177 kilometers) northwest of St. Louis.
Baptized a Catholic, the faith of his family’s Missouri owners, Tolton studied for the priesthood in Rome because his race precluded his acceptance to a U.S. seminary.
“Father Tolton’s story, from slave to priest, is an incredible journey that shows how God has a plan for all of us,” Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of the Springfield Diocese said in a statement. “Father Tolton overcame the odds of slavery, prejudice and racism … (and) carried his crosses in life quietly and heroically.”
Work continues on Tolton’s history. If a miracle can be attributed to his ministry, the pope may declare him “blessed.” A second miracle would make him eligible for sainthood. The Springfield Diocese, which includes Quincy, and the Archdiocese of Chicago, where Tolton ministered to the poor before dying at 43 in 1897, have been working on his canonization since 2003.
Michael Patrick Murphy, director of Catholic Studies for Loyola University Chicago’s Department of Theology, said for Tolton to move from “Servant of God” in 2011 to “venerable” just eight years later indicates the seriousness of the church’s review. Reaching the “venerable” stage “kicks the machine into gear” as researchers search for miracles, a weighty and fact-reliant process, he said.
“Miracles by definition interrupt the laws of nature,” Murphy said. “But there are such strenuous, intellectual processes that are so normative- and so protocol-driven that there can’t be a retroactive, ‘Let’s make this happen’ type-of-thing.”
Tolton assumed he would work in Africa, but once ordained at age 31, he was sent back to Quincy. A biographer recounted Tolton’s conversation with another cleric shortly before departing in which he wondered whether America deserved being called by many the world’s most enlightened nation. “If America has not yet seen a black priest,” Tolton said, “it must see one now.”
He endured three years of racism in Quincy before “Good Father Gus” moved to Chicago. He is buried in Quincy.
Paprocki said the diocese is exploring establishing a shrine to Tolton, perhaps in a now-closed Quincy church.
“From slave to priest. That’s an amazing American story,” Murphy said. “He went from having lived amid the greatest sin in American culture to being a minister that would address that kind of moral crime, a fully scoped life. Prisoner to liberator.”
Chicago-based curator and Threewalls Executive Director Jeffreen M. Hayes’ exhibition AFRICOBRA: Nation Time has been selected as an official Collateral Event of the historic Biennale Arte 2019 in Venice (May 11 – November 24, 2019). The exhibition, which heralds the eponymous collective of young Black artists working in 1960’s Chicago, debuted at the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami in December of 2018, and will be on view in Venice (Ca’ Faccanon, San Marco, 5016 [Poste Centrali]) through the duration of the Biennale Arte 2019 from May 11 – November 24. Hayes’ recent independent curatorial work includes participating in a panel on disrupting systems at the 13th Havana Biennial (April 12 – May 12, 2019), and the curation of Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman, an exhibition on view at the Cummer Museum in Jacksonville, Florida through April 7, 2019.
“The opportunity to bring the work of the AFRICOBRA collective to this historic and global stage is an honor I do not take lightly,” said Hayes. “Bringing forward the histories and cultural significances of artists from the African Diaspora is a personal mission, and recognition of this mission from art institutions worldwide is an incredible step for each artist whose story will finally be told.”
Image of Jeffreen Hayes by Milo Bosh
AFRICOBRA: Nation Time’s exhibition at Biennale Arte 2019, presented by bardoLA, is the first time the work of this vital, definitive and historic Black Arts collective has been celebrated by global audiences on this scale. Hayes features more than 40 works by members of the collective, along with historic documentation and archival photographs in this large-scale exhibition. AFRICOBRA was founded on the South Side of Chicago in 1968 by a collective of young Black artists, whose interest in Transnational Black Aesthetics led them to create one of the most distinctive visual voices in 20th-century American art. The key characteristics to what we now consider the classic AFRICOBRA look—vibrant, “cool-ade” colors, bold text, shine and positive images of Black people —were essential to everyday life in the community from which this movement emerged. The five AFRICOBRA founders—Jeff Donaldson, Wadsworth Jarrell, Jae Jarrell, Barbara Jones-Hogu and Gerald Williams—understood the potential power visual art has to communicate deep meaning on multiple registers. Their collective impact helped establish the visual voice of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 70s. The exhibition debuted in December of 2018 at Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami. For more information on Biennale Arte 2019 Collateral Events, click here.
In addition to the upcoming inclusion in the Biennale Arte 2019, Hayes’ recent independent curatorial projects include speaking in a panel during the 13th Havana Biennial, which takes place April 12 – May 12, 2019. In the conversation, titled Curating In and Out of the Institutional Frame, Hayes will share her strategies for presenting curatorial work with different types of art institutions while expanding the art historical narrative and dismantling systemic exclusion of artists of the African Diaspora. The panel will be in conversation with Mark Scala, Chief Curator at the Frist Art Museum; Grace Aneiza Ali, Assistant Professor at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University; and independent curator Helga Montalván. The panel will take place on April 16 at 10 am in Matanzas.
Another significant exhibition curated by Hayes, Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman, is currently on view at the Cummer Museum in Jacksonville, Florida through April 7, 2019. The exhibition reassesses artist Augusta Savage’s contributions to art and cultural history through the lens of the artist-activist. Savage (1892-1962) overcame poverty, racism and sexual discrimination to become one of the most influential American artists of the 20th century, playing a pivotal role in the development of some of this country’s most celebrated artists, including William Artis, Romare Bearden, Gwendolyn Bennett, Robert Blackburn, Gwendolyn Knight, Jacob Lawrence and Norman Lewis. Hayes brings together nearly 80 works from 21 national public and private lenders, presenting Savage’s small- and medium-size sculptures in bronze and other media alongside works by artists she mentored. The exhibition will travel nationally to the New-York Historical Society, the Palmer Museum of Art at Pennsylvania State University and the Dixon Gallery & Gardens (Memphis). For more information on the exhibition, click here.
About Jeffreen Hayes
Curator Jeffreen M. Hayes earned a Ph.D. in American Studies from the College of William and Mary, a Master of Arts in Art History from Howard University, and a Bachelor of Arts in Humanities from Florida International University. She is currently the Executive Director of Threewalls in Chicago and has previously worked at the Birmingham Museum of Art, Hampton University Art Museum, the Library of Congress and the National Gallery of Art. Her curatorial projects include “Intimate Interiors” (2012), “Etched in Collective History” (2013), “SILOS” (2016), “Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman” (2018), and “Process” (2019). She was a guest curator for Artpace San Antonio’s International Artist in Residence Program from May–August 2018. She is also a TEDx speaker and spoke about “Arts Activism in Simple Steps” in Fall 2018.
Threewalls was founded in 2003 to provide support and visibility for the visual arts community in Chicago. The founders wanted to encourage a greater awareness of Chicago’s art scene by inviting emerging professional artists to share in the city’s rich histories, resources and creative communities. Over the past fifteen years, Threewalls has been a center for artist-focused programming, critical writing, and direct support for artist projects. Threewalls hosts artists interested in working in and with diverse Chicago communities through their RaD Lab program; supports interactive work by local and regional artists in Outside the Walls; and programs salons to generate open dialogue, the presentation of new ideas and the publication of new writing. Threewalls partners with other organizations on exhibitions, publications, and education programs in an effort to broaden and contribute to the contemporary visual arts. For more information about Threewalls, visit three-walls.org/.