RESPECT: An Interview with Jennifer Hudson

RESPECT: An Interview with Jennifer Hudson

RESPECT is the film adaptation of the life story of Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul. Aretha Franklin is known by many as the one of the greatest singers  and artists who ever lived. Her career spanned decades, crossed and dominated multiple genres, and garnered the most prestigious awards and honors. Her personal life was deeply complex, but her ability to articulate the depth of human experiences through music could not be clearer.  RESPECT tells the story of Aretha Franklin’s journey of faith and finding her voice. UrbanFaith sat down with Jennifer Hudson, the star of the film who portrays Ms. Franklin to discuss the themes of faith, Gospel, and how to find our voices from the film. Full audio interview is linked above, the text of the interview below has been edited for clarity.

Allen
My first question for you after seeing the movie is about faith. Of course, it has so much faith in it. And a lot of the movie is about Aretha’s faith. What role did you see faith playing in that movie, and in your work with it?

Jennifer
Oh, it was mandatory. So that was the main thing, I was determined to make sure this was present. If my executive producer credit counts for anything, if I could add one thing, it was the Gospel. and I was like, we got to have a Gospel, you gotta have a thing. You gotta have faith. I don’t care what she’s singing or what’s happened in her life, THAT has always got to be present. It’s the same for me as well. For Aretha as well as for me.

 

Allen

And it seemed like it was really well presented as a story of redemption, you know? And why do you think that’s important for people to see, especially in a time like this, where there’s so much chaos, to hear these stories of hope out of that?

Jennifer

I think it’s even more impactful and powerful when it comes from someone like a legend and icon. But people don’t think that they go through real life things. And I look at it almost as if this is kind of like her testimony in a way; to see her struggle, go through life, be human, and still prevail. That’s a testimony. You know what I mean? And it inspired me. Yeah. And I think it would inspire so many others, because it’s to me misleading to let people think you just get what you want, or nothing’s going to happen, you’re not going to face anything. So when you get to see the life, the human, the person, you know, it kind of puts it in perspective, you know, and I don’t know how anyone would not find that inspiring.

(ctr) Marlon Wayans stars as Ted White and Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin in RESPECT A Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film Photo credit: Quantrell D. Colbert

Allen

Yeah, I really appreciated how complex all the characters were. I mean, you did a phenomenal job bringing Aretha and all her complexity out. But I thought that was the case across the board for the cast, how did you prepare to try to embody all that complexity over years? 

Jennifer

That was another challenge, because it’s kind of overwhelming. When you think of Aretha, like she has decades and decades of a career. And it’s like, just trying to condense the music alone, eight albums before a hit. Okay? That’s one thing. Then you think of the life. Then you think of the people that were in her life. Then you think about what was going on in her life. What part of the story do you tell? But I think that was more of a challenge for Tracy, and the writer, I’m like, how are they gonna be able to… I don’t want to say condense…but get it all in? Because it’s such a powerful story in every capacity. 

 

Allen

And it did tell this story that ended with Gospel that began with Gospel and her relationship with the church. What is some good news that you feel like the world needs from this film? 

Jennifer

Um, I would say… my God, there are so many things. If I had to narrow it down to one, what would it be? I was gonna go to the base of her trusting her voice, and finding your own [voice], because it wasn’t until she owned hers, that we got our Queen of Soul. You know, to me, if we all took the time to do that within ourselves; what’s in there? [What’s] here to share with the world as our gifts? You know what I mean? So it makes you kind of want to relook at yourself. At least for me, it did. And encouraged me to want to…trust my own voice, path, experiences, and it shows things  will prepare you for [what’s] next. But I kind of see things differently from everyone else. But I do think there’s something in [the movie] for whoever the viewer is, it’s just a matter of what you need, what you’re looking for. 

 

Allen

Finding Her voice was something that really stood out to me as she had to deal with so many people trying to control her voice. And I want to know,  what advice would you give to a young person young woman or a young adult about how to find their voice?

 

Jennifer

Wow. One, not to give it away. Because that can happen. And I think we take our voice for granted. And what I mean by that, is you may have a voice, but are you using it?

You know? And to me, that’s the trickiest part. Because yes, I have a voice. But is it telling my story? It should tell your story. It’s should speak of your experiences. We all have a story to tell. And we can only tell that story through our voice. So that’s what I mean by don’t give it away. Because it can happen unconsciously. It’s like, when I speak what am I speaking for myself? Am I speaking from my truth? Am I speaking from my experiences? Or am I going through the motions of what someone else would have me to do? And you could get confused by that by using your… the sound of your voice. But are you speaking for yourself?  That’s when it gets tricky.

Jennifer Hudson stars as Aretha Franklin and Forest Whitaker as her father C.L. Franklin in RESPECT A Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film Photo credit: Quantrell D. Colbert

Allen

It does. One of the things that I appreciate, though, is that she had to figure out that people were for her. I want to know, how is it that the community has helped shape you, as you’ve taken this on?

 Jennifer

Oh, my God…wow, that’s a good question. It’s been a… it’s been what is needed to be when it’s needed to be that. You know what I mean? When I need a push it’s there, like right now [there’s] so much love. So much support even when I don’t see things the way…it appears? That encouragement is there. That support is there, that I love is there, which is needed right now.  Or when times are down. There are people are like, come on, keep going, keep pushing. So it varies depending on the situation. But [there are things that are there ] to teach you tough lessons, too. So again, it varies.

 

Allen

Absolutely. And so again, a last word for any young adult, especially young adult faith, trying to figure out how can they get to success. You’ve accomplished so much. What is the advice that you would give trying to figure out how to be successful? 

Jennifer

Well, one, no one knows your potential the way you do. And if people don’t see your dream and your vision, it’s only because they don’t dream as big as you do. And nothing is JUST that. [People say] “oh, that’s just this, this just that.” Well, honey, just singing the tribute got me right here today. You know what I’m saying? So I’m trusting that. And if you keep at something, it has no choice but to give. And NEVER…this is what I told myself after Idol  before Dreamgirls.  After I was eliminated from American Idol…and I really want to share this with this community. When I started out, I was like “I’m gonna win.” And people were like, “Well, what if you don’t? What if you don’t win?” So I started believing them.

And that’s when I started to say, “I’m gonna do it for the experience.”  And I let them talk me out of my faith. I let them interrupt that faith. So when Dreamgirls comes around and someone wants to say something that wasn’t in my train of thought I said, “No, I will not interrupt my faith. This is mine and I’m sticking with it.” And I learned that lesson. That’s what I mean by nothing is “just.” So even when it’s an experience that didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to [turn out]…it can still prepare you for the next thing. Because by the time the Dreamgirls opportunity rolled around, I learned from that experience. Allowing people to interrupt my faith? No, no. That’s what went wrong the last time! [Instead I said] I’m ready God, I believe it, I accept it. I’m not concerned with what [anyone else] got to say and [they] will not interrupt my faith. Don’t allow someone to interrupt your faith. I want to leave it with that. 

Allen

Thank you so much!

Jennifer

Thank you for having me!

Big, Bold, & Beautiful: An Interview with Kierra Sheard-Kelly

Big, Bold, & Beautiful: An Interview with Kierra Sheard-Kelly

UrbanFaith Editor, Allen Reynolds, sat down with Gospel artist, entrepreneur, and new author Kierra Sheard-Kelly to talk about her new book Big, Bold, & Beautiful: Owning the Woman God Made You to BeThe book shares Kierra’s experience, wisdom, prayers, and insights in conversation with her faith as she has journeyed from being a young woman to adulthood. Her book is available everywhere books are sold and can be found here. The full video interview is above and excerpts are printed below which have been edited for clarity.

 

Allen

Good morning, everyone. Again, this is another awesome opportunity for UrbanFaith. We are excited to have with us today an absolute gem in Christian life, gospel music, and just our space. It’s an honor to have Mrs. Kierra Sheard-Kelly with us. We’ll be able to talk to her about her new book called Big, Bold, and Beautiful: Owning the Woman God Made You to Be. It’s an exciting opportunity for us.

So I know that you just have so many things that you’re doing. I mean, what a year for you. To be an artist, an actress, and you have gotten married–you just have so much going on in your life. What made you decide to take these thoughts and share them in a book, as opposed to sharing your message some other way?

Kierra

Yeah, well, first, thank you, Allen, for that warm introduction and the warm welcome. Why did I want to put it in a book? Actually, I’ll say this: it was unintentional. The book was unintentional. This was really a God thing. For me, I was only journaling as a form of therapy, just my way of life. That was my way of seeking the Lord: diving into Scripture, studying Scripture, and learning the depths of what I was reading. And it came out this way.

I find myself just kind of getting answers when I write down things. Sometimes you have a whole bunch of things going through your mind. And so I’ve just trained myself to not miss those moments. Because we believe the God we serve is a Spirit. So sometimes He’ll communicate from within. So that’s literally what I did. And I said, I want to share this with the world. HarperCollins Zondervan gave me the opportunity. And it was an opportunity that was in an email account that I hadn’t been checking. And something told me to check this email–it had to be the Lord. And so now they’ve given me this opportunity to share my story and my therapeutic process that just so happens to have some answers. All along, God had been writing a book through me, and I didn’t know it. So that’s really how it came about. And then I was just able to show [my life from] being single to dating to becoming a wife. We will see if there’s another book that I got to share with y’all.

 

Allen

Wow, for you to be able to take what God was downloading over time and turn it into the book is phenomenal. So you just brought up that journey that you took from dating to singleness to being a married person. And of course, there are a whole lot of young women thinking and wrestling with that, so what would you say helped you prepare to become a married person? Now, on the other side of that journey, which of those lessons was really key?

Kierra

That’s such a great question. It was learning to just be me, learning how to live with just myself. When you’re able to live with yourself, then that means that you’re compatible. But when you have a problem with yourself all of the time, and it’s always something to do or something to fix, you can’t be still. That is what I had to learn about myself. And [if that’s you], you’re gonna make it hard for anybody to live with you. It was also the conversations with my mother and my grandmother. I spoke about them in the first chapter.

I think, just taking trips on my own, not waiting on anyone–of course, being safe–but not waiting on a man or putting all of it on a man if he’s there or not. And that’s not me being a man basher or anything like that. But it is me just saying that I had to learn to become secure with myself and with the Lord.

God will mold you into this proverbial woman so you’re able to build your home, you’re able to be a companion, you’re able to know when to stop talking. Like this morning, I wanted to respond a few times with something to say to my husband, but I just let him have the last say. I’ve learned to submit or to hold your tongue. It doesn’t make you weak–it actually makes you very strong. It’s almost like strength behind the veil.

So those are some things that I had to learn while I was in my single space. But also, establishing the things that God has called me to do is the long, long answer, and I could go on and on about the preparation that got me to this point. But I can say in a nutshell, it was me just being and trusting God in that process. And then I developed into this woman who could be a wife.

But enjoy. I enjoyed my days, and I had a good time. You know what I’m saying? I even played the game. My Nana told me “Baby, you can date.” Even my dad said, “Don’t put down makeup.” That’s one thing. And I said it in the book. Don’t make a boyfriend a husband if it’s temporary. Don’t try and make a lifetime thing out of that if he’s not in agreement with you. And that was a mistake that I was making, which caused a lot of heartache and heartbreak. So those are some things that I did to prepare.

 

Allen

Well, the presence of [mentors] in our lives makes such a difference. And that’s such a theme that you came back to in your book, talking about how to choose the people around you wisely. And I just kept hearing boundaries. What is one of those key ways that you can distinguish or discern how to draw that boundary?

Kierra

I had to learn that at a young age, because I couldn’t do what a lot of my friends wanted to do. And I’m sure a lot of us can relate to this–especially as believers–when we’re growing from high school to college, college to grad school, or just college and out. There are some sifting seasons that we go through naturally in every season. And I like to acknowledge the fall season because the leaves have to fall for the new to come. But after fall, there’s a cold season. So I’d like to highlight the fact that it’s not always the summer of everyone’s life. I mean, I know there’s Cali and I know that there is Florida, but you have earthquakes and tornadoes and hurricanes there. So there are some challenges that we have to go through.

But to answer your question directly, I think the way is to acknowledge that boundaries is a part of our reality, both naturally and spiritually. And when you see those signs, don’t ignore the red flags. I’ve had a tendency to ignore the red flags because I wanted to be a loyalist, but there’s a way to be loyal and to learn to compartmentalize relationships. And that’s what I’ve had to learn to do. Because if I can’t exist with people, then I won’t know how to exist in heaven, because I’m not the only one who’s going to heaven.

So that’s how I see it: how can I love people, but re-adjust and say: okay, you know what? This relationship has depth to it, but that relationship is one where we can go to lunch and just laugh, but we don’t need to go no deeper than that. And if there is a moment, I go by God’s leading when He’s authorizing me to go a little deeper.

So  I think designing is just having that on, and not ignoring what you feel. There was a chapter that I was going to write in the book, and it was called “The Vibes You Feel,” but we took it out. I don’t know if that’s a book that the Lord is having me to wait on. But we call them vibes. Now in the church, they call them a spirit. And in the street, they call it something else. So I think it really is, when you feel something, understand that it’s the Holy Spirit helping you to navigate through life. He’ll be a GPS for you. And if that is a roadblock, then acknowledge that. I hope that answers your question.

 

Allen

Absolutely. I think that answered a lot of things, and it brought up another good question for me. I know you’re getting your master’s degree in clinical psychology, which is just amazing that you’re doing that kind of work. What are some of the ways, and why is it important for us to maintain good mental health? Whether we’re successful or whether we’re at our low points–a lot of people think it’s only in low times that we need to be concerned. But really, you’ve made it a holistic thing in this book. So why is it important to you to maintain good mental health?

Kierra

It’s so important because first the Bible mentions it. Whenever the Word mentions something, I’m like, “Alright God.” I take it [because] it’s almost like He’s speaking to me. And there’s a Scripture that we often highlight the latter part of the clause, where it says the prayers of the righteous availeth much, but before that, it says, confess your faults one to another, that you may receive healing. Then it says, the prayers of the righteous availeth much.

When I broke down that Scripture, it was letting me know that confession is a form of therapy. You’re confessing your issues, you’re confessing your challenges, the things that may lodge in your mind–confess those things. And then it says, as you confess them, you’ll receive healing. So sometimes talking about these things and really dealing with them with a valid person, if I can say it that way, because it says the prayers of the righteous. So I like to use that as identifying a therapist, because the Bible also authorizes physicians–people who have studied the science. So, seek professional help. But maybe you’re seeking professional help from someone who has a faith-based background.  They will tell you that you need to pray about this, or that’s a spirit you’re struggling with versus a mental disorder you’re struggling with. But I think it’s so important, because the Bible also talks about the emotions that have an effect on our body like jealousy.

So the Lord lets us know that these emotions that have to do with our mental housing can eventually wear and tear on our bodies. And it can overflow into our lives with how we treat people. When we’re tired, some of us get antsy, and we get snappy. We’ll say things with our tongue, because the Bible talks about how the tongue can be like a fire that just hits a tree and it sets a forest on fire. I think it all goes back to mental health.

And then I think, if the Lord speaks to us, and He’s an invisible being, and if your mind is always clouded, and you’re not there mentally, then your judgment and your discernment can be clouded. So that’s why mental health is everything to me, because the enemy will use that against us. And [the enemy] can just weigh us down and keep throwing stuff at us to where we’ll become more anxious. The Bible talks about being anxious for nothing. So if the Word is speaking about it, then I think it’s something that we should pay attention to. And that’s why it drives me. I also have family members who have wrestled or struggled with mental health. So that’s [another reason] why I’m an advocate of mental health. I could go on and on and on.

Allen

Yeah, and I love how you connect your faith in the Scriptures to that, because so many people don’t get to hear that we read the Bible, and we may not see it, or we may not hear it spoken about enough. But it’s living in you, and you talked about that so much in this book. And so one of the things that I really like about the book is that in each chapter, you had those Scriptures and those prayers. Why did you decide to do that?

Kierra

In the dedication, I said something like, I hope that this book blesses other people [like] the book Nana gave me did for me. And that book was Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life, which she gave me when I was 18 or 19. I read it at least two or three times, and it just changed my life. It transformed my way of hearing, listening, living. And [because of it] when I went to Bible study, I was more attentive to what my father was teaching. So me seeing what that book did for me [inspired me]. And it has Scriptures in there. I don’t remember if it has prayers in there, but I was happy to dive in deeper into God’s word and really elevate in my relationship with the Lord.

So that’s why I wanted to put those in here. Because we think that, as you mentioned, we think there’s a disconnect when it comes to the faith way of living [versus the practical way of living]. And it ties in together, So that’s why I wanted to give Scriptures, because sometimes we don’t know where to start. We don’t know how to tie these Scriptures to our everyday life. And I wanted to give basically a dose of what my father, Bishop J. Drew Sheard, gives me in a week–and I wanted to give a dose of what I got from Pastor Rick Warren. And then I wanted to give a dose of the home girl approach that I get from my mother, my Nana, and my home girls. So that’s why I wanted to give that, because I felt like it was more digestible.

 

Allen

Yeah. And I think that one of the impacts that it has, as I was reading through, is that it helped us to ground ourselves–not only in who God is–but to see your groundedness. You’re not just up somewhere in a tower sitting there reading your Bible, but you’re living this thing–you’re living out God’s word. And so I want to know, what’s one of the most important memories that you have as you navigated? What are your favorite memories that you have from this book, or that you shared? Something that you had to overcome, or something that really struck you?

Kierra

I think one of the challenges that I had to navigate–and I spoke about it, I don’t remember what chapter it was – was being young in the recording industry. They only wanted to take pictures from the waist up. And I was like, you know, I want to show who I am. There’s no such thing as me being a big girl and still being fly. And I was younger, but I was also bigger. I think even talking about the experiences with former relationships, where the first thing that they could do was call me a “fat B” or just go like ham with names and words.

The Lord just assured me and had me to see if that’s all you have on me–my  look– then I have a reason to celebrate myself. You have nothing to say about my character. And we forget to celebrate those beautiful parts of ourselves, because the world is so locked in and zoned in on what you look like externally. But how do you look internally?

I think that even goes back to the mental health piece. There’s a peace that I have about myself now that no man can move or shake. And that’s not just speaking to men, but that’s man as in humanity in general. I used to be ready to go off, and now I’m just ready to move differently. Like, my father taught me something. He said, Kierra, if people can get you to step outside of yourself, and to step out of what you really want to give in that moment, then they have control of you. And I was like, oh, then that means I don’t have control of myself. So those are some things that I had to get over. Whether people say you are beautiful or not, how will you live your life?

And then me learning to speak up for myself. Like, when they would say, oh, you’re going to just get pictures from the waist up, I had to eventually say, No. I want a full body shot. This is who I am. And it was a challenge. But out of that challenge came peace, security and audacity. And I think that that is so important for us to have, especially because the enemy will use any and everything against you. And if you’re operating with a spirit of timidity, he’ll walk all over you. You’ll just be somewhere stuck in the dark and that’s it. But I made it up in my mind, like, no, yeah, I’m not gonna do that to me, period. That’s it. So that’s the challenge that I had to get over.

 

Allen

Absolutely. And you know, we’re talking so much to young people and young women, especially, [as well as] young men. I as a man was just impacted. I have three daughters, and I’m just thinking about the lessons that they can learn from this book and from your work. And I want to know, what is a message, what’s a takeaway that you would want to pass down for those younger generations and even the young girls?

Kierra

Man, it is to stand up for yourself, but remain a student [of] who you can trust  and know that the village is not just for the child, the villages for you, too. So don’t get so grown for your own good to the point where you can’t listen to anyone. In the Bible it says that there is safety in the multitude of counselors. I think I flipped it, but you get what I’m saying. And I think it is so important that we bask in that part. The Lord speaks through people, and the enemy uses people also. So I would tell them to not be too grown for their own good, because even the Word says that in order to enter into the kingdom, you have to take on the disposition in the heart of a child. [A child’s heart is] innocent, but if I know it all, “can’t nobody tell you nothing.” They can’t even tell you the truth about yourself, because you’re just always on the defense. So that’s what I would tell a young woman.

And I would tell her, “You’re beautiful, and a relationship does not validate that.” A relationship does not give you your identity. You go with your identity to that relationship, and you empower it. You make it into what you want it to be. But I would also encourage young women [by saying] that whoever you connect with is almost a preview of your life. You know, your conversations are almost a preview of your life. So don’t waste so much time. But listen. There are some things that I wish I had listened to that my parents told me as I look [back on] it now. And it’s like golly, I could have saved so much time and so much money. So those are some things that I would tell young women.

 

Allen

Wow. So, this is your opportunity. Is there anything else you want to leave with our audience, Christian young adults all over the country and across the world? Is there any last thought that you want to share from this book or your work? We want to hear from you.

Kierra

Yeah, I would like to say, as young believers, we kind of feel like outcasts. But remember that we’re living for life after this one. And I know, it can be hard. I know it can be a challenge, especially if we’re single. And [if] we’re, you know, dating and if he’s fine, if she’s beautiful, I’m sure we can get [tempted], I understand. But I want to encourage you that there’s more to life than just that moment. And remember, our goal is to make the Lord smile. So do what you need to do to uphold your standard, to say no. Not just in those sensual moments, but even saying no for your sanity. Like, I’m not even gonna deal with this. I can’t deal with it. You can’t afford to deal with it.

So I’ll stop there. But really download what heaven is saying to do with your life, because tomorrow isn’t promised. And I think when we get that understanding that the carnal man doesn’t understand what the spiritual man understands. I think there’s more to life than bliss, if you understand what I’m saying. So hopefully, that is something.

Don’t Drop The Mic: An Interview With Bishop T.D. Jakes

Don’t Drop The Mic: An Interview With Bishop T.D. Jakes

As we navigate change in our world caused by the pandemic, social, economic, and governmental transformation, wisdom of all types is necessary. Leaders are trying to find new ways to engage those they lead  and everyone is working to communicate more effectively in our dynamic moment.

UrbanFaith sat down with one of the most influential leaders in the world, Bishop T.D. Jakes who has seized the opportunity to share his insight and experience on how to remain faithful to our purpose as we communicate in our dynamic context. In his new book Don’t Drop the Mic  he shares his wisdom on how to faithfully communicate regardless of the audience. It has been called one of Bishop Jakes’ best books as he explores clear and effective communication in our everyday lives and on the world’s biggest platforms. Bishop Jakes has led a megachurch with tens of thousands of members, The Potter’s House for decades, become an entrepreneur, filmmaker, talk show host, producer, and raise his children without dropping the mic. Two of his children are now successful pastors in his ministry network, Sarah Jakes Roberts and Cora Jakes Coleman. This book explores how he stayed true to his message while adapting his method through the years.  Full interview is linked above.

 

Just Pray: An Interview with Pastor John Hannah

Just Pray: An Interview with Pastor John Hannah

Have you ever looked at your life and wondered how your needs would be met this week? Have you been in need of advice and not known where to turn? Have you ever wondered what your purpose is? How can you grow in your relationship with God?

The answer to all these questions is prayer. Many of us want to pray, but struggle to figure out how to pray which is the reason why Pastor John Hannah wrote his book: Just Pray: How a Life of Prayer Grows Unshakeable Faith which is now available everywhere and can be found here. UrbanFaith interviewed Pastor John Hannah about his new book Just Pray: How A Life Of Prayer Grows Unshakeable Faith. The full interview is linked above.

Prayer is a foundational part of every Christian’s life, it is literally the way we communicate with God. As we desire to grow in our relationship with God, we must learn how to pray in ways that are powerful and practical. Pastor Hannah leads prayer calls weekly with thousands of people, has spoken and taught on the subject of prayer for decades, and has decided to share his insights on why and how we can grow in our prayer life as foundational to a life of faith through this book.

About Pastor John Hannah

John F. Hannah is the founder and lead pastor of New Life Covenant Church Southeast. A speaker and author, he has impacted thousands of lives through his ministry and dedication to serve. Through his focused desire to teach people how to grow their relationship with God, Pastor Hannah has become renowned for his commitment to prayer. Because of his heart for people, Hannah has traveled the globe speaking in regions of Jiji, Australia, and South Africa and even shared multiple media and conference platforms with acclaimed faith-based leaders Bishop T.D. Jakes and Steve Harvey. He has been married to Anna Hannah for over twenty-five years.

Cooking Up Success In Community: An Interview with Chef Q

Cooking Up Success In Community: An Interview with Chef Q

During the COVID-19 pandemic many people faced homelessness, hunger, and loss as a result of the coronavirus and related shut-downs. But one newly opened restaurant outside Sacramento, California was able not only to survive the pandemic, but thrive and help others survive in the midst of it.

UrbanFaith sat down with Chef Q who is the Executive Chef & Owner of Q1227 restaurant outside of Sacramento as he shared his recipe not only to survive, but thrive as an restauranteur, person of faith, and community catalyst in the midst of the pandemic. His restaurant was able to feed over 40,000 homeless and in need families in 2020 and he has made his restaurant one of the most impactful and successful institutions in his community. The full interview is above.

Remembering the Black Wall Street Massacre

Remembering the Black Wall Street Massacre

Black Wall Street

Our rural and urban Black communities deserve better. Take the stories and biblical connections in
Building a City on a Hill and use them to make a difference.

On May 30th, 1921, in Greenwood, Oklahoma, a blood-thirsty mob burned down a wealthy and prosperous Black community because of a false accusation.

Tulsa’s north side was a prosperous community, exclusively Black because Jim Crow law had prohibited Negroes from living in white neighborhoods, where it was said more than 3,000 Klu Klux Klan members resided in the area. At that time, there were countless all-Black communities like Greenwood scattered throughout the US. 60 in Oklahoma territory alone. Greenwood, however, was the jewel of Negro America. Though white Tulsan’s called it Little Africa, Booker T. Washington gave it the name we know today, Black Wall Street. And it was the wealthiest Black community in America where Black men and women came to pursue the American dream. It boasted Black-owned banks, pharmacies, grocery stores, movie theaters, restaurants, churches, newspaper publishing, law offices, a bus company, its own school district where the average student wore a uniform with a suit and tie, a business college, a hospital with an entire Black staff and an internationally acclaimed surgeon, Black millionaires, which Greenwood was known to have had more millionaires residing there than the entire United States combined.

One of the only two airports in the state of Oklahoma was for the half dozen private airplanes owned by its Black oil tycoons. To top it off, the minimum wage and living standard of a resident of Black Wall Street far exceeded Tulsa’s average white citizen, but on May 30th, 1921, all that changed. Dick Rowland, a shoeshine boy, entered the Drexel building elevator to use only a few colored bathrooms in downtown Tulsa. On the top floor, Sarah Page, a 17-year-old white elevator operator, began operating the elevator when it lurched, causing Rowland to stumble. He bumped into Sarah, and she screamed. Rowland knew what Frederick Douglass had penned as the truth regarding the treatment of Black men in America. To be accused was to be convicted, and to be convicted was to be punished.

In this case, when it came to a white woman’s accusations, punishment meant death, and knowing her scream was a likely death sentence, young Rowland ran away. He was later seized and apprehended with the intent of being lynched. Word of a Black man raping a defenseless white girl spread throughout the Tulsa area. Dozens and then hundreds of white men grew to a mob of over 2000 white men gathered at the County courthouse demanding justice. But justice for what? Sarah Page wasn’t assaulted, her clothes weren’t ruffled, and though her story wavered during questioning, she ultimately affirmed she was not harmed.

Moreover, she refused to sign a statement saying that she had been raped. But don’t let the facts get in the way of a false accusation of a Black man who needed to be put in his place — at the end of a rope. The Tulsa Tribune headlines screamed, “A Negro Assaults a White Girl.”

And later, “To Lynch Negro Tonight.”

With no basis and fact for the allegations of rape, the mob persisted in their demand for justice of a white girl who emphatically stated that no injustice had been done. Walter White of the New York Evening Post wrote, “Chief of police, John A Gustafsson, sheriff McCullough, mayor T.D. Evans and many reputable citizens, among them a prominent oil operator, all declared the girl had not been molested, that no attempt at criminal assault had been made. Victor F. Barnett, the managing editor of The Tribune, stated that his paper had since learned that the original story that the girl’s face was scratched, and her clothes torn was untrue.”

And there you have it, fake news. But the damage had already been done, and the wheels were set in motion. Armed Black World War 1 veterans were among the less than 100 members of the Greenwood community who came to prevent another lynching of a Black man, as thousands had been lynched since the generation of reconstruction. A verbal confrontation led to a shot being fired, triggering what would soon become the bloodiest racial conflict in American history. Some 500 members of the white mob were armed and deputized by city officials, and those who didn’t own weapons looted stores to obtain guns and ammunition along the way. Thousands of angry white men descended upon “Little Africa” as a few white families provided sanctuary to those fleeing from violence.

For 24 hours, the mob looted, murdered, and raised the wealthiest Black city in America to the ground. Eyewitness testimony stated a dozen or more planes circled the Black area, dropping burning turpentine balls over Greenwood’s city and firing bullets at Black residents, young and old, gunning them down in the streets. It was the first and only time Americans used planes to attack and kill their own citizens, as it destroyed an entire city. Authorities engaged in a concerted effort to prevent help from arriving until considerable damage was done by cutting off communication, requesting help, blocking transportation ways of firefighters and ambulances, and even preventing the Red Cross from coming in earlier to help the injured and terrorized community.

“As they passed the city’s most traveled street, they held both hands high above their heads, their hats in one hand, as a token of their submission to the white man’s authority. They will not return to the homes they had on Tuesday afternoon, only the heaps of ashes, the angry white man’s reprisal for the wrong inflicted on them by the inferior race,” reported the Tulsa Tribune.

Following the massacre, insurance companies refused to compensate the residents though the city and its officials were found negligent in preventing it. Decades of silence about the terror, violence, and theft passed. There were no convictions for any of the charges related to the murders or violence. Not one white person was ever held responsible for these crimes, though dozens of Black men were indicted for inciting a riot. Government and city officials not only failed to invest and rebuild the once thriving Greenwood community but blocked efforts to do so and even actively sought to appropriate their land. The crime wasn’t acknowledged by the city or the state of Oklahoma for over 70 years, rarely mentioning it in the history books, classrooms, or even in private. Most residents grew into middle age, completely unaware of what had taken place. Even a report detailing Tulsa’s fire department’s history from 1897 to 2017 made no mention of the massacre.

And on that Memorial Day weekend, June 1st, 1921, Greenwood, Oklahoma, was brought to an abrupt end. Black wall street was wiped off the map. 300 African Americans murdered, possibly more. Thousands injured. More than 10,000 left homeless. Forty city blocks burned to the ground. And the few homes left were completely looted. The Tulsa Real Estate Exchange estimated property losses amounting to the equivalent of more than $32 million in today’s money. Unbeknownst to most, Tulsa’s Black Wall Street wasn’t the only Black town to be ethnically cleansed in America. It wasn’t the only city forgotten, nor was it the only Black town no one was ever arrested, prosecuted, or where victims were never compensated. Time has passed, memories have faded, and survivors have died, taking the knowledge of not only how the cities were destroyed but arguably even more tragic, the knowledge of how these countless all-Black towns were built. Can a biblical blueprint be extrapolated from what we found? That is indeed our challenge, to cooperate, coordinate, and collaborate to turn our desolate neighborhoods into thriving communities and build them up by utilizing the keys to economic and societal development. Let us rediscover, let us reunite, and let us rebuild a new Black Wall Street.


Black Wall Street