Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ swearing-in Wednesday will highlight two other trailblazers, as well as a woman who had an impact on her as a young girl.
The ceremony will reflect her lived experience as she makes history as the first woman, African American and South Asian to become the second most powerful person in the country. Harris is set to be sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina member of the court, who was nominated by the first Black president, Barack Obama, in 2009, according to the transition team. The plan was first reported by ABC News.
Harris will take the oath of office on a pair of Bibles. One was owned by Regina Shelton, who lived two doors down from Harris’ family in Oakland and who was considered a second mother by Harris and her sister, Maya. Harris used the same Bible when she was sworn in as the first Black person and woman to serve as attorney general of California and the only Black woman currently serving as a U.S. senator.
The second Bible belonged to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to serve on the court and a personal hero of Harris’. Marshall and Harris also share an alma mater — he the valedictorian of the 1933 class at Howard University School of Law, and she a 1986 graduate of the historically Black college.
Harris and President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration had already been altered dramatically by the novel coronavirus pandemic, and now security measures have gotten even tighter after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump.
The Rev. Raphael Warnock has won one of Georgia’s two runoff elections for U.S. Senate: Will he be both a pastor and a politician?
Yes, says Michael Brewer, a spokesman for the minister’s campaign, “if elected he will remain senior pastor.”
Marla Frederick, professor of religion and culture at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, told Religion News Service that an active pastor would not be unknown in the political life on Capitol Hill. “There are models for doing both/and,” she said.
“The pastorate is one of these careers, these callings, if you will, where you have to stay in such close contact with everyday people and their concerns,” said Frederick. “To the extent that the Senate (is) supposed to represent the concerns of people, it seems to me that someone who’s been a pastor has the capacity to be much more in tune with the kinds of struggles that people are dealing with in their everyday lives.”
Warnock, who has led Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church since 2005, had something similar to say in a statement to RNS in November.
“It’s unusual for a pastor to get involved in something as messy as politics, but I see this as a continuation of a life of service: first as an agitator, then an advocate, and hopefully next as a legislator,” Warnock said as he was closing in on the top spot of a wide-open primary. “I say I’m stepping up to my next calling to serve, not stepping down from the pulpit.”
He told CNN on Wednesday that he thinks grassroots people can help him be effective as a pastor and a senator.
“I intend to return to the pulpit and preach on Sunday mornings and to talk to the people,” Warnock said. “The last thing I want to do is become disconnected from the community and just spend all of my time talking to the politicians. I might accidentally become one and I have no intentions of becoming a politician. I intend to be a public servant.”
With Warnock’s election to the Senate, he can reflect on these other African American ministers who kept up a busy church life while serving in Congress:
Richard Harvey Cain, 1873-75, 1877-79
Prior to being elected a Republican congressman from South Carolina, Cain sought out another form of public service: a volunteer in the Union army. He was rejected, as were many free Blacks at the time, but later he became pastor of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston (where, a century and a half later, the notorious Bible study massacre took place).
“In the House, Cain supported civil rights for freed slaves,” according to Charles M. Christian in “ Black Saga: The African American Experience: A Chronology.” “Cain’s seat was eliminated in 1874, but he remained active in the Republican Party, and was reelected to Congress in 1876.”
In remarks to Congress urging passage of a civil rights bill, Cain spoke of why equal rights for Blacks were justified.
After his tenure in Congress, Cain was elected a bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Adam Clayton Powell Jr., 1945-1971
Before, during and after his long service as a Democratic U.S. representative, Powell was pastor of the prominent Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York, where Warnock would serve as a youth pastor decades later.
The Democrat served as chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, worked on the passage of minimum wage legislation and helped pass laws that prohibited the use of federal funds in the construction of segregated schools.
“As a member of Congress, I have done nothing more than any other member and, by the grace of God, I intend to do not one bit less,” he said about his time in the role.
Floyd Flake, 1987-1997
The senior pastor of the Greater Allen AME Cathedral of New York, Flake served 11 years concurrently as a member of Congress and the leader of his megachurch.
Considered the “ de facto dean of faith-based economic empowerment,” Flake and his wife, the Rev. Elaine M. Flake, have developed commercial and social projects in Jamaica, New York, such as a corporation focused on preserving affordable housing, a senior citizens center and an emergency shelter for women who are victims of domestic violence.
As a member of Congress, he chaired the Subcommittee on General Oversight of the House Banking Committee. He also helped gain federal funds for projects in his district, including an expansion of John F. Kennedy International Airport.
As successful as Flake was, he may have some lessons for anyone trying to fill both a pulpit and a seat in Congress: He resigned his congressional role, saying his priority was his church — where he remains in his leadership role.
“My calling in life is as a minister,” Flake told journalists, “so I had to come to a real reconciliation … and it is impossible to continue the sojourn where I am traveling back and forth to DC.”
John Lewis, 1987-2020
Lewis, an ordained Baptist minister and civil rights activist, began preaching as a teenager and viewed his work for social justice as connected to his faith.
He was the youngest speaker at the March on Washington, addressing the crowd minutes before the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, and served as the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
Lewis’ work for voting rights led to his being beaten by police as he crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Late in his life, he worked with religious group s to address what he considered the “gutting” of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court in 2013.
In 2016, Lewis told RNS he did not regret moving away from traditional ministry.
“I think my pulpit today is a much larger pulpit,” he said. “If I had stayed in a traditional church, I would have been limited to four walls and probably in some place in Alabama or in Nashville, Tennessee. I preach every day. Every day, I’m preaching a sermon, telling people to get off their butts and do something.”
Emanuel Cleaver II, 2005 to present
Cleaver was senior pastor of St. James United Methodist Church in Kansas City, Missouri, before turning the pulpit over to his son in 2009.
The chair of the House Subcommittee on National Security, International Development and Monetary Policy, he has co-authored a reform bill on housing programs. He also was instrumental in the creation of a Green Impact Zone in which federal funds created jobs and energy efficient projects in a 150-block area of Kansas City known for crime and unemployment.
As the 117th session of Congress opened this week, Cleaver drew attention and ire for ending his invocation in the name of “God known by many names by many different faiths — amen and a-woman.”
He told a local TV station that the prayer was a nod to the diverse Congress where more women are serving than ever before.
“After I prayed, Republicans and Democrats alike were coming up to me saying ‘thank you for the prayer. We needed it. We need somebody to talk to God about helping us to get together,’” he told KCTV. “It was a prayer of unity.”
Success is a relevant but slippery topic for Christian young adults. A good number graduate from high school or college and join the workforce with a fresh enthusiasm about life. They find out, however, that the world is different than what than what they expected. Things they considered concrete might seem anything but, including how to measure accomplishments and achievements. Added to this is the idea that a massive amount of advice is available about success and what it is. Very often, the advice is given by people who have already reached the pinnacle of prosperity and spoken like the journey is merely following three simple steps. There is, however, no need to panic. Instead of finding simple steps, there are three truths a Christian young adult can use to find success. By keeping these in mind, the journey may be less daunting, but also it can be educational and be very enjoyable.
Truth #1: No Standard Definition of Success
The first truth is to throw out the cultural idea of a standard definition of success, which may be a challenge because the notion is planted in our psyche from an early age. We are told about millionaires and presidents but not crossing guards and home care nurses. Society lauds students who get full scholarships to 20 colleges but not the student who is the first person to be accepted into college. No one size fits all because no one size fits all people, especially with Christians. Jeremiah 29:11 (ESV) states, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Ephesians 2:10 reflects this theme. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” If our lives are His plan, then He determines success. He sets the standard. He has already decided our good works, and all we have to do is find out His plan and follow along. This may be a hard habit to break, but as you continue to submit to the idea that the determination of what is “good works” is not yours, then it will be easier. Success by definition is accomplishing one’s goals. The goal doesn’t matter. The achievement of the goal does. If God directs our lives and we achieve the good works He has prepared for us, that is the highest level attainment. It doesn’t always bring money or fame. If these things are the only way a person evaluates their accomplishments, it will lead to disappointment and dissatisfaction.
Truth #2: God Tailors Your Success to You
The second truth is to realize that God tailors your success to how He made you. Many people believe that attainment is becoming an executive with a corner office, but in their hearts, they would much rather work with their hands. Or the government worker that would prefer to work in a food bank. Or a hair salon. This cognitive dissonance is akin to wearing shoes that don’t fit. Yes, they are shoes, but they may be someone else’s. Finding the right fit comes down to listening to God and watching for patterns. Hearing God is not impossible. As a matter of fact, God very much wants to guide His children to the good works He has prepared for them. The Bible is full of passages in which God promises to guide us. Psalm 32:8 (NKJV) holds God’s promise — “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.” This model of guidance points back to the truth that God knows what a fruitful and meaningful is for you and wants to lead you there.
Truth #3: You Can Be Successful Outside Your Job
A third truth is to recognize that a job is not the only place in which a person can be successful. There is much emphasis put on having a career filled with awards and advancement. Picking the right career, right degree and right mentor, all these things are framed as the crucial steps for advancement. But what about those areas of life outside of work? Remember, success is about accomplishing the goals and can impact every area of life. One could be a good father or a caring daughter. One could find fulfillment in being a good friend or a faithful intercessor. Many find achievement in weight-loss and sobriety. By removing the constriction of an occupation, accomplishing the goals enrich a whole life and can be measured in broader terms. Instead of a hard goal like being a millionaire, a goal can be being a better friend or saving more money. God directs our achievements, and He determines the terms. He wants us to prosper in accomplishing His will. By living by these truths, letting go of the idea that there is only one route to achievement, understanding that God determines the good works in life even beyond our careers, the picture of success can become more evident. There isn’t one definition or destination. Success can, however, be reached by following God’s direction.
Some of the best times I had as a student were during after-school programming. Whether at my school or at a local nonprofit agency, they provided me with a safe place to get my work done, spend time with friends, and participate in activities unavailable during the traditional school day.
I now serve as director of a 21st Century Community Learning Center for a school district in southern New Jersey. Most of the students we serve are economically disadvantaged and are Black and Latinx. I’ve been proud to have the opportunity to contribute to providing a safe and enriching environment for students similar to the places I attended growing up.
This year, though, it wasn’t clear whether the coronavirus pandemic would keep us from helping students. In a normal times, we see 125 to 150 students every day, offering courses ranging from cooking to engineering to college test prep, plus physical fitness programs, such as yoga and intramural sports. Our campus is lively during the school day, but it is even more so after school.
Since COVID has quieted the halls of our building, we agreed to continue our program remotely — not knowing if it would work. Could we provide students with an authentic experience close to what they’d receive in person? Virtual instruction has posed challenges during the regular school day, and we knew it would be a challenge for us as well.
But the virtual mode we’re in has provided us with a level of flexibility that has allowed our program to thrive even under the strain of a pandemic. We adapted, and we’re making it work. Here’s how.
Spicing up our offerings. One challenge we had to overcome this year was our inability to offer any in-person sports activities for our students during the pandemic. In the past, we’ve had several intramural sports programs, in addition to weight training and exercise opportunities. These were our most popular programs.
We’ve pivoted. Similar to master classes offered by celebrities, we now offer students master classes in baking, yoga, survival techniques, public speaking, and drama. During the semester, our students are learning to tap into their entrepreneurial aspirations as well as engage in self-care.
We’ve also added e-sports opportunities. Students have joined an e-sports league and get to play first-person games for prizes and rewards. For those of our students who are more interested in creating games of their own, we started a video game and coding class where they can learn how.
Adjusting start and end times. When held in person, after-school programs begin immediately after school (at 3 p.m.) and end roughly at 6 p.m. However, with many schools running on hybrid or remote-only schedules, there is a chance to start and end a little later, making it easier for students and instructors to participate. If a particular activity is best scheduled from 4–7 p.m. run it then.
This may be particularly beneficial to programs serving mostly high school students, and in remote-only districts, which are more often districts where Black, Latinx, and low-income students are in the majority. While our program has yet to implement this strategy, it remains an option for us.
Partnering with other programs or program sites. Our district runs program sites at two schools. But because the schools are 25 miles apart, students from the schools typically don’t interact with each other after school. However, running our program remotely gives us the opportunity to have students from both schools take programs together and engage with each other. It’s improved the liveliness of our programs and has built camaraderie among the students.
Getting students to attend and participate in a virtual program right now is tough. Students may be dealing with fatigue from all the Zoom calls or Google Meets. So finding ways to change things up and introduce your students to new peers — by collaborating with another site in your district, a school outside of your district, or an organization that hosts an after-school program like the 21st Century Community Learning Center, may be an option worth considering. If you can’t collaborate, just speaking with other after-school providers can offer insight on how you can make your program better during the pandemic.
In normal times, after-school programs help students in all sort of ways — lowering truancy rates, keeping children safe, and keeping them out of trouble, in addition to giving parents peace of mind about their children while they are at work.
Now, students’ and families’ needs might be a little different. But it’s still vital that students have opportunities for leisure, learning, and gathering with each other outside of school in ways that foster good habits. Here is where after-school educators, if we’re innovative and open-minded about what opportunities we offer to students, can keep them engaged, learning, living, and loving.
Rann Miller directs the 21st Century Community Learning Center, a federally funded after-school program located in southern New Jersey. His writing on race, education and politics has also been featured in Hechinger Report, Education Week, and the Grio.
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.
And while much of this content is understood to be for entertainment purposes only, some of it is presented and received as legitimate and data-driven.
This is a problem because too many people cannot distinguish what they see onscreen from reality. Media portrayals are often hyperbolic and sensationalized to attract public attention. Equally troubling is that the majority of academic research in this area also perpetuates many of the same, negative patterns that are common in popular culture.
Other studies conclude that many poor Black men reject monogamous romantic relationships in favor of a hypersexual masculinity to overcompensate for their inability to fulfill the traditional breadwinner role. These men, the studies conclude, treat women as conquests rather than partners.
I have found that the near-exclusive focus on low-income Black men in research related to the family skews perceptions of these men. It also limits the public’s knowledge of them and the meanings they attach to their romantic relationships. And this perception can be used to perpetuate negative stereotypes that frame them as dangerous and predatory.
Resetting the image
In response to that limited view, I spent the last four years conducting a study on a more diverse group of Black men to learn more about their perspectives on marriage.
The men’s stories reveal important findings that are typically not explored in research on Black men. They opened up about their desire for intimacy and companionship in their relationships.
My study followed 33 Black men from Louisville, Kentucky, chronicling their personal circumstances, as well as their attitudes, experiences and behaviors within their marriages and romantic relationships. The data for the study were collected from over 150 hours of interviews with the men.
The men I interviewed ranged in age from 18 to 72. They represented a variety of relationship statuses, with men reporting being single, romantically involved, married, divorced and remarried. The men were also diverse in their educational attainment. Some had graduate and professional degrees, while others had high school diplomas and GEDs. The men also varied in their economic situations, with annual incomes ranging from $0 to US$175,000.
In sharing their experiences, the men provided an in-depth look into their love lives. Their discussions touched on many important factors that have shaped their past and current relationships.
They reflected on how they met their partners and the characteristics that made them stand out from previous partners. The men described their ideal marriage mate and shared what marriage means to them.
In discussing what attracted him to his wife, one man stated, “She wasn’t phony. She was comfortable being herself, she wasn’t trying to impress anybody. So it made me learn to be comfortable being myself.”
‘The most important decision’
In the interviews, many of the men credit their partners with making them better husbands, fathers and men. According to one of the participants, “I always tell her that I couldn’t have become who I am without her. Meeting the right person, to stand with the right person is probably the most important decision I’ve made in my life.”
The men even recognize the ways their relationships serve to combat the negative perception that often surrounds Black men.
“The media portrays us as shiftless and violent and not to be trusted. I think when you see a man with a woman treating her well, a man with his children treating them the way they should be treated, it dispels a lot of what folks see in the media. Just seeing positive men doing what men should do is a good thing,” said one man.
Most often, the men talked about how the unique characteristics that set their mate apart from others they had dated.
In explaining what attracted him to his wife, one man stated, “I think just how she was able to articulate to me who she was and how she shared some of my values when it comes to children and relationships. It’s just how she carries herself. Her presence made me want to be with her and I never had another woman make me feel like that.”
However, many of these men said they struggle with previous traumas that challenge their relationships. A detective alluded to the psychological stress he faced in being a Black man having to police his community at a time of distrust and unrest, only to come home and have to be emotionally available for his wife.
In one of his interviews, he stated, “I try not to let the stress bother me, but it’s still one of those things. It just does. Sometimes I’m really withdrawn because I’m thinking about things at work or I’m always working. When it happens, I’ve got to put myself in check.”
Another man wrestled with the realization that many of his former girlfriends had a striking resemblance to a babysitter who abused him as a child.
The near-total focus on low-income Black men by academia and popular culture creates an unrealistic picture of them. Here, at commencement at Howard University in 2016, students heard from then-President Barack Obama. AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana
Haunted by failures
In discussing their fears and insecurities, many of the men acknowledge being guarded with their emotions as a result of some of their early experiences.
Even when they were able to move beyond early negative experiences, many of the men discussed feeling haunted by their friends and family members’ failed relationships.
In these cases, the men expressed concern that their relationships would not last. As one participant said, “I don’t know that many people of color have seen marriage modeled very well.”
Yet over and over again, in the interviews, men told how they would strive to maintain their relationships in the face of myriad internal and external challenges including racism and early negative relationship experiences.
Given the lack of research on Black men featuring firsthand accounts from them, “Black Love Matters” represents a departure from previous work that seems to be preoccupied with implicating Black men in discussions of what ails their families and communities.
In lifting up the men’s voices, “Black Love Matters” shifts the focus away from talking about Black men and instead talks to them about how they love and want to be loved.
On Dec. 26, millions throughout the world’s African community will start weeklong celebrations of Kwanzaa. There will be daily ceremonies with food, decorations and other cultural objects, such as the kinara, which holds seven candles. At many Kwanzaa ceremonies, there is also African drumming and dancing.
It is a time of communal self-affirmation – when famous Black heroes and heroines, as well as late family members – are celebrated.
As a scholar who has written about racially motivated violence against Blacks, directed Black cultural centers on college campuses and sponsored numerous Kwanzaa celebrations, I understand the importance of this holiday.
For the African-American community, Kwanzaa is not just any “Black holiday.” It is a recognition that knowledge of Black history is worthwhile.
History of Kwanzaa
Maulana Karenga, a noted Black American scholar and activist created Kwanzaa in 1966. Its name is derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili, the most widely spoken African language. However, Kwanzaa, the holiday, did not exist in Africa.
Each day of Kwanzaa is devoted to celebrating the seven basic values of African culture or the “Nguzo Saba” which in Swahili means the seven principles. Translated these are: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics (building Black businesses), purpose, creativity and faith. A candle is lit on each day to celebrate each one of these principles. On the last day, a black candle is lit and gifts are shared.
Today, Kwanzaa is quite popular. It is celebrated widely on college campuses, the U.S. Postal Service issues Kwanzaa stamps, there is at least one municipal park named for it, and there are special Kwanzaa greeting cards.
Kwanzaa’s meaning for black community
Kwanzaa was created by Karenga out of the turbulent times of the 1960’s in Los Angeles, following the 1965 Watts riots, when a young African-American was pulled over on suspicions of drunk driving, resulting in an outbreak of violence.
Karenga called its creation an act of cultural discovery, which simply meant that he wished to point African-Americans to greater knowledge of their African heritage and past.
Rooted in the struggles and the gains of the civil rights and black power movements of the 1950s and 1960s, it was a way of defining a unique black American identity. As Keith A. Mayes, a scholar of African-American history, notes in his book,
“For Black power activists, Kwanzaa was just as important as the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Kwanzaa was their answer to what they understood as the ubiquity of white cultural practices that oppressed them as thoroughly as had Jim Crow laws.”
Overturning white definitions
Today, the holiday has come to occupy a central role, not only in the U.S. but also in the global African diaspora.
A 2008 documentary, “The Black Candle” that filmed Kwanzaa observances in the United States and Europe, shows children not only in the United States, but as far away as France, reciting the principles of the Nguzo Saba.
It brings together the Black community not on the basis of their religious faith, but a shared cultural heritage. Explaining the importance of the holiday for African-Americans today, writer Amiri Baraka, says during an interview in the documentary,
“We looked at Kwanzaa as part of the struggle to overturn white definitions for our lives.”
This spirit of activism and pride in the African heritage is evident on college campus Kwanzaa celebrations – one of which I recently attended. (It was done a few days early so that students going on break could participate.)
The speaker, a veteran of the Nashville civil rights movement, spoke about Kwanzaa as a time of memory and celebration. Wearing an African dashiki, he led those in attendance – blacks and whites and those of other ethnicities – in Kwanzaa songs and recitations. On a table decorated in kente cloth, a traditional African fabric, was a kinara, which contains seven holes, to correspond to the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa. There were three red candles on the left side of the kinara, and three green candles on the right side of the kinara. The center candle was black. The colors of the candles represent the red, black and green of the African Liberation flag.
The auditorium was packed. Those in attendance, young and old, black and white, held hands and chanted slogans celebrating black heroes and heroines, as diverse as the civil rights icons, Rosa Parks and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Jamaican musician Bob Marley.
It was a cultural observance that acknowledged solidarity with the struggles of the past and with one another. Like the black power movements, such as today’s Black Lives Matter movement, it is an affirmation of “Black folks’ humanity,” their “contributions to this society” and “resilience in the face of deadly oppression.”
Karenga wanted to “reaffirm the bonds between us” (Black people) and to counter the damage done by the “holocaust of slavery.” Kwanzaa celebrations are a moment of this awareness and reflection.