Honoring James Cone, founder of Black Theology

Honoring James Cone, founder of Black Theology

Photo credit: Union Theological Seminary

The Rev. James Cone, founder of black liberation theology, died Saturday morning, according to Union Theological Seminary.

The cause of death was not immediately known.

Cone, an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, was the Bill and Judith Moyers Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Seminary in New York City. His groundbreaking 1969 book, Black Theology and Black Power, revolutionized the way the public understood the unique qualities of the black church.

Cone was a native of Fordyce, Ark., and received master’s and doctoral degrees from Northwestern University.

We would like to hear how Cone influenced you. We invite you to share 200- to 250-word tributes on UrbanFaith.com. Send your tribute with your first and last names, city, state, and church affiliation (if desired) to [email protected]

 

 

Africa on the Rise: Meet This Generation’s African Artists

Africa on the Rise: Meet This Generation’s African Artists

For a while the most popular literature and television programming about black people captured no sense of African consciousness. We’ve been far removed from The Cosby Show which introduced many of my generation to Miriam Makeba or A Different World which introduced us to divesting from businesses that supported apartheid in South Africa. Those shows and others of the late 80s to early 90s taught my generation that we don’t only have a history in Africa but our actions affect our present and future connection with the continent. But since then we have slipped out of the realm of cultivating such an understanding of our connection to the continent. For the last decade or so, television programming about black people has been driven by self-interestedness over communal values. There has been nothing to remind us of our descendants and ancestors. On the literary front, we were also hard-pressed to get beyond the Zanes and the Steve Harveys of the world. But recently there has been an uprising of African narratives from African-born writers and creators that is breathing a breath of fresh air on literature and on-air/online programming.

We see its presence in the work of Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie author of the novel “Americanah” which tells the story Ifemelu, a young woman who journeys from Nigeria to America and back again. It is primarily a love story but it also acknowledges the cultural differences between American black people and non-American black people. Ifemelu captures and critiques these differences on her blog and Adichie uses Ifemelu’s blog posts to break up the narrative arc of the book. Though these blog posts are the work of a fictional character they resonate as fact among African and African American alike. Adichie also has Ifemelu return to Nigeria where she comes to grips with the ways that America has changed her and also the ways in which Nigeria in particular and Africa in general will always be a home to her despite the ways in which she has fallen out of love with it. African-American readers of “Americanah” are forced to take a look at the ways in which American culture influences their perceptions of African people and question the relational disconnect between American and non-American blacks. “Americanah” is at the top of many books lists and is rumored to be optioned for a screenplay starring Luptia Nyong’o as Ifemelu. Adichie’s earlier novel “Half of a Yellow Sun,” which tells the story of the effects of the Nigerian-Biafran War through the eyes of five different characters, is now a full-length feature film and is currently being screened in major cities. The film features an all-star cast including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, and Anika Noni Rose.

Teju Cole is also a part of Africa’s uprising in American literature. Nigerian-American Cole was born in the US, raised in Nigeria until the age of 17 and came back to the states. A Distinguised Writer in Residence at Bard College and a regular writer for publications such as the New York Times and the New Yorker, he recently released his novel “Every Day is for the Thief” in the US–it was published in Nigeria in 2007. The novel tells the story of a young man revisiting Nigeria and facing some of the less beautiful aspects of life in Africa, such as watching the audacious Nigerian scammers in action—you know, the ones who e-mail many of us claiming we will inherit millions if we respond to their message. Cole’s is a less glamorous account of revisiting the continent, but he also holds that in tension with the fact the he believes Nigeria is “excessively exciting” to the point of being overwhelming. In an interview with NPR’s Audie Cornish Cole said, “But for me, personally, I have not actually really considered seriously living in Nigeria full time. This is my home here [New York and the United States], and this is the place that allows me to do the work that I do…I’m fortunate to be able to travel to many places, and to go to Nigeria often. And so I feel close enough to the things happening there without needing to live there.” This quote captures the beauty of Cole’s work which banks on both his lived experience in Nigeria and life as an Nigerian-American writer trying to maintain some semblance of a connection. His next book will be a non-fiction narrative on Lagos.

Finally the most recent example of Africa’s uprising in American literature and entertainment is the new web series “An African City.” Created by Ghanaian-American Nicole Amarteifio, the series follows five young African women who move to Ghana after educational and professional stints in America and Europe. The show is billed as Ghana’s answer to “Sex and the City” but it is actually smarter than SATC. The characters don’t just navigate the sexual politics that SATC was famous for, they launch into the deep of socio-economic politics on the continent. The show touches on the plight of the underdeveloped countries, the people who hold the power in such countries—mostly men, and the premium placed on the authentic African woman over the African woman who has been corrupted by Western ways. It branches out from self-interest to communal concern. The series also provides viewers with a look at the landscape of Accra, a region that is reaching toward urban metropolis status in the midst of strong rural roots. Shots of dirt roads lined with shacks where vendors sells their wares and old Toyotas putter down the streets offset the young women’s appetite for cosmopolitan fare and fashion. The show balances inherited American sensibilities with ingrained African pride with style and grace within each 11-15 minute webisode.

And lest I be remiss there is Kenyan Lupito Nyong’o. Born in Mexico City and raised primarily in Kenya, she stole our hearts in her first major acting role as Patsy in “12 Years a Slave.” She also steals our hearts every time she appears on a red carpet, gave an awards acceptance speech, or appeared on the cover of or in the pages of a magazine. Her beauty is being celebrated by many–and it isn’t limited to the fashion and beauty industries. Nyong’o is blazing the trails that supermodel Alek Wek set for African women and expanding dominant views of what is beautiful. But it is not just Nyong’o’s beauty that is captivating, it is her    humble spirit and intelligence that is reminding the world that Africa is a force to be reckoned with.

Lupita Nyong’o, Nicole Amarteifio, Teju Cole, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and many more African-born actresses and actors, producers, writers and other creative types are broadening American understanding about Africa and its people. They are also expanding the African-American consciousness on Africa. We can only hope that this is truly the  start of a beautiful relationship that goes from this generation beyond.

 

 

10 Two-Minute Podcast Shorts on Prayer

10 Two-Minute Podcast Shorts on Prayer

It’s hard to relax. We’re in an uncomfortable place right now. The future is unclear. Our leaders are not all stable. And the world economy is in flux. But God. He’s our anchor. His love never changes and we know that when we pray, it helps calm our heavy hearts and anxiety about the uncertainty of it all.  Below you’ll find a compilation of two-minute podcast shorts by the late Dr. Melvin E. Banks, founder of UMI, on prayer. We’ve pulled them from Dr. Banks’ daily radio program which was called Daily Direction and covered a variety of issues and topics. So, turn the ringer off on your phone, find a quiet place, be still, and listen.


More on Prayer



Video Courtesy of THE BEAT by Allen Parr

What are the origins of Lent?

What are the origins of Lent?

RELATED: It’s Lent, Shhh…Don’t Tell Anyone


In late winter, many Christian denominations observe a 40-day period of fasting and prayer called Lent. This is in preparation for the spring celebration of Easter, a religious holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

The word “Lent” has Germanic roots referring to the “lengthening” of days, or springtime. But facts about the early origin of the religious observance are not as well known.

As a scholar who studies Christian liturgy, I know that by the fourth century, a regular practice of 40-day fasting became common in Christian churches.

Early Christianity

The practice of fasting from food for spiritual reasons is found in the three largest Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In all three, refraining from eating is intimately connected with an additional focus on prayer, and the practice of assisting the poor by giving alms or donating food.

In the Gospels, Jesus spends 40 days in the wilderness to fast and pray. This event was one of the factors that inspired the final length of Lent.

Early Christian practices in the Roman Empire varied from area to area. A common practice was weekly fasting on Wednesday and Friday until mid-afternoon. In addition, candidates for baptism, as well as the clergy, would fast before the rite, which often took place at Easter.

During the fourth century, various Christian communities observed a longer fast of 40 days before the beginning of the three holiest days of the liturgical year: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter.

Spiritual renewal

As Christianity spread through Western Europe from the fifth through 12th centuries, the observance of Lent did as well. A few Lenten days were “black,” or total, fast days. But daily fasting came gradually to be moderated during most of Lent. By the end of the Middle Ages a meal was often permitted at noon.

Also, bishops and theologians specializing in church law specified restrictions on the kinds of acceptable food: no meat or meat products, dairy or eggs could be consumed at all during Lent, even on Sundays.

The idea was to avoid self-indulgence at this time of repentance for one’s sins. Marriage, a joyous ritual, was also prohibited during the Lenten season.

Today, Catholics and some other Christians still abstain from eating meat on the Fridays of Lent, and eat only one meal, with two smaller snacks permitted, on two days of complete fasting. In addition, they also engage in the practice of “giving up something” during Lent. Often this is a favorite food or drink, or another pleasurable activity, like smoking or watching television.

Other activities are also suggested, in keeping with the idea of Lent as a time for spiritual renewal as well as self-discipline. These include making amends with estranged family and friends, reading of the Bible or other spiritual writers, and community service.

Though some practices may have changed, Lent in the 21st century remains essentially the same as in centuries past: a time of quiet reflection and spiritual discipline.

[You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can get our highlights each weekend.]The Conversation

Joanne M. Pierce, Professor of Religious Studies, College of the Holy Cross

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Want to understand Black experience? Learn about African American faith, survey finds

Want to understand Black experience? Learn about African American faith, survey finds

In this Sunday, July 10, 2016 file photo, parishioners clap during a worship service at the First Baptist Church, a predominantly African-American congregation, in Macon, Ga. There are two First Baptist Churches in Macon _ one black and one white. (AP Photo/Branden Camp)

 

Most religious Black Americans say understanding the role of religion in the lives of Black people is essential for understanding the African American experience, a new Barna Group survey finds.

Four out of five Black adults in the U.S. who have ties to a faith group agree to some extent (41% “strongly” and 38% “somewhat”) that “to understand the African American experience, it is necessary to understand the role of religious faith in the lives of Black people.”

The percentage of religious Black Americans who agree with that statement has grown to 79% today from 71% in 1996.

The findings, released Thursday (Feb. 18), are the second of several planned reports from Barna’s State of the Black Church project. The first, released in January, found that most attendees of Black churches say African Americans generally feel politically powerless, but those worshippers also see Black congregations as a source of comfort and control.

RELATED: Henry Louis Gates’ new book and TV series distills centuries of Black church history

The results are based on responses from some 1,800 Black American adults, including more than 800 who attend a Black church. The California research firm conducted the survey in the spring of 2020.

Half of Black church attendees — defined in the study as African Americans who attend a majority Black church — agree “strongly” that faith is a crucial dimension of the Black experience. Additionally, almost 4 in 10 (38%) agree “somewhat” about that.

But a larger percentage of Black church attendees — 69% — agree that pastors of Black churches are the Black community’s most important leaders. A lower percentage — 63% — agreed with that statement in 1996.

Not unexpectedly, a higher percentage of Black church attendees (77%) agree in 2020 about the role of these pastors in Black communities. But Barna noted that “perhaps surprisingly,” higher percentages of some young Black church attendees agree “strongly” compared to Boomers.

The study found that Black church attendees tend to have stronger positive views about the Black church than African American adults in general. When asked, “When you hear ‘The Black Church’ mentioned, what is your immediate response?” Black church attendees selected “important” and “safe” most often. But about one-third of the general Black population chose “old-fashioned,” and about one-fifth chose “stifling.”

There was a noticeable drop in the percentage of respondents who said church involvement was “desirable.” While 90% of Black adults agreed with that description in 1996, only 74% agreed in 2020. The question did not specify Black church involvement, but a higher percentage of Black church attendees (94%) said in 2020 that they consider being active in a church to be desirable.

Two-thirds of Boomers (66%) who are Black church attendees say church involvement is “very desirable,” compared to about half of younger Black church attendees (55% Gen Xers, 51% millennials, 46% Gen Zers). All of the generational numbers are lower among the general Black adult population (49% Boomers, 44% Gen Xers, 39% millennials, 41% Gen Zers).

“The data speak to the challenge and opportunity facing Black faith leaders as they steward the influence of their Church communities for a new era,” the research firm said as it announced its second report.

The report was developed by Barna with partners including American Bible SocietyBlack Millennial CaféCompassion InternationalLead.NYC and Urban Ministries Inc.

The findings were based on an online survey, conducted April 22 to May 6, of 1,083 U.S. Black adults and an additional 822 Black church attendees. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.

The 1996 findings were based on a phone survey of 802 U.S. Black adults and have a margin of error of 3.3 percentage points.

CeCe Winans Debuts New Music Live on Sunday!

CeCe Winans Debuts New Music Live on Sunday!


CeCe Winans has a new album coming out in March called “Believe For It,” and she’ll be debuting a few songs at her first live, virtual special called “An Evening of Thanksgiving,” which airs this Sunday on February 21 at 7 p.m. CST.

Compassion International, a Christian ministry aimed at finding sponsors for children worldwide, has partnered with Winans for the event. She’s also a strong supporter of their work and has sponsored a few children herself. It’s a fitting partnership, given new songs are meant to encourage people, and that’s how she sees the work of Compassion.

CeCe Winans

“I get excited about partnering with organizations that are doing something that brings life, and Compassionate International does that. They make a difference, and they put a smile on kids’ faces who otherwise wouldn’t have hope. They bring hope,” says Winans. “They bring peace, food, water, clothing, and education. They give them something that will enhance their life, not just for a moment.”

I had an opportunity to chat with CeCe about her new songs, the upcoming event, and her son taking on a new leadership role in their church.

 You’ve had so much music success. Can you share what’s unique in the new music that’s coming out? What can fans look forward to?

It’s my first live record, and it’s music that encourages you to sing along. I think that’s something that people can look forward to. I’m doing a lot of songs that maybe you’ve heard before, maybe not, but I know that a lot of people have sung them in their churches. I wanted to create something that people and churches and everybody could sing along with. So it’s definitely a CD that’s filled with praise and celebration. Everybody needs some hope right now.

Tell us about the creative process during the making of your new album.

I’ve always determined songs by how they’ve ministered to me. I believe that if it hits my heart, it’s going to hit other people’s hearts. But the title of the record is called “Believe For It.” And this was the last song that came in when we decided we had all of our songs, but we felt something was missing. We really liked it [the album], but it seemed like we needed something else with the theme or something that will kind of, I don’t know, just put us in the frame of mind that we need to be in.

 And my producers, Kyle Lee and Dwan Hill, got together, and they started writing with another young man, and they came back, and they played one song for me, and it was a good song. And I was like, that’s good, but that’s not it. And we kept going because, again, we had a strong record already, but we all kind of agreed that we needed something else. Another part of the puzzle was missing. And then they came with the song, Believe For It. And when I heard it — that’s it! That’s it! We all agreed, and I even did some writing on it to finish it up. But it is just the message of hope that everyone needs to hear. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from. You need to brush yourself off, brush those dreams off and start to believe again.

You’re so passionate about the work of Compassion International. Have you ever sponsored a child?

 I’ve been sponsoring kids for years. And you go into this thinking you’re going to be a blessing to them, and you WILL be a blessing to them, but it ends up coming back to your life in so many ways. I know my kids are blessed.

 Giving blesses your life. When I went to visit some of these kids years ago, and I saw the level of poverty that they lived in, first of all, my heart was just broken. I mean, they walk miles and miles for dirty water, contaminated water. I’m talking 10 miles.

 And then you see where they live. And the first thing you realize is, “What am I complaining about? Why do I have to complain about anything?” They had this joy on their faces. And so when I came home years ago, I told my kids, “Oh no, no, no. We are going to live our lives differently.” And they were probably looking at me like, “Mom, what are you talking about?” You have to live a whole different way. Because of that, I know I’ve been blessed. I get excited about compassionlive.com. I pray that everybody will tune in, but not just tuning in, go and sponsor a child because even coming out of 2020, people who are brokenhearted, people who have lost their job, people who need major blessings in their lives, I’m telling you the way to break through is to give.

 I understand your son is taking on more of a leadership role in your church, Nashville Life Church in Nashville, TN. What does that mean to you personally and to your family?

 My husband and I started this church eight years ago, and it was birthed really through my son and his friends. When we started, it was all millennials, and our church is filled with millennials. And then my husband and I looked at each other and said, “Really, God? You want us to pastor?” We’re like, “Okay, here we go.” But my son started with all of his friends, and God just did work in my son’s heart. And he started witnessing and getting people to feel with the Holy Spirit. Leading people, should I say, to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

 It started in my home with 35 people. And the Lord told my husband when we started eight years ago that my son would pastor. So we were the founding pastors, and my son has been pastoring along with us all of these years. The transition that we made three weeks ago is him being lead pastor, and now we’re the founding pastors. It’s just exciting because even within those three weeks, it’s like growth is happening the way he’s anointed to do it. And my husband and I looked at each other and said, “Wow, thank God. We at least carried it for eight years.” We didn’t make it work. We knew that we were in the will of God doing what we did, but we knew it was always about him and this generation.

 It’s not like we’re retiring, but we are definitely in the background encouraging, pushing him, and just covering him. It’s exciting to see and not only him, but all the young people, our staff, are taking it over, and they’re the Joshua generation. It’s time.

 

How public schools fail to recognize Black prodigies

How public schools fail to recognize Black prodigies

Editor’s note: Amid numerous articles about how Black students lag behind others in educational achievement, occasionally you may hear about a young Black “prodigy” who got accepted into college at an early age. According to Donna Y. Ford, an education professor at The Ohio State University, there could be far more Black prodigies. But it would take the right support from families, who may not be familiar with some of the characteristics of gifted students and the existence of gifted programs, and educators, who often overlook the talents of Black students. Indeed, while Black students represent 15.5% of the student population in the U.S., they represent only 9.9% of all students in gifted and talented programs. In the following Q&A with education editor Jamaal Abdul-Alim, Professor Ford – who has been a consultant for Black families thinking about sending their gifted children to college early – argues that public schools are holding back Black talent rather than cultivating it. The Q&A has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Jamaal Abdul-Alim: Why do public schools so often fail to identify gifted Black students?

Donna Ford: The No. 1 reason for the underrepresentation of Black students in gifted education is the lack of teacher referrals, even when Black students are highly gifted. I definitely think stereotypes and biases hinder educators from seeing Black students’ gifts and talents. In most schools in the U.S., if you are not referred by an educator, you will not move through the identification pipeline for gifted education programs and services, as well as Advanced Placement. It starts and it stops with teachers.

This is why Black families have reached out to me. They’re saying, “This predominantly white-female discipline” – meaning teachers – “is doing my child an injustice.”

They’re saying, “I’m frustrated, I don’t know what to do other than pull my child out and home-school.” You don’t see a lot of Black home-schooling. If the parents are able to do it, they have the means.

Abdul-Alim: Are these children really prodigies or do they just have parents who are just really actively involved and concerned about their children’s education, and recognize the public schools are doing them a disservice?

Donna Y. Ford is a distinguished professor in the College of Education and Human Ecology at The Ohio State University. The Ohio State University

Ford: There’s a lot of controversy in the field about how children become gifted, no less a prodigy. To me, it’s not just nature or nurture. It’s both. So nature is they have the capacity, the potential. And then nurture is they have the experience, the exposure, the opportunity, access. And that includes the families who have the means and wherewithal to advocate for their children or to nurture whatever potential is there. But personally and professionally, I believe that the most important factor – for students being very gifted and prodigies – is the environment. That means their families, and their cultural, social and economic capital.

Abdul-Alim: But doesn’t that kind of point away from the idea of these children being “prodigies”? Because if the thing they have in common is well-educated parents who have high incomes, it seems like almost any child in that situation could achieve similar educational results.

Ford: A prodigy just means that you have children who are performing at the level of an adult; that’s the basic definition of a prodigy. So that has nothing to do with their income and families, education, etc. It is about how they are performing. They’re playing the piano like an adult who has taken lessons. They picked up on these skills and skill sets very easily. Or they are inventing mathematical formulas that you would only see adults doing. They’re in middle school and can do the work of college-level students. You can have this potential, but if you don’t have these opportunities at home, at school, even in the community, then the gifts and talents that you have may not come to fruition at the highest level.

Abdul-Alim: When families come to you about whether or not to enroll their young child in college, what do you generally advise them to do or to consider?

Ford: There’s a lot of variables to consider. One is the child’s emotional and social maturity. I think their size is important. Are they small for their age? That can contribute to some social and emotional issues, in particular bullying or isolation. Do they have siblings who are older who might be intimidated or negatively affected by their younger sibling being accelerated?

Abdul-Alim: What is your advice to families who can’t afford to home-school, but who have children who could very well be higher-performing if given the opportunity? How does society provide opportunities for children who fall in that category?

Ford: I want the families to become familiar with what the barriers are. So when Black families have contacted me about their child not being identified as gifted or not being challenged like their white classmates, then I point them to the Civil Rights Data Collection website, which is run by the U.S. Department of Education. I have them look specifically at what the data says for representation in gifted programs and Advanced Placement classes. I ask them to look at suspension and expulsion by race and corporal punishment, if that exists in their schools, which it does in some states, and very last, take a hard and critical look at all the data.

You can go straight to data for your child’s district or school building. And so, they can come armed with these demographic data showing underrepresentation in gifted and Advanced Placement, but overrepresentation in certain categories of special education as well as discipline, such as suspension and expulsion. And when they come informed, then sometimes – not always – the educators are put on notice. And they do what they’re supposed to do anyway, which is share information with families about how to gain the resources and opportunities that their children need.The Conversation

Donna Ford, Professor of Special Education, The Ohio State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

UMI Mourns the Loss of Founder, Dr. Melvin E. Banks

UMI Mourns the Loss of Founder, Dr. Melvin E. Banks


Dr. Melvin E. Banks, Sr.

UMI (Urban Ministries, Inc.) announced today that its founder Dr. Melvin E. Banks, Sr., died on Saturday, February 13, at 86. Dr. Banks launched UMI in 1970 to provide African American churches and individuals with images reflecting their congregations and relatable, Christ-centered content from an urban perspective.

“Dr. Banks was a revolutionary publisher and giant for the African American church and community,” said C. Jeffrey Wright, CEO of UMI. “He was the first to create contextualized content that portrayed positive images of African Americans in the Bible. Because of his innovation, UMI has reached millions of Black churches and individuals with the Gospel.”

For the last 50 years, under Dr. Banks’ leadership, UMI has developed Christian education resources, including Bible studies, Sunday School, and Vacation Bible School curriculum, websites, magazines, books, and videos for its 40,000+ strong customer base. He wrote a number of books and devotionals and hosted a two-minute daily podcast called Daily Direction. In 1995, he brought on Mr. Wright as CEO to take on the day-to-day management of the company. Many evangelical organizations have recognized his pioneering work, including the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA), which presented him with its inaugural Kenneth N. Taylor Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017.

“So many people have been introduced to the life-changing message of Jesus because of Dr. Banks’ ground-breaking initiatives,” said Terri Hannett, Vice President of UMI. “For 50 years, UMI has produced discipleship content that was intellectually rigorous and uniquely relevant for the Black experience.”

Dr. Banks was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1934 and made a commitment to salvation at the age of 9 years old. He graduated from Moody Bible College in Chicago in 1955 and attended Wheaton College, earning a B.A. degree in theology in 1958 and his master’s degree in biblical studies in 1960. After graduation, he took a job at Scripture Press Publishers, where he struggled to sell euro-centric Sunday School content to African American churches. This experience led him to create contextual resources for African Americans with imagery and stories unique to their culture. After a few years, he left the company to start his own to expand the publishing content for Black churches.

Dr. Banks had served as board chair since 1994 after the passing of Tom Skinner, the founding board chair of UMI. On February 14, 2021, the UMI Board of Directors voted to appoint Dr. Stanley Long to the role of Chairman after serving as Vice Chairman for the past 45 years.

“Dr. Banks has been one of my closest friends for nearly 50 years,” said Dr. Stanley Long, Chairman of the UMI board. “I will miss him beyond what words can describe. He and I have shared the same vision and burden for as many years as we have been friends. As board chair, I will invest as much energy as he did to continue the work of UMI in the same direction it has journeyed from its inception, to impact the lives of as many men, women, and children as possible.”

Dr. Banks also planted the Westlawn Gospel Chapel church in Chicago and co-founded the Urban Outreach Foundation to reach pastors, lay leaders, and Christian educators through conferences and other resources. He also co-founded Circle Y Ranch, a Christian camp and conference center for urban youth. Dr. Banks received an honorary Doctorate of Literature from Wheaton College in 1992 and served as a Board Trustee.

Dr. Banks died from a month-long illness and is survived by his wife Olive and his three children Melvin Jr., Patrice Lee, and Reginald. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be sent to Circle Y Ranch Bible Camp c/o UMI 1551 Regency Ct., Calumet City, IL 60409 or donate via the website: https://circleyranch.net referencing Dr. Banks. Resolutions and tributes can be sent to [email protected].

Two-Minute Podcast Shorts on Martin Luther King, Jr.

Two-Minute Podcast Shorts on Martin Luther King, Jr.

 A father and son stand together at the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial, inaugurated in 2011. They are looking at a quote by MLK which reads: THE ULTIMATE MEASURE OF A MAN IN NOT WHERE HE STANDS IN MOMENTS OF COMFORT AND CONVENIENCE BUT WHERE HE STANDS AT TIMES OF CHALLENGE AND CONTROVERSY.

In Africa, Catholic sisters lead the way to replace orphanages with family care

In Africa, Catholic sisters lead the way to replace orphanages with family care

Sr. Caroline Ngatia of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Sisters of Eldoret shares breakfast with the street families in Nairobi, Kenya. (Doreen Ajiambo)

Sr. Caroline Ngatia of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Sisters of Eldoret shares breakfast with the street families in Nairobi, Kenya. Her center, Kwetu Home of Peace, accommodates homeless boys ages 8 to 14 who are rescued from the streets and slums in Nairobi and inducted into a process of reintegration. (Doreen Ajiambo)


This article originally appeared on the GlobalSistersReport.org


The goal is as simple as it is complicated to achieve: Shift the care of children from institutions like orphanages to a family or family-like environment.

Catholic sisters in three African nations — Uganda, Zambia and Kenya — are leading the way in creating new models for caring for children. Their efforts are the core of the recent launch of Catholic Care for Children International (CCCI) under the auspices of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) — one of many faith groups leading policy reform and family-based alternatives to institutional care.

In traditional African culture, children were raised by their clan and extended family relations who nurtured them into responsible adults, but various socio-economic factors contributed to a break-up of such family ties. That has led to the formation of large childcare institutions which generally lack the necessary environment for children to thrive and develop.

Decades of research has shown that children living in institutional care are extremely exposed to neglect, physical and sexual abuse. A lack of a stable relationships and interactions among children in institutions affect their foundations for brain development, resulting in poor mental health, academic failure, and increased chances of behavioral problems later in life, studies show.

Most African countries, including Uganda, Zambia and Kenya, have endorsed the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child which recognizes that children should be raised in a safe and loving family or within a community to realize their full potential.

That’s a key reason the international sisters’ group UISG is encouraging congregations to end the placement of children in large institutions and instead support community-based, family-like alternatives.

During the launch of this global initiative Oct. 2, which was streamed online, religious orders of women and men were urged to join the initiative. “We understand that the family is the best place for a child to grow holistically,” Sri Lankan Good Shepherd Sr. Niluka Perera, coordinator of Catholic Care for Children International, told participants. “Therefore, it is the responsibility of us who are committed to the care of vulnerable children to give the best place and environment for a child to grow.”

Loreto Sr. Patricia Murray, executive secretary of the UISG, noted that there are at least 9,000 Catholic residential institutions or orphanages worldwide serving almost 5.5 million children. She urged religious institutions to learn from what others are doing in different countries to provide the best possible care for the vulnerable children.

Sr. Mary Margaret Itadal of the Little Sisters of St. Francis poses outside of her office at Budaka Cheshire Home in eastern Uganda. (Gerald Matembu)

Sr. Mary Margaret Itadal of the Little Sisters of St. Francis* poses outside of her office at Budaka Cheshire Home in eastern Uganda. The center, which was started in 1970 to improve the quality of life for children with disabilities, under the Catholic Care for Children program, now serves as a short-term foster care and transition care center where the child is admitted awaiting return to the community so that they are adopted by other families. (Gerald Matembu)

“Catholic Care for Children functions well in three countries — Zambia, Uganda and Kenya. It’s associated very closely with the conference of religious in each country, and we see that as a very good model,” said Murray in an interview with Global Sisters report. “We can move our focus to supporting family life because we know that 80% of children are not orphans but have a living parent or a family structure, and that family structure can be helped to keep the child at home.” UISG is carefully considering other countries where the model can be implemented, she said.

Poverty and family breakdown have contributed to the growth of institutional care, said Kathleen Mahoney, a program officer of GHR Foundation, which has “Children in Families” as one of its program areas. Through the respective religious associations, GHR has been providing funding in the three countries for the training of sisters in social work, case management and child care programs, and assisting in the transition from institutional to family care.

“GHR has a long history of working with Catholic sisters around the globe, and we really see them as tremendous spiritual and social asset for the world,” she said. The social and spiritual aspects came together in Zambia and Uganda and recently in Kenya where “we really see sisters at the helm,” she said. “Catholic Care for Children is a sister-led, charism-driven movement to improve care for children. We see real potential for this to grow.”

Global Sisters Report reported from Uganda, Zambia and Kenya on the program models and how UISG is aiming to play a role in expanding these models to elsewhere in the world and trying to de-emphasize institutional care.

Sr. Mary Lunyolo, a member of Sisters of Mary of Kakamega, explains the new child integration guidelines. (Gerald Matembu)

Sr. Mary Lunyolo, a member of Sisters of Mary of Kakamega, explains the new child integration guidelines. (Gerald Matembu)


Uganda

The Catholic Care for Children’s initial pilot project started in Uganda five years ago. The initiative began when the government of Uganda raised a red flag over poor quality of care in childcare institutes across the country, especially those run by the churches. The government threatened to close several children’s homes, including those belonging to the religious sisters because of a lack of training to handle children, according to sisters interviewed for this article.

The East African nation had about 36 residential child care institutions in 1996, and now has an estimated 800 institutional care centers with around 150,000 children, according to available data published in 2019. Only 70 institutions are licensed by the Ugandan Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development, according to this report.

Catholic Care for Children in Uganda (CCCU) sought to reform child care institutes with the objective of ensuring a stable and secure family environment for every child. CCCU, which is an initiative of the Association of Religious in Uganda (ARU) and financially supported by GHR Foundation, began by training dozens of religious caregivers on the importance of family care rather than institutional care.

CCCU offered scholarships to more than 80 religious sisters in the areas of social work and social administration. A majority of the sisters attained a bachelor’s degree in social work, some obtained master’s degrees in social work, and others trained in a certificate course on protection of children. The sisters received their training at Makerere University in Uganda, in partnership with the Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development.

Sr. Mary Lunyolo, a member of Sisters of Mary of Kakamega, said the motive of training was to help the sisters with skills to support family reintegration, avert future family separation and finally end institutionalization within Uganda, a country of 44 million people.

“Many of the childcare institutes were run by sisters who had inadequate skills on institutional childcare,” said Lunyolo. “But many of our sisters right now have received training in various aspects of childcare.”

Lunyolo is the administrator of St. Kizito Babies Home, which was established in 1968 to care for babies whose mothers died during childbirth. It now serves as a short-term foster care and transition care center. Children are admitted awaiting return to the community so that they are adopted by other families, she said.

Sr. Mary Lunyolo, a member of Sisters of Mary of Kakamega, poses for a photo with Rachael Weginga, a social worker at St. Kizito Baby's Home in eastern Uganda. (Gerald Matembu)

Sr. Mary Lunyolo, a member of Sisters of Mary of Kakamega, poses for a photo with Rachael Weginga, a social worker at St. Kizito Baby’s Home in eastern Uganda. (Gerald Matembu)


She said the home, which admits children from newborns to age 3, has been able to reintegrate 18 children, who are monitored in the community by sister caseworkers. Lunyolo estimated that thousands of children have been integrated with family members or adoptive families since the program began in various centers run by religious women in Uganda.

“The initiative is really working well because the community has bought into the idea,” she said, noting that age levels and policies had to be changed. “Previously this home used to keep children up to 9 years, but now we strictly see them off within 3 years under the new policy.” Sisters had been reintegrating dozens of children every week, she said, before the pandemic.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, has hampered the new policy of permanent unification in various centers across the country, Lunyolo said. The institution could not hold social meetings and trainings due to COVID-19 restrictions, which also hampered the ability to place children with foster parents.

“Sisters are not able to receive more children at their centers right now because they do not have the necessary check-up and isolation facilities,” she said. “Visitors and parents are also not allowed to visit the centers for reintegration or adoption.”

The reintegration process can have shortcomings that expose the child to more risk of abuse and neglect in the hands of the caregivers, especially relatives, said Lunyolo.

“Sometimes you find all is well, but sometimes you find there is a problem,” said Lunyolo, clarifying that the majority of caregivers lack parenting skills or financial resources to care for the children. “Some of the resettled children hardly receive the parental care from the caregivers as majority of them often lack parenting skills or are economically handicapped.” The region, which includes Mbale in the eastern part of Uganda, ranks almost double the country’s poverty index, at 40% compared with the national average of 21.4%, according to the Uganda National household survey in 2016-17.

Srs. Caroline Ngatia, at left, in white veil, and Caroline Cheruiyot, far right, and members of the staff work together on behalf of the street children, some of whom are pictured here, at Kwetu Home of Peace in Nairobi, Kenya. (Doreen Ajiambo)

Srs. Caroline Ngatia, at left, in white veil, and Caroline Cheruiyot, far right, and members of the staff work together on behalf of the street children, some of whom are pictured here, at Kwetu Home of Peace in Nairobi, Kenya. The center, which is run by the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Sisters of Eldoret, since 1993 had been taking in homeless. (Doreen Ajiambo)

Sisters try to address such issues by providing startup kits, which include basic requirements such as food, clothing and bedding. In some cases, they offer income generating activities such as poultry keeping and livestock rearing. The institution also equips economically limited parents with skills such as hair dressing, tailoring and small business to boost their livelihood.

The home sensitizes parents and the community on child protection, which includes parenting skills training prior to the transition. The institution also makes follow up visits for two years to ascertain the welfare of the child. If conditions are not good, their intervention is limited to reporting to the probation officer, who by law reserves discretionary power to delay the unification or recall the child from the caregiver if the child is deemed to be unsafe. Where necessary, the institution links the children to partner non-governmental organizations for further support, said Rachael Weginga, a social worker attached to St. Kizito Babies Home.

Catholic Care for Children Institutes Uganda is emphasizing a holistic approach to transitional care, including family counseling and economic strengthening and parenting, aimed at ensuring that the family or foster care giver is ready to receive the child, based on the “do no harm” principle. “It is not about taking the child home,” said Joseph Ssentongo, an official from the Kampala-based CCCU secretariat.

The Catholic Care initiative in Uganda now works with nearly 20 religious institutes operating 46 child care institutions with almost 2,000 children. The pilot program, which began in 2016 and ends in December 2021, is being implemented in three phases.

The first phase of the project started with CCCU assessing religious caregivers’ skills and qualifications to run the institutional care. In its second phase, CCCU carried out research to find out whether religious sisters running the institutions were implementing the legal frameworks for child protection.

 Sr. Winnie Mutuku of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul founded Upendo Street Children (USC), an organization that serves homeless boys in Kitale, Kenya. She is already championing the importance of family care for children. (Provided photo)

Sr. Winnie Mutuku of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul founded Upendo Street Children (USC), an organization that serves homeless boys in Kitale, Kenya. She is already championing the importance of family care for children. (Provided photo)

The results from the two phases revealed that there was greater need for training to be done on child protection so that sisters caring for children are able to carry out their duties with skills and qualifications required, said Lunyolo.

The issue of funding is also delaying the new model of permanent integration, Lunyolo said. The institutions still need support to care for children on a temporary basis, to identify caregivers and provide needed support and resettlement packages to families and foster parents. This has led the Association of Religious in Uganda to launch a CCCU Fundraising and Transitioning Donors program aimed at winning the hearts of donors to support the new model.

Brian Carroll, founder and chief executive officer of Markempa, company that provides empathy-based marketing services, is championing the donor transition program. The program seeks to address funding gaps that are choking transitional care in many Christian child care institutions.

“Early on, we discovered there was a significant need to establish fundraising basics for the Christian child care institutions that included doing consistent donor outreach to get new donors via phone, email, social media, and face-to-face,” he said. More than 10 institutions have registered tremendous progress in one year, he said, to support the transition into community-based and family care.

Zambia

A three-year pilot program through the Zambia Association of Sisterhoods started in 2019 is reintegrating children from institutions into family and community care, building on practical experience from Uganda and research conducted earlier in Zambia.

The southern African nation had about 8,335 children living in institutional care, according to government data cited in a 2016 research report by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and sponsored by the GHR Foundation. The children lived in 190 residential care facilities, with 40 being Catholic-affiliated.

The research looked in-depth at Catholic residential care facilities and what was needed to preserve families and promote alternative family-based care. Poverty — being unable to afford school fees or food — was the primary reason for placement in institutions, with the death of a parent as the second-most common reason, the research found. Plans for a Catholic Care for Children Zambia (CCCZ) program began in 2017 with the formal pilot project starting two years later.

Catholic Care for Children Zambia plans to integrate 60 children from institutional care to family care in the three-year pilot project period that ends in December 2021, according to Sr. Cecilia Nakambo, project coordinator for CCCZ. Two residential facilities were identified as initial sites for reintegration efforts, St. Martins Children’s Home in the Lufwanyama district, and Lubatsi Home in Livingstone.

So far, 48 children have so far been reunited with their families from the two residential care facilities, Nakambo said. Notable signs of success include developing processes for proper documentation, planning and preparing the child to bond with its family, and engaging the family for the integration process, including identifying needed resources, she said. Resources can include food, school fees, clothing and transportation costs as most children come from rural areas.

Training of sisters and other caregivers in case management and counseling was particularly important. “We thought that a child could easily reunite with their family without proper assessment or investigations on whether they will easily be embraced back and even when they were not ready to be reintegrated,” she said. The sisters also work with a government department to help find family members and reunite them with the children.

Sr. Cecilia Nakambo of the Little Sisters of St. Francis is the project coordinator for Catholic Care for Children Zambia. (Derrick Silimina)

Sr. Cecilia Nakambo of the Little Sisters of St. Francis is the project coordinator for Catholic Care for Children Zambia. (Derrick Silimina)

Catholic Care for Children Zambia aims to improve the wellbeing of children by continuing to provide counseling to family members of the 48 children and others who are reintegrated, in a second phase of the program after the pilot program ends in 2021. A review of the pilot project will determine if the reintegration program expands to include more children, Nakambo said.

Training is also being provided to caregivers within the two residential care facilities, she said. “We have carried out a number of trainings such as in case management, reintegration, trauma counseling, and basic qualification care for children which helps caregivers serve effectively, and how to protect and know a child’s rights in a facility,” said Nakambo, adding that much of the practical knowledge has been acquired from the initial project in Uganda.

As much as Care for Children Zambia favors the idea of child integration, the residential facilities produced notable members of Zambian society, including some senior government officials, she said, opting to not identify them to protect their privacy. However, the new method of reintegration with families has even greater likelihood of producing responsible members of society, she added.

“Through the help of GHR, we are carrying out this pilot activities and I can see that reintegration is possible in the new guidelines, as well as what is needed, how much, who is on board or its challenges among other factors,” Nakambo said.

Recently, the CCCZ organized a counseling workshop for 35 children who are traumatized from various orphanages in Lusaka. Reintegration is key for children in orphanages to alleviate trauma, said Charity Shaba, the professional child counselor who led the workshop.

“We have managed to counsel children against the effects of mental stress, and most of them are now opening up and coming out of the trauma they had been going through,” Shaba said.

The Zambia Association of Sisterhoods is doing a great job to spearhead the reintegration program because children have been living in various orphanages not knowing who they really are, and have been traumatized after being orphaned or abandoned by their parents, Shaba said.

“I feel the program will help children discover who they really are as individuals and find their own family identity. In the near future, I think we will have better family set ups because what they just know is their foster parents from the caregiver institutions and to them that is a normal way of life,” she said.

Children play at Kwetu Home of Peace in Nairobi, Kenya. The home is a rehabilitation center for street boys between the ages 8 and 14 years old. (Provided photo)

Children play at Kwetu Home of Peace in Nairobi, Kenya. The home is a rehabilitation center for street boys between the ages 8 and 14 years old. (Provided photo)

Kenya

When the East African nation began taking steps in 2018 to reduce the number of children in institutional care, there were estimated 42,000 children in over 854 children’s homes across the country.

The government announced a long-standing action plan towards deinstitutionalization of children. It also further placed a moratorium on the registration of institutions, revoking some of the licenses of adoption agencies.

The government’s emphasis on deinstitutionalization helped spur research and discussion among sisters in 2018 about a Catholic Care for Children program in Kenya, which formally began a year later. One key aspect is to draw on the long-time experience of one of the local congregations in reintegrating children with families.

Since 1993, religious sisters at Kwetu Home of Peace, a rehabilitation center for street boys, has focused on tracing families of displaced children and preparing these children to return home.  Other institutional care centers, especially those run by the Catholic Church, also began following this model of reintegration.

The center, which is run by the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Sisters of Eldoret, accommodates homeless boys ages 8 to 14 who are rescued from the streets and slums in Nairobi and elsewhere and inducted into a process of reintegration. Three times a year, about 60 boys are taken into the program.

Sr. Hellen Simiyu, administrator of the center, said that using a scorecard during reintegration, sisters assess the family’s needs and provide financial assistance as necessary. The center has reintegrated more than 4,500 children since 1993, with a long-term success rate of about 80%. To ensure that reintegration is successful, it is as vital to invest in families as it is in children, she said.

“We pick boys from the streets; after three weeks, we do home visiting and home tracing where we talk to parents and local leaders on the importance of accepting these children back to the families,” said Simiyu. “Most of the boys we pick from the streets either have one parent or poor guardians who cannot take care of them; therefore, they end up on the streets.”

Simiyu said that the model has been successful because of the strict adherence of all reintegration processes. They usually call the parents, an education officer from the government, and the area government official to ensure the safety of the child and for easy follow-up, she said.

Children should also be at the heart of reintegration efforts, she said. “Children should be listened to and involved in each stage of the process,” she said, admitting that in some cases family reintegration fails because children returning to their families may not be in their best interests. “For children who don’t have parents, we always get willing people from the church, others even volunteer from different institutions and they agree to support the child through foster parenthood.”

Frank Kinuthia, 20, who now lives in a family unit after sisters from Kwetu Home of Peace in Kenya found him a home seven years ago, said he was now doing better socially, emotionally and physically than when he was at the center. (Provided photo)

Frank Kinuthia, 20, who now lives in a family unit after sisters from Kwetu Home of Peace in Kenya found him a home seven years ago, said he was now doing better socially, emotionally and physically than when he was at the center. (Provided photo)


Children interviewed said they are pleased with the model. Frank Kinuthia, 20, who now lives in a family unit after sisters from Kwetu Home of Peace found him a home seven years ago, said he was now doing better socially, emotionally and physically than when he was at the center.

“I’m happy to be in a family because I have learned to love and cherish every moment,” said Kinuthia, who was taken in from the streets of Nairobi in 2009 after both parents died. The sisters found him a family among members of a parish after searching for several months. “It’s a good feeling to have parents and siblings. They act as a role model. These parents will always encourage you to do good things and live in harmony with others.”

Simiyu said the launching of Catholic Care for Children International will further implement this initiative for the sake of young children. “We are very happy with this initiative because it confirms what we have been doing,” she said. “We are going to double our efforts to ensure every child has a normal life.”

Sr. Winnie Mutuku who manages Upendo Street Children, a project run by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul in Kitale town in western Kenya, said she has already began championing  the importance of family care for children after learning the model from Kwetu Home of Peace and other Catholic affiliated centers.

“Since we began reintegration last year in March, we have reintegrated 46 children so far,” she said, adding that now her center aims to restore dignity to the homeless children, educate them and reunite them with their respective families. “I am in total support of the UISG initiative to make sure that every child gets a home. It is the best way to go and also solution to many negative social effects that are currently affecting the youths.”

Mutuku who won a presidential order of service award last year for feeding street children amid COVID-19, said her center hasn’t reintegrated any children this year because they were still doing home tracing.The center rescues 20 to 30 children twice a year from the streets. They stay at the center for three to six months for rehabilitation before the process of reintegration begins, she said.

After reintegration, Mutuku said “we do a follow up at least for a year to ensure the safety and sustainability of the children just to ensure they don’t go back to the streets,”

“When I see children in a loving home or with parents, my heart is at peace,” she concluded. “I hope this noble initiative by UISG will be adopted by many more institutions even if they are not sister- or church-led.”

Sr. Delvin Mukhwana, who is responsible for safeguarding and promoting quality care for children at the Association of Sisterhoods in Kenya (AOSK) and the project manager for Catholic Care for Children Kenya, told GSR that she was planning to reduce the number of children in residential care by holding workshops to bring in important community stakeholders to create family care models that include family reintegration, foster care, and domestic adoption.

The workshops for community members and the training of sisters from various congregations about the guidelines of transitional care began in July 2019, but have been more difficult to continue because of COVID-19 restrictions. The sisters do hold some virtual meetings to discuss the progress of reintegration.

“We are involving everyone in this process of reintegration. We are currently working with the institutions that have already begun this initiative by educating them on how they should proceed moving forward after reintegration,” said Mukhwana, of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Sisters of Eldoret. “We specifically educate them on the importance of family to the growth of a child.”

*An earlier version of this story gave the wrong community.

[Gerald Matembu is a reporter in Uganda and Derrick Silimina is a reporter in Zambia.]


Doreen Ajiambo is the Africa/Middle East correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow her on Twitter: @DoreenAjiambo.


Gerald Matembu is a multimedia journalist based in Mbale Town, Eastern Uganda. He is a reporter and bureau chief for Next Media Services (NBS Television, Nile Post and Next Radio), a leading media company in Uganda.


Derrick Silimina is an award-winning multimedia journalist based in Lusaka, Zambia, whose work has appeared on many media platforms in Zambia and abroad.

Funeral directors survive ‘surreal’ year with creativity and faith

Funeral directors survive ‘surreal’ year with creativity and faith

Video Courtesy of VICE News


There are no signs in front yards hailing the men and women who sometimes wryly call themselves “last responders.”

But for funeral directors across the country, like medical professionals, this has been a year like no other.

“There is no way to explain it,” said Stephen Kemp, 61, director of Kemp Funeral Home & Cremation Services of Southfield, Michigan, which borders Detroit. “I will never forget it as long as I live. In terms of sheer volume, it was surreal.”

In a normal month, Kemp estimates, he handles arrangements for about 30 bodies. In April, said Kemp, he did 152, mostly African American men. Now, even as his monthly toll has settled to about 40, he’s seeing people with comorbid conditions succumbing to the long-term effects of the disease.

A member of a United Methodist Church, Kemp said that he couldn’t do what he does without spiritual support. “I consider what we do as a ministry. You have to be a person of faith.”

On the other hand, said Kemp, who is Black, there were times when he talked to God and asked, “Lord, what are you doing here? What message are you trying to tell us? Spiritually, it affected me. It just seemed like it (the virus) was killing our community.”

In this April 22, 2020 file photo, friends and family of Larry Hammond who were among only 10 mourners allowed, sit in chairs spaced for social distancing, during his funeral at Boyd Funeral Home in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

Less than an hour to the west in Ann Arbor, the numbers of infection were much lower than in the Detroit area, but the emotional toll was no less punishing. With distanced and virtual funerals, many families could not be with their loved ones as they died, due to restrictions on visitors at hospitals.

“It was pretty difficult,” said Douglas “Dutch” Nie, who runs a funeral home founded by his parents. “We know how important it is to grieve as a community. Families were just at a loss.”

Francis X. Givnish, supervisor at Mauger-Givnish Funeral Home in Malvern, Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia suburb, said he’s painfully aware that, because of pandemic restrictions on hospital visitors, many didn’t have a chance to say a proper goodbye. “It’s a sad situation. Sometimes the next time a family sees their loved one is here.”

Givnish, 55, who comes from a family of funeral directors, said he also gets overwhelmed occasionally but he owes it to the people he’s serving not to show it. “You have to have a steady hand,” he said. “Because they are looking to you as a professional.” Instead, he asks God for “help for the families.”

Nie is concerned for his staff as well as his clients. “They’ve got families and they’ve got fears,” he said. The labradoodle who normally visits with grieving families has been getting a lot of attention from employees, he said, “just dealing with the emotions they have.”

Nie currently serves as secretary to the National Funeral Directors Association, which produced resources to help funeral home staff and families through the pandemic. “There’s a saying in our industry that while wedding planners get six months, we get three days to plan a service.”

With safety considerations forcing families to delay memorials, opt for outdoor celebrations or move to online forums such as Zoom, “this year has kind of turned us into wedding planners,” Nie said.

But Nie’s staff members also tell him they are getting a higher amount of positive feedback from clients grateful for their resourcefulness. “Families just seem to be more appreciative of the efforts,” Nie said, “so that they feel fulfilled and, you know, that’s why they are doing what they are doing.”

Nora Menkin, executive director of the People’s Memorial Association, a funeral industry consumer advocacy group in Washington state, said staff meetings at the funeral home run by her organization now include what Menkin calls “‘oh, poor baby’ time, when everyone can decompress.”

Before the pandemic, PMA created a “good news jar,” into which employees tossed notes about encouraging events and pulled them out and shared when needed. It has come in handy in the past 11 months. “We have so many wonderful people that we work with, and so many wonderful situations and stories, that we need to elevate them when the difficult stuff comes around,” Menkin said.

As they reflect on what they have learned from working during the almost yearlong crisis, the word that these funeral directors use again and again is “creative.”

“We do get asked, what would be normal in this situation,” said Menkin. “But there is no normal, especially right now. It’s a lot of conversation about teasing out what’s important to the family.”

Though it’s hard to see any good coming out of tragedy, Amy Cunningham of New York’s Fitting Tribute Funeral Services, which specializes in green burials, said the pandemic’s one upside may be that it has reminded people that “thinking about the end of life is actually a healthy way to live, one that clarifies your mission on earth and helps you move forward.” (Cunningham’s husband is a board member of the Religion News Foundation.)

That principle, she noted, is a tenet of world religions, including Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity.

While nobody wanted to think of death before the pandemic, “now I think it’s very clear to people that it’s really smart to have some thoughts on paper and commit a file into the hands of your family members,” she said.

Now, said Cunningham, she and her colleagues have time to spend at professional meetings comparing notes and asking: What part of that is good, and something we want to continue to do? What have we learned from this crisis about technology, Zoom, memorial events held remotely, streaming services?

She said funeral directors are letting themselves “be proud of just managing.” Last spring, New York City funeral directors scrambled to keep up with more than 24,000 deaths than normal.

“In the end, there was no finer hour for funeral directors in New York City,” Cunningham said.

Navigating a cascade of practical difficulties while addressing the needs of grieving families took “a cool head and a kind of confidence you were doing the best you could,” said Cunningham.

At the same time, she said, “when you’re turning people away, you pick up the sorrow of the families. There was a cumulative despair among all of us. We’re educated and wired to be as helpful as we can be and give people meaningful experiences. Many of us felt we were failing because we couldn’t do enough, fast enough.”

A journalist before getting her funeral director’s license in her mid-50s, Cunningham, now 65, said that though she could not have anticipated the enormous amount of suffering and loss of the past 10 months, she realized that “spiritually, as well as academically, maybe I was in the right place at that right time, and that everything I’ve learned has led me to this point.

“Now I feel like I’m exactly where I want to be, as hard as this is.”

11 weight management tips that (really!) work

11 weight management tips that (really!) work

This article was originally published on MyCarolinaLife.com

RELATED: Good nutrition can contribute to keeping COVID-19 and other diseases away


When it comes to advice for managing your weight, it can be hard to separate fact from fiction.

Does drinking a concoction of maple syrup and cayenne pepper in place of meals really help you lose weight? Should you eat cabbage every meal? What about adding butter to your coffee – does that actually work?

Tidelands Health family medicine physician Dr. Vasudha Jain, who practices at Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Holmestown Road, says unorthodox plans to maintain or lose weight generally don’t work, and they can actually be dangerous to your health.

Instead of opting for quick-fix schemes, Dr. Jain says to look for a weight-management strategy that’s sustainable and backed by evidence-based research.

“There are lots of ideas out there,” Dr. Jain says. “But it’s important to evaluate the science behind them to determine how and why the strategy works.”

Important for health

For example, research has shown that eating a moderate amount of nuts every day is a great way to help maintain or lose weight while improving overall nutrition.

“Replacing sugary snacks with a handful of almonds or pecans is a simple strategy that can prevent gradual weight gain and aid in weight loss,” Dr. Jain says. “Nuts offer tons of nutrients and antioxidants as well as healthy fats and fiber, which can help keep you feeling full.”

Maintaining a healthy weight is important for overall health, Dr. Jain says, because it can help reduce your risk for a broad range of conditions, including:
• Heart disease
• Diabetes
• Stroke
• Some cancers
• Arthritis
• Gallstones
• Asthma
• Sleep apnea

“As we age, it can become harder to keep the pounds off. Adults tend to gain 1 to 2 pounds each year, so finding effective ways to keep your weight in check becomes especially important,” she says.

In addition to eating nuts, here are 10 more tips that can help manage your weight:

1. Drink water before meals

People who used this strategy lost more weight than those who didn’t. Thirst often masks itself as hunger, causing you to eat more than you should. Additionally, drinking water beforehand makes you feel fuller so you eat less during the meal.

2. Move often

Physical activity and movement are key to preventing weight gain and maintaining good cardiovascular health.

3. Be selective when eating out

The average restaurant meal totals more than 1,000 calories, but nutritional information is often not printed on menus. Look for ways to lessen your caloric intake when dining out. Split a meal or substitute starchy side dishes with a green salad.

4. Stay hydrated

In addition to drinking water before meals, it’s important to stay hydrated throughout the day. Increasing your water consumption will boost your metabolism by as much as 30 percent, which can help you burn extra calories as you go about your day.

5. Eat protein for breakfast

Research has shown that replacing a grain-based breakfast like oatmeal or muffins with protein, specifically eggs, will cause you to eat fewer calories for the next 36 hours. You’ll feel fuller throughout the day, so you’ll snack less and eat smaller meals at lunch and dinner.

6. Use smaller plates

Studies have shown that using smaller plates during meals help you eat less food. Called the Delboeuf illusion, your brain is tricked into thinking you’ve eaten a larger portion.

7. Rearrange your plate

Speaking of plates, aim to fill half your plate with vegetables, a quarter with whole grains and a quarter with lean protein. The Choose My Plate app available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture makes it easy to track how much you’re eating from each food group.

8. Get enough sleep

Adequate sleep is extremely important to maintaining a healthy weight. Lack of sleep can prompt your body to produce more of a hormone that increases hunger and less of a hormone that makes you feel satisfied. Therefore, you crave more salty and sweet foods. That’s why poor-quality sleep has been linked to an 89 percent increased risk of obesity in children and a 55 percent increased risk of obesity in adults.

9. Don’t drink calories

Sugary drinks like sodas and juices contain lots of empty calories that can lead to weight gain. In fact, liquid sugar may be the most fattening aspect of our diets. One study found that sugar-sweetened beverages increased the risk of childhood obesity by 60 percent.

10. Chew and eat slowly

Take your time when eating. One study has found that chewing 50 times per bite of food can reduce your caloric intake. Additionally, eating slowly will make you feel fuller more quickly.

Maintaining your weight requires dietary changes and lifestyle modifications — not fad diets. By implementing at least some of these evidence-based tips in your daily life, you’ll find it easier to manage your weight and improve your health.

Henry Louis Gates’ new book and TV series distills centuries of Black church history

Henry Louis Gates’ new book and TV series distills centuries of Black church history

Video Courtesy of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.


The history of Black Christianity in America will come to television screens this month in a documentary series based on a new book by Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr., a Harvard University historian who is simultaneously an admirer and a critic of its influential role in American society.

Gates’ book, “ The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song,” will be released Tuesday (Feb. 16), the same day the four-hour documentary will begin a two-day run on PBS stations, airing at 9 p.m. EST. Musicians John Legend and Yolanda Adams are featured in the series.

Gates, who describes himself as a “spiritual person,” said at a virtual news conference Friday (Feb. 5) that while he is a critic of the Black church’s history of male domination and homophobia, he has celebrated its culture and rejoiced in what it has overcome.

Gates said that during his summer visits to Martha’s Vineyard, he attends services at Union Chapel, which features prominent Black preachers. “We all come together to experience that circle of warmth,” he told Religion News Service at the news conference.

When Black people come together for worship, he said, it is “a celebration of our culture, our history, of who we are, of how we got over, how we survived the madness, the claustrophobic madness of hundreds of years of slavery and then a century of Jim Crow and then anti-Black racism that we saw manifest itself at the Capitol.”

The series captures the broad sweep of this history in interviews with scholars and well-known Black clergy such as African Methodist Episcopal Bishop Vashti McKenzieBishop T.D. Jakes and the Rev. William J. Barber II.

Stacey Holman, who produced and directed the series, spoke to Religion News Service recently about how she and Gates distilled centuries of history into the four-hour series, her thoughts on the Black church’s future and how Oprah Winfrey made the final call on the name of the documentary.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You have worked on films about the Freedom Riders and historically Black colleges and universities. What struck you most about the Black church history you helped present with Henry Louis Gates Jr.?

What struck me was that we did not come here empty-handed. There were Africans who were practicing Muslims who were brought here in the transatlantic slave trade. That connection still exists today. A religion that is very actively practiced among Black people was here when this country was first being formed. Also, just how rich the history is and just how there’s so much connective tissue to Africa, to our worship and to our praise.

Mixed in with the interviews with scholars and clergy are the personal stories of Black celebrities about the Black church. Whose stories did you find to be particularly worth telling?

I think Kirk Franklin ’s story was quite moving. He talked about his friend that he lost, who was killed, and someone who was a good kid, and he was not, so — one of those situations where it’s like, wow, God, you spared my life. And I think even John Legend’s story, hearing how the church has really informed his career, but also how he was brought up and raised going to church and then becoming the choir director.

You’ve worked with Gates before. Was this series different because the subject matter related to him personally? At one point he breaks into song with Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and tells some of his faith story from the pulpit of the West Virginia Methodist church he joined at age 12. 

Yes, very much so. When he was giving, as we say, his testimony, my crew was crying. It was just beautiful, just seeing him coming back home. When I have traveled to my grandparents’ church in southern Ohio, it was like that welcome home. And to see that with Skip just brought fond memories to me.

John Legend, who was an executive producer, as well as Shirley Caesar and Yolanda Adams talk about the importance of music. How did you address its influence in the Black church?

I think having those voices that you just mentioned were important. These are individuals who have used the music — John is more contemporary and pop and R&B, but there’s definitely elements of the church in what he plays. Even Kirk Franklin, the crossover songs that they’ve had, it just speaks to the richness that music has played over the centuries of the Black church.

The series shows various forms of faithful fervor, from ring shout to speaking in tongues. Why was it important to delve into that aspect of Black American faith?

I think that people think that’s all that the Black church is: We go in and people are hooting and hollering and jumping around. I think even just talking about the Great Awakening says, yeah, there were white folks doing it, too. So this whole idea of this fervor in worship is nothing new, but I think (the documentary is) really breaking it down so that people can understand the history of it. And it’s not an act. It’s a feeling. It’s an emotion that people get.

The show makes a revelation about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s inspiration for the phrase ‘I have a dream.’

(Minister and civil rights activist) Prathia Hall was listed (as an influential preacher) by the pastors we asked — at least a good third or half of them would say Prathia Hall. And I didn’t really know that story until we sat with Reverend Senator (Raphael) Warnock. I was amazed. It just spoke to the testimony of just how influential Black women are in the church and were influencing major iconic speeches. We’re running churches; we are really the staples behind the everyday activity. Our series will really give her the limelight that she’s due.

Franklin and Legend talk about their anger with the Black church for rejecting changes in music and society. Can the Black church survive the rejection of some millennials and some Black Lives Matter activists?

I think it’s a case-by-case situation. It’s a denominational question as well. Certain stories that we left on the cutting room floor were really looking at that question. There are some churches that we spoke to that are really trying to engage that. I know Reverend (Otis) Moss III, his (Chicago) church is engaged in Black Lives Matter. I do believe there are churches that will need to kind of say, hey, we need to kind of catch up with the times and embrace this. But I think the church has always been evolving and will continue to evolve.

How did you distill Henry Louis Gates’ research, and that of so many others, into just a four-show series?

It was a privilege and it was like, “Oh my gosh, I’m telling 400 years in four hours.” Just to work with him was great. He gives you that freedom as a creator (where) you’re able to collaborate and talk with him about your ideas. We did argue about the title of the film. I wanted it to be “How I Got Over,” and he was like, “Oh, ‘Blessed Assurance’ (whose chorus begins ‘This is my story, this is my song’).” And then, who broke the tie but Oprah Winfrey. Skip gave her a list of names and she left a voicemail, singing, “This is our story. This is our song.” And so he’s like, “See? That’s the title.”

Do you know the history of The Brownies’ Book?

Do you know the history of The Brownies’ Book?

A newspaper boy hawks copies of the Chicago Defender.
Library of Congress

Hanging on the wall in my office is the framed cover of the inaugural issue of The Brownies’ Book, a monthly periodical for Black youths created by W.E.B. Du Bois and other members of the NAACP in 1920.

The magazine – the first of its kind – includes poems and stories that speak of Black achievement and history, while also showcasing children’s writing.

Although much of American children’s literature published near the turn of the last century – and even today – filters childhood through the eyes of white children, The Brownies’ Book gave African American children a platform to explore their lives, interests and aspirations. And it reinforced what 20th-century American literature scholar Katharine Capshaw has described as Du Bois’ “faith in the ability of young people to lead the race into the future.”

Most likely inspired by The Brownies’ Book, several Black weekly newspapers went on to create their own children’s sections. While the children’s publishing industry may have shut out Black voices and perspectives, the editors of these periodicals sought to fill the void by celebrating them, giving kids a platform to express themselves, connect with one another and indulge their curiosities.

A pioneering publication

The cover image of that first issue of The Brownies’ Book, published in January 1920, epitomizes this effort. In it, a young Black girl stands on the tips of her toes, dressed in a ballet costume.

Already, this image represented a radically different vision of Black childhood. Children’s literature of the late 19th and early 20th centuries very rarely focused on African Americans. The few Black children who did appear in print were often written or drawn as variations of Topsy, the enslaved young girl from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” who is initially considered “naughty” only to be redeemed by Eva, who plays the role of the “white savior.”

A smiling girl dressed in white raises her arms and stands en pointe.
The inaugural issue of ‘The Brownies’ Book.‘
Library of Congress

As children’s literature scholar Michelle H. Martin has noted, “children who wanted to read about black characters in children’s literature could read about buffoons, mammies, Sambos or savages,” but not about “the beauty” of Black children.

The girl on The Brownies’ Book cover offers a vastly different vision of Black childhood than the caricatures seen throughout popular culture of the time. She’s confident, excited and talented. The pages that follow feature an assortment of fiction, commentary, history and news for young readers that honors and extols Black identity.

One of the most compelling recurring sections is titled “The Jury,” which features children’s letters to the editor. In the magazine’s first issue, a boy named Franklin writes to ask about “things colored boys can work at when they grow up.” Eleanor wants the editor to recommend “some books on the Negro” so that she “can learn more about [her] race.” And a 15-year-old girl inquires about possible funding sources so that she can attend a boarding school that accepts African American students.

The Brownies’ Book had a relatively short run – 24 issues from January 1920 to December 1921. But it nonetheless seems to have encouraged a number of other Black newspapers to launch children’s sections in the early 1920s. The Pittsburgh Courier, Baltimore’s Afro-American and the Journal and Guide, published in Norfolk, Virginia, each experimented with children’s sections.

But by far the most successful effort was that of the Chicago Defender, which would launch a periodical section for Black youths that ran for decades.

‘Let us make the world know that we are living’

The Chicago Defender was perhaps the most influential Black newspaper of the 20th century. Its readership extended across the United States, and it helped spur the Great Migration, a time during which millions of African Americans left the South, by promoting job opportunities in Northern industrial cities like Chicago. Roi Ottley, biographer of Defender publisher Robert S. Abbott, wrote that only the Bible was more significant to Black Americans during the first half of the 20th century.

It contains spaces for a child's name, address, age, city and state.
An application form to join the Bud Billiken Club from the April 29, 1922, edition of the Chicago Defender.
ProQuest Historical Newspapers

In 1921, the Chicago Defender started publishing a section called the Defender Junior, run by a fictional editor named Bud Billiken. Billiken was really a 10-year-old boy named Willard Motley, who later became a noted novelist, though sometimes the paper’s adult editors wrote under Billiken moniker. In his first column, Billiken tells readers that he wants to fill “this column with sayings and doings of we little folks,” and implores them to submit their poems, questions and opinions.

Young readers could become members of the Bud Billiken Club by mailing in a form with their name, but they could also mail in letters and poetry as a way to correspond with their fellow Billikens. In June 1921, a girl named Ruth McBride of Oak Hill, Alabama, submitted the following letter to Bud:

“As I was reading the Chicago Defender a lovely paper of our Race, I came across some beautiful poems written by some of the members of your club. It filled my heart with joy to read such sweet poems. I am a little girl 9 years old, and I wish to join your club. If there is any space for me. I go to school and am in the fifth grade. My mother gets the Defender every week. Here is a poem I am sending:

  Down in the sunny South, where I was born,
  Where beautiful flowers are adoring,
  The daisies white and the purple lily.
  This is where the land is hilly."

In July 1921, Juanita Johnson of Washington, D.C., sent the Defender Junior her poem:

  "When you are lonely and don’t know what to do,
  When you must admit that you are feeling blue, 
  Take your pen in hand, my dear child, I entreat,
  And write the B.B. Club something nice and sweet.
  Your blues will depart, I’ll surely guarantee.
  You’ll cheer up at once, for so it is with me."

Black children could find – or at least attempt to find – their voices on the pages of these periodicals. For Bud Billiken, there was no greater urgency. In his introduction to the April 23, 1921, edition, he tells the story of a fly that “sat on the axle of a chariot wheel and said, ‘What a dust I do make.’”

“The fly imagines that he is causing the wheel to go around,” Billiken continues. “Let us not be like the fly, thinking we are doing something when really we only move as the world moves us.”

He concludes by writing, “The world would move on if we were not in it. This paper would be published just the same without our space. Let us make the world know that we are living and helping to make the noise and dust.”

The Defender Junior proved popular – so popular that the newspaper launched the Bud Billiken Parade in 1929 in Chicago’s South Side. By midcentury, the annual parade had become one of the largest gatherings of African Americans in the U.S., attracting national figures such as Duke Ellington and Muhammad Ali. In 2020, the beloved event was canceled for the first time in 91 years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A birds-eye view of a throng of kids marching in the parade.
Kids march during the 1967 Bud Billiken Parade in Chicago.
Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Getty Images

The Brownies’ Book, the Defender Junior and the children’s sections of other African American weeklies gave Black children a space to tell their stories, express their anxieties and assert their ambitions.

In that photograph of the ballerina on The Brownie’s Book’s first cover, I imagine her saying something similar to Bud Billiken’s appeal – “Let us make the world know that we are living.”

Or perhaps more simply, “Black lives matter.”

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Paige Gray, Professor of Writing and Liberal Arts, Savannah College of Art and Design

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

3 ways Black people say their white co-workers and managers can support them and be an antidote to systemic racism

3 ways Black people say their white co-workers and managers can support them and be an antidote to systemic racism

People of color say they want office allies who offer honest feedback.
10’000 Hours/DigitalVision via Getty Images

Jennifer R. Joe, University of Delaware and Wendy K. Smith, University of Delaware

President Joe Biden committed the U.S. government to racial equity by issuing four executive orders on Jan. 26 that seek to curb systemic racism. In the orders, he cited the killing of George Floyd in 2020, which sparked months of protests and prompted many U.S. companies to likewise commit themselves – and hundreds of billions of dollars – to helping Black Americans overcome institutional discrimination.

Shortly after the protests began last year, we hosted a panel that addressed this very topic. Held on Juneteenth, the webinar featured four Black women – including one of us – who poignantly shared their own frequent encounters with racial bias in job interviews, shopping for clothes and even working with their peers.

A common question we got from the predominantly white audience was some variation on “How can I be an ally?” That is, a lot of people wanted to know what they can do as friends, colleagues and managers to support African Americans in overcoming ongoing discrimination and bias and achieving success.

This prompted us – business scholars with a keen interest in diversity, one white, one Black – to try to find an answer to these questions of how white people can support their Black colleagues. So we interviewed five successful Black professionals and the mostly white “allies” they said were instrumental to their achievements to see if we could find an antidote to racial bias in the workplace.

Three themes stood out from this ongoing research, which we plan to submit for peer review.

Systemic bias

Racism often seems embedded in the fabric of Black people’s everyday lives. And it’s not just being treated differently by the police, which was the impetus for the 2020 protests.

Black people even experience bias from well-meaning schoolteachers, neighbors, colleagues and managers. Small acts of reckless disregard build toward broad racial disparities.

Therefore, we sought to understand the small acts of resolute connection that could shift the tide toward greater justice and equity.

Using our own networks, we reached out to five Black professionals in a range of industries – financial services, packaged foods and sports management – who were all in executive roles in their organizations. We asked them to think of the individuals who were instrumental to their success and describe the specific support these people offered to help manage explicit or implicit moments of discrimination. Next, we interviewed the eight allies they identified – seven white, one Black.

These 13 in-depth interviews yielded key patterns about the simple ways to address racial bias that defy conventional wisdom. Unlike research that relies on surveys to get representative viewpoints, a qualitative approach allowed us to gain a richer, more comprehensive understanding of the factors and variables in these relationships that made them powerful.

Black Lives Matter protesters hold up posters. One reads 'Smash racism by any means necessary.'
Black Lives Matter protests targeted systemic racism.
AP Photo/Frank Augstein

Reciprocal relationships

Consistent with social exchange theory, we found that these relationships worked best when there was a partnership and both parties benefited.

People of color said they did not want to be objects of pity. Even the question “What can I do?” implies a power dynamic – someone in power reaching out to someone in need.

The people of color we spoke to found the strongest support when their allies recognized their talents and helped them apply these talents more effectively in the workplace. And that support was more authentic and trustworthy when both parties benefited from the relationship and learned from each other.

The Black professionals we interviewed said that they were already performing at a high level and trying to prove themselves invaluable, which made colleagues and managers who benefited from their efforts seek to promote them in the organization. The allies likewise said they supported Black workers because they saw their talent.

For example, one ally reported seeing that the dominant white macho culture in his organization did not appreciate his female Black colleague’s talent and was limiting her success. When he moved to a new company, as soon as he saw an opportunity he actively recruited her. The new role involved much more responsibility than her previous positions, but he convinced her that she could do it.

She told us that his ongoing support in the position encouraged her continued success. The relationship focused on talent, not pity, and benefited both parties.

Don’t avoid uncomfortable conversations

These relationships were not careful or guarded; they were straightforward and honest.

Past research has found that white supervisors often avoid giving critical feedback to Black subordinates and peers out of a fear of being viewed as biased. Yet it can be more biased to say nothing. Avoiding difficult conversations can impede a young professional’s upward mobility.

People of color need advice from more experienced individuals on how to successfully navigate racism traps that may exist in the workplace. They might be unaware that some of their actions or approaches are being perceived negatively in the office. These difficult conversations can strengthen relationships.

For example, an ally observed that although it was difficult, she considered it a managerial responsibility to tell her Black colleague that he was not meeting her expectations. Another ally reported explaining to a junior Black colleague that proving you are right to a supervisor may not always be beneficial if it harms your long-term career prospects.

These difficult but honest conversations helped shape the person of color’s conduct and laid the foundation for lifelong trusting connections.

Connect outside of work

Finally, it made a big difference to the people of color we interviewed when an ally tried to get to know them better as a person, not only in terms of work.

People are more productive at work when they feel that colleagues see them with nuance – with unique passions, talents and interests – rather than pigeonholing or stereotyping them based on race or gender. It also becomes a lot easier to champion and advocate for someone you know well.

But as a result of real or perceived racial barriers, Black professionals often report feeling anxious during work-related social engagements, in part because they say they don’t understand the rules. Black and white professionals also tend to move in different social circles outside of work.

Our interviewees said a key antidote to this came when allies made an effort to connect outside of work. Whether over a cup of coffee or a home-cooked meal, these social encounters allowed relationships to flourish and stereotypes to diminish.

One white ally we interviewed reported realizing that she often had white colleagues to her home for dinner but had never invited a Black colleague. So when discussing her vacation plans – a seven-day chartered Alaskan fishing trip – with a Black woman who worked in the same office, she discovered her co-worker’s husband loved fishing and invited them on the trip, where they bonded and formed a friendship.

Doing this doesn’t require becoming friends. It only means closing the “psychological distance” that can separate people along racial lines at work.

Kamala Harris takes the oath of office for vice president on Jan. 20.
Kamala Harris became the first Black U.S. vice president.
Greg Nash/Pool Photo via AP

A simple antidote

Black people in the U.S. are faced with a world that can make them feel both empowered and vulnerable. Recent scenes at the U.S. Capitol just two weeks apart sum up this jarring narrative.

On Jan. 20, Kamala Harris took the oath of office on the Capitol steps as the first Black vice president – and only hours later swore in the first Black senator from Georgia. Contrast that with images exactly two weeks earlier of white supremacists storming that very same building.

Americans face great challenges on the road to a more inclusive society. To be sure, addressing institutional racism requires systematic interventions by companies and substantial policy changes by the government. But our research suggests they also could use something simpler from their colleagues, managers and other in their lives: genuine relationships.

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Jennifer R. Joe, Professor of Accounting, University of Delaware and Wendy K. Smith, Professor of Business and Leadership, University of Delaware

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

An Innovative and Interactive Way to Learn Black History

An Innovative and Interactive Way to Learn Black History

Black History 365 includes originally composed music by Grammy-nominated producer Dr. Kevin “Khao” Cates, who has worked with notables such as Jay-Z, the late Nipsey Hustle, and Ludacris. This snippet of video is from a webcast about the project.


Dr. Walter Milton, Jr., remembers the shame he felt back in elementary school when his teacher announced to the class that they were going to learn about Black history and then started with slavery. He said he wanted to hide under the table. But later when he returned home that night, he also remembers the impact his parents had on his spirit when they explained that African Americans are descendants of ancient kings and queens. Dr. Milton and his partner, Dr. Joel Freeman, want other children to have that same impactful, eye-opening experience about Black history and that’s why they created the Black History 365 education curriculum.

“We want to give the students this whole experience about the Moors, the hunting, fishing, gathering, agriculture, all these different aspects how the civilizations began throughout ancient Africa,” said Dr. Freeman, who has included his personal photo collection of artifacts from Africa in the curriculum. “So, there’s images from the collection, where I’ve had people of African descent say, ‘Wow, I almost feel like I’m in that picture. I see my ancestors. I see myself there.’”

Both Milton and Freeman have strong educational and professional bonafides to take on a mission of bringing Black history to life in an innovative and technological way that will capture the heart and spirit of a new generation. Milton served as a school superintendent for twelve years in the states of New York, Michigan, and Illinois, and he taught at several universities across the United States. He’s also published several books addressing issues related to Black parents, schools, and education. Freeman served as player development mentor and character coach for the Washington Bullets/Wizards For 20 NBA seasons. He has also worked with the Association of International Schools for Africa (AISA), traveling extensively throughout the continent of Africa and conducting a number of training events for educators, government, and business leaders. Genuine documents and artifacts from Dr. Freeman’s personal collection have been showcased in exhibitions at the United Nations, White House, and Clinton Presidential Library.

“I met Joel when I was a superintendent back in Springfield, Illinois,” said Milton, adding that a friend of his insisted that he’d have a lot to talk about with the historian, who he called a “brother, but not a brother.” Milton was perplexed. “He’s a white guy? I said, okay, a white guy with Black history. No problem. So Joel and I met each other and the rest is history. He was one of the first persons that I called to start this project,” said Milton.


A Peek Inside Black History 365


When you first see the Black History 365 curriculum book, it looks like any other textbook. But take a peek inside and that’s where the ordinary becomes extraordinary. The artifacts from Dr. Freeman’s collection are sprinkled throughout the beautifully designed schoolbook, which begins with a chapter on Ancient Africa and ends with George Floyd. Students can scan QR codes with their smart phones that lead to originally composed music by Grammy-nominated producer Dr. Kevin “Khao” Cates, who has worked with notables such as Jay-Z, the late Nipsey Hustle, and Ludacris. Cates has a doctorate in education and through his own educational program called Bridging Da Gap, he has produced more than 600 songs for K-12 grade levels. The music is meant to engage listeners, but the QR codes also link to relevant people and places related to the subject matter. The eBook version of the book will have music and videos embedded right in it, no WIFI needed. An app is in development, too, as a way to integrate current events.

“Everyone around the country who downloads the app will get a spritz of information every morning. And then it creates this technological ecosystem where a teacher can start a class with that,” said Dr. Freeman. “Hey guys, what did you think about what you saw this morning…at the dinner table…in the grocery store? Whatever it might be, it can be sparked with these conversations.”

That said, the opportunity to bring in conversations is already a staple in the book. The “Elephant Experience” is a sidebar area to the core content of the text. It represents an opportunity to talk about hot topics that are often not so easy to discuss. In other words, the “elephant in the room.” The co-founders wanted to provide a resource that would invite students, educators, parents, and anyone else who engages with the material to become critical thinkers, compassionate listeners, fact-based and respectful communicators, and action-oriented people with solutions.

“One of the things we wanted to do with this elephant experience is deal with topics like three fifths of the human being and reparations. What about tearing down statues? And are we in a post-racial society since we had a Black president for two terms? Did Africans sell Africans into slavery? Topics that people butt heads about or talk past each other or just unfriend each other on Facebook,” said Dr. Freeman.

The Black History 365 project has expanded beyond the talents of Dr. Milton, Dr. Freeman, and Dr. Cates. The team now includes 30 additional expert educators, trainers, and instructors. Learn more at BlackHistory365education.com.

Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook’s Black women in ministry program gains $1 million grant

Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook’s Black women in ministry program gains $1 million grant

Video Courtesy of The Face of America


A new program pairing Black women in ministry with mentors has received a $1 million Lilly Endowment grant.

The Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook, former U.S. international religious freedom ambassador, and her home church, Union Baptist Church in Harlem, New York, have partnered on the R.E.A.L. THRIVE Initiative. The program includes women in the New York and Washington metropolitan areas as well as in Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana and Texas.

The R.E.A.L. acronym stands for relationship building, equipping and expanding, access and leadership and legacy development. It will feature two groups of 25 senior pastors and church planters who will serve as mentors for women representing about a dozen denominations.

The grant is part of Lilly Endowment’s Thriving in Ministry emphasis that supports U.S. religious organizations starting or enhancing programs that help experienced clergy mentor newer pastors as they lead congregations.

“This is truly a blessing and a stain(ed) glass ceiling game changer, not only for the 50 women who are now advancing, being blessed and being placed and elevated in parish ministries, through this grant, but we hope it will help many generations who follow,” said Cook, in a Monday (Feb. 1) announcement.

Cook is the former minister at Mariners’ Temple Baptist Church, where she was the first Black woman senior pastor in the history of the American Baptist Churches USA.

In a recent interview with Religion News Service, Cook said the initiative marks a new juncture in her efforts as a faith leader, entrepreneur and diplomat as she continues to support women in ministry.

“I’m about legacy right now, making sure our people are whole and wholesome,” she said.

Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion, said programs like the R.E.A.L. Thrive Initiative especially help clergy as they make key professional transitions.

“When pastors have opportunities to build meaningful relationships with experienced col-leagues,” he said in the announcement, “they are able to negotiate the challenges of ministry and their leadership thrives.”

RNS receives funding from Lilly Endowment.

Flip The Script For An Invitation into Artistic Inclusion

Flip The Script For An Invitation into Artistic Inclusion


Video Courtesy of Black Excellence Excellist


So another Black History Month is here, and for artists, writers, musicians, and other creative types that hail from the Black community, it’s an opportunity that comes with a burden.

February is a time when your workplace, school, or church might be more open to forms of artistic expression that highlights the achievements of Black people, particularly for those of you who live and/or work in a predominantly White community. And while it’s obviously a great opportunity to highlight the best of our tradition as a community, it also means that from an exposure standpoint, it’s an opening to get your songs, poems, plays, or paintings seen and heard by people who might be able to support you financially.

But the burden is the challenge of successfully executing your art without being swallowed whole by the bitterness of the struggle. I mean, let’s just be honest: struggle might be the catalyst that serves to incubate powerful works of art, but it’s terrible as a sales technique. No one can alienate their audience through their art and simultaneously persuade them to become financial supporters.

The truth is, we’ve come a long way as African Americans. No longer are we restricted to the kinds of gigs and roles that kept us docile and subservient in the minds of the majority. In recent years, there has been a greater level of visibility to the everyday struggle that Black Americans endure, and it’s also helped place a premium on authentic Black art that helps to articulate that struggle.

Still, if we’re not careful, we’ll fall into a false dichotomy, where we feel like either we must keep it fully 100 at all times with our art, or we’re selling out for the money.

But there’s a middle ground.

Discerning the Difference

Ten years ago, I was in a hip-hop duo traveling to a Christian camp to do a concert for a bunch of youth from the inner city. When I arrived onto the campus, I headed to the most logical place for music performance—the chapel.

As I walked into the chapel, I walked up to the sound booth, and told the guy that I was with the hip-hop group that was supposed to perform. He gave me this blank stare, so I thought, “Hey, it’s loud in here, so maybe he can’t hear me that well. I tried again, a bit louder.

“I’m with the Iccsters… y’know, the hip-hop group.”

Again, he gives me this confused stare. And then he says, “This is Christian camp.”

Right then and there, I almost lost it. I could tell that he didn’t really mean to say anything offensive to me, but it was like all the years of being stereotyped as a young Black man, overlooked and misunderstood as a rap artist, all the times hip-hop had been blamed for all of society’s problems—by other Christians, no less!—almost overwhelmed me. I wanted to set him straight and tell him that there are Christians who perform hip-hop, and his assumption was shortsighted, racist, and insulting.

But I had somewhere to go, so I swallowed that rage, walked out of the room, called my contact, and located my actual destination (a different building with a smaller setup).

Often, when I’m invited to share hip-hop as a form of worship music and find myself in spaces that remind me of that day, I’m tempted to go back to that moment, tap into that rage, and give the audience a piece of my pain.

The wisdom and maturity of age helped me learn how to posture myself, not as someone with an axe to grind, but as someone with something of value to share. And when I share my pain, I do it with an eye toward giving others an opportunity to join me in my struggle, instead of guilting them for not already being onboard.

Sometimes God calls us to stand up and fight; other times, He simply gives as an opportunity to share who we are and how we got here. As an artist, my prayer is for us to flip the script and learn to discern the difference.

The story of Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, America’s first black pop star

The story of Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, America’s first black pop star

Image 20170206 23515 cpxxn.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield.
Wikimedia Commons

In 1851, a concert soprano named Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield embarked on a national tour that upended America’s music scene.

In antebellum America, operatic and concert songs were very popular forms of entertainment. European concert sopranos, such as Jenny Lind and Catherine Hayes, drew huge crowds and rave reviews during their U.S. tours. Lind was so popular that baby cribs still bear her name, and you can now visit an unincorporated community called Jenny Lind, California.

Greenfield, however, was different. She was a former slave. And she was performing songs that a burgeoning field of American music criticism, led by John Sullivan Dwight, considered reserved for white artists. African-American artists, most 19th-century critics argued, lacked the refined cultivation of white, Eurocentric genius, and could create only simple music that lacked artistic depth. It was a prejudice that stretched as far back as Thomas Jefferson in his “Notes on the State of Virginia” and was later reinforced by minstrel shows.

But when Greenfield appeared on the scene, she shattered preexisting beliefs about artistry and race.

‘The Black Swan’

Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield was born into slavery in Natchez, Mississippi, around 1820. As a girl, she was taken to Philadelphia and raised by an abolitionist.

Largely self-taught as a singer, she began her concert career in New York with the support of the Buffalo Musical Association. In Buffalo, she was saddled with the nickname “the Black Swan,” a crude attempt to play off the popularity of Jenny Lind – known as “the Swedish Nightingale” – who was wrapping up one of the most popular concert tours in American history.

In 1851, Colonel Joseph H. Wood became Greenfield’s promoter. Wood, however, was an overt racist and inhumane promoter known for creating wonderment museums in Cincinnati and Chicago that featured exhibits like the “Lilliputian King,” a boy who stood 16 inches tall. With Greenfield, he sought to replicate the success that another promoter, P.T. Barnum, had with Jenny Lind.

Joseph H. Wood’s museum in Chicago.
Encyclopedia of Chicago

In a letter to Frederick Douglass, Martin R. Delany, a physician, newspaper editor and Civil War hero, wrote that Wood was a fervent supporter of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and would not admit black patrons into his museums or at Greenfield’s concerts.

For Greenfield’s African-American supporters, it was a point of huge contention throughout her career.

Critics reconcile their ears with their racism

In antebellum America, the minstrel show was one of the most popular forms of musical entertainment. White actors in blackface exploited common stereotypes of African-Americans, grossly exaggerating their dialect, fashion, dancing and singing.

The cover of Zip Coon.
Library of Congress

For example, the popular song “Zip Coon” portrayed African-Americans as clumsily striving for the refinement of white culture. The cover of the sheet music for “Zip Coon” shows an African-American attempting to mimic refined fashions of the day and failing. The song goes on to mock its subject, Zip Coon, as a “learned scholar,” while putting him in situations where his apparent lack of intelligence shows.

Greenfield’s performances, however, forced her critics to rethink this stereotype. The Cleveland Plain Dealer described the confusion that Greenfield caused for her audiences:

“It was amusing to behold the utter surprise and intense pleasure which were depicted on the faces of her listeners; they seemed to express – ‘Why, we see the face of a black woman, but hear the voice of an angel, what does it mean?’”

Critics agreed that Greenfield was a major talent. But they found it difficult to reconcile their ears with their racism. One solution was to describe her as a talented, but unpolished, singer.

For example, the New-York Daily Tribune reported that “it is hardly necessary to say that we did not expect to find an artist on the occasion. She has a fine voice but does not know how to use it.” (We see a similar phenomenon today in sports coverage, in which black athletes are often praised for their raw physical athleticism, while white athletes are praised for their game intelligence.)

By performing repertoire thought too complex for black artists – and by doing it well – Greenfield forced her white critics and audiences to reexamine their assumptions about the abilities of African-American singers.

A star is born

On Thursday, March 31, 1853, Greenfield made her New York City premiere at Metropolitan Hall.

Originally built for Jenny Lind, it was one of the largest performance halls in the world. The day before the concert, the New-York Daily Tribune carried an ad that read, “Particular Notice – No colored persons can be admitted, as there has been no part of the house appropriated for them.” The ban resulted in a citywide uproar that prompted New York City’s first police commissioner, George W. Matsell, to send a large police unit to Metropolitan Hall.

Greenfield was met with laughter when she took to the stage. Several critics blamed the uncouth crowd in attendance; others wrote it off as lighthearted amusement. One report described the awkwardness of the show’s opening moments:

“She was timidly led forward to the front of the stage by a little white representative of the genus homo, who seemed afraid to touch her even with the tips of his white kids [gloves], and kept the ‘Swan’ at a respectful distance, as if she were a sort of biped hippopotamus.”

Despite the inauspicious beginning, critics agreed that her range and power were astonishing. After her American tour, a successful European tour ensued, where she was accompanied by her friend Harriet Beecher Stowe.

A singer’s legacy

Greenfield paved the way for a host of black female concert singers, from Sissieretta Jones to Audra McDonald. In 1921, the musician and music publisher Harry Pace named the first successful black-owned record company, Black Swan Records, in her honor.

But these achievements are byproducts of a much larger legacy.

In Stowe’s novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” one of the slave children, Topsy, is taken in by a northern abolitionist, Miss Ophelia. Despite her best attempts, Ophelia can’t reform Topsy, who continues to act out and steal. When asked why she continues to behave as she does – despite the intervention of implied white goodness – Topsy replies that she’s can’t be good so long as her skin is black because her white caregivers are incapable of seeing goodness in a black body. Her only solution is to have her skin turned inside out so she can be white.

Stowe’s argument was not that we should begin skinning children. Rather, Topsy is a critique of the act of “othering” African-Americans by a dominant culture that refuses to acknowledge their full humanity.

After Greenfield’s New York concert, the New-York Daily Tribune recognized the monumental nature of Greenfield’s heroics. The paper urged her to leave America for Europe – and to stay there – the implication being that Greenfield’s home country wasn’t ready to accept the legitimacy of black artistry.

But Greenfield’s tour did more than prove to white audiences that black performers could sing as well as their European peers. Her tour challenged Americans to begin to recognize the full artistry – and, ultimately, the full humanity – of their fellow citizens.The Conversation

Adam Gustafson, Instructor in Music, Pennsylvania State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

At Amanda Gorman’s Black Catholic LA parish, ‘it’s like everybody here is a freedom fighter’

At Amanda Gorman’s Black Catholic LA parish, ‘it’s like everybody here is a freedom fighter’

Video Courtesy of Amanpour and Company


At St. Brigid Catholic Church, the Rev. Kenneth Keke preaches that the gospel of Jesus Christ is not only about eternity, but about “having a human face, loving one another.” Keke’s message stresses unity and that a “common humanity is what we need for us to live in peace.”

“That is liberation theology and that is what we preach here,” said Keke, the St. Brigid priest from Nigeria.

This is the South Central Los Angeles church where 22-year-old Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, grew up singing in the youth choir, taking her sacraments and reciting her poetry.

Gorman, who graduated from Harvard University last year, captivated Americans with the recent recitation of her poem on national unity at President Joe Biden’s inauguration. Since that day, she has signed on with IMG modeling agency and has been invited to recite a poem at the Super Bowl on Feb. 7.

“She would always get standing ovations,” said Floy Hawkins, a parishioner and former director of religious education at St. Brigid. “We were in just as much awe of her then, as we were when we all witnessed her at the inauguration.”

St. Brigid, which established in a small rented house in 1920, has a rich history in Los Angeles.

“St. Brigid was one of the first parishes in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles that encompassed the entirety of Black Catholicism,” said Anderson Shaw, director of the African American Catholic Center for Evangelization.

What used to be an Irish parish is now a predominantly Black and Latino congregation where, Keke told Religion News Service, parishioners take pride in their community and often “push me to do something … to fight more.”

“We need to liberate our people more,” Keke said they tell him. “It’s like everybody here is a freedom fighter.”

St. Brigid is an Afrocentric Catholic church in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles that’s overseen by the Josephites — a religious community of Catholic priests and brothers that centers its ministry in African American communities. The Josephites formed in 1871 to meet the needs of newly freed people after the Civil War.

The Josephites arrived at the South Central LA parish in the late 1970s and early 1980s, after African Americans had migrated to the city from Louisiana and Southeast Texas in search of jobs at aircraft construction companies, said the Rev. Thomas Frank, vicar general of the Josephites, who served as pastor at St. Brigid from 2007 to 2011.

Frank said the Josephites took over the parish at the written request of African American Catholics in the area. The church, which could accommodate about 800 people, was struggling with dwindling attendance and was down to about 150 core parishioners, who were mostly Black but also included a significant number of Latinos.

With the Josephites’ arrival, the parish received its first African American priest, the Rev. William Norvell, as well as an Afro-Latino Jesuit priest, the Rev. Fernando Arizti, to connect with the Latino community, Frank said.

Hawkins came to St. Brigid around 1980 after her sister encouraged her to visit. She heard St. Brigid incorporated a gospel choir during Mass, and she thought, “A gospel choir at a Catholic church?” She decided to give St. Brigid a visit and has remained there ever since.

“The relevancy, the comfort of connecting in the community and the nuances of the actual Mass, it’s very culturally relatable,” Hawkins said.

During a typical pre-pandemic Mass, an ensemble wearing dashikis and headdresses would sound African drums to call parishioners to gather for worship. A gospel choir would follow, sending congregants to their feet as they danced and waved their arms, giving God praise, glory and honor.

Inside the church, a Black crucifix is suspended above the altar. Oil paintings of a Black Joseph holding his son, a Black Jesus, and of Martin Luther King Jr. hang on the walls of the parish.

St. Brigid has become known as a pillar in the community.

It’s a member of OneLA, an organization made up of Jewish temples, schools and other nonprofit groups that work to improve housing insecurity, public transportation and criminal justice reform. The church also turns into a voting center during elections and during the coronavirus pandemic has served as a COVID-19 testing site. St. Brigid also has a food distribution ministry.

To Hawkins, the church community was an ideal and welcoming worship space for her four children.

She recalled how Arizti opened up the church space to a Muslim mosque whose building had been damaged after an earthquake.

“That was amazing,” Hawkins said. “The church was a light to the surrounding community.”

Seeing Gorman in the national spotlight now, Hawkins remembers how the poet’s mother went to the church with her twin daughters, Amanda and Gabrielle, with the hope of exposing her children to a Catholic faith “that was relevant to their identity as African American.”

The Gorman sisters were in middle school, became part of the religious education program and stayed throughout their preparation for baptism, first Communion and confirmation, Hawkins said. Amanda Gorman would participate in the church’s Black history programs through her poetry.

“Her mother was very intentional about her girls,” Hawkins said. “That was very clear, and as a result, her girls were very responsive to the African American worship experience.”

“This is a very humble family,” Hawkins added. “They’re a family that loves to share, but they are not imposing people.”

Gabrielle Gorman has made her own strides, in the filmmaking industry. Last year, she edited and directed a voting public service announcement, #Vote4theFuture, in collaboration with her sister, featuring self-taped clips from celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Cara Delevingne and Mahershala Ali. Her work, focusing on social change, has been featured in EssenceBustle and NPR.

In a video created by Gabrielle Gorman, a graduate of UCLA’s School of Film and Television, the sisters deliver a message of solidarity with images of diverse people and protesters across the city of LA. The video shows Amanda Gorman reciting a poem in the bus and in the middle of protesters:

“This is my country-Catholic grandmother on bus-defending hijab-wearing girl-immigrant learning a new language-Native remembers an old one rarely spoken in this world. This is who we are …”

In the days leading up to Jan. 20, Keke said parishioners were calling him to let him know “their very own Amanda Gorman” would be the one reciting a poem at the momentous ceremony. Enthusiasm was high.

“Everybody was excited for the opportunity Amanda received,” Keke said. “There was no doubt that she would do well. She grew to become very articulate and bold.”

Reflecting back on Gorman’s inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb,” Keke said it was about “democracy and unity,” and the importance of “living in the country as one people, recognizing one another and respecting one another.”

“That is the spirit of St. Brigid,” Keke said.

All Along You Were Blooming: Thoughts for Boundless Living

All Along You Were Blooming: Thoughts for Boundless Living

Video Courtesy of Hour of Power with Bobby Schuller


Morgan Harper Nichols describes herself as a quiet and passionate introvert longing for self-expression in a noisy world. In her book, “All Along You Were Blooming: Thoughts For Boundless Living,” Nichols not only expresses herself beautifully in both word and visual art, she holds a microphone to every person familiar with the sting of suffering and offers a poetic balm.

“All Along You Were Blooming” was originally the fruit of one of Nichols’ Instagram campaigns where she invites her 1.4 million followers to share their stories and, in turn, she responds to those stories with encouraging messages. This book is a collection of poetic encouragements and affirmations—each piece designed as an ode to those who were vulnerable enough to share their stories and their journeys to growth.

Nichols’ book appeals to both the soul and the eye. Sprinkled throughout “All Along You Were Blooming” are Instagram-worthy doodles and soft watercolor-esque visuals, giving the work both a therapeutic and aesthetically pleasing angle.

Nichols’ book not only acknowledges the reader’s wounds, traumas and hurts, but offers a constant, unrelenting, yet gentle push towards the Light. “All Along You Were Blooming” is neither a self-help book nor a polished 12-point plan on how to heal from hurt. It is the book you read if you seek encouragement, inspiration and the audacity to hope in the midst of your mess. These are the human-inspired pages you thumb through when your back is against the wall and you feel alone in your suffering. This book offers a breath of fresh air, the warmth of Light and a necessary bear hug for the soul.

To someone desiring a breakthrough but needs a nudge to step out in faith, Nichols encourages you to say: “I will go forth, with all I have now: a breath, a dozen steps, and a pocket full of fears, but no matter what tries to pull me back, I will find the strength to be here” (Page 3).

To someone actively fighting to make it through each day, she encourages you to repeat:Even if my eyes are heavy, I will push forward with audacity, and I will rise with strength at dawn” (Page 51).

To someone eager to see the light at the end of the tunnel, Nichols proclaims: “May you know this to be true: no matter how dark the night, in the morning, Light pours through, filling every corner of the room” (Page 5).

Each line of Nichols’ work leaps out of the page with hope and welcomed, non-judgmental encouragement. The affirmations contained throughout the work are simple yet profound universal mantras for the hope-seeker. The book is a triumphant victory march for the long suffering, full of warmth and light.

Interestingly, while Nichols’ work and the basis of her encouragements appears to stem from her Christian faith, “All Along You Were Blooming” does not hold itself out as either an explicitly Christian work nor a theological examination of trauma and hope. In fact, the word “God” is only mentioned once in the entire work. Instead, Nichols may be taking a more nuanced approach to expressing her Faith through this work. Throughout the book, references to “the Light” and “Hope” are capitalized, as is typical when referring to God as the object in question. This subtlety is, perhaps, one avenue Nichols has found to be most inclusive—particularly where matters of suffering, trauma, hurt, pain and overcoming are universal experiences. Nichols does not claim to offer answers—theological or not. Through “All Along You Were Blooming”, Nichols offers a sounding board for the soul—a moment in time to feel heard and understood, regardless of where you stand religiously.

Nichols’ book can be summed up in this quote, where she hopes this for the reader: “I hope someday you know the taste of early morning mountain air, and the saltwater waves of the ocean, and the unexpected bliss of some strange sweet-bitter fruit. But I hope you also know the taste of hope on an ordinary Tuesday, when you do not feel okay, and you rise up anyway” (Page 53).

“All Along You Were Blooming” reminds us that, somedays, having and holding onto hope can be a small act of rebellion. Nichols encourages readers to strive for that hope. To go joy-hunting. And to live a life that blooms, regardless.

 

 

All Along You Were Blooming: Thoughts for Boundless Living

All Along You Were Blooming: Thoughts for Boundless Living

Video Courtesy of Hour of Power with Bobby Schuller


Morgan Harper Nichols describes herself as a quiet and passionate introvert longing for self-expression in a noisy world. In her book, “All Along You Were Blooming: Thoughts For Boundless Living,” Nichols not only expresses herself beautifully in both word and visual art, she holds a microphone to every person familiar with the sting of suffering and offers a poetic balm.

“All Along You Were Blooming” was originally the fruit of one of Nichols’ Instagram campaigns where she invites her 1.4 million followers to share their stories and, in turn, she responds to those stories with encouraging messages. This book is a collection of poetic encouragements and affirmations—each piece designed as an ode to those who were vulnerable enough to share their stories and their journeys to growth.

Nichols’ book appeals to both the soul and the eye. Sprinkled throughout “All Along You Were Blooming” are Instagram-worthy doodles and soft watercolor-esque visuals, giving the work both a therapeutic and aesthetically pleasing angle.

Nichols’ book not only acknowledges the reader’s wounds, traumas and hurts, but offers a constant, unrelenting, yet gentle push towards the Light. “All Along You Were Blooming” is neither a self-help book nor a polished 12-point plan on how to heal from hurt. It is the book you read if you seek encouragement, inspiration and the audacity to hope in the midst of your mess. These are the human-inspired pages you thumb through when your back is against the wall and you feel alone in your suffering. This book offers a breath of fresh air, the warmth of Light and a necessary bear hug for the soul.

To someone desiring a breakthrough but needs a nudge to step out in faith, Nichols encourages you to say: “I will go forth, with all I have now: a breath, a dozen steps, and a pocket full of fears, but no matter what tries to pull me back, I will find the strength to be here” (Page 3).

To someone actively fighting to make it through each day, she encourages you to repeat:Even if my eyes are heavy, I will push forward with audacity, and I will rise with strength at dawn” (Page 51).

To someone eager to see the light at the end of the tunnel, Nichols proclaims: “May you know this to be true: no matter how dark the night, in the morning, Light pours through, filling every corner of the room” (Page 5).

Each line of Nichols’ work leaps out of the page with hope and welcomed, non-judgmental encouragement. The affirmations contained throughout the work are simple yet profound universal mantras for the hope-seeker. The book is a triumphant victory march for the long suffering, full of warmth and light.

Interestingly, while Nichols’ work and the basis of her encouragements appears to stem from her Christian faith, “All Along You Were Blooming” does not hold itself out as either an explicitly Christian work nor a theological examination of trauma and hope. In fact, the word “God” is only mentioned once in the entire work. Instead, Nichols may be taking a more nuanced approach to expressing her Faith through this work. Throughout the book, references to “the Light” and “Hope” are capitalized, as is typical when referring to God as the object in question. This subtlety is, perhaps, one avenue Nichols has found to be most inclusive—particularly where matters of suffering, trauma, hurt, pain and overcoming are universal experiences. Nichols does not claim to offer answers—theological or not. Through “All Along You Were Blooming”, Nichols offers a sounding board for the soul—a moment in time to feel heard and understood, regardless of where you stand religiously.

Nichols’ book can be summed up in this quote, where she hopes this for the reader: “I hope someday you know the taste of early morning mountain air, and the saltwater waves of the ocean, and the unexpected bliss of some strange sweet-bitter fruit. But I hope you also know the taste of hope on an ordinary Tuesday, when you do not feel okay, and you rise up anyway” (Page 53).

“All Along You Were Blooming” reminds us that, somedays, having and holding onto hope can be a small act of rebellion. Nichols encourages readers to strive for that hope. To go joy-hunting. And to live a life that blooms, regardless.

 

 

On Being a Woman of Power and Purpose

On Being a Woman of Power and Purpose

Video Courtesy of Michelle McKinney Hammond


Honor her for all that her hands have done and let her work bring her praise at the city gate.

Proverbs 31:31.

Women have been charged with the rigorous tasks of being the backbone of their homes and dare I say it, of nations. Throughout history their contributions were undermined in the church, their communities, or the corporate world due to the ego of the unevolved men who claim that women are just not good enough. It does not matter if the woman is a trifecta of power by giving life through her actions, creations, or children; there is still a glass ceiling that does not honor Proverbs 31. Women have paved their own roads toward success, which has earned them the titles such as billionaire, mogul, revolutionary and so forth to the astonishment of unevolved men. Consequently women of power give off the illusion that they are able to fulfill all gender roles and therefore the rib stands alone and not as an equal partner.

Who Run The World…Girls

Vice President Kamala Harris, Michelle Obama, Shonda Rhimes, Bishop Vashti Mckenzie, Dr. Joyce Banda, Ellen Johnson-SirleafBeyoncè Knowles-Carter– masters of their industries, leaders of countries, spiritual heads, and influencers that are touching lives around the world…all women! These women rose above rickety floors built by their respective governments and institutions then smashed through glass ceilings to achieve their greatness on behalf of all women everywhere. By their influence they contributed to the change of how the world views women. It is an uphill battle, however progress is being made through events like Chime for Change, organizations such as Young Women Leaders Network, efforts such as Let’s Move, and displaying how versatile a woman is in her power one stage at a time. Brute strength may not be a part of their genetic makeup, but their power lies within the gift of life through their efforts and it is to be honored.

Dr. Barbara Davis Founder of the Practical Living Institute and Project Destiny offered her thoughts on how women of color are affected in their hierarchal climb and womanhood balance.

“As an African American woman, I always believed that I received preferential treatment from senior management because of my sex and my race,” Davis explains. “I don’t think that I was perceived as a threat to the establishment as compared to my African-American male co-workers. However I experienced the most discrimination in the Christian community. There are roles I am not allowed to hold and have faced demeaning tones because I am a woman. Nevertheless, I keep pressing my way to fulfill the call that God has placed on my life.”

Dr. Barbara J. Davis

Barbara_ghana_web-375x413

Dr. Barbara J. Davis has over 25 years’ experience in technology and has worked for IBM, Westinghouse, Booz Allen & Hamilton, and GTE to name a few. She also serves as head over the non-profit missionary organization Practical Living Institute which includes the Project Destiny Program. Project Destiny teaches Sudanese and Egyptian women how to own and operate their own businesses based upon Christian values. Additionally she holds a doctorate in Church Leadership and a Masters of Arts.

Throughout the history of the church, women have been known for taking on subservient roles; it was not until the last 30 or so years that the church has welcomed women in leadership roles in the church. Sometimes, however, these women must also fill the heavily-pressured role of being an acceptable wife, mother, and minister/pastor. Being a church leader has its own pressures, however Dr. Davis does not believe that being accomplished defines what womanhood is.

“I definitely do not feel that my accomplishments diminish my womanhood as reflected in scripture. [Referencing] Proverbs 31 as a cornerstone of a Christian woman’s womanhood, every woman would be a great manager, business person, care taker, and leader,” Dr. Davis stated.

With that said, women of power must learn how to be partners, although they can survive very well on their own.

Wearing and Sharing the Pants

I love her ‘cause she got her own.

These lyrics from R&B star Ne-Yo are an example of an evolved man who honors how a woman can take charge of her life without the consequence of losing her ‘womanhood’. When a woman takes on a leadership role she is symbolically ‘wearing the pants’ to ensure the realization of her goals. By doing so she takes a commanding position of power in whatever she’s doing, taking on what is historically viewed as more masculine traits. However, rather than these traits being masculine, they are universal examples of dominance and assertiveness that allow those who possess it to go farther and achieve more than they ever could with a different mindset. These are women considered to have Alpha qualities.

A woman who embodies the strength of an Alpha is more in control of her own fate and what choices are available to her. This in no way limits her to being the powerful, career-driven woman who never has time to make a family, or the family woman who never has time for her career. She is capable of juggling five different career-related activities while simultaneously satisfying the needs of her family, friends, and significant other–if there is one. Having that significant other adds an additional burden to the Alpha woman as she must cater to the needs of her man, especially when it comes to satisfying the male ego. Having a woman who can do for herself what a man typically does can be a challenge to some men who lack the fortitude to deal with an independent woman. Seeing her make as much (if not more) money than him, maintaining home, and looking good while doing it adds fuel to the feminist fire of ‘Who needs a man?’

For centuries women took the back seat to their husband’s/partner’s success while navigating their journey to the top and having dinner ready by 5. The truth is some men cannot fathom marrying Superwoman, they want Lois Lane; someone professional, accomplished, but more willing to be docile and submissive to his power. But does that make them worthless or powerless? No. The power lies within the support of their partner; being the mind, body, and spirit for the man they love when he is too weak. They too must be honored as their husband’s equal. It may not be ideal for the ever-evolving feminist, however it is still an acceptable role for the modern woman to allow the man to ‘wear the pants’ while she stitches them together.

A man AND woman should be willing to embrace roles of support as a gladiator and a goddess. In these roles they will interchange actions that will nurture their respective endeavors as they grow as individuals. By doing so the woman does not lose her identity and becomes equal with her ‘Adam’.

A note to Women of Power

As a woman of power, understand that your gifts are God-given to conquer an unforgiving world; whether alone or coupled. In biblical text, God formed Eve from the rib of Adam. However it is the woman who continues to give life through mind, body, and soul. Recognize and honor your power, you are equal.

Biden revives plan to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill

Biden revives plan to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill

Tubman, left, with a few of the former slaves she helped escape.
Bettmann/Getty Images

RELATED: “Harriet” Director on the Film’s Themes of Spirituality, Love, and Family


The Biden administration has revived a plan to put Harriet Tubman on the US$20 bill after Donald Trump’s Treasury secretary delayed the move.

That’s encouraging news to the millions of people who have expressed support for
putting her face on the bill. But many still aren’t familiar with the story of Tubman’s life, which was chronicled in a 2019 film, “Harriet.”

Harriet Tubman worked as a slave, spy and eventually an abolitionist. What I find most fascinating, as a historian of American slavery, is how her belief in God helped Tubman remain fearless, even when she came face to face with many challenges.

Tubman’s early life

Tubman was born Araminta Ross in 1822 on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. When interviewed later in life, Tubman said she started working as a housemaid when she was 5. She recalled that she endured whippings, starvation and hard work even before she got to her teenage years.

She labored in Maryland’s tobacco fields, but things started to change when farmers switched their main crop to wheat.

Grain required less labor, so slave owners began to sell their enslaved people to plantation owners in the Deep South.

Two of Tubman’s sisters were sold to a slave trader. One had to leave her child behind. Tubman, too, lived in fear of being sold.

When she was 22, Tubman married a free black man named John Tubman. For reasons that are unclear, she changed her name, taking her mother’s first name and her husband’s last name. Her marriage did not change her status as an enslaved person.

A portrait of Harriet Tubman is shown in a photo book.
A portrait from 1868 of abolitionist Harriet Tubman.
AP Photo/Sait Serkan Gurbuz

Five years later, rumors circulated in the slave community that slave traders were once again prowling through the Eastern Shore. Tubman decided to seize her freedom rather than face the terror of being chained with other slaves to be carried away, often referred to as the “chain gang.”

Tubman stole into the woods and, with the help of some members of the Underground Railroad, walked the 90 miles to Philadelphia, where slavery was illegal. The Underground Railroad was a loose network of African Americans and whites who helped fugitive slaves escape to a free state or to Canada. Tubman began working with William Still, an African American clerk from Philadelphia, who helped slaves find freedom.

Tubman led about a dozen rescue missions that freed about 60 to 80 people. She normally rescued people in the winter, when the long dark nights provided cover, and she often adopted some type of disguise. Even though she was the only “conductor” on rescue missions, she depended on a few houses connected with the Underground Railroad for shelter. She never lost a person escaping with her and won the nickname of Moses for leading so many people to “the promised land,” or freedom.

After the Civil War began, Tubman volunteered to serve as a spy and scout for the Union Army. She ended up in South Carolina, where she helped lead a military mission up the Combahee River. Located about halfway between Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina, the river was lined with a number of valuable plantations that the Union Army wanted to destroy.

Tubman helped guide three Union steamboats around Confederate mines and then helped about 750 enslaved people escape with the federal troops.

She was the only woman to lead men into combat during the Civil War. After the war, she moved to New York and was active in campaigning for equal rights for women. She died in 1913 at the age of 90.

Harriet Tubman poses for a picture taking in the 19th century.
A photo of Harriet Tubman taken 1860-1875.
Harvey B. Lindsley/Library of Congress via AP

Tubman’s faith

Tubman’s Christian faith tied all of these remarkable achievements together.

She grew up during the Second Great Awakening, which was a Protestant religious revival in the United States. Preachers took the gospel of evangelical Christianity from place to place, and church membership flourished. Christians at this time believed that they needed to reform America to usher in Christ’s second coming.

A number of Black female preachers preached the message of revival and sanctification on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Jarena Lee was the first authorized female preacher in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

It is not clear whether Tubman attended any of Lee’s camp meetings, but she was inspired by the evangelist. She came to understand that women could hold religious authority.

Historian Kate Clifford Larson believes that Tubman drew from a variety of Christian denominations, including the African Methodist Episcopal, Baptist and Catholic beliefs. Like many enslaved people, her belief system fused Christian and African beliefs.

Her belief that there was no separation between the physical and spiritual worlds was a direct result of African religious practices. Tubman literally believed that she moved between a physical existence and a spiritual experience where she sometimes flew over the land.

An enslaved person who trusted Tubman to help him escape simply noted that Tubman had “de charm,” or God’s protection. Charms or amulets were strongly associated with African religious beliefs.

A runaway slave newspaper offers a reward for the return of Harriet Tubman and her brothers.
A runaway slave newspaper offered a reward for the return of Harriet Tubman, who was called ‘Minty’ at the time.
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

An injury becomes a spiritual gift

A horrific accident is believed to have brought Tubman closer to God and reinforced her Christian worldview. Sarah Bradford, a 19th-century writer who conducted interviews with Tubman and several of her associates, found the deep role faith played in her life.

When she was a teenager, Tubman happened to be at a dry goods store when an overseer was trying to capture an enslaved person who had left his slave labor camp without permission. The angry man threw a 2-pound weight at the runaway but hit Tubman instead, crushing part of her skull. For two days she lingered between life and death.

The injury almost certainly gave her temporal lobe epilepsy. As a result, she would have splitting headaches, fall asleep without notice, even during conversations, and have dreamlike trances.

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As Bradford documents, Tubman believed that her trances and visions were God’s revelation and evidence of his direct involvement in her life. One abolitionist told Bradford that Tubman “talked with God, and he talked with her every day of her life.”

According to Larson, this confidence in providential guidance and protection helped make Tubman fearless. Standing only 5 feet tall, she had an air of authority that demanded respect.

Once Tubman told Bradford that when she was leading two “stout” men to freedom, she believed that “God told her to stop” and leave the road. She led the scared and reluctant men through an icy stream – and to freedom.

Harriet Tubman once said that slavery was “the next thing to hell.” She helped many transcend that hell.

This is an updated version of an article originally published on Dec. 3, 2019.The Conversation

Robert Gudmestad, Professor and Chair of History Department, Colorado State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

End-of-Life Decisions an Act of Justice

End-of-Life Decisions an Act of Justice

Updated from UrbanFaith (2019)

Not long ago, I was sitting at the bedside of my mother as she lay in a hospital bed in the critical care unit on a ventilator. With a tube in her throat, her voice was silenced. We had no idea who she wanted to make decisions for her. We didn’t know her wishes should she experience a decline — we didn’t even know if she wanted to be intubated in the first place. In this case, her right to make decisions about her healthcare was not stripped of her but rather was not exercised.

As a justice-seeker and end-of-life spiritual care practitioner, I often bring up advanced care planning to my family’s dismay. My mother had been reluctant to have any conversation about it, shrugging me off, quipping, “Just make sure they don’t put any makeup on me in the casket.” Thank God, she has recovered and is doing well, but the reality is that she, like many African-Americans, do not participate in advanced care planning and making end-of-life decisions.

Poet and social activist Langston Hughes wrote, “There is no color line in death.” Yet, when it comes to advanced care planning and end-of-life care, the color line is obvious. African-Americans disproportionately engage in advance care planning and utilize hospice and palliative care at lower rates than whites, thus affecting the quality of life as death approaches. The reasons are myriad: cultural factors, economic concerns, negative perceptions of hospice and palliative care, and mistrust of physicians and the healthcare system. African-Americans have a strained relationship with the healthcare industry rooted in historical facts such as the exploitation of Black bodies for medical research throughout American history, such as the Tuskegee experiment, a decades-long “study” on African-American men with syphilis performed without informed consent and leaving the disease untreated, even after an effective cure had been found. Also, embedded in this lack of advance care planning and underutilization of hospice and palliative care is the theological understanding that pain and suffering are part of God’s plan for our lives. There are many people I have encountered in my work in hospice and in church ministry that bear unnecessary suffering, whether physical pain or emotional burdens because they believe that is their cross to bear. This is not solely my experience, but a widely held belief that hinders patients from managing their pain and families from receiving the additional services that would ease their burden of care.

Besides, we’re living our best lives and who has time to plan for healthcare crisis or think about death?

But what if living our best lives means considering healthcare decisions and end-of-life planning? What if making healthcare decisions is not merely a matter of physical health, but a matter of justice? In addition to racial, gender, economic, and educational equity, quality healthcare is a justice concern. And I would argue, given my particular role as a hospice chaplain providing spiritual care and emotional support to patients and families during end-of-life, that advanced care planning and comprehensive end-of-life care are part of quality healthcare. In the National Hospice and Palliative Care “Outreach to African Americans Guide,” Dr. Richard Payne, Professor of Medicine and Divinity at the Duke Institute of End of Life Care wrote, “Hospice offers the best hope not to be alone, to be with family, to have pain controlled, and to be connected to your faith and beliefs. We are as entitled as anyone else to have these hopes fulfilled.”

If Black lives matter, and they do, then one way we proclaim that we matter is by exercising agency in our healthcare, including making decisions about who can speak for us when we are unable, whether or not we want aggressive treatment such as resuscitation and intubation, and how we want to be treated at the end of life. Given the historical exploitation of Black bodies in medical research—often carried out without our consent or after death—raising our voices and making our own decisions related to healthcare is an act of resistance, declaring our dignity and worth in a country where our personhood is devalued a daily basis.

I hear you. People of a certain age should engage in those conversations and make their healthcare decisions known. But I’m young, I’m healthy, and I’m living my best life. I have plenty of time before I have to think about advanced care planning.

Just as there is no color line in death, there is also no age line. Crisis, disease, terminal illness, and death can come at any age—including in your twenties and thirties. And while healthcare decisions can be made at any time, the best time to make healthcare decisions is during times of calm, clarity of mind, and relatively good health.

Not sure where to start? Here are some practical suggestions:

  1. Consider: Reflect upon what quality of life and a good death means for you. Think about the person who would best speak for you in the event you cannot make decisions for yourself.
  2. Voice: Use one or more of the many tools available (living will, power of attorney, advance directive, or the Five Wishes document) to put your healthcare decisions on paper. If you have a chronic health issue, consider completing a Physician Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) with your physician. When choosing a healthcare proxy, but sure to dialogue with them about your wishes and their ability to carry them out.
  3. Engage: Share your decisions with your loved ones and friends and encourage them to have the conversation and make their choices known. Move the discussion beyond your immediate circle to your congregation and community. As a matter of justice, the conversation on advanced care planning should be had far and wide.
  4. Revisit: Healthcare decisions will evolve as we do. It is important to note that these are not static documents, but that they should be revisited and revised as our lives and perspectives change. A general rule of thumb would be to revisit the document every ten years and with major life changes (marriage, children, the onset of disease, etc.).

Making healthcare decisions is not only wise for personal quality of life, but it also bears witness to the power of agency, advocacy, and the humanity of African-Americans. For some, it may seem like just a document, but for African-Americans, it is an act of resistance, and an act of freedom, and an act of justice.

For more information, visit theconversationproject.org.

Seeking unity, Biden should look to Nelson Mandela

Seeking unity, Biden should look to Nelson Mandela

Video Courtesy of Biography


RELATED: Nelson Mandela was noted for his integrity

Encountering Nelson Mandela in person for the first time, I remember thinking he looked more daunting and noble in person than he did in photographs.

It was December 1999, and I had gone to South Africa to help organize the youth program of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Mandela was the keynote for the event. After the thunderous applause died down, and after a chant from the Xhosa tribe washed over the crowd, Mandela began to speak. He related how proud he was that people from a range of religions, races, ethnicities and tribes were working together to build a “rainbow nation.”

The apartheid past, he emphasized, was a foreign country. South Africa needed to forge ahead, focusing on reconciliation and cooperation. He advised this as the way forward for all the peoples of the world.

It is easy to forget how justified Mandela would have been in choosing a different path, the path of retribution. The apartheid regime not only oppressed entire racial and ethnic groups in South Africa, it sought to destroy Mandela specifically, imprisoning him for 27 years on Robben Island.

But as his close friend Archbishop Desmond Tutu was fond of saying, there is no future without forgiveness. And Mandela was all about the future.

Together, Mandela and Tutu organized the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which invited both the perpetrators of racist evils and the victims of those evils to give public testimony. In this way, the brutality of the apartheid system was laid bare for all to see. The victims could begin healing, and the perpetrators would be allowed to apply for amnesty.

Putting the brutality of evil regimes on public display has long been a strategy of social justice movements. Martin Luther King Jr. knew that peaceful marches would be met with violent police truncheons, vicious dogs and punishing fire hoses. The images would unstick people from the status quo, and move their sympathy squarely to the side of social change.

The ugliness of the Trump era has always been visible to those with eyes to see, from the racist “birther” campaign against President Barack Obama, to the racist Muslim ban, to referring to COVID-19 with the racist phrase “China virus.”

But on Jan. 6, reality was undeniable, even for those who did their best to ignore the brutality and bigotry that went before. A crowd, fired up and sent forth by President Donald Trump, chanted “Hang Mike Pence,” swarmed into the Capitol building with weapons and attacked police officers, killing one.

The rioters were roundly condemned, and even their family members reported them to authorities. The public placed the responsibility squarely on Trump, sending his approval rating plummeting. Liz Cheney and nine other House Republicans voted for impeachment. Major companies pulled their support from elected representatives who continued to embrace the debunked conspiracy theory that Trump had actually won the election.

As more details emerge of the nature of the insurrection, the level of premeditation and coordination, I suspect that the number of people willing to follow the so-called Q Shaman deep into crazyville will dwindle further and further. Yes, we will see a rise in recruits for right-wing militias, but a significant number of the 74 million Americans who voted for Trump in 2020 will be looking for an off-ramp.

That is the group President Joe Biden should have top of mind. He should craft a strategy that welcomes the willing from the other side back into the circle of decency. He should look to rebuild the American big tent, the civic center, that every president from Ronald Reagan to Obama has extolled.

I am not proposing some kind of truth-and-amnesty for Trump or for his political allies and enablers. I am certainly not advocating for the insurrectionists to get off without appropriate time in prison.

I am simply suggesting that Biden keep the Oval Office and the bully pulpit focused elsewhere.

Let the American majority get to work stitching the fabric of our nation back together, led by Biden following the model of Mandela.

There are many examples of Mandela reaching out to those who worked in the apartheid regime, from forming friendships with his guards at Robben Island to speaking to the white staff holdovers in the South African government in their native Afrikaans and requesting that they remain in their posts.

But perhaps the most dramatic example of Mandela’s commitment to reconciliation and cooperation was his very public embrace of the Springboks rugby team, the subject of the film “Invictus.” Long a favorite symbol of white Afrikaner pride, the Springboks were generally hated by Black South Africans. Mandela made it clear that the Springboks were his team, and should indeed be viewed as the team of all South Africans as they competed in the World Cup.

His message was clear: For the future to have a chance at all, parts of the past had to be left behind, and all of us have to convene around common symbols.

Along the way, Mandela found a powerful partner in team captain Francois Pienaar, a white South African of Afrikaans ancestry who welcomed Mandela’s embrace of the Springboks and insisted that his teammates learn the Black liberation song “Nkosi Sikelele.”

To move the nation forward, Biden must fully embrace this template. He must choose to embrace a symbol that is generally associated with red America and find partners in that world willing to convene around a common symbol and meet on common ground.

My suggestion: decent policing, the sort that is needed in both Black communities and on Capitol Hill. The sort that would have kept Black people like George Floyd and Laquan McDonald alive, and the kind that would have properly prepared to protect Congress from a white mob.

Biden has knelt with Black Lives Matter protesters, an act of reverence for the lives that have been lost to violent and racist policing. What if he stood now with police chiefs committed to positive reform, perhaps at an interfaith prayer service, an act of commitment to a more perfect union?

Following the example of Nelson Mandela, Joe Biden can be a commander in chief of cooperation and unity.

Following Biden, we can all play a role in uniting our nation.

Eboo Patel is founder and president of  Interfaith Youth Core and author of “Out of Many Faiths: Religious Diversity and the American Promise.” The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

‘This is something I can do now’: What Kamala Harris’ ascension means for girls of color

‘This is something I can do now’: What Kamala Harris’ ascension means for girls of color

Video Courtesy of NBC News


RELATED: Kamala Harris, America’s first female vice president-elect, makes history


Across America, Black, brown, and Asian students look to the Biden administration with hope, pride, and great expectations.

As Kamala Harris becomes the first woman, the first African American, and the first person of South Asian descent to become U.S. vice president, many girls of color will be celebrating the multiple historic barriers coming down with a single oath.

In the days leading up to the inauguration of Joe Biden and Harris, Chalkbeat spoke with Black, brown, and Asian teenagers about the significance of this moment. They discussed the importance of having elected officials who look like them, wondered why it took so long to get here, and told us how they plan to hold the new administration accountable. These young women also shared their wide-ranging policy priorities, including COVID relief, combatting climate change, increasing the minimum wage, and defunding the police.

Their stories are interspersed with poetry by younger girls, and a performance of “Represent” by 16-year-old spoken-word artist Ife Martin of Detroit. “Do you feel that?” she asks. “The roar of change rumbling under our feet, under our All Star Chucks and church shoes. It’s hard to find but long overdue.”


Kellen Zeng, 17, Staten Island, NY

Senior, Staten Island Technical High School

I saw something on Twitter about all the vice presidents throughout the years. It’s all white men and then, all of the sudden, you see Kamala. I find that really inspiring.

I want to follow in her footsteps in a way. I’ve always had an interest in policy and advocacy and activism but I told myself: “No, you have to play it safe. You have to reach financial security.” And then there’s the whole idea that as a woman of color, you have to work twice as hard. But now, having a female vice president and seeing BIPOC women in office, I want to be able to pursue that path, too. I’d love to see the day that having a woman in office isn’t something to celebrate. It’s not a success story; it’s just a norm.

Courtesy photo
Kellen Zeng is a member of the nonprofit civic engagement organization YVote.

For now, there’s a lot of pressure on Biden and Harris during their first 100 days. What are they going to do about the pandemic? How are they going to help Americans who are currently unemployed? The economy is not doing the best right now, and that should be one of the priorities. Both of my parents were unemployed at the beginning of the pandemic. My dad helps out in his friends’ restaurants, and my mom has a beauty salon that wasn’t open for a long time. They are immigrants from China, and I had to help them apply for unemployment.

The most pressing thing right now is rolling back some of the damage done during the Trump presidency. A lot of LGBTQ rights were violated. I know that the fight isn’t over. Just because Biden and Harris won the election, it doesn’t mean America is great again.


Ife Martin, 16, Detroit, Michigan

Junior, West Bloomfield High School in West Bloomfield, Michigan

Ife Martin performs an original poem titled “Represent,” reflecting on Harris’ historic role. Ife is a member of InsideOut Literary Arts and the Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit. She is the winner of the 2021 National YoungArts Award in spoken word.


Ashton Mayo-Beavers, 18, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Freshman, Mercer University in Macon, Georgia

When I moved from Tennessee to Georgia to start college last fall, I was expecting, well, another version of Tennessee.

Growing up in Knoxville and Chattanooga, I saw policies that impact women’s health designed by men. I saw a lack of representation of Black women in government. I saw police brutality and inequitable justice systems.

Photo by Nathalie Lopez
Ashton Mayo-Beavers started college during the pandemic.

I still see many of those things in Georgia from my dorm room. But now, I also see Stacey Abrams. I see Kamala Harris. I see the importance of local elections, and that every single vote really does matter.

Fall of 2020 was a crazy time to start college. The COVID-19 pandemic meant that some of my classes were online and some were in person, and I had to navigate the tension of trying to focus on friends and classes while staying safe. As we were trying to prepare for our first final exams — and on top of the pandemic — there was this election. One of my professors called it the most important election of our time. For me, it was the first election I ever voted in.

On Election Day, which was more of an election month, we were told by older African American students that we shouldn’t go out. Even though Kamala Harris, a Black woman, was on the path to one of the most powerful positions in our nation, I, as a Black student, didn’t feel comfortable going to all-campus debate watch parties. I worried that the color of my skin would make me a target if tensions escalated.

Even now, I’m not sure I have processed how big it is that Kamala Harris is going to be so many firsts. For so long, I was waiting for the results to be official. I was waiting for the carpet to be dragged out from under us. It’s happened before.

No one is fully processing how big it is or how long it took. There already are so many great local leaders that are women of color, and that’s amazing. But the fact is, we will have a woman vice president who is a person of color that’s going to open the doors for so many people to envision themselves as our nation’s future.


Kimora Guy, Memphis, Tennessee

First grade, Power Center Academy Elementary School in Memphis

I can
I can do what she can do…
She went to a Black college.
I can too.

She wrote a book.
I can too.
Look! She’s running to be Vice President for the United States.
Can she do that?

Not only can she do it, but she has done it!!
So I can too!


Munaja Mehzabin, 17, Queens, New York

Senior, Academy of American Studies in Queens

Growing up South Asian, I saw brown actors and actresses while watching Bollywood movies with my parents. When it came to Hollywood films, Jasmine from “Aladdin” was the closest it came. Of course, when I was younger I didn’t think about representation, about not seeing people like me in TVs or movies. (The exceptions were side characters in stereotypical roles — a math whiz, or an owner of a gas station store.)

Courtesy photo
Munaja Mehzabin has critiqued Harris’ record as a prosecutor.

These days, there are more and varied roles for South Asians, and I’m extremely glad. But representation is about more than entertainment. Representation also matters when it comes to who is representing us in government.

Kamala Harris will be the first-ever South Asian vice president, even though that tends to go over people’s heads, and the first-ever African American vice president. She will also be the first-ever woman to be vice president. In this role, she is changing things for women of color. It is so important to see people who look like you make a change because it can push people to be “the next first.” Young girls can look to Kamala Harris and feel like it’s possible to have a seat in the White House. Sure, there will always be men who don’t think a woman is capable of an important job, but we must prove them wrong.

Even though Kamala Harris has accomplished something so extraordinary, she’s far from perfect when it comes to racial justice. She was previously a prosecutor, and has sometimes sided with the police. As California’s attorney general, her office fought to keep a man named George Gage behind bars even though there was evidence that he had been wrongly convicted. She also opposed a state bill that would have regulated the use of police body cameras.

As citizens, we have to hold our leaders accountable. We have to make sure they hear us. Vice President Kamala Harris will inspire others and hold open doors. I am extremely grateful for that. At the same time, I will not glorify her.


Brooklyn Cauley, 16, Rockwall, Texas

Sophomore, Rockwall High School

I live in a predominantly white community and attend a predominantly white school, where I’m a National Honor Society student and participate in several clubs. I’m the only Black girl and the only Black person on my robotics team. I used to mentor a younger robotics team, and I felt like I was showing others that Black girls — and girls in general — can excel in STEM. That’s a big, progressive step.

Courtesy photo
Brooklyn Cauley has mentored younger students who are interested in robotics.

In a political office, where there is not that much diversity, Kamala Harris’ win is a big thing. It shows that people are moving forward. It’s making a change. Our voices are being heard.

Biden talks about raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15. This increase would bring so many people out of poverty in the U.S. This could help make so many Black communities better.

I also hope they get more vaccines out, and they actually focus on the coronavirus. [President Trump] made a joke out of it. I know a lot of kids at school don’t believe that the virus is dangerous. I’m also in the agriculture program at school, and a lot of the students tend to be big Trump supporters, which is fine. I’m not judging anyone based on their political views. We are required to wear masks to school, but a lot of students don’t keep it up over their nose. Some won’t even wear them at all when school staff is not around.

Biden’s message at the inauguration should be something like: I know the country hasn’t been the greatest this past year. I know we have had a lot of racial issues, but we can persevere.  A lot of people are struggling financially with job losses, and some are struggling mentally. We can’t just break away and say, we hate this person or that person. We have to come together to fix these issues. They are not going to be resolved by violence or fighting with our neighbor. I believe we need to pray more.


Sharona Nagamuthu, 17, Queens, New York

Junior, Scholars Academy in Queens

When the election was called for Biden and Harris, I was sleeping because [since Election Day] I was staying up until ridiculous hours of the night, glued to my TV. I checked my phone at about 11 a.m., and all of my friends were texting me: “Oh my God. They won.” It was an instant sense of relief. It had been this whole week; it was this whole long process. I’d be in my classes online, and I’d have another tab with the news open just so I could keep myself updated. After I heard, I actually went back to sleep — that’s how relieved I was, that I could finally sleep.

Courtesy photo
Sharona Nagamuthu said the new administration comes as “a relief.”

It was a relief because it showed me that this state that we’re in right now hopefully won’t always continue to exist, and we can ultimately improve on our lives and — especially, as a person of color — that new policies can be enacted that will help me and many others.

I’m an immigrant from Guyana. My family immigrated to the U.S. when I was 2. [Through YVote], I’ve done a lot of research on immigration policies, and we know the Trump administration has enacted a lot of policies that have impacted immigrants negatively — the travel ban from some Middle Eastern countries and countries in Africa and also the construction of the southern border wall. I know the border wall has done a lot of environmental damage. To add onto that, I’d also like to see policies that combat climate change. I think it’s kind of ridiculous that you have people who don’t recognize that climate change is real when scientists are literally proving it, and you can see the impacts in our life.


Megan Davis, Memphis, Tennessee

Fourth grade, Power Center Academy Elementary School in Memphis

A Little Girl’s Dream
Roses are red and violets are blue
The next Vice President is Black and she’s a woman, too!
2020 has been hard, but also great.

I can’t believe a woman is part of the Head of State.
This changes everything, history too.
Madam Kamala Harris, I want to be just like you.
The path you’ve set out for me and others means we can do anything,
if we help one another.

I’m proud to be Black and a young girl, too, so I can grow up and be just like you.


Melanie Gonzalez Castillo, 19, Newark, New Jersey

Freshman, Villanova University in Villanova, Pennsylvania 

As a feminist, I am happy a woman is becoming vice president in the U.S. for the first time. This inspires me. Kamala Harris’ parents were immigrants to this country. I moved to New Jersey from Mexico when I was 14 years old. This gives me hope for me and for my future children.

Courtesy photo
Melanie Gonzalez Castillo says Kamala Harris’ rise gives her hope.

I have been watching old interviews with Kamala, and she said that DACA recipients —  undocumented young people, brought to the U.S. as children — come here believing in the democracy of the United States, and it’s beautiful to see them trust in this democracy.

A lot of people don’t trust in this country right now.

With everything that happened in the Capitol this month, I’ve been thinking more about what it means to believe in democracy. Throughout history, a lot of negative things have happened in this country, but it is my second home and has given me much. Yet people from this nation are the ones tearing it apart.

It’s so disturbing to see what this has come to, but I do have a lot of hope for the future. I have hope because of my dad, who came to this country and works hard every day. He taught me how important the work ethic is when paired with honesty and positivity. I have hope when I think about my sister, who is about to graduate college with a psychology degree.

Even though there’s still a lot to be done, and many things we must change, I have hope when I think about the generations that will come after me. They won’t think of it as revolutionary to have a woman in the White House. I hope the new generation grows up in a world where they can see equality and opportunity as something normal — not something they have to tirelessly fight for. It is up to each of us to create that change.


Ama Russell, 17, Detroit

Senior, Cass Technical High School

When I heard Biden and Harris had won, I was with my 92-year-old grandma, so it was a really big deal. She didn’t think we’d have Barack Obama [in her lifetime], so it was special to share the moment with her.

Later that day, organizers in Detroit held a Count Every Vote action, celebrating that we got Trump out and gearing up to hold the Biden-Harris administration accountable. We were very excited because Detroit, and most importantly its Black voters, carried Michigan [for Biden].

Courtesy photo
Ama Russell says representation is important, but it’s not enough.

Holding the Biden-Harris administration accountable means they are centering Black people in their policy, making sure that people don’t think that just because we got Trump out that injustices are solved. We will put pressure on them to do more for environmental issues and more for social justice, that we are pushing them to defund the police and to push the envelope to liberate Black people. Representation is important, but it’s not enough.

Before Biden chose Kamala Harris, there was talk that he was going to pick a Black woman as his running mate. When my father announced it was Kamala, I was like, “Oh, yay,” even though I really wanted it to be my girl Stacey Abrams. It was Stacey Abrams who ultimately made it possible for Democrats to win back the Senate. I think it’s important to honor her and all of the Black organizers who made space for Kamala.

For young girls, like myself, Kamala will make them see themselves in American politics. It will make them feel like they belong, in some sense, and see that they can do this. This isn’t a “when pigs fly” kind of thing. This is something achievable, it’s attainable, and it’s not something that has to happen in the next century. This is something I can do now.

This article originally appeared on Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

How the Ebenezer Baptist Church has been a seat of Black power for generations in Atlanta

How the Ebenezer Baptist Church has been a seat of Black power for generations in Atlanta

Video Courtesy of 11Alive


RELATED: Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.


The high-stakes U.S. Senate race in Georgia catapulted the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church back into the spotlight. For 135 years, the church played a vital role in the fight against racism and the civil rights movement. It was the spiritual home of the civil rights leader, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

It is now the home of the state’s first Black senator – the Rev. Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor at the church.

As a scholar of African American religion and Christian theology, I believe it is important to understand how the Ebenezer Baptist Church has been a seat of Black power and organizing for generations in Atlanta.

‘Stone of help’

Ebenezer Baptist Church, a predominantly African American congregation, was founded in 1886, nearly 20 years after the end of the Civil War. The pastor, Rev. John Andrew Parker, served as Ebenezer’s first pastor from 1886 to 1894. Little is known about Parker and Ebenezer’s early years. But according to historian Benjamin C. Ridgeway, Parker organized the church in a small building located on Airline Avenue in Atlanta.

The name Ebenezer, meaning “stone of help,” comes from the Hebrew Bible. In the First Book of Samuel, the Israelites are said to have gathered in the town of Mizpah to offer burnt offerings to God. When their enemies, the Philistines, received notice that the Israelites were in Mizpah, they sent forces to attack them.

With God’s help, the Philistines were eventually defeated. Prophet Samuel then named a large stone “Ebenezer” to remind the Israelites of God’s intervention in their battle against the Philistine army.

As historians Roswell F. Jackson and Rosalyn M. Patterson observed in their 1989 article, “The selection of the name Ebenezer, ‘Stone of help,’ was profoundly prophetic.” In their view, Ebenezer’s name proved fitting to describe the role the church would come to have in the subsequent civil rights movement.

Growth of the church

The Rev. Adam Daniel Williams, the maternal grandfather of King, served as second pastor from 1894 to 1931. Williams led the Ebenezer Church into the 20th century as a religious community mobilized to fight the segregationist policies plaguing the African American community in the state of Georgia.

By 1913, the church had grown from 13 to nearly 750 members. Williams developed a distinct form of the social gospel, which emphasized the importance of African Americans owning businesses and taking social action against racial and economic injustice in their local communities.

Known for his powerful preaching, impressive organizing and leadership skills, Williams led several initiatives, including boycotts against a local Atlanta newspaper, “The Georgian,” which was known for using racist language against African Americans.

In 1906, Williams led a fight to end the white primary system which prohibited African Americans from voting in the Georgia primaries. In 1917, Williams helped establish the Atlanta chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the NAACP.

A year later, he was elected as branch president of the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP, and, within five months of his tenure, the chapter’s membership grew to 1,400.

As religious historian Lewis Baldwin remarks in his book “The Voice of Conscience,” “Clearly, Williams used the [Ebenezer] church as a power base and rallying point for such activities, an approach that would also be used by [Martin Luther] King, Sr. and King, Jr.”

Working for social change

Following Williams’ death in 1931, the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr., Ebenezer’s assistant pastor and Williams’ son-in-law, became the church’s third pastor. During his 40-year tenure as pastor, “Daddy” King, as he was affectionately known, led Ebenezer with a mixture of evangelical faith and progressive social action.

Finding warrant for social action in the Christian scriptures, King Sr. challenged other Black churches to embrace the social gospel – a late 19th-century Protestant movement that emphasized the application of the Christian message to the social and moral concerns of society.

Moreover, King Sr. led marches and rallies to protest discriminatory and segregationist policies in the city of Atlanta, including the desegregation of the Atlanta Police Department and the Atlanta Board of Education. In the first 15 years of King Sr.‘s pastorate at Ebenezer, church membership grew to 3,700.

MLK’s spiritual home

Martin Luther King, Jr., Ebenezer Baptist Church
Martin Luther King Jr. Annual Commemorative Service at Ebenezer Baptist Church on Jan. 21, 2019 in Atlanta, Ga.
Paras Griffin/Getty Images

Ebenezer came into the global spotlight when Martin Luther King Jr. accepted the call to join his father as co-pastor in 1960. Before then, King had pastored Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama from 1954 to 1959.

During his tenure at Dexter Avenue, King served as president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, the organization which successfully led the Montgomery Bus Boycott from Dec. 5, 1955 to Dec. 20, 1956. In 1959, King resigned from his position as pastor at Dexter Avenue to serve alongside his father as well as serve as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which is also based in Atlanta.

From the pulpit of Ebenezer, King preached some of his more memorable sermons. In one of his sermons published in a collection titled “The Strength to Love,” King describes racial prejudice as indicative of “softmindedness,” a person’s tendency to uncritically adhere to unsupportable beliefs.

In the same sermon, titled “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart,” King argued, “Race prejudice is based on groundless fears, suspicions, and misunderstandings.” To overcome this, King argued that human beings must cultivate both a tough mind and a tender heart, a joining of a critical mind with a concern for fellow human beings.

This message reverberates in contemporary movements for racial equity and justice, including the Black Lives Matter movement. While many BLM members are not affiliated with any organized religion, the movement emphasizes the importance of spiritual wellness for African Americans as they fight for Black liberation.

Since its inception, Ebenezer Baptist Church has been an institution in which evangelical fervor and progressive social activism joined to foster societal change.

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented the spiritual home of King from hosting the annual commemorative service in honor of the slain civil rights leader, which usually draws 1,700 attendees. But attention to the church has been renewed following the election of Pastor Warnock to the U.S. Senate.

One cannot appreciate the importance of MLK Day without understanding the tradition that formed one of America’s most influential civil rights leaders.

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]The Conversation

Jason Oliver Evans, Ph.D. Student in Religious Studies, University of Virginia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Kamala Harris’ swearing-in will feature other trailblazers

Kamala Harris’ swearing-in will feature other trailblazers

Video Courtesy of Howard University


RELATED: Kamala Harris, America’s first female vice president-elect, makes history


Originally published by The 19th

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.

Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.

Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.

Video, courtesy of TIME

In celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr., we’ve compiled several of the stories we’ve published over the years about his life and ministry.

Two-Minute Podcast Shorts on Martin Luther King, Jr.

In celebration of the late Dr. Melvin E. Banks, Sr., our founder, and Black History Month, we are featuring his podcast shorts that draw Biblical connections and insight into the life and leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr. Amid so much turmoil, take a few minutes and listen to these two-minute podcast shorts.

Podcast Shorts: How Do People of Faith Address Violence?

The constant drumbeat of negative news stories about violence, from the rioters who stormed the Capitol to the latest neighborhood or school shooting, is all so unnerving. Dr. Melvin E. Banks offers biblically based, two-minute podcast shorts that cover injustice, gang violence, drug dealers, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

MLK: Remembering the Dream

We’re honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with engaging articles, podcast shorts, video, and useful resources.

Pealing Bells to Mark 50 Years Since MLK’s Rousing Speech

By Larry Copeland c. 2013 USA Today ATLANTA (RNS) The King Center is urging communities around the world to participate in a bell-ringing ceremony next month to help commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. King Center...

Celebrating Dr. King with Service

Rev. Dr. M. William Howard Jr. and gospel artists Richard Smallwood and Tye Tribbett reflect on the influence of MLK on their own lives of service.

The Power of a Praying King

In his book ‘Never to Leave Us Alone,’ religion scholar Lewis V. Baldwin examines the centrality of prayer in the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr.

Faith and Politics at King Dedication

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial dedication ceremony was described as a mix of worship service and partisan political rally, but there’s scant mention of race, racism or God at the site. What’s going on?

King Memorial Controversy Continues

Maya Angelou says a paraphrase of Dr. King’s words makes him sound arrogant and a North Carolina journalist thinks Rev. Billy Graham deserves a statue too.

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Opens

The Martin Luther King Jr. memorial opens today at the National Mall in Washington D.C. in advance of a five-day celebration and Sunday’s dedication.

Stranded on MLK Blvd.

Our nation’s political divisions, economic struggles, and violent communities should remind us that symbolism without substance is a dead-end street.

MLK: A Life

  Remembering the life, work, and message of Martin Luther King Jr. -- preacher, peacemaker, prophet. UrbanFaith celebrates the Martin Luther King Jr. Day with this special photo gallery from Life.com. King, the champion of justice and civil rights, said this upon the...

The Day MLK Died

Life.com’s never-before-published photos chronicle the aftermath of Martin Luther King’s murder.

Amid COVID and Racial Unrest, Black Churches Put Faith in Mental Health Care

Amid COVID and Racial Unrest, Black Churches Put Faith in Mental Health Care

Video Courtesy of FOX 2 St. Louis


This article originally appeared on KHN.org

Wilma Mayfield used to visit a senior center in Durham, North Carolina, four days a week and attend Lincoln Memorial Baptist Church on Sundays, a ritual she’s maintained for nearly half a century. But over the past 10 months, she’s seen only the inside of her home, the grocery store and the pharmacy. Most of her days are spent worrying about COVID-19 and watching TV.

It’s isolating, but she doesn’t talk about it much.

When Mayfield’s church invited a psychologist to give a virtual presentation on mental health during the pandemic, she decided to tune in.

The hourlong discussion covered COVID’s disproportionate toll on communities of color, rising rates of depression and anxiety, and the trauma caused by police killings of Black Americans. What stuck with Mayfield were the tools to improve her own mental health.

“They said to get up and get out,” she said. “So I did.”

The next morning, Mayfield, 67, got into her car and drove around town, listening to 103.9 gospel radio and noting new businesses that had opened and old ones that had closed. She felt so energized that she bought chicken, squash and greens, and began her Thanksgiving cooking early.

“It was wonderful,” she said. “The stuff that lady talked about [in the presentation], it opened up doors for me.”

As Black people face an onslaught of grief, stress and isolation triggered by a devastating pandemic and repeated instances of racial injustice, churches play a crucial role in addressing the mental health of their members and the greater community. Religious institutions have long been havens for emotional support. But faith leaders say the challenges of this year have catapulted mental health efforts to the forefront of their mission.

Some are preaching about mental health from the pulpit for the first time. Others are inviting mental health professionals to speak to their congregations, undergoing mental health training themselves or adding more therapists to the church staff.

“COVID undoubtedly has escalated this conversation in great ways,” said Keon Gerow, senior pastor at Catalyst Church in West Philadelphia. “It has forced Black churches — some of which have been older, traditional and did not want to have this conversation — to actually now have this conversation in a very real way.”

At Lincoln Memorial Baptist, leaders who organized the virtual presentation with the psychologist knew that people like Mayfield were struggling but might be reluctant to seek help. They thought members might be more open to sensitive discussions if they took place in a safe, comfortable setting like church.

It’s a trend that psychologist Alfiee Breland-Noble, who gave the presentation, has noticed for years.

Through her nonprofit organization, the AAKOMA Project, Breland-Noble and her colleagues often speak to church groups about depression, recognizing it as one of the best ways to reach a diverse segment of the Black community and raise mental health awareness.

This year, the AAKOMA Project has received clergy requests that are increasingly urgent, asking to focus on coping skills and tools people can use immediately, Breland-Noble said.

“After George Floyd’s death, it became: ‘Please talk to us about exposure to racial trauma and how we can help congregations deal with this,’” she said. “‘Because this is a lot.’”

Across the country, mental health needs are soaring. And Black Americans are experiencing significant strain: A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this summer found 15% of non-Hispanic Black adults had seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days and 18% had started or increased their use of substances to cope with pandemic-related stress.

Yet national data shows Blacks are less likely to receive mental health treatment than the overall population. A memo released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration this spring lists engaging faith leaders as one way to close this gap.

The Potter’s House in Dallas has been trying to do that for years. A megachurch with more than 30,000 members, it runs a counseling center with eight licensed clinicians, open to congregants and the local community to receive counseling at no cost, though donations are accepted.

Since the pandemic began, the center has seen a 30% increase in monthly appointments compared with previous years, said center director Natasha Stewart. During the summer, when protests over race and policing were at their height, more Black men came to therapy for the first time, she said.

Recently, there’s been a surge in families seeking services. Staying home together has brought up conflicts previously ignored, Stewart said.

“Before, people had ways to escape,” she said, referring to work or school. “With some of those escapes not available anymore, counseling has become a more viable option.”

To meet the growing demand, Stewart is adding a new counselor position for the first time in eight years.

At smaller churches, where funding a counseling center is unrealistic, clergy are instead turning to members of the congregation to address growing mental health needs.

At Catalyst Church, a member with a background in crisis management has begun leading monthly COVID conversations online. A deacon has been sharing his own experience getting therapy to encourage others to do the same. And Gerow, the senior pastor, talks openly about mental health.

Recognizing his power as a pastor, Gerow hopes his words on Sunday morning and in one-on-one conversations will help congregants seek the help they need. Doing so could reduce substance use and gun violence in the community, he said. Perhaps it would even lower the number of mental health crises that lead to police involvement, like the October death of Walter Wallace Jr., whose family said he was struggling with mental health issues when Philadelphia police shot him.

“If folks had the proper tools, they’d be able to deal with their grief and stress in different ways,” Gerow said. “Prayer alone is not always enough.”

Laverne Williams recognized that back in the ’90s. She believed prayer was powerful, but as an employee of the Mental Health Association in New Jersey, she knew there was a need for treatment too.

When she heard pastors tell people they could pray away mental illness or use blessed oil to cure what seemed like symptoms of schizophrenia, she worried. And she knew many people of color were not seeing professionals, often due to barriers of cost, transportation, stigma and distrust of the medical system.

To address this disconnect, Williams created a video and PowerPoint presentation and tried to educate faith leaders.

At first, many clergy turned her away. People thought seeking mental health treatment meant your faith wasn’t strong enough, Williams said.

But over time, some members of the clergy have come to realize the two can coexist, said Williams, adding that being a deacon herself has helped her gain their trust. This year alone, she’s trained 20 faith leaders in mental health topics.

A program run by the Behavioral Health Network of Greater St. Louis is taking a similar approach. The Bridges to Care and Recovery program trains faith leaders in “mental health first aid,” suicide prevention, substance use and more, through a 20-hour course.

The training builds on the work faith leaders are already doing to support their communities, said senior program manager Rose Jackson-Beavers. In addition to the tools of faith and prayer, clergy can now offer resources, education and awareness, and refer people to professional therapists in the network.

Since 2015, the program has trained 261 people from 78 churches, Jackson-Beavers said.

Among them is Carl Lucas, pastor of God First Church in northern St. Louis County who graduated this July — just in time, by his account.

Since the start of the pandemic, he has encountered two congregants who expressed suicidal thoughts. In one case, church leaders referred the person to counseling and followed up to ensure they attended therapy sessions. In the other, the root concern was isolation, so the person was paired with church members who could touch base regularly, Lucas said.

“The pandemic has definitely put us in a place where we’re looking for answers and looking for other avenues to help our members,” he said. “It has opened our eyes to the reality of mental health needs.”

James Clyburn to propose designating ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ as the national hymn

James Clyburn to propose designating ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ as the national hymn


House Majority Whip James Clyburn plans to introduce legislation to designate the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” long a staple in the Black community, as the country’s national hymn.

“To make ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ a national hymn, would be an act of bringing the country together,” reads a Tuesday (Jan. 12) tweet from @WhipClyburn.

“The gesture itself would be an act of healing. Everybody can identify with that song.”

The Democratic congressman from South Carolina could suggest the hymn — often described as the unofficial “Black national anthem” — as soon as this week, USA Today reported.

The hymn, with lyrics about liberty and faith, is often sung on occasions marking Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Black History Month and is featured in hymnals of different faith traditions. But Clyburn thinks it should be sung more beyond predominantly Black communities.

The newspaper quoted Clyburn as distinguishing the hymn from the national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

“You aren’t singing a separate national anthem,’’ he said, “you are singing the country’s national hymn.”

USA Today reported Clyburn asked his staff to create draft legislation last month, before the recent storming of the U.S. Capitol by insurrectionists and after a surge in racial tensions concerning police brutality and racial injustice.

The song traces its roots to a 1900 celebration of Lincoln’s birthday in Jacksonville, Florida, according to a 2000 book, “Lift Every Voice and Sing: A Celebration of the Negro National Anthem.” James Weldon Johnson penned the words for the occasion; his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, set them to music.

The lyrics are not explicitly tied to a particular faith tradition but do mention “God” several times in the hymn’s third verse.

The song has played at the start of recent gatherings of the “ Beyonce Mass,” been used to awaken astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery and been included in the closing prayer of President Barack Obama’s 2009 swearing-in ceremony. This fall, a decision to feature it at NFL games drew praise and criticism.

“It had historicity; it had the religious context,” said the Rev. Joseph Lowery, when asked by Religion News Service in 2009 why he borrowed the third verse of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in the inaugural benediction.

Lowery, who died in 2020, said he often used its third stanza as a hymn of praise in his worship services. “The Black experience is sort of wrapped up in that hymn.”

In USA Today, Clyburn echoed Lowery and said his plan is not merely a symbolic one.

“It’s a very popular song that is steeped in the history of the country,” he said.

He added “I’ve always been skittish” about it once being described as the “Negro national anthem.”

Rather, he thinks it’s a song for all and not just some in the nation.

“We should have one national anthem, irrespective of whether you’re Black or white,” he said. “So to give due honor and respect to the song, we ought to name it the national hymn.”

The first verse of the hymn is as follows:

Lift ev’ry voice and sing,

Till earth and heaven ring,

Ring with the harmonies of liberty;

Let our rejoicing rise

High as the list’ning skies,

Let it resound loud as the rolling sea,

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,

Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;

Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,

Let us march on tillvictory is won.

Meet the theologian who helped MLK see the value of nonviolence

Meet the theologian who helped MLK see the value of nonviolence

Video Courtesy of MPT National


For African-Americans who grew up with the legacy of segregation, disfranchisement, lynching, and violence, retreat from social struggle was unthinkable. Martin Luther King Jr., however, learned from some important mentors how to integrate spiritual growth and social transformation.

As a historian, who has studied how figures in American history struggled with similar questions, I believe one major influence on King’s thought was the African-American minister, theologian, and mystic Howard Thurman.

The influence of Howard Thurman

Born in 1899, Thurman was 30 years older than King, the same age, in fact, as King’s father. Through his sermons and teaching at Howard University and Boston University, he influenced intellectually and spiritually an entire generation that became the leadership of the civil rights movement.

Howard Thurman.
On Being, CC BY-NC-SA

Among his most significant contributions was bringing the ideas of nonviolence to the movement. It was Thurman’s trip to India in 1935, where he met Mahatma Gandhi, that was greatly influential in incorporating the principles of nonviolence in the African-American freedom struggle.

At the close of the meeting, which was long highlighted by Thurman as a central event of his life, Gandhi reportedly told Thurman that “it may be through the Negroes that the unadulterated message of nonviolence will be delivered to the world.” King and others remembered and repeated that phrase during the early years of the civil rights movement in the 1950s.

Mahatma Gandhi.
gandhiserve.org via Wikimedia Commons

Thurman and King were both steeped in the black Baptist tradition. Both thought long about how to apply their church experiences and theological training into challenging the white supremacist ideology of segregation. However, initially their encounters were brief.

Thurman had served as dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University from 1953 to 1965. King was a student there when Thurman first assumed his position in Boston and heard the renowned minister deliver some addresses. A few years later, King invited Thurman to speak at his first pulpit at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

Their most serious personal encounter – the one that gave Thurman his opportunity to influence King personally, and help prepare him for struggles to come – came as a result of a tragedy.

A crucial meeting in hospital

On Sept. 20, 1958, a mentally disturbed African-American woman named Izola Ware Curry came to a book signing in upper Manhattan. There, King was signing copies of his new book, “Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story.” Curry moved to the front of the signing line, took out a sharp-edged letter opener and stabbed the 29-year-old minister, who had just vaulted to national prominence through his leadership of the Montgomery bus boycott.

King barely survived. Doctors later told King that, if he had sneezed, he easily could have died. Of course, King later received a fatal gunshot wound in April 1968. Curry lived her days in a mental institution, to the age of 97.

It was while recuperating in the hospital afterward, that King received a visit from Thurman. While there, Thurman gave the same advice he gave to countless others over decades: that King should take the unexpected, if tragic, opportunity, to meditate on his life and its purposes, and only then move forward.

Thurman urged King to extend his rest period by two weeks. It would, as he said, give King “time away from the immediate pressure of the movement” and to “rest his body and mind with healing detachment.” Thurman worried that “the movement had become more than an organization; it had become an organism with a life of its own,” which potentially could swallow up King.

King wrote to Thurman to say, “I am following your advice on the question.”

King’s spiritual connection with Thurman

King and Thurman were never personally close. But Thurman left a profound intellectual and spiritual influence on King. King, for example, reportedly carried his own well-thumbed copy of Thurman’s best-known book, “Jesus and the Disinherited,” in his pocket during the long and epic struggle of the Montgomery bus boycott.

In his sermons during the 1950s and 1960s, King quoted and paraphrased Thurman extensively.
Minnesota Historical Society, via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

In his sermons during the 1950s and 1960s, King quoted and paraphrased Thurman extensively. Drawing from Thurman’s views, King understood Jesus as friend and ally of the dispossessed – to a group of Jewish followers in ancient Palestine, and to African-Americans under slavery and segregation. That was precisely why Jesus was so central to African-American religious history.

The mystic

Thurman was not an activist, as King was, nor one to take up specific social and political causes to transform a country. He was a private man and an intellectual. He saw spiritual cultivation as a necessary accompaniment to social activism.

As Walter Fluker, editor of the Howard Thurman Papers Project, has explained, the private mystic and the public activist found common ground in understanding that spirituality is necessarily linked to social transformation. Private spiritual cultivation could prepare the way for deeper public commitments for social change. King himself, according to one biographer, came to feel that the stabbing and enforced convalescence was “part of God’s plan to prepare him for some larger work” in the struggle against southern segregation and American white supremacy.

In a larger sense, the discipline of nonviolence required a spiritual commitment and discipline that came, for many, through self-examination, meditation and prayer. This was the message Thurman transmitted to the larger civil rights movement. Thurman combined, in the words of historian Martin Marty, the “inner life, the life of passion, the life of fire, with the external life, the life of politics.”

Spiritual retreat and activism

King’s stabbing was a bizarre and tragic event, but in some sense it gave him the period of reflection and inner cultivation needed for the chaotic coming days of the civil rights struggle. The prison cell in Birmingham, Alabama, where in mid-1963 King penned his classic “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” also accidentally but critically provided much the same spiritual retreat for reflections that helped transform America.

The relationship of Thurman’s mysticism and King’s activism provides a fascinating model for how spiritual and social transformation can work together in a person’s life. And in society more generally.

This is an updated version of an article originally published on Jan. 11, 2018.The Conversation

Paul Harvey, Professor of American History, University of Colorado Colorado Springs

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Miracle Mentality

The Miracle Mentality

Tim Storey on getting over challenging interruptions in your life.

When Tim Storey met with Quincy Jones to collaborate on a creative project 25 years ago, he got an unexpected challenge to create his own miracles.

“Whatever ideas you come up with, this is the no-fault zone,” Storey recalls Jones telling him that day, “In this zone, just be miraculous. Any idea you come up with, there’s no judgment here. Now, tell me what you think.”

Storey says that for a moment, he almost forgot that he was sitting with Jones, a Grammy Award-winning songwriter, record producer, and filmmaker in his Beverly Hills mansion.

“[It was like] a river of creativity got released,” Storey, recalling the experience, told Urban Faith.

In his latest book, The Miracle Mentality, Storey, now a pastor, life coach and motivational speaker, channels that experience as he explains how miracles can help us get out of a bad situation, but also get us into a better place.

“We have to permit ourselves to be miraculous,” Storey says. “It’s okay to manifest our miraculous self. Many times, the church, or your parents, or your siblings can hold some people back from their creativity.”

Even before that meeting with Quincy Jones, the idea that we can accomplish miraculous things if we lean into what God has created us to be had been marinating in Storey’s mind.

Growing up in the church, Storey learned about miracles and faith.

As he began his research for the book he realized that many people talk about needing a miracle to get out of a bad situation but don’t always see that a miracle can get you into a better place.

In his book Storey covers parenting, love relationships, friends, work, career, money, and health. Here are six takeaways that could help us manifest our own miracles while navigating life challenges.

Activate the miracle mentality in your life

To activate the miracle mentality is to cooperate with who you truly are. Number one, you’re made in the image of God. According to the Bible, He says all these amazing things about us — we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Then it says that He’s the potter and we’re the clay, and He’s shaping us as seems best to Him.

Not only does He say that I’m made in His image, but He’s also saying that He is shaping me. I feel that the image is in me, but the Creator’s hand is also on me. What I’m doing is just cooperating with my Creator. Rather than hoping for miracles or trying to conjure up a mentality, I’m just cooperating with my Creator.

The Miracle Mentality When Life Dreams Aren’t Playing Out

In life we often have what I’ve been calling for 20 years a “life interruption.” And as you know, to be interrupted means to be disturbed. It means something barges in that we never ordered. It could be a divorce that someone didn’t ask for, an illness, a challenge with their children, a challenge with their family.

As a person who has been a pastor and a life coach for many years, I find that most people, when they have a life interruption, find themselves being interrupted by the interruption and not knowing what to do about it. But we can put ourselves into two categories: recovery and discovery.

Currently, I am going through recovery of something in my life, but it’s important that I don’t get so caught up in my recovery zone that I miss my discovery zone. My discovery zone is the unfolding of my beautiful life. The Bible says in Isaiah 46:10, “For God knows the end from the beginning, and he knows what is yet to unfold.” Too many people are folding. They’re folding and give up before they have unfolded. Don’t fold your hands and your dreams while you’re still unfolding.

The Miracle Mentality When You Are Suffering

My mother was 39 when her husband, my father, went to get food for her and never came back. He was hit by a man who ran a red light.

That changed her life forever. She was happy with this man, and everything shifted within moments. The reality is at that point, you have to go back to steps.

First, you have to sit again and learn and get educated. Then you have to stand in what you know. Then you need to walk out the principles daily. That’s where some people suffer. They do not take the time just to do the action steps every day. Well, how long is it going to take, Tim Storey? Just keep walking it out. And then what happens is you keep walking it out, you build your confidence. You begin to run. Run is a position of passion. What COVID-19 has done, it has taken the run out of most people.

Challenges like divorce could take the run out of you. We have to get to the sit, to the stand, to the walk. Get good at walking, and then many times running just will come naturally. You want to kick in the run. And then it gets even better. One more step. You’re running, and you think, “Oh, this is as good as it gets.” Nope, there’s another step. You can soar. Where you mount up with wings of eagles, and you begin to soar and do things like Ephesians 3:20 says, that are exceedingly, abundantly above all that you ask or imagine.

 The Miracle Mentality When You Are Seeking a Soul Mate

Somebody taught us how life should be — that you should be married at this time and that you should never be divorced. The reality is that sometimes you have to shift your “satellite dish.” Wherever you put your satellite dish is what you pick up. If you shift it on “Everybody’s against me,” you pick that up. If you shift it towards, “I can’t believe I failed all through my twenties,” that’s what you keep picking up. We have to shift our satellite dish, and we need to begin seeing things differently.

Number one, I am a miracle. My life is a miracle. Secondly, I’m a miracle in motion. I said that to Oprah Winfrey. She loves that saying of mine — that you are a miracle in motion, because you’re a miracle. But you’re also a miracle in motion. You’re learning, and you’re growing, you’re evolving.

If you’re not in a relationship, you have to learn to embrace and be thankful for the miracle of you. And then, as you begin to understand your value, I believe that it will begin to draw people that understand your value — whether it be friendships or romantic relationships.

The Miracle Mentality When You’re in a Bad Relationship

Before we fold on any relationship, we need to check our state of mind. To quote Dr. Robert Schuller, “Don’t make big decisions in the downtime.” Before one tries to get out of a relationship, I always challenge them to check their state of mind. And as I teach in the new book, there are different states of mind.

There’s the mundane, which is like, “Oh, my life is just a habit.” There’s the messy. You don’t want to leave a good relationship just because you’ve got a messy mind. Then there’s the madness. So maybe the madness is in your mind, but maybe the madness is not in the relationship like you think. We’ve got to really check with the mundane side, the messy side, and the madness side and get back to the sober-minded side before you make the big decisions.

The Miracle Mentality When Raising Kids

One of the beautiful things about parenting is that we have the opportunity to be God’s hands extended. He is the potter and we’re the clay, and He shapes us as seems best to him. That is something that we are, as parents, trying to do from birth to at least age 18. We are doing our best to help shape and form our children in a way that’s best for their lives. It’s important that we continue to stay linked up to the Creator so we can move on His supernatural power as we’re rearing our children. When you’re not connected to the supply, to the source, that’s when you start to get frustrated and even exhausted at times in the rearing of children.

Warnock, pastor and politician, has role models who did both

Warnock, pastor and politician, has role models who did both

Video Courtesy of The Hill


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.

“I ask you to grant us this measure because it is right,” he said in a speech that received loud applause, according to “ Preaching with Sacred Fire: An Anthology of African American Sermons, 1750 to the Present.” “I appeal to you in the name of God and humanity to give us our rights, for we ask nothing more.”

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 authoritative history of the church notes that when Powell arrived in Washington in 1945, one of his first acts as a congressman was an act of civil disobedience. “(H)e immediately availed himself of the use of the Congressional dining room, which was segregated,” reads the 2014 history “ Witness: Two Hundred Years of African-American Faith and Practice at the Abyssinian Baptist Church of Harlem, New York.” “Powell staged his own successful sit-in.”

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.”

W.E.B. Du Bois embraced science to fight racism as editor of NAACP’s magazine

W.E.B. Du Bois embraced science to fight racism as editor of NAACP’s magazine

Video Courtesy of University of Pennsylvania


The NAACP – the most prominent interracial civil rights organization in American history – published the first issue of The Crisis, its official magazine, 110 years ago, in 1910. For almost two and a half decades, sociologist and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois served as its editor, famously using this platform to dismantle scientific racism.

Yellowed print ad for The Crisis with photo of a young Black child and text.

An advertisement for The Crisis, circa March 1925. W.E.B. Du Bois Papers (MS 312). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries, CC BY-ND

At the time, many widely respected intellectuals gave credence to beliefs that empirical evidence exists to justify a “natural” white superiority. Tearing down scientific racism was thus a necessary project for The Crisis. Under Du Bois’ leadership, the magazine laid bare the irrationality of scientific racism.

Less remembered, however, is how it also sought to help its readers understand and engage with contemporary science.

In nearly every issue, the magazine reported on scientific developments, recommended scientific works or featured articles on natural sciences. Du Bois’ time as editor of The Crisis was just as much about critically embracing careful, systematic, empirical science as it was about skewering the popular view that Blacks (and other nonwhites) were naturally inferior.

Sociologists Patrick Greiner and Brett Clark and I recently pored through the magnificent W.E.B. Du Bois Papers at the Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. We found that Du Bois not only drew from natural sciences, but thought deeply about the ways in which The Crisis should and should not do so. He would even go so far as to critique allies for using science in ways he thought inappropriate.

Case in point: Defending Darwin

On Feb. 18, 1932, the Harlem pastor Adam Clayton Powell wrote to Du Bois, asking him to publish his recent address at a NAACP mass meeting in an upcoming issue of The Crisis.

A week later, Du Bois responded that while he’d read Powell’s address “with great interest,” he could not publish it as written. Why? It got biologist Charles Darwin and his theory of natural selection very wrong.

excerpt of typewritten letter on yellowed paper

An excerpt of Du Bois’ letter of Feb. 25, 1925 to Adam Clayton Powell. W.E.B. Du Bois Papers (MS 312). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries

Darwin, explained Du Bois, did not try to demonstrate “who ought to survive,” as Powell’s address assumed. Rather, Darwin’s work is “simply a scientific statement” that had been twisted to support eugenicist and other pseudo-scientific doctrines.

This short reply to the powerful pastor contains so much. It shows that Du Bois demanded a nuanced appreciation of Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Further, he insisted Darwin should not be held liable for the racist ideologues who misappropriated his work, cloaking their demagoguery in scientific objectivity. Darwin’s work is of clear value, but one must always remain aware that, like with all science, politics shaped its reception.

For Du Bois, how one understands and uses science were not minor issues.

Science in The Crisis

In the first section of the first issue of The Crisis, there is an archaeological report. It describes how “exploration of the African continent is yet in its infancy and will doubtless yield surprising results in establishing the advanced state of development attained by the black races in early times.”

According to the latest archaeology, in other words, African heritage is something to be proud of.

Subheading 'SCIENCE' above a column of text.

On page 6 of the inaugural issue of The Crisis, a subheading for ‘SCIENCE.’ The Crisis. Vol. 1, No. 1; 1910. The Modernist Journals Project. Brown and Tulsa Universities, ongoing. www.modjourn.org

Later in that issue, under the subheading “Science,” it is noted that a paper was read before the British Association for the Advancement of Science concluding that “all earlier human races were probably colored.” This same section notes a recent study providing evidence that, in a direct rebuke to scientific racism, “mere brain weight is no indication of mentality.”

In the second issue of The Crisis, the famed Columbia University anthropologist Franz Boas explained that there is no physical anthropological evidence “showing inferiority of the Negro race.” Later issues would highlight early African metallurgy and critique racist intelligence tests. Another would recommend a work by Peter Kropotkin, the great Russian anarchist and zoologist, which suggested that natural selection is more about cooperation among species than any fight for survival between them.

Article headlined 'Is the Negro Inferior?'

The Crisis published articles by prestigious scholars who drew on science to refute racism. The Crisis, Nov. 1932

The Crisis published this sort of work throughout Du Bois’ time as editor. The reason why is clear. Du Bois knew that a proper understanding of science does not lead to biological essentialism – the idea that biology limits who you are and what you can do. It leads to the exact opposite conclusion, that every population has the ability to make their own meaning and determine themselves as they see fit. The only constraints are social processes like colonialism and racism. Science, for Du Bois, was in this way necessary and liberating.

Science for an emancipated politics

Today’s political moment is different than Du Bois’, though there are some parallels. One is that a political life free of exploitation and enhanced by participatory democracy remains out of reach for many. Disenfranchisement still exists in many forms. As the Black Lives Matter movement and others have shown, racism is a big reason why.

W.E.B. Du Bois in his office, ca. 1948

W.E.B. Du Bois in his office, ca. 1948, holding the first issue of The Crisis. W.E.B. Du Bois Papers (MS 312). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries, CC BY-ND

While only a piece of the puzzle, Du Bois’ insistence on critically embracing a careful, systematic and empirical view of science can be an important part of that struggle for an emancipated politics. A critical embrace of science can help people better tackle pressing issues like environmental justice, health care disparities and more.

To critically embrace science is to, as Du Bois did in the pages of The Crisis, remain unwavering in the fact that any scientific theory promoting racial and other forms of injustice is categorically wrong.

He demonstrated how to reject racist science without rejecting the ways that science can help people better understand our relationships with the world. In particular, engaging science shows how our relationships with each other are not determined by nature, but are under our own control.

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]The Conversation

Jordan Besek, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University at Buffalo

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Podcast Shorts: How Do People of Faith Address Violence?

Podcast Shorts: How Do People of Faith Address Violence?

The constant drumbeat of negative news stories about violence, from the rioters who stormed the Capitol to the latest neighborhood or school shooting, is all so unnerving. Some people find that they’ve become numb to most of it, except the most shocking of stories. As people of faith, many of us find ways to peacefully address issues of violence that plague our communities. Dr. Melvin E. Banks, the founder of UMI (Urban Ministries, Inc.), has biblically based, two-minute podcast shorts that cover injustice, gang violence, drug dealers, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We’ve pulled them from Dr. Banks’ daily radio program called Daily Direction, which covers a variety of topics.

New Mississippi flag almost official: Lawmakers move for final ratification

New Mississippi flag almost official: Lawmakers move for final ratification

Video courtesy of WJTV 12 News


RELATED: ‘It’s a moral issue:’ Mississippi Baptist Convention calls for new state flag

The state Senate is expected on Wednesday to pass on to the governor final ratification of a new state flag — sans the divisive Confederate battle emblem that flew for 126 years.

The House on Monday voted 119-1 to accept the new “In God We Trust” Mississippi flag, after more than 70% of state voters approved it in November. The measure — the first bill of the 2021 legislative session, which began on Tuesday — cleared a Senate committee on Tuesday with no opposition.

A Senate floor vote on the bill is expected on Wednesday. If passed there, the bill would then move to the governor’s desk for signature or veto.

“This new flag boldly declares our trust in God, that we are all equal in his eyes …” said Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn, who for years was the lone statewide GOP leader advocating for changing the flag. “May God bless our efforts, and may God bless Mississippi as we set sail under this new flag.”

The Mississippi Legislature in June removed the old flag, which was adopted by racist lawmakers in 1894. It was the last in the nation to carry the divisive Confederate battle emblem. Lawmakers faced growing pressure from religious, business, sports and community leaders to remove the vestige of the state’s Jim Crow past from a flag flying over the state with the largest percentage population of Black residents.

TIMELINE: How Mississippi lawmakers removed the state flag.

READ MORE: Mississippi furls state flag with Confederate emblem after 126 years.

An appointed commission reviewed about 3,000 public submissions for new flag designs over the summer and in September chose the new design with a magnolia and stars — a combination of multiple submissions. Lawmakers had stipulated in June that the new design include the words In God We Trust and that it not include the Confederate battle emblem.

On Nov. 3, 71.3% of Mississippi voters approved the new design in an up-or-down vote. But lawmakers still must put the design into the state lawbooks.

The measure the House passed Tuesday includes the description:

“The Magnolia is the state flower of Mississippi and is a symbol that has long represented our state and the hospitality of our citizens, and also represents our state’s sense of hope and rebirth as the Magnolia often blooms more than once and has a long blooming season.  The circle of twenty stars represents Mississippi as the twentieth state of the United States of America and the circle is anchored at the top by the gold five-point star, which represents our first peoples, the indigenous Native American tribes of the land that would become Mississippi, and also represents Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia/Oceania and Europe, which are the five inhabited areas of the world from which all Mississippians originate.  The color blue in the center panel echoes the blue of the American flag, representing vigilance, justice and perseverance, and the red bars represent the hardiness and valor of our citizens.  The gold bars and the gold stamen of the Magnolia represent the rich cultural history of Mississippi, specifically the visual arts, literature, music and performing arts that have originated in our state.”

House lawmakers also approved an appropriation of $10,000 for the Department of Finance and Administration to buy new flags for state buildings this year.

Longtime state Rep. Alyce Clarke, D-Jackson, on Tuesday said, “I’m elated we finally did it.”

“Maybe we are headed in the right direction,” Clarke said. “We are doing the right thing here.”

House Democratic Leader Robert Johnson of Natchez said: “I still can’t stop thinking that more than 70% of the people of the state of Mississippi passed this flag — even after 27 years in the Legislature that amazes me.

“I’m hopeful this marks a change in Mississippi, not just of a symbol, but of people coming together to meet the needs of all the people of Mississippi,” Johnson said.

T.J. Taylor, who served on the commission appointed to pick a new flag design, was at the Capitol on Tuesday and said lawmakers finalizing the flag feels like closure.

“Hopefully now it’s just a formality, after voters came out and supported it like they did,” Taylor said. “… I feel like this is closure, that we can move on and not have to worry about it any more.”

But one group, Let Mississippi Vote, hopes to overturn the Legislature’s removal of the old flag. It has mounted a petition drive to place on the ballot — as early as 2022 — an initiative that would allow voters to restore the 1894 flag, or select other options including the In God We Trust flag.

On Tuesday, Rep. Steve Horne, R-Meridian, cast the lone no vote on the new flag. He was unavailable for comment after the vote. Rep. Dan Eubanks, R-Walls, voted present.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.” data-src=”https://mississippitoday.org/?republication-pixel=true&post=972408&ga=UA-75003810-1″ />

What’s not being said about why African Americans need to take the COVID-19 vaccine

What’s not being said about why African Americans need to take the COVID-19 vaccine

Latrice Davis, a nurse at Roseland Community Hospital in Chicago, receives the COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 18, 2020. Scott Olson via Getty Image

RELATED: 5 Reasons Why African Americans Should Consider Taking the COVID-19 Vaccine


Dr. Anthony Fauci and other national health leaders have said that African Americans need to take the COVID-19 vaccine to protect their health. What Fauci and others have not stated is that if African Americans don’t take the vaccine, the nation as whole will never get to herd immunity.

The concept of herd immunity, also referred to as community immunity, is fairly simple. When a significant proportion of the population, or the herd, becomes immune from the virus, the entire population will have some acceptable degree of protection. Immunity can occur through natural immunity from personal infection and recovery, or through vaccination. Once a population reaches herd immunity, the likelihood of person-to-person spread becomes very low.

The big lie is one of omission. Yes, it is true that African Americans will benefit from the COVID vaccine, but the full truth is that the country needs African Americans and other population subgroups with lower reported COVID-19 vaccine acceptability rates to take the vaccine. Without increased vaccine acceptability, we stand little to no chance of communitywide protection.

I am an epidemiologist and health equity scholar who has been conducting research in the African American community for 20 years. Much of my work focuses on strategies to increase community engagement in research. I see a significant opportunity to improve COVID vaccine acceptance in the African American community.

Doing the coronavirus math

About 70% of people in the U.S. need to take the vaccine for the population to reach herd immunity. Whites make up about 60% of the U.S. population. So, if every white person got the vaccine, the U.S. would still fall short of herd immunity. A recent study suggested that 68% of white people would be willing to get the COVID-19 vaccine. If these estimates hold up, that would get us to 42%.

African Americans make up more than 13% of the American population. But if up to 60% of African Americans refuse to take the vaccine, as a recent study suggests, it will be difficult to reach that 70% threshold likely needed to reach herd immunity.

Latinos make up just over 18% percent of the population. A study suggests that 32% percent of Latinos could reject a COVID vaccine. Add the 40% to 50% rejection rates among other population subgroups and herd immunity becomes mathematically impossible.

Further exacerbating the problem is that mass vaccination alone won’t achieve herd immunity, as the effect of COVID vaccines on preventing virus transmission remains unclear. Ongoing preventive measures will likely still be needed to stop community spread. As the resistance to facts and science continues to grow, the need for credible information dissemination and trust-building related to vaccines becomes more important.

My research offers some possible explanations for lower vaccination rates among Blacks. Historical wrongs, like the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments, which ended in 1972, have played a major role in contributing to Black mistrust of the health care system. In another case, the “immortal” cells of Henrietta Lacks were shared without her consent and have been used in medical research for more than 70 years. The most recent application includes COVID vaccine research, yet her family has received no financial benefit.

A study led by Dr. Giselle Corbie-Smith at the University of North Carolina identified distrust of the medical community as a prominent barrier to African American participation in clinical research. Another of Corbie-Smith’s peer-reviewed studies found that distrust in medical research is significantly higher among African Americans than whites.

African Americans also disproportionately experience unequal treatment in the modern-day health care system. These experiences of bias and discrimination fuel the problem of vaccine hesitancy and mistrust. Lower prioritization for hospital admissions and lifesaving care for COVID-19-related illness among African Americans was reported in Massachusetts in April 2020. Massachusetts subsequently changed its guidelines, yet across the U.S. there is a lack of data and transparent reporting on this phenomenon.

The current messaging of vaccine importance may seem tone-deaf to those in a community who wonder why their health is so important now, at the vaccine stage. Black health didn’t appear to be a priority during the pandemic’s first wave, when race disparities in COVID emerged.

Questioning the scientific process

Perhaps even Operation Warp Speed has had the unintended consequence of decreasing vaccine acceptance in the African American community. Some ask why wasn’t such speed applied to vaccine development for HIV, which still has no FDA-approved vaccine? As of 2018, AIDS-related illness has killed an estimated 35 million people globally. It continues to disproportionately affect people of color and other socially vulnerable populations.

If African Americans were honored and acknowledged in these COVID vaccine conversations and told “we need you” instead of “you need us,” perhaps more Blacks would trust the vaccine. I encourage our nation’s leaders to consider a radical shift in their approach. They must do more than pointing to the few Black scientists involved in COVID vaccine development, or making a spectacle of prominent African Americans receiving the vaccine.

These acts alone will likely be insufficient to garner the trust needed to increase vaccine acceptance. Instead, I believe our leaders should adopt the core values of equity and reconciliation. I’d argue that truth-telling will need to be at the forefront of this new narrative.

There are also multiple leverage points along the supply and distribution chains, as well as in vaccine administration, that could increase diversity, equity and inclusion. I’d recommend giving minority- and women-owned businesses fair, mandated access to contracts to get the vaccine to communities. This includes procurement and purchasing contracts for freezers needed to store the vaccine.

Minority health care workers should be equitably called back to work to support vaccine administration. These issues, not publicly discussed, could be transformative for building trust and increasing vaccine acceptance.

Without a radical shift in the conversation of true COVID equity, African Americans and many others who could benefit from the vaccine will instead get sick. Some will die. The rest will remain marginalized by a system and a society that hasn’t equally valued, protected, or prioritized their lives. I believe it’s time to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.The Conversation

Debra Furr-Holden, Associate Dean for Public Health Integration, Michigan State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Bible Trivia Made Easy

Bible Trivia Made Easy


Where did Elijah go when he fled from Jezebel?

How many songs did King Solomon write?

Who was the first person in the Bible to bake a cake?

Answers on the tip of your tongue? Not so sure? Want to phone a friend? Every Tuesday, Meta Washington, Midday Host of Kirk Franklin’s Praise, SiriusXM Channel 64, keeps people on their top Bible game with trivia on her radio show. The popularity of the “Tuesday Trivia,” sprinkled in-between Gospel songs throughout the day on air, also inspired her to write “Bible Trivia Made Easy,” a themed book of bible questions with illustrations, photos.

Bible Trivia Made Easy

Bible Trivia Made Easy by Meta Washington

“I knew it was a big thing when one time we had a famous artist who I would say was on and interviewing and a real big to do. And his interview was somehow placed over the time when I usually start asking the questions, and somebody said, ‘Is there going to be trivia today?’ And I thought, ‘Wow…alrighty,'” said Washington, who lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Washington says it started with just a few people responding but has grown so popular that she now has “Bible Scholars,” a mix of new people to the Word, along with ministers and Bishops. They interact with each other on her social media channels, cheering each other on.

“It’s a huge, big thing that people are doing,” said Washington. “People were saying, ‘Wow, I was so blessed because I didn’t understand much of the Word before.’ I let the people have some fun, take the tension out of it. I tell them, ‘Hey, don’t beat yourself up if you didn’t get it right. Consider the blessing. If you learn something new from the Word of God.”

Here’s how it works on her radio show. She’ll throw out a question, people will email her their answers, and she’ll call out the names on the air of those who got the answers right. Although her radio show listeners inspired the idea behind creating the Trivia book, she was also motivated by her personal experience in church Bible Study. Washington, a Brooklyn native whose family is from Barbados and Jamaica, grew up Episcopalian, but she moved to the Baptist church as an adult. An eager learner, she was dismayed to see how people were interested in hearing the pastor or Bible study teacher speak but were intimidated when asked to answer questions.

“They were worried that one of their church peers might realize or think, ‘They don’t really know. They’re not as close to God as I am because they don’t know as much about the Bible.’ So the pastor would ask questions, and people would sit there in dead silence. And I’m like, ‘Well, don’t you want to ask? Don’t you want to know?’ They were just afraid,” said Washington.

With that in mind, you might think the idea of being hit with a Bible trivia book could be equally as intimidating. But Washington’s book is a fun, and as its name states, easy read. The 300 questions came from six years of trivia on air. Washington says she attached a fun theme to each question, such as “Compose Yourself,” which appears right before the question about the number of songs King Solomon wrote,” to help people learn by association. And unlike many other trivia books, her book is organized by sections and topics and not skill level, such as beginner, intermediate, or expert. 

“The Bible isn’t written like that, and I don’t do it like that on the air. You learn it as you receive it. And I think to try to dumb it down for people doesn’t help them. While you’re participating, you are learning, and you’ll be surprised, you know the more complex parts of the Bible as well as the parts that are, yeah, they’re easy.”

Washington also has a book in development called “On the Third Day,” which includes pictures of nature she’s taken over the years that appear to tell scripture stories.

“Generally, we talk about ‘on the third day’ Jesus rose, but on the third day, God created trees and plants, and all of what we know is nature. And I said, ‘It has its own story to tell.’ And in this book, I am allowing nature to tell its story in its way,” said Washington. “I have an image of a type of plant that looks like flames. It looks like little fur, and I have a patch that’s all red, and it looks like flames. I had the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They are in the fiery furnace. I had the scripture there, you have the picture, and you can see the imagery.”

Even with the newly themed picture book on the horizon, Washington’s still focused on trivia, too. She self-published Bible Trivia Made Easy in September 2020 on Amazon.com, and there is a new edition on the way. Yet even with her good intentions of just wanting to help people, there have been a few naysayers. One listener accused her of making fun of the Word of God, telling her to just stick to the music. 

“I don’t want the listeners ever to think that I am making trivial of the Word of God when I say trivia. Bible trivia is meant to help people. It’s one thing to memorize Psalm 23 and be able just to regurgitate it back. But when you learn something new after you have been studying the Word for more than ten years, that’s the real knowledge and the nugget there.”

Trivia Question Answers:

Elijah traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God (1 Kings 19:3-8)

King Solomon wrote 1,005 songs (1 Kings 4:29-34)

Sarah was the first person to bake a cake in the Bible. (Genesis 18:6)

Mastering the Unexpected

Mastering the Unexpected

Video Courtesy of Michelle McKinney Hammond


Let’s face it. Life doesn’t always go according to plan. Perhaps you expected to be married by now. Perhaps you did not anticipate being single again. Perhaps that big decision you made — the decision you sought godly counsel on and that you thoroughly prayed through before making — is not working out. Despite your surprise, God knew all along where you would be right now.

When life’s unexpected twists happen, I think the first thing we wonder is, “Where is God?” Yet the text in Genesis 39 says that when Joseph’s brothers sold him and he was taken down to Egypt to work in the house of Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the Lord was with Joseph. So much for the theory that if God is in your situation, you won’t have any troubles or struggle with feeling alone.

Where is God? He is right there!

When the wind was tossing around the disciple’s boat, where was Jesus? Walking on the water to meet them. He even invited Peter, an ordinary fisherman, to come walk with Him on the water too. Peter did — that is, until he became absorbed with where he was. After that he started to sink in his own fear and unbelief.

Sometimes the single life can be overwhelming. The weight of dealing with and solving problems on your own can take a toll on your strength and your faith. However, we are all equipped to walk on water, so to speak — the troubled waters of our lives. If we look down at our state of affairs, we can only hope to sink. But by keeping our eyes up, locked on the Author of our faith, we will overcome. If we are able to take a deep breath and say, “This is only a test,” we can apply ourselves to finishing the course.

The choice is to either roll over and die a slow, painful death while repeating the mantra, “Why me? Why me?” or to rise to the occasion. Realizing I have an invisible enemy who wants me to cave in is usually enough to make me perk up and decide I won’t give him the satisfaction of seeing my demise.

It’s easy to say things can’t get any worse, but the truth of the matter is that they can. I recall a particularly bad year in my life when everything that could go wrong did. With each new setback I would say, “Things couldn’t get any worse than this.” And then things would get worse. Again I would say, “Things just couldn’t get any worse.” And then they would. Around the fifth time I was tempted to utter these ill-fated words, I caught myself. “Things couldn’t get — Oh, never mind!”

Wallowing in what can’t be fixed has never fixed anything. Don’t go there. Instead, take God’s advice:

“Awake, awake, O Zion, clothe yourself with strength. Put on your garments of splendor O Jerusalem the holy city. The uncircumcised and defiled will not enter you again. Shake off your dust; rise up, sit enthroned, O Jerusalem. Free yourself from the chains on your neck, O captive Daughter of Zion” (Isaiah 52:1-2).

Now let me break that down to a Michelle paraphrase: “Snap out of it! Push out of your fog and buck up! Don’t wimp out. Flex some muscle, locate your power, and use it.”

Fortify yourself with your faith in God and with what you’ve learned. Purposefully put your best face forward, even when your insides don’t match your outward expression. Get over the past. Shake off the bad influences and people who cling to you but are not contributing to your progress. Pull yourself together. Climb above your situation and gain a new perspective.

Notice that the people of Jerusalem were given the work of freeing themselves. No fairy godmother was going to show up to free them. It’s important to kill unrealistic fantasies and expectations and be grounded in God’s promises. How do you free yourself? By embracing the truth and wielding it like a weapon. If the truth is what makes you free, then what is true? God is still on the throne. Though you are standing alone, you are still standing. Therefore there is hope. Deal with your attitude.

When you take stock of your life not at eye-level but at faith-level, you will find something good to work with. Something great to hold out for. Something that will give you the strength to grit your teeth and hang on. Take note that God has been faithful so far. Though you may not feel your best, you are, in fact, living above the circumstances. This is just a test, and you are still standing.

The rest hinges on your own determination and the decisions you make as you move forward. The old saying “I felt sorry for myself because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet” would perhaps be written by God this way, “Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband, says the LORD” (Isaiah 54:1). If you take the time, you will find that no matter what your circumstance is, God has equipped you not just to survive, but to thrive and flourish right where you are. This is the ultimate preparation for life no matter what your relationship status.

Whether you are single, divorced, or widowed, life happens. Just remember that each test can result in an amazing testimony if you purpose to stay connected to the One who promises to be your life partner forever.

Lively After-School Program Makes Remote Activities Work

Lively After-School Program Makes Remote Activities Work

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.

Rann Miller (Courtesy photo)

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.

The Truth About Success

The Truth About Success

Christian Boys School Uses God to Build Black Leaders

Video Courtesy of  The Daily Signal


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.    

What do Black Men Really Want in their Love Lives and Marriages?

What do Black Men Really Want in their Love Lives and Marriages?

Video Courtesy of Breanna Aponte & Its Dre Smith – Worth Thee Wait


Finding and keeping a good Black man in a relationship has become a cottage industry. From celebrities and reality TV stars to social media influencers, for better or worse, there is no shortage of relationship advice to people seeking to figure out Black men.

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.

As a graduate student and university professor, I have spent nearly two decades reviewing these studies on Black men and families. The general consensus from them falls into one of two categories: first, that many Black men are not viable marriage mates because their financial struggles will not allow them to provide for a wife and children.

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.

In both historical and more recent research, studies on Black men have disproportionately examined the lives of low-income men and the struggles they faced in maintaining stable relationships in the face of economic disadvantage.

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 findings, many of which are counter to the popular image that our society holds of Black men, have just been published in a book, “Black Love Matters: Authentic Men’s Voices on Marriage and Romantic 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.

A crowd of Black students graduating from Howard University in 2016.

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.The Conversation

Armon Perry, Professor of Social Work, University of Louisville

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Lively After-School Program Makes Remote Activities Work

Lively After-School Program Makes Remote Activities Work

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.

Rann Miller (Courtesy photo)

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.

What do Black Men Really Want in their Love Lives and Marriages?

What do Black Men Really Want in their Love Lives and Marriages?

Video Courtesy of Breanna Aponte & Its Dre Smith – Worth Thee Wait


Finding and keeping a good Black man in a relationship has become a cottage industry. From celebrities and reality TV stars to social media influencers, for better or worse, there is no shortage of relationship advice to people seeking to figure out Black men.

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.

As a graduate student and university professor, I have spent nearly two decades reviewing these studies on Black men and families. The general consensus from them falls into one of two categories: first, that many Black men are not viable marriage mates because their financial struggles will not allow them to provide for a wife and children.

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.

In both historical and more recent research, studies on Black men have disproportionately examined the lives of low-income men and the struggles they faced in maintaining stable relationships in the face of economic disadvantage.

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 findings, many of which are counter to the popular image that our society holds of Black men, have just been published in a book, “Black Love Matters: Authentic Men’s Voices on Marriage and Romantic 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.

A crowd of Black students graduating from Howard University in 2016.

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.The Conversation

Armon Perry, Professor of Social Work, University of Louisville

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Mending the literacy gap with the help of a horse named Goat

Mending the literacy gap with the help of a horse named Goat

Courtesy of Caitlin Gooch of Saddle Up and Read

Originally published by The 19th

When Caitlin Gooch was working with elementary school kids as a teacher’s assistant, it was sobering to find that most children were not reading at grade level.

In her native North Carolina, 36 percent of fourth graders are reading at a proficient level, and it’s about the same nationwide, according to The Nation’s Report Card, a congressionally mandated assessment of students nationwide. Adjusting for race, Black fourth graders across the country tied for the lowest average reading score. In North Carolina, White and Asian fourth graders scored more than 20 points above Black, Latinx and Indigenous children on average.

Then, in 2017, Gooch was volunteering at a Scholastic Book Fair with a Western theme and realized not all kids at the fair had enough money to bring books home.

“I know that authors and illustrators have to make money, but it also pains me really bad that books are so expensive,” Gooch said. “Children deserve new books.”

A lightbulb went off for the 28-year-old, who grew up surrounded by horses on her family farm. Gooch established Saddle Up and Read that year with the mission to get more books to kids, using her childhood horse, Goat, as the magnet to draw kids into her book drives.

Gooch fundraised enough money to put down a third of the cost of a trailer to take Goat on the road. A farm in Kentucky sent in money to help offset the cost. Farmers in Maryland donated a truck with 40,000 miles on it.

“I was really happy, because it seemed like at that point people were starting to not only pay attention to Saddle Up and Read, but pay attention to literacy rates, and that’s something that I don’t want people to forget,” Gooch said.

She now travels to towns and neighborhoods in North Carolina, handing out gift bags with books. Gooch has given out at least 200 books this year.

During the pandemic, she hasn’t hosted readings on her farm out of an abundance of caution, so she and Goat are on the road more often. These gifts allowed Gooch and Goat to show up in North Carolina neighborhoods with books and goodie bags.

Over the first weekend in December, she posted a selfie in front of her horse trailer, captioned with a simple request: “See that truck and trailer?” the tweet read. “I drive it to different communities to give books to children in need. Oh and I bring my horse with me. [Retweet] so I can get the word out. I’m in N.C.”

After posting the tweet, Gooch, a mother of three, went to record a podcast interview in her car (it would’ve been impossible inside her noisy house). When she was finished, she looked at her phone and saw a message: “Oprah tweeted you, sis.”

Oprah Winfrey had not only shared Gooch’s post with her 43 million followers — she had pledged to donate to the nonprofit. LeVar Burton, host of “Reading Rainbow,” also told Gooch he was proud of her via Twitter. 

In conversation with The 19th, Gooch talked about bringing together her love of reading with all things equestrian, and her efforts to inspire the next generation of book-lovers.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

The 19th: Tell me a little more about Saddle Up and Read. Why did you launch it?

Caitlin Gooch: I started it because I saw that children, Black children, were struggling when it came to literacy, when it came to reading, in general, and even putting together sentences.

In the roles I’ve volunteered in, and my role as an assistant teacher, I get to help kids with their spelling words and their vocabulary. And when they’re struggling to spell three-letter words and four-letter words, I feel like that’s a red flag — especially with some of the children who were in fourth grade and fifth grade.

I took the time to research it and figure out what the literacy rates actually were. I went into a rabbit hole and I found that children of color were far behind their White peers. I looked up reading and writing performance [charts] in every school in my area. When it came to the Black students, the bar was so small and you could barely even see it on the graph. What is really happening? I wanted to get to that part. For me, when I see a need for something, I’m going to work until I can fill it.

I thought, this can’t just be an issue in my area, and it wasn’t. It’s North Carolina and then it’s America, in general. We’re so far behind other countries. What’s the difference here? Why aren’t children reading? What I found is that many children don’t have books at home or they don’t have books with characters who look like them or ones that interest them. Maybe that’s a part of the problem. [Ed note: The 2019 Cooperative Children’s Book Center survey on diversity in young adult and children’s literature found about 12 percent of such books featured a Black main character, nearly 30 percent of books feature animals.]

One: We don’t have a lot of books with representation. Two: The number of those book titles is smaller when it comes to figuring out what children like to read. Of course they’re not all going to be into the same things; they have their own personalities and interests. So with Saddle Up and Read, I said, let’s use horses to get kids excited about reading. Because if they’re excited about reading and they don’t see it as a chore, then just maybe it’ll make it easier for us to nurture that love of reading, and we can use horses to do it. I have yet to meet anybody who doesn’t like horses. I’m pretty sure those people might be out there, but I haven’t met them.

What’s your relationship with horses? 

I grew up riding horses. My dad has a horse farm in Wendell, North Carolina. We moved five different times into different houses, but the farm has always been at the same place. When I was a kid, I’d wake up, I’d see horses. I mean, we literally use the horses as our mowing system. When I was 3, [my dad] started me out riding, and we’d do trail rides together. At trail rides I ride Western but also ride bareback. So that is where my love for horses started.

What was your relationship with reading growing up?

I love books. I can’t even tell you what books I used to read, but I love reading. I was really into the “Twilight” series. I think I finished that series in a day or something. Books have always kept me centered and at peace. They’ve just allowed me to imagine even more. So I put books and horses together.

Can you say more about uniting those interests?

When I used to work in a child care center, I was the teacher’s assistant, and I was kind of a floater. I worked with 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds. And those children, I love them so much, they were so stinkin’ adorable. I used to show them my horse on my phone to really grasp their attention. But sometimes we would be doing something, or it was like free play or something, and they’d say, “Ms. G, can I see your phone so I can see your horses?” This one boy, he was 3 years old, he used to cry if I didn’t let him see my phone and watch the videos.

I would try to talk to their parents and say, “You should just bring them out to the farm.” I felt like I was incredibly blessed to have grown up with horses. How many people does that happen to? I felt like that happened to me for a reason, and I shouldn’t just be selfish and keep my horses to myself — I have to share them. Sometimes I would just wake up and it was so pretty outside, and I’d make a Facebook post that would say, “It’s so pretty outside, bring your kids to the farm.” Kids deserve to have that exposure.

When you decide to hit the road with your horse, Goat, and your trailer of books, how do you inform people where you will be? 

A few weeks ago was one of the first times that I actually went into a neighborhood. With a pandemic I’m trying to make sure that I’m being extremely safe. I went to my aunt’s neighborhood because she’s very supportive of everything I do with Saddle Up and Read. I drove the horse trailer, and I’m not that good at backing up. I had to pull forward and back up, and pull forward and back up, because I was in the middle of the road in this neighborhood. I parked the truck and already people were looking out the window like, “What in the world?”

My husband was with me. We got the books out of the trailer, and got the books set up — that way when the kids came, they could just grab their book and their bag and they could leave. Then I got my horse out. I was like, “Okay, I’m gonna walk down the street and walk back.”

As I started walking back, there was a group of kids, maybe five, at the horse trailer. They started asking me all these questions about my horse, Goat. They were asking me why I was out there, and I said, “It’s really important that you read.” My husband and I gave them their goodie bags that were donated. Some of them got like three or so books. The bags had hats in them, so the kids put on their hats and went down the street to their friend’s houses and neighbors to tell them to come outside.

I know we all wish the pandemic was over. I’m wondering how you feel handing out books now as so many kids struggle with virtual or hybrid learning, or may be among the thousands of kids nationwide who’ve just disappeared from the roster. 

I think this is the perfect opportunity to understand something else: Libraries are absolutely fantastic, programs like mine are absolutely fantastic, but there’s an entire population of kids who are missing out because they don’t have transportation. Where I live, there’s no bus route. The kids who can get out [to the library or to the farm] have that luxury of parents who can bring them in a car.

Those kids who are missing out on school right now because they’re not enrolled virtually and they’re not in physical school, I wonder if it’s just linked to a lack of resources. This is another reason why I don’t advertise [on social media] where I’m going, because sometimes people who don’t necessarily need Saddle Up and Read will show up. I really want to get to the kids that need us first. I’m not going to deny any child, I just would rather make sure I go out to those kids who need it first; that’s what I’m doing it for. I hope I can identify where those kids are who aren’t enrolled in anything and maybe go out and spend some time. Even if I have to say stay 6 to 12 feet away, I’ll read a book to you.

I have reading videos up, and other people have read to their horses on behalf of Saddle Up and Read. But there are kids who don’t have a computer. I really have to figure out how to tap into that. Because kids being out of school is going to have a negative impact on the literacy rates. Who knows how far back this is going to push everything.

What else do you want our readers to know? 

Reading to kids 20 minutes a day really helps.  Even if you don’t have children, maybe there’s some children [you] can read to. Or maybe they just want to donate to Saddle Up and Read. Or, if they don’t like children and they like horses, they can sponsor one of our horses.

Why We Celebrate Kwanzaa

Why We Celebrate Kwanzaa

Video Courtesy of The Root and Erace The Hate


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.

A candle is lit each day to celebrate the seven basic values of African culture.
Ailisa via Shutterstock.com

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.

Subsequently, Karenga founded an organization called Us – meaning, black people – which promoted black culture. The purpose of the organization was to provide a platform, which would help to rebuild the Watts neighborhood through a strong organization rooted in African culture.

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.

‘The Black Candle’

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.”

Indeed, since the early years of the holiday, until today, Kwanzaa has provided many black families with tools for instructing their children about their African heritage.

Current activism and Kwanzaa

Students celebrate Kwanzaa.
Black Hour, CC BY-NC

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.The Conversation

Frank Dobson, Associate Dean of Students, Vanderbilt University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why We Celebrate Kwanzaa

Why We Celebrate Kwanzaa

Video Courtesy of The Root and Erace The Hate


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.

A candle is lit each day to celebrate the seven basic values of African culture.
Ailisa via Shutterstock.com

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.

Subsequently, Karenga founded an organization called Us – meaning, black people – which promoted black culture. The purpose of the organization was to provide a platform, which would help to rebuild the Watts neighborhood through a strong organization rooted in African culture.

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.

‘The Black Candle’

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.”

Indeed, since the early years of the holiday, until today, Kwanzaa has provided many black families with tools for instructing their children about their African heritage.

Current activism and Kwanzaa

Students celebrate Kwanzaa.
Black Hour, CC BY-NC

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.The Conversation

Frank Dobson, Associate Dean of Students, Vanderbilt University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

In a pandemic holiday, women still do it all

In a pandemic holiday, women still do it all

Originally published by The 19th

It was the morning after Thanksgiving when her body finally gave out. The layers upon crushing layers of loss — her grandmother two days prior, her job at the start of the year — tethered her to her bed. As did all the little losses, the in-between bits this year where structure dissolved, order vanished and sanity waned.

Amy Kugler had reached the point where the answer to her husband’s question — are you OK? — came out as a resounding “no.”

But Christmas was only 28 days away, and even as she said it, her mind wandered to the tree they were supposed to be picking out with their 3-year-old son and the Christmas lights. My God, she thought, she couldn’t put up the lights.

In her head it was a ping-pong between obligation and exhaustion.

Can I do this? Can I rest? Can I do this? Can I not? 

Kugler had to mourn the grandmother’s death, which was not caused by COVID-19, but was still affected by it, through a funeral broadcast on a Facebook Live video. Would she mourn Christmas, too? She wondered whether for the first time, she wouldn’t be able to complete all of the tasks — the workthat needs to happen to conjure up Christmas magic. It’s work that too often falls on moms to perform, the same moms who have already endured an unmooring year that has displaced them from work, tested the reaches of their patience, and still asked them to give more and more and more.

Kugler could already see how Christmas day could play out: She would be the one fielding texts all day about when to Zoom the grandparents and when to FaceTime. She’d be the one cooking dinner, an extra special version that said, “we survived a pandemic this year.” And she would have to make time to play with her son so he has a memory to tuck away about his pandemic Christmas.

“It’s going to be the most stressful holiday, in my opinion,” said Kugler, speaking on Zoom from a Starbucks parking lot in Seattle — the only place she could go to get some quiet.

“I’m not a bare minimum person,” said Kugler, 39. “And that’s where the rub is. I feel more guilt put on myself for not being able to be that person.”

Pressure and guilt, in all their forms, converge around this time every year, when the invisible work women typically do at home gets ratcheted up a few notches for the holidays. Add to that the pandemic, which has claimed more than 300,000 U.S. lives and, at its worst point, 20.8 million jobs. People are burnt out. Women most of all.

And yet, the household work — who keeps track of what groceries to buy, what appointments to make, the outfits needed for the holiday photos — continues to fall on women, as it historically has. In the paid labor force, women continue to make up the majority of caregiving positions. (They’re 95 percent of the child care workforce and 75 percent of the health care workforce.) In the unpaid labor force, gender norms ensure much of that same work was delegated to women in the household, said feminist sociologist Lisa Huebner, a professor of women’s and gender studies at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.

“We’re gendering anything related to care, so the holidays become like, ‘This is how you show your love,’” Huebner said. “We don’t talk about those things in terms of workplace skills, like strategies and being creative and being intelligent. Instead we still frame those as being caring and focusing on family, and then we further attach that in gendered ways.”

Women are still socialized to be the organizers, cleaners and emotional managers — ideas that are further reinforced in the media, advertising, even at school.

“It’s not that men can’t or even don’t want to,” Huebner said. “It’s that they’re not practiced at it.”

All of that was already true before 2020, before the year that changed everything.

For Kugler, now it also feels like every task on the self-regenerating to-do list of the holidays will be mixed with grief and exhaustion.

For some, the pandemic has, somehow, impossibly, added even more pressure — the desire to give something positive to hold onto at the end of a year that has seemingly only taken away.

And for others, it has recalibrated the holidays, unraveling years of thinking less wasn’t enough.

Kristina Aleksander, for instance, is ready to cancel Christmas.

She had the talk with her husband, an attorney who promptly pulled out a yellow legal pad and started making a pros and cons list. It all boiled down to a simple flip: If he really wanted Christmas to happen this year, it would be his job to see it through instead of hers.

Reaching that decision feels like they’ve come miles from the time last year when her daughter was born and Aleksander plunged into postpartum depression. She’d hide away in her room at the end of a day working in communications at the Iowa State Capitol. Her husband once said her mood was affecting the entire house.

That labor, invisible and emotional, was hers alone to bear. Her husband helped with many tasks, but she was the center of the household for them, and that responsibility came with expectations about the work they relied on her to perform.

Not this year.

“There is a lot of forced expectation around Christmas and New Year’s where you just have to enjoy yourself and have fun. At least for my age group, women who are in their 20s to late 20s, it feels like a performance that we are putting up for Instagram,” said Aleksander, 26. “And I am just out of energy this year.

I don’t want to perform for anyone.”


The performative aspect is especially visible on social media, where people are spending so much more time as they stay socially distanced and quarantined.

“We have this very intensive Pinterest culture that backs up against these ridiculous expectations for homemaking,” said Eve Rodsky, who has spent a decade talking and writing about invisible labor. “Women were conditioned to have it all and do it all. And then doing it all is a lot higher level threshold because doing it is inspired by Pinterest and Instagram and a lot of counting and competing.”

But doing it all, especially at the end of the year, requires time — and at the source of the problem is the way we look at how men and women spend it.

“We’ve been guarding men’s time since the beginning of time,” Rodsky said. “Women’s time is infinite.”

Rodsky’s book, “Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (and More Life to Live),” draws on her work talking to couples, most of them heterosexual, about the way they approach invisible labor and outlines a road map for addressing it. She usually guides couples through two key points.

First, there has to be buy-in. Most men Rodsky works with tell her the tasks their wives obsess over are unnecessary, and they don’t understand why they’re nagging them to do it or why it’s taking place at all. But, Rodsky said, part of it is men often don’t understand the unseen work: the cognitive load of keeping track of something, organizing it and executing it.

As an example, she told the story of Ed and Julie, a couple at a crossroads over a second grade DIY secret Santa project. Julie had to explain to Ed why it mattered: The girl their son got as his secret Santa had few friends — Julie, as the designated drop-off parent for school, knew this — and their son delivering on the gift would mean a lot. Once Ed understood the stakes, he could get to the second part of the equation: ownership of the task.

Watching Ed go to Michael’s, the craft store, and make popsicle-stick jewelry holder with glitter-covered hands changed their relationship that year. Julie felt Ed was really in it with her.

It started with creating room for a conversation most women don’t know how to start. It’s completely different in many of the same-sex couples Rodsky works with, she said, because many already have the context for starting difficult conversations — about coming out, or introducing partners or making health decisions for their children. “What a lot of same-sex couples will say to me is that the reticence of hetero couples to have these types of conversations because roles are already assigned feels sad to them,” Rodsky said.

I am just out of energy this year. I don’t want to perform for anyone.

Kristina Aleksander

This year, it feels like the pandemic has been the catalyst for some of the conversations to take place, she said. With so many people working from home, the labor that happened in the background is now happening at the fore, with everyone around to see it. And so more and more people are choosing to unburden themselves for the holidays, opting for a slimmed down approach to the festivities.

Laura Mayes, a spokeswoman for the City of San Antonio who has been working on the city’s COVID-19 response, is exhausted after a year that eliminated the concept of a break. That’s why she’s planning a smaller Christmas at home, far from her family and without the opportunity to really start creating memories for her 3-year-old, who won’t sit on Santa’s lap or see her grandparents this year.

But even with abridged plans and being tired from a long, stressful year, Mayes admits there’s a part of her that likes the control of doing most of the holiday work herself.

“When I let go of control, then I get all anxious and I want to know what’s going on,” said Mayes, 33. “Where I’ll accept the extra work, I also know at the end I would have wanted it done in certain ways, too.”

That’s another tension point, one some women whisper almost shamefully. By admitting they like the organization or prefer to do it all themselves, that could absolve their partners of needing to help.

It’s even more complicated for stay-at-home moms. Carly Gibbs stopped practicing law to spend more time with her three kids — a first grader, a preschooler and a three-month-old baby — while her husband kept his job as a doctor in Salt Lake City.

If she’s not going to be an attorney, she tells herself, she has to be an excellent mom.

“I am very bad at feeling OK with not doing everything,” said Gibbs, 37. “My inclination is I need to do everything and if I don’t, usually the consequence I am most fearful of or anticipate is my kids being disappointed in any way.”

It takes some mental fortitude for her to reason out of that sometimes. They won’t really care if they don’t build the gingerbread house this year — right?

The pressure women put on themselves is common, said Celeste Headlee, a journalist and author of two books on communication and overworking. So is the desire to want to take up the task themselves because they’ll do it faster, better — in a more organized fashion with less fuss.

Headlee suggests making a list that makes easily visible all the invisible tasks and then dividing it by strengths. Each person puts their initials next to their task for accountability, and the list goes in a public place.

“We are dealing with centuries of pressure that come from religious forces, political forces and corporate forces that led us to believe we have to be working all the time, and we will never meet the bar,” Headlee said. “Instead, I would approach this like you would a project at work — who is going to do what?

Liza Dube and her two sons are going to celebrate their Christmas on their own timeline, a liberation from the years of big parties and coordinated family Christmas caroling.

“What’s driving all of that is really that emotional labor and that tradition-keeping and magic-making, memory-creating and relationship-maintaining,” said Dube, 42. “So this year I feel like we’ve really been trying to kind of get a little bit closer to what the intent is behind a lot of those things, and figuring out simpler ways to meet that intent.”

She plans to celebrate with the boys on a day of their choosing, and they’ll spend Christmas Day with their dad, where they can bake the cookies and do the traditions without having to be shuttled from house to house in their small Massachusetts town. Dube, meanwhile, plans to spend Christmas Day doing something she’s always wanted to do: volunteer, this year with a crisis hotline.

She wonders if she’ll ever do it the old way again.

“I’ve been saying a lot this year, ‘Everybody has to make choices,’” Dube said. “We are all just making choices and we can’t even compare them with each other’s choices anymore.”

The Blind Boys of Alabama In the Spirit At Christmas Virtual Concert

The Blind Boys of Alabama In the Spirit At Christmas Virtual Concert

In the era of Covid-19, one thing has become certain to artists who have learned to perform in rooms with little to no people — engaging to the cameras is essential. And when Gospel music legends The Blind Boys of Alabama stepped onto the stage for their Special Christmas Show streamed live Wednesday night on Mandolin, the old familiar spark lit up the stage. 

“Well, here we are. The Blind Boys of Alabama. It has been a while, but we’re still here,” said Jimmy Carter, one of the group’s founding members. 

Eric “Ricky” McKinnie

Decked in shiny gold and black jackets with sequin bowties, The Blind Boys walked onto the stage as they usually do with one arm on each other’s shoulder. The five-time Grammy-award winning group is still at it after the original members met back in the 1930s as kids at the Alabama School for the Deaf and Blind in Talladega, AL. Carter, the only founding member still alive, opened the set featuring a mix of modernized Christmas classics and traditional Gospel music. Despite their age and the circumstances, they boldly belted out familiar, upbeat favorites, such as “Walking to Jerusalem,” “People Get Ready,” “Silent Night,” and “Higher Ground.” Virtual fans chatting alongside the streaming video were dancing and singing right along with them. 

“Blind Boys, you made us dance! The Stevie song there at the end was such a nice, upbeat surprise! We’ve always loved that song. Thank you and Blessings!” said Caroline in Pennsylvania.

And concertgoer Maia said, “Big ups from Colorado! Been coming to your concerts for 35 years!”

Covid-19 has slowed down the group, who have toured for decades through some turbulent times — the Jim Crow era of the ’30s and ’40s and into the Civil Rights Movement. In the ’80s, they endeared a new generation after starring in the Obie Award-winning musical “The Gospel at Colonus.” And over the years, they’ve worked with popular greats Peter Gabriel, Ben Harper, Robert Randolph, Aaron Neville, Mavis Staples, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Allen Toussaint, and Willie Nelson. But at its core, the group is moved by the people and the church. And even though the unexpected break from traveling has given them time to bond with family and friends, they miss the live audience. Eric “Ricky” McKinnie, who lost his sight to glaucoma as a 23-year-old young man and has been with the group for 32 years, shares how he and the group enjoy ministering to people.

“Without people to come out, we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing,” said Ricky. “My favorite place to sing is the church. There is something spiritual that takes place there. We want our songs to make people think and reflect on God. A lot of people get Christmas mixed up. It’s about the birth of Christ, and the life that He brings, which is abundant life.” 

 

Jimmy Carter, the only Blind Boys of Alabama founding member still alive.

We want to save children, but distressed and vulnerable parents need help, too

We want to save children, but distressed and vulnerable parents need help, too

Video Courtesy of 13WMAZ


Last week, news reports told of a 2-year-old boy who was left at a Mississippi Goodwill donation center with a bag of clothes and a note that said, “His mother cannot care for him anymore.”

Many were quick to blame the child’s mother out of frustration and outrage. That’s a natural response, but I urge you to take a different approach to this boy’s story.

Culturally, we are programmed to hear about an abandoned child and think: He could have been adopted. How horrible of his mother. I would never do that. And in fact hundreds of generous people offered to adopt the 2-year-old boy in question. The love we instinctually feel for a child in need is beautiful, and there’s a small truth here: This child does deserve a loving, safe home and family.

But my question is: Why isn’t our first instinct to find and help his parents so that they can have a chance of providing that to him?

Think for a moment of just how dire this mother’s life circumstances were for her to believe that her only option was to abandon her child. When a parent gives up a child, it’s often an act of desperate love, a hope that their child will have a better chance at life than they have. In a refugee camp in Sudan I once visited, a young mother standing outside of her mud house, on making eye contact with me, held up her baby and begged me to take him with me.

Even in our country, family separation is a devastating reality often caused by circumstances outside of parents’ control.

Children sometimes enter foster care because a crisis at home threatens their safety or well-being. They may have experienced abuse, neglect or been exposed to violence. But the vast majority of kids in foster care come from families navigating poverty, injustice, addiction, medical issues or the unforgiving grind of parents working two to three jobs to make ends meet.

Their parents have often been forced to make impossible decisions. Some have to leave their children at home unattended so they can keep their jobs, pay their bills, keep food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.

Add to that the stressors we’re all facing in 2020: A global pandemic has infected millions of people in the U.S. and shut down businesses, schools and childcare facilities. Thousands have been displaced from their homes by natural disasters like hurricanes and wildfires, and the country is still recovering from the economic recession. Many parents are struggling to cope without a network of support.

Black families are disproportionately exposed to these stressors, which are layered on top of centuries of systemic racism. The entangled roots of systemic racism and child welfare mean that Black children are nearly twice as likely to be put into foster care as white children, a system that did not include them until the late 20 century, at which point they were patched into a system built around and for white children, families and communities. Black children stay in foster care longer, and they are  less likely to be reunified  with their families or adopted.

Family reunification is the most important goal for children in foster care. Yet, according to the most recent statistics from the Children’s Bureau, the proportion of children exiting care who were reunified with their parents fell to an all-time low at the end of fiscal year 2019. Only 55% of the over 400,000 children in foster care at the end of fiscal year 2019 were seeking family reunification, and just 47% of the children who exited foster care achieved it.

How should we respond when confronted with the fact that thousands of families were separated this year not because parents failed their children but because broken systems did?

We can start by acknowledging the complex challenges that have overwhelmed families and left them in a desperate state with few good options. Then we must help parents get the support they need for a second chance at staying together with their kids. Separated families can be reunited and restored.

We must remember that we’re meant to be Jesus’ hands and feet, not the savior himself. While there is family brokenness in the world, we as Christians are called to enter into the mess and work to restore families to health and unity. We are called to provide a network of support for these families — not break them apart when they have the opportunity to thrive.

Christian churches have long championed adoption, and that’s a good thing. But followers of Jesus should also come alongside struggling families, helping them stay together and flourish so that adoption isn’t needed. It’s not an either/or proposition but a both/and. Adoption and family preservation are two sides of the same coin.

God’s plan is for children to thrive in a family, ideally their strong and stable biological family. Reunification provides a path toward healing and belonging for children and families.

We can celebrate children finding permanency with adoptive families. But we must also celebrate families who stayed together.

(Chris Palusky is the president & CEO of Bethany Christian Services. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)