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.



Thanksgiving: What’s It All About?

Thanksgiving: What’s It All About?

LET US BREAK BREAD TOGETHER: ‘The First Thanksgiving,’ painting by Jean Louis Gerome Ferris. Is this an accurate portrayal of the holiday’s origins? (Image: Wikipedia)

Turkey, honey baked ham, candied yams, collard greens, casseroles, rice and gravy, corn bread, rolls, dressing, cranberry sauce, macaroni and cheese, sweet potato pie, carrot cake, pound cake, chocolate cake… When I think of Thanksgiving I think of food, family, fellowship, and laughter; but most of all, I think of food. Most of us do. But is that why we celebrate Thanksgiving? 

What are we celebrating? What should we be thinking about? As Christians, we are encouraged by our churches to use Thanksgiving to be reflective about the many blessings that God has bestowed upon our families, friends, and loved ones, how God has given us health, favor, grace, mercy, and even performed miracles on our behalf. But shouldn’t we do that all the time? Is this why we celebrate Thanksgiving?

Is Thanksgiving as we know it a myth? Years ago, elementary schools taught that we celebrate Thanksgiving to remember the Pilgrims and the Indians in a time when the Pilgrim travelers were doomed to die as the winter months approached and they did not know how to survive in a new land. We learned how the Indians were hospitable to the strangers and fed them, befriended them, and taught them the way of their land. We learned that the Pilgrims and the Indians ate a large meal in the late 1690s, which has been recorded in history as the first Thanksgiving. Since then, Americans have made it a tradition to take a day around that time of year to remember the sacrifice, the food, and the friendship that got them through. That’s touching, but we know now that the story is largely inaccurate.

Maybe if we consider some of the myths that are associated with Thanksgiving, we can get a better understanding of what this national day can be in our lives.

Myth 1: “The first Thanksgiving” occurred in 1621.

Harvest celebrations were ancient traditions for both the Pilgrims and the Native Americans. In fact, the Bible mentions entire festivals around harvest time. Most African cultures also celebrate the harvest. While the “first Thanksgiving” idea is not historically true, it is true that we should use this holiday as a special time for celebrating what God has placed in our lives as we open the season with prayer and praise.

Myth 2: The colonists came seeking freedom of religion in a new land.

Actually, the people who came on the Mayflower were seeking religious freedom only for themselves. They didn’t know or really care to know how the native people worshipped; they showed little concern for the Indians’ freedom of religion. Unfortunately, it’s easy to be selfish about our own rights while overlooking other people’s needs. Today, however, each of us can use this Thanksgiving holiday to thank God that we all have the freedom to worship Him. (This might even be a time to reflect on how religious freedom is still opposed in some countries today.) The bottom line is that today in the United States we do have the freedom to worship God and to give Him thanks for all He is. Use this Thanksgiving to do that!

Myth 3: The Pilgrims invited the Indians to share their food and celebrate the first Thanksgiving.

Massasoit, leader of the Wampanoag Indian tribe, was concerned that the English colonists might be preparing for war. He led 90 men to investigate the sound of gunfire from the Plymouth colony. When it turned out that the gunshots were from hunters gathering food for the harvest celebration, Massasoit and his men returned with five deer and many turkeys–probably more than the colonists were able to provide!

Perhaps that is why the poor turkey is still the favorite bird of Thanksgiving today. In fact, another myth says that the Pilgrims and Indians feasted on turkey, potatoes, berries, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and popcorn. The menu actually included venison, wild fowl, corn porridge, and mashed pumpkin.

But whether you celebrate with turkey or tofu (pooh!), make sure that this Thanksgiving you celebrate with others. They may be family or friends. You may even organize a group to help serve turkey dinners at a shelter. The food doesn’t matter. (OK, maybe tofu does.) The main thing is to celebrate God and enjoy time with family, friends, and others who are special in your life.

Myth 4: The Pilgrims and Indians became great friends.

Sadly, history proved otherwise, as within a generation the English colonists fought against the Indians to take their land. Today, Native American people often see Thanksgiving as a reminder of the legacy of betrayal and mistreatment their ancestors suffered. That pain is real as is the pain that many people feel today who are rejected or lonely or have found abuse or violence in their lives. Jesus calls on us as Christians to display brotherly love. This Thanksgiving, take time to look around at those who are suffering and to lend a hand where you can. Maybe there is a kid at school who needs a friend, or an older person who needs some help. The pain of that “first Thanksgiving” relationship cannot be changed. But you can use this Thanksgiving to help ease the pain of someone else.

As Christians, we are called to uphold truth, but more importantly, we are called to love humankind. This Thanksgiving, take time to show love to your fellow brothers and sisters by volunteering at a soup kitchen or food pantry. Follow the example of the Native Americans and be generous. This Thanksgiving, above all (tofu aside), make sure you love your neighbors.

Megachurch pastor Jamal Bryant moves from Baltimore to Atlanta

Megachurch pastor Jamal Bryant moves from Baltimore to Atlanta

An Atlanta-area black megachurch led by the late Bishop Eddie Long has announced it has chosen a new leader, plucked from another black megachurch, as its pastor.

The Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant, pastor of Empowerment Temple in Baltimore, will move to Lithonia, Ga., to assume the position of senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. He will also be shifting from an African Methodist Episcopal congregation to one affiliated with a Baptist network.

“Rev. Dr. Jamal-Harrison Bryant embodies the rare balance of spiritual gifts and practical educational experiences that connects pastoral leadership and discipleship teaching with prophetic preaching and courageous social action,” New Birth said in a news release on Monday (Nov. 19).

The transition comes months after Long’s first successor resigned after serving for about a year and a half. Bishop Stephen A. Davis said in June that he would return to serving the branch of New Birth in Birmingham, Ala.

Long died in January 2017 at age 63 after fighting health issues for several months. When he became pastor of the church in 1987, it had about 300 members. Its membership reached more than 25,000. When the church announced Davis’ departure in June, the membership had dropped to slightly more than 10,000, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

“One of the big difficulty with churches that have had nationally significant pastors is precisely the problem of continuity,” said the Rev. Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, professor of African-American studies and sociology at Colby College.

And the issue of succession, no matter the prominence or the size of the church, becomes an “incredibly painful problem” when a pastor dies.

“Even though pastors are professional, it is like losing a family member,” she said, and a successor often winds up preaching with “some kind of enshrined shadow or ghost sitting or standing over the person.”

Bryant started his Baltimore church in 2000 with 43 members and, according to its website, now has more than 10,000. It is affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, an historic black denomination that celebrated its bicentennial in 2016.

Bishop Frank M. Reid, who is in charge of the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s ecumenical affairs, said a shift of a megachurch pastor from an AME-affiliated congregation to New Birth would be a new dynamic that would have to be worked out between the pastor and the leader of the former AME district where the pastor was previously located.

“We would have to ask Jamal, ‘Are you leaving the denomination or are you maintaining your ties with the AME Church or are you turning in your ordination papers?’” Reid said. “But that would be between him and the bishop of the district.”

Gilkes said the AME Church, which includes bishops, is organized differently from Baptist churches, which traditionally recognize only the offices of pastor and deacon. But Long became a bishop of the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship International, a 24-year-old network of churches, in the 1990s.

Both Long and Bryant encountered controversy even as they watched their congregations grow under their leadership.

Long faced suits, settled in 2012, from young men who accused him of using money and gifts to coerce them into sexual relationships. In 2011, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa concluded a three-year probe of six ministries including New Birth and found that Long’s staffers declined to respond to most of their questions, including the amount of the senior pastor’s salary.

Bryant and his ex-wife, Gizelle Bryant, who later became a star in “Real Housewives of the Potomac,” divorced in 2009 after he had an extramarital affair. In 2015, he announced a run for Congress only to end his campaign eight days later.

New Birth said Bryant’s first Sunday as “senior pastor elect” will be Dec. 9.

Old ‘Traveling while black’ guidebooks still resonate today

Old ‘Traveling while black’ guidebooks still resonate today

The 1947 and 1956 editions of the ‘Green Book,’ which was published to advise black motorists where they should – and shouldn’t – frequent during their travels. Image on the left: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library. Image on right: Courtesy of the South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C.


In the summer of 2017, the NAACP issued a travel advisory for the state of Missouri.

Modeled after the international advisories issued by the U.S. State Department, the NAACP statement cautioned travelers of color about the “looming danger” of discrimination, harassment and violence at the hands of Missouri law enforcement, businesses and citizens.

The civil rights organization’s action had been partly prompted by the state legislature’s passage of what the NAACP called a “Jim Crow bill,” which increased the burden of proof on those bringing lawsuits alleging racial or other forms of discrimination.

But they were also startled by a 2017 report from the Missouri attorney general’s office showing that black drivers were stopped by police at a rate 85 percent higher than their white counterparts. The report also found that they were more likely to be searched and arrested.

When I first read about this news, I thought of the motoring guidebooks published for African-American travelers from the 1930s to the 1960s – a story I explore in my book “Republic of Drivers: A Cultural History of Automobility in America.”

Although they ceased publication some 50 years ago, the guidebooks are worth reflecting on in light of the fact that for drivers of color, the road remains anything but open.

The half-open road

In American popular culture, movies (1983’s “National Lampoon’s “Vacation”), literature (“On the Road”), music (the 1946 hit “Route 66”) and advertising have long celebrated the open road. It’s a symbol of freedom, a rite of passage, an economic conduit – all made possible by the car and the Interstate Highway System.

‘Get your kicks on Route 66,’ Bobby Troup crooned in his hit song.

Yet this freedom – like other freedoms – has never been equally distributed.

While white drivers spoke, wrote and sang about the sense of excitement and escape they felt on automobile journeys through unfamiliar territories, African-Americans were far more likely to dread such a journey.

Especially in the South, whites’ responses to black drivers could range from contemptuous to deadly. For example, one African-American writer recalled in 1983 how, decades earlier, a South Carolina policemen had fined and threatened to jail her cousin for no reason other than the fact that she had been driving an expensive car. In 1948, a mob in Lyons, Georgia, attacked an African-American motorist named Robert Mallard and murdered him in front of his wife and child. That same year, a North Carolina gas station owner shot Otis Newsom after he had asked for service on his car.

Such incidents weren’t confined to the South. Most of the thousands of “sundown towns” – municipalities that barred people of color after dark – were north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Of course, not all white people, police and business owners behaved cruelly toward travelers of color. But a black individual or family traveling the country by car would have had no way of knowing which towns and businesses were amenable to black patrons and visitors, and which posed a grave threat. The only certainties for African-Americans on the road were anxiety and vulnerability.

‘A book badly needed’

“Would a Negro like to pursue a little happiness at a theatre, a beach, pool, hotel, restaurant, on a train, plane, or ship, a golf course, summer or winter resort?” the NAACP magazine The Crisis asked in 1947. “Would he like to stop overnight in a tourist camp while he motors about his native land ‘Seeing America First’? Well, just let him try!”

Despite the dangers, try they did. And they had help in the form of guidebooks that told them how to evade and thwart Jim Crow.

“The Negro Motorist’s Green Book,” first published in 1936 by a New York letter carrier and travel agent named Victor Green, and “Travelguide: Vacation and Recreation Without Humiliation,” first published in 1947 by jazz bandleader Billy Butler, advised black travelers where they could eat, sleep, fill the gas tank, fix a flat tire and secure a myriad of other roadside services without fear of discrimination. The guidebooks, which covered every state in the union, drew upon knowledge hard-won by pioneering black salesmen, athletes, clergy and entertainers, for whom long-distance travel by car was a professional necessity.

Pages from an original 1947 edition of the ‘Green Book’ highlight businesses in Mississippi and Missouri. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library. ‘The Negro Motorist Green Book: 1947’ The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1947.

“It is,” a “Green Book” subscriber wrote to Victor Green in 1938, “a book badly needed among our Race since the advance of the motor age.”

Acknowledging the era’s racial tensions and dangers of travel, the 1956 edition reminded drivers to “behave in a way to show we’ve been nicely bred and [were] taught good manners.”

The 1950 edition of ‘Travelguide.’ Cotten Seiler, Author provided

It pointed to certain states that would be more amenable to black travelers: “Visitors to New Mexico will find little if any racial friction there. The majority of the scores of motels across the State accepts guests on the basis of ‘cash rather than color.’”

Yet even as they sought to ease the black traveler’s passage through an America in which racial discrimination was the norm, the guidebooks, whose covers often featured well-heeled travelers of color with upscale automobiles and accessories, also asserted African-Americans’ claims to full citizenship.

The guidebooks’ images and text conveyed an attitude of indignation and resistance to the racist conditions that made them necessary.

“Travel Is Fatal to Prejudice,” the cover of the 1949 edition of the “Green Book” announced, putting a spin on a famous Mark Twain quote.

In 1955, “Travelguide” declared, “The time is rapidly approaching when TRAVELGUIDE will cease to be a ‘specialized’ publication, but as long as racial prejudice exists, we will continue to cope with the news of a changing situation, working toward the day when all established directories will serve EVERYONE.”

Is racial terror really over?

Travelguide and the Green Book did indeed shut down in the 1960s, when the civil rights movement sparked a profound transformation in racial law and custom across the country.

Today, copies can be found in research archives at Howard University, the New York Public Library and the Library of Congress. The guidebooks have been the focus of a growing body of print and digital scholarship. The University of South Carolina, for example, has built an interactive map that allows visitors to search for all of the businesses listed in the 1956 edition of the “Green Book.”

In popular culture, a play, a children’s book and a forthcoming Hollywood film starring Mahershala Ali all center on these travel guides.

While the story of these books recall an era of prejudice many regard as bygone, there remains much work to be done.

The NAACP’s decision to issue a travel advisory calls attention to the dangers that continue to be associated with “driving while black.” The highly publicized recent deaths of Sandra Bland, Philando Castile and Tory Sanford are the starkest examples of what can happen to black drivers at the hands of police. Studies have shown that across the nation, police are still much more likely to stop and search drivers of color.

The ConversationIf guidebooks for drivers of color are unlikely to make a return, it is because the internet now fulfills their role, not because the “great day” of racial equality the “Green Book” heralded 70 years ago has arrived.

Cotten Seiler, Associate Professor of American Studies, Dickinson College

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

In defeat, Abrams casts aside traditional expectations

In defeat, Abrams casts aside traditional expectations

Video Courtesy of CNN

Stacey Abrams broke the rules of politics until the very end.

The Georgia Democrat who came about 60,000 votes shy of becoming America’s first black woman governor refused to follow the traditional script for defeated politicians who offer gracious congratulations to their victorious competitor and gently exit the stage. Instead, Abrams ended her campaign in an unapologetically indignant tone that established herself as a leading voting rights advocate.

“I acknowledge that former Secretary of State Brian Kemp will be certified as the victor in the 2018 gubernatorial election,” Abrams said in a fiery 12-minute address. “But to watch an elected official … baldly pin his hopes for election on the suppression of the people’s democratic right to vote has been truly appalling.”

“So let’s be clear,” Abrams concluded, “this is not a speech of concession.”

Ending a race while pointedly refusing to concede would typically risk drawing a “sore loser” label that would be impossible to shake in any future political campaign. But Democrats and even some Republicans say she is likely to emerge from the closely fought governor’s race with her political future on solid ground.

“There was a time when this may have been a bad look, but I’m not sure that’s where we are in politics anymore,” said Jen Palmieri, who served as communications director for President Barack Obama’s White House and to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

“For many years, people have been too concerned about the optics of their actions as opposed to the impact of their actions,” Palmieri added, saying that addressing some voters’ lack of faith in the system is “more important than worrying what might offend people who may or may not vote for you four years from now.”

Republican Rick Tyler, a top adviser to Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign, said “botched concessions have hurt people before,” but he said it’s too simple to say Abrams “botched” anything because some of her criticism has merit.

“I wish we could all have faith in the system and the process,” Tyler said. “Then we could count votes, listen to gracious concession speeches and all just move on. That’s not where we are.”

Abrams cited a litany of problems that she said add up to systemic voter suppression. She specifically pointed to absentee ballots thrown out by what she called “the handwriting police,” a shortage of paper ballots to back up broken-down voting machines and Georgia’s so-called “exact match” voter registration rules that require information on voter applications to precisely match state and federal files.

While state law allows “no viable remedy,” she said she plans to file federal legal action challenging various aspects of the electoral system Kemp oversaw until he resigned as secretary of state two days after the Nov. 6 election. She also launched the new non-profit group “Fair Fight Georgia” to advocate for changes.

Some Republicans rebuked her approach.

“She seems to think there are only two branches of government: executive and judicial,” said Debbie Dooley, a Georgia-based activist who was among the early national tea party leaders. “I’m just disappointed that her immediate adversarial response is to file lawsuits when there are a lot of people on the Republican side who see a need for some of the reforms she wants.”

For starters, Dooley cited an absentee ballot process that varies from county to county and Georgia’s reliance on electronic voting machines with no paper trail — a system a federal court already has ordered changed after the 2018 elections.

“If they try to do it all through the federal courts, it’s going to end up with people resenting her,” Dooley predicted.

Abrams said “pundits and hyper-partisans” would object to her flouting “normal order” for losing candidates. “I should be stoic in my outrage and silent in my rebuke,” she said of conventional expectations. “But stoicism is a luxury and silence is a weapon for those who would quiet the voices of the people.”

Georgia Democrats said Abrams has little choice but to continue highlighting problems.

“The middle ground here is simple: ‘Count every vote,'” said Allegra Lawrence-Hardy, Abrams’ campaign chairman.

Buddy Darden, a former congressman who chaired the campaign of Abrams’ Democratic primary rival, agreed. Darden, who is white, said Abrams proved wrong the “old dinosaurs like me” who thought a black woman couldn’t compete in a general election in the Deep South. “She did it by getting folks out that no one else could,” Darden said. “Now she has their back, and that’s a good thing for the party, a good thing for the state.”

Palmieri, the former Obama and Clinton adviser, said Abrams can fill an important national void. Republicans, she said, have spent a generation focused on passing GOP-friendly voting rules, redrawing district boundaries and electing like-minded secretaries of state like Kemp. The left has answered with a less-effective patchwork of lawyers and think tanks. “She would be a formidable force on that front,” Palmieri said.

Lawrence-Hardy and other Abrams confidants say she’s not considered future runs for office. The next chance would be to challenge for Republican Sen. David Perdue’s seat in 2020, though those close to Abrams say her policy interests are better suited to the governor’s office.

History offers some parallels.

Democrat Al Gore fell just short of the presidency in 2000 after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that affirmed Republican George W. Bush’s victory in Florida. Gore never returned to politics, but established himself as a leading advocate for addressing climate change.

Republican Richard Nixon lost a bitter presidential election to John Kennedy in 1960, followed by a loss in the 1962 California governor’s election, prompting a bitter concession speech in which he declared himself done with politics. Six years later, he was elected president, capitalizing on Democrats’ Vietnam-era disarray.

Cruz found himself in Republican crosshairs in 2016 when he spoke at the Republican convention but notably refused to endorse then-nominee Donald Trump for president. Weeks ago, Trump and Cruz embraced on a Texas campaign stage, helping Cruz to a hard-fought re-election victory to the Senate.

The lesson, Palmieri said, is that “voters let these things play out.”

Rev. James Lawson recommended for Congressional Gold Medal

Rev. James Lawson recommended for Congressional Gold Medal

Video Courtesy of United Methodist Videos

The Rev. James Lawson, a United Methodist minister known for his advocacy of nonviolence in the civil rights era and beyond, has been recommended for a Congressional Gold Medal.

“It is, I think, time for us as a nation to really recognize all that he has done for people in this country and for people in the world,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., at a reception on Wednesday (Nov. 14) where he announced legislation to honor the 90-year-old Lawson.

“He’s a shining light at a time where so many of these values are being called into question,” said Khanna.

More than a half dozen members of Congress, including civil rights veteran John Lewis and California Reps. Karen Bass and Barbara Lee, joined Khanna and Lawson at the Cannon House Office Building to support Khanna’s proposal and to praise Lawson for his decades of work. The medal is the highest civilian award given by Congress.

Lawson is renowned for training college students in Nashville, Tenn., in nonviolent protest so they could withstand harsh mistreatment as they defied Jim Crow laws by occupying segregated lunch counters.

Lewis, now a congressman from Georgia, recalled Lawson’s instructions before Lewis had to endure being spat upon and having lit cigarettes put in his hair and down his back.

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., greets the Rev. James Lawson at a reception on Nov. 14, 2018, at which members of Congress announced support of legislation to recognize Lawson with a Congressional Gold Medal. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

“Every Tuesday night, this man taught us about the teaching of Gandhi. He inspired us and many of us grew to accept the way of peace, the way of love, to accept the philosophy and the discipline for nonviolence as a way of life,” Lewis said.

“If it hadn’t been for Jim Lawson, I don’t know what would have happened to our country; I don’t know what would have happened to me,” he added.

Decades later, Lawson, who lives in Los Angeles, still teaches students about civil rights.

Calling Lawson “one of the most consequential members of the civil rights movement,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., credited him with introducing the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to “the whole concept of nonviolence.”

Lawson studied Gandhi’s principles of nonviolence as a missionary in India and after his return became a mentor of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Later he was an adviser to King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Southern field secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

But his influence is most felt in the education in specific nonviolent techniques that he gave activists who worked in the Freedom Rides and the March on Washington, and the high schoolers who became the first African-Americans to enroll at Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., known as the “Little Rock Nine.”

Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., son of the late segregationist Tennessee Gov. Prentice Cooper, said his father “was on the wrong side of history” and called Lawson “one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century and the 21st century.”

“The history of the South, the history of America, is a deeply flawed history but nobody has done more to fix those flaws than Dr. Lawson,” said Cooper.

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., and the Rev. James Lawson pose with proposed Congressional Gold Medal legislation on Nov. 14, 2018, in Washington, D.C. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said Lawson was among those who gathered to mark the 50th anniversary of the sanitation workers’ strike that brought King to Memphis just before his assassination. Lawson preached at Clayborn Temple, the church from which strikers marched in 1968. Despite his age, Lawson insisted on marching with them five decades later.

“He still had that fire,” said Saunders. “He still believed strongly that if we fight and if we make our voices heard every single day in a nonviolent way, then we can win and we can be successful.”

William “Bill” Lucy, a longtime secretary-treasurer of the union, praised Lawson for agreeing to help the strikers as a young pastor at Centenary Methodist Church.

“Without Jim Lawson, we’d be on strike now, 50 years later,” Lucy said.

Lawson thanked the more than two dozen co-sponsors of the legislation for shedding light on a topic that he sees as crucial for a nation that has become more violent than he ever imagined it could be.

“While the gun discussion may be an important discussion, it doesn’t get into the virus that needs to be attacked: the spirit of violence, the language of violence, the thinking of violence, the despising of one another,” he said. “Nonviolence is the force that can save our nation from itself.”

Seminaries partner with prisons to offer inmates new life as ministers

Seminaries partner with prisons to offer inmates new life as ministers

Jamie Dew, dean of the college at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, teaches a theology class to inmates at Nash Correctional Institution in Nashville, N.C. RNS photo by Sam Morris

Inside a squat cinderblock building on the grounds of Nash Correctional Institution, 24 inmates are hunched over white plastic tables listening to Professor James Dew explain how God is omnipotent and omniscient.

More than half of the men listening are serving life sentences for murder, armed robbery and other offenses. The rest have at least 12 years left to serve.

But Dew is not preaching  to his audience as he paces the room posing questions about whether God can sin (No) or know people’s emotions (there’s disagreement, but most Christians say yes). He is teaching theology to prospective ministers.

The prisoners jotting notes, calling up documents on closed-circuit laptops or asking Dew questions of their own are earning four-year bachelor’s degrees in pastoral ministry from the College at Southeastern, the undergraduate school of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in nearby Wake Forest.

Dew’s class is part of a new niche in prison education: training inmates to become “field ministers” who serve as counselors for other inmates, lead prayers, assist prison chaplains and generally serve as a calming influence in prison yards.

Many of Dew’s students get up at 5 a.m. for devotionals, though it is not required. They attend lectures from 8:15 to 11:15, Monday through Thursday. There’s study hall in the afternoon and group study in the evenings. Each inmate gets a laptop with access to a limited online resource library.

Decades of research show that inmates who get an education have a far lower incidence of repeating criminal behavior, but of the 1.5 million people in U.S. prisons, only a tiny percentage can afford a college degree while behind bars.

Evangelical seminaries, led by Southern Baptist-affiliated schools, are increasingly stepping into the gap, raising money to offer inmates free, on-site college degrees in exchange for their labor once they graduate. Inmates in 15 states can now apply for such programs, and 10 more seminaries have programs in the planning stages, according to the Global Prison Seminaries Foundation, which helps set them up.

The degree awarded is different from state to state. In North Carolina, it’s a Bachelor of Arts in pastoral ministry; in Texas, a Bachelor of Science in biblical studies; and in South Carolina, an Associate of Arts degree.

Inmates at Nash Correctional Institution in Nashville, N.C., are able to pursue a bachelor’s degree in pastoral ministry. RNS photo by Sam Morris

Game Plan for Life, a foundation started by Hall of Fame NFL coach and NASCAR team owner Joe Gibbs, funds North Carolina’s effort, which costs nearly $300,000 a year. The Heart of Texas Foundation funds a similar program in Texas, which this year had a budget of $260,000.

More money goes to build up the educational infrastructure at prisons before classes can begin. Here at the Nash Correctional Institution, Southeastern Seminary received two grants to fund a library, and Game Plan for Life is now planning a $500,000 classroom building on prison grounds.

“We bring the academics, the state brings the legal clearance and helps us navigate the red tape, Game Plan for Life brings the financial component,” said Dew, the dean of Southeastern College and one of the half-dozen professors who spends a morning each week teaching at the prison. “It’s a three-way partnership.”

Since the program started two years ago, hundreds of North Carolina’s 36,635 prison inmates have applied to take the course of study and 53 have been admitted. Applicants must be felons serving minimum 15-year sentences with a high school diploma or GED and a clean disciplinary record for at least a year.

“Before we came here a lot of us were living in despair — no hope,” said James Benoy, who has been taking classes for the past 18 months. “It’s transformed us. We have a purpose, a direction and a mission in life.”

Most of the participants here were reared as Baptists or in various Pentecostal denominations. But by law, the programs must admit inmates of all faiths. At Nash Correctional, there are a few Catholics, a Muslim and one Rastafarian.

Still, the doctrine taught here is consistent with what Southern Baptists believe — that the Bible is divine revelation and inerrant.

That raises questions for some scholars about whether the programs privilege one set of religious beliefs over others. In general, prisons must provide equally for all inmates, regardless of their faith, or lack of it.

An inmate at Nash Correctional Institution works on material for a theology class in Nashville, N.C. RNS photo by Sam Morris

There are other concerns, too. “From my perspective, the larger issue is to what extent American prison systems are outsourcing rehabilitation to religious volunteers,” said Michael Hallett, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of North Florida who has written extensively about seminary prison programs.

Hallett questions just how voluntary these charitably funded programs are, since in most cases there are no secular alternatives.

“If the only game in town is a religious education program that’s going to result in you being in an easier prison while you’re doing life in prison, how authentic is the profession of faith?” he asks.

While inmates at most prisons can take correspondence courses from universities, as well as train to become plumbers, electricians or computer technicians, the cost of a bachelor’s degree makes it unattainable for most. (One exception is New York State’s Bard Prison Initiative.)

In 1994, Congress eliminated Pell grants for people serving in prison. (The Obama administration began a pilot program to resume prisoner access to Pell grants, but it faces an uncertain future.)

When the Pell grants were ended, the warden at the Louisiana State Penitentiary feared his famously fractious prison, known as Angola, would erupt in violence. He reached out to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to explore the possibility of offering some kind of education to his charges.

By 1995, the New Orleans seminary began offering a few classes at the prison, which is America’s largest, housing some 6,300 inmates.

Since then, 312 Angola inmates have earned B.A. degrees in Christian ministry, and 80 of them are still working as field ministers in prisons across the state. The New Orleans seminary now runs identical prison programs in Florida, Georgia and Mississippi.

In 2011, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, began offering a Bachelor of Science in biblical studies at Darrington Unit, a maximum security prison 30 miles south of Houston.

Calvin College, Appalachian Bible College, Trinity International University, North Park University and Columbia International University — all evangelical schools — have since started their own prison seminary programs.

For many seminary leaders, teaching prisoners is simply what their Christian faith demands.

“We tell people that as an institution it’s our mission to train people to go into the darkest places in the world and to be the light of Christ,” said Dew. “Most of our faculty see it for what it is — an opportunity to fulfill our mission.”

For prison administrators, the programs are attractive for another reason: They cost the state little or nothing. The prisons are normally responsible only for conducting initial screenings, interviewing applicants and providing transportation to the unit where the learning takes place. For that they get a host of tangible benefits: fewer disciplinary infractions and free labor in grief counseling and conflict resolution from program graduates.

“It changes the culture of the prison from within,” said Burl Cain, a former warden at Angola who now heads the Global Prison Seminaries Foundation. “They calm it down. You get rid of gangs. It really makes a difference.”

On their way out of their Biblical Hebrew class on a recent Thursday, the inmates at Nash Correctional lined up to shake the instructor’s hand, a weekly routine the students initiated.

“It’s making me a better person,” said 41-year-old Marquis McKenzie, who was sentenced to life for first-degree murder. “I think differently now. I read well, speak well, write well and think well.”

Professors said the students’ abilities vary, but they noted the inmates were all hardworking and tenacious.

Indeed, many inmates said they feel they’ve been offered a real opportunity to make something of their lives. And they said they look forward to imparting some of the wisdom they’ve acquired to younger inmates just coming in.

“Being in prison can be so dehumanizing,” said Bryce Williams, 36, who is serving an 18-year sentence for second-degree murder. “You don’t have any autonomy. That’s stripped away. So you start to think: ‘How can I effect change?’ This program has opened up doors. It affords you an opportunity to be human.”

Michelle Obama:  An inspiration for women of faith and girls everywhere

Michelle Obama: An inspiration for women of faith and girls everywhere

Video Courtesy of CNSNews

Time magazine described it as a tour “fit for a rock star”. This is not how book promotional outings are usually billed – but then this is no ordinary tome. The memoirs of Michelle Obama comprise one half of a $65 million joint publishing deal for the former first couple’s autobiographies.

One measure of predicted global interest is that Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming, will be translated into 28 languages. The month-long tour plan is bold, taking in ten major arenas, with an all-star line-up of moderators including Oprah Winfrey, author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, businesswoman Valerie Jarrett, actress Sarah Jessica Parker and more. One is left in absolutely no doubt that the legacy of this First Lady stands robustly alongside that of her husband. Very few of her predecessors can make this claim.

Michelle Obama with husband, president elect Barack Obama, and daughters Sasha and Malia Obama at the presidential election victory speech, Chicago, on November 4, 2008.

Before Barack Obama entered public life, Michelle was his mentor. When he was elected to the Senate, she earned more than him. Many said that she was smarter than him, and he was very smart indeed.

The American Dream

Michelle Obama is a potent symbol of what is good about America. She reminds us that an African American girl from the poorer end of town has the potential to do and be anything. And not to simply become First Lady, which was a role forced upon her. By determination and hard work, she got to Harvard and Princeton and carved out a highly successful career in her own right.

When obliged to embrace the role of presidential wife, her reluctance was palpable in those early days. Such caution was well founded. Her dynamism and ability were on display throughout the 2008 election, and she campaigned energetically for her husband. But even prior to his victory, she got a taste of the vitriol that would come later. In one unguarded moment, for example, she said during the presidential primaries in 2008:

For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback.

Her comments were made in relation to high voter turnout in the primaries but her opponents were not concerned with the context. Immediately, she was chastised and the criticism from some quarters continued unabated.

The ‘Angry Black Woman’

Traditionally, the First Lady of the United States (FLOTUS) has been presented as an appendage of the president, whose priority was spousal loyalty, whatever the challenges involved. She spent her time entertaining, engaging in charitable endeavours, and attempting to provide some sort of normality to children being raised in a profoundly abnormal environment.

Adichie talked of Michelle Obama having to “flatten herself” to better fit the mould of First Lady. She reminds us that because Michelle Obama did not smile constantly and vacuously, but only when she felt like it, she was given that cheapest of derogatory labels – the Angry Black Woman. Adichie added:

Women, in general, are not permitted anger – but from black American women, there is an added expectation of interminable gratitude, the closer to groveling the better, as though their citizenship is a phenomenon that they cannot take for granted.

In Michelle Obama, the nation suddenly was faced with this stunning, independent entity – and not everyone was pleased. Others, however, were thrilled as they watched her blow the doors off what was previously the suffocating confines of the First Lady’s office.

FLOTUS and Feminism

Prior to Michelle Obama, the First Lady story was too often one of wonderful, capable, intelligent women being shoe-horned into a claustrophobic position with no formal office, portfolio, title or, of course, salary. They simply had to button their lips and smile. But Michelle Obama revolutionised the role of the First Lady and, as a result, it’s as though feminism has finally been recognised as a part of what the FLOTUS could be.

We must also now recognise the meaningful impact that a First Lady can have in getting legislation passed, and implementing significant policy change. However humble Michelle Obama’s family origins on the South Side of Chicago were, she has a platform like few others, and she uses her voice to promote a positive message on a range of key issues, including her FLOTUS project on child health and nutrition. Indeed, she reveals in the book how she offered her successor, Melania Trump, help or advice – a gesture so far ignored by Mrs Trump.

In her final year as First Lady, one Gallup poll reported a 64% approval rating for her (noticeably higher than that of her husband). In her post-White House role, Michelle Obama’s approval ratings have remained strong and even increased since she left the White House. When compared to her deeply uncontroversial predecessors, such as Laura or Barbara Bush, however, her poll numbers were relatively low. It’s clear that anyone who pushes boundaries and breaks down barriers isn’t not going to please everyone. Hillary Clinton learned this lesson the hardest of ways, when she lost the presidency to Donald Trump.

But Michelle Obama is extraordinarily relatable, down to earth, too. It’s refreshing to see in her memoir, for example, an acknowledgement that when their marriage needed it, the Obamas sought professional help.

Michelle has continuously demonstrated the capacity to lead by example, to balance conflicting roles, to raise two strong and capable daughters, and to clearly still be in a loving marriage, despite the strain that comes with eight years of scrutiny and criticism. In the words of her husband:

The way in which she blended purpose and policy with fun so that she was able to reach beyond Washington on her health care initiatives, on her military family work was masterful.

She remains an inspiration for future First Ladies, and women and girls everywhere.The Conversation

Clodagh Harrington, Associate Professor of American Politics, De Montfort University

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

Church visited by accused shooter allows armed parishioners

Church visited by accused shooter allows armed parishioners

Some parishioners will now carry weapons into a historically black Kentucky church visited by a white gunman before police said he killed two black people at a grocery store.

The First Baptist Church of Jeffersontown has asked church members with law enforcement or security backgrounds to carry guns to services and Bible studies. So far, seven parishioners have been identified to take on this responsibility.

WKYT-TV reports the Rev. Kevin Nelson tells WDRB-TV the church also has increased security in other ways.

Gregory Bush is charged with first-degree murder in the slayings at a Louisville-area Kroger last month. Police say he was seen on surveillance video trying to enter the church minutes before the attack. Police Chief Sam Rogers told the congregation that he believes the shooting was racially motivated.

How to talk about racism in the church without becoming bitter

How to talk about racism in the church without becoming bitter

Fannie Lou Hamer, of Ruleville, Miss., speaks to Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party supporters outside the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 17, 1965, after the House of Representatives rejected a challenge to the 1964 election of five Mississippi representatives. Hamer and two other African-American women were seated on the floor of the House while the challenge was being considered. She said, “We’ll come back year after year until we are allowed our rights as citizens.” The challengers claimed that African-Americans were excluded from the election process in Mississippi. (AP Photo/William J. Smith)

The American church has a problem with racism.

The issue is not new.

It includes support in the past for appalling acts such as lynching and racial terrorism and ongoing, inexcusable apathy. Although much has changed, the path toward deep diversity, authentic inclusion and radical repair remains long. Much of my time is spent telling Christians about the past and present concerning racism in the nation and the congregation.

Christians engaged in anti-racism work risk becoming bitter toward the church. In my speaking and travels, people often ask me, “How do you talk about racism without becoming bitter?”

Or they ask a similar question from a different angle: “How do you maintain hope in the midst of so much evil?”

There’s no easy answer.

At times, I’ve been tempted to give up on church people in frustration. Especially white evangelicals.

The 2018 midterm elections, for instance, revealed that yet again, white evangelicals chose to support a brand of politics that is inimical to people of color. In spite of the fear-mongering and overtly racist appeals of some candidates, 75 percent of white evangelicals voted for Republicans in the midterms.

Two years into his administration, white evangelicals remain the only religious group in which a majority view Trump favorably. More than 70 percent of self-identified white evangelical or born-again Christians have a favorable view of the president. Seventy-five percent of black Protestants have an unfavorable view.

It appears to me, as a person of color, that white evangelicals have little regard for my voice or those of people like me. Attempting to voice the concerns of black Christians among white churchgoers and receiving so much opposition makes it difficult sometimes for me to read the Bible and go to church.

I am still healing from wounds I’ve accrued over years of writing, speaking and teaching about racism and injustice. But no matter how discouraging the racial conditions in the church become, bitterness is not a healthy option.

To be clear, voting for Republicans is not the issue. The issue is Christians saying they support racial reconciliation on the one hand while simultaneously supporting politicians — in this case, Republicans — who traffic in racism and xenophobia on the other.

At moments like this, I think of Fannie Lou Hamer.

Fannie Lou Hamer, a leader of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, speaks before the credentials committee of the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, N.J., on Aug. 22, 1964, in an effort to win accreditation for the group as Mississippi’s delegation to the convention. The Freedom group, composed almost entirely of African-Americans, was opposed by the regular all-white Mississippi delegation. (AP Photo)

Born in 1917 in rural Mississippi, Hamer was the last of 20 children immersed in a life of poverty as a sharecropper. In her 40s, she got involved in the civil rights movement after she heard young activists give a presentation about voting rights.

She then dedicated her life to fighting for equal rights for black people and more humane treatment of the poor.

One night in 1963, Hamer and some fellow civil rights activists, all of whom were black, were taken into custody on spurious charges by white police officers. The law enforcement officials took them to a jail and proceeded to beat each one, including Hamer. The harrowing experience left her with permanent health problems and emotional wounds such as depression. But that didn’t stop her from loving people, even her enemies.

“I feel sorry for anybody that could let hate wrap them up,” she said. “Ain’t no such thing as I can hate anybody and hope to see God’s face.”

When I think of saints like Fannie Lou Hamer and how they endured far more than I ever have in the fight for racial equality, I cannot engage in the self-indulgence of bitterness.

I have to keep striding toward freedom because I am part of a legacy of freedom fighters who have struggled under far more adverse conditions and yet maintained hope in God and the church.

Another way I find hope is through community. Through my work, I’ve met true allies across the color line. These women and men are quick to listen and slow to speak, which makes them more informed and more effective collaborators for change.

I have also been deeply enriched by friendships with people of color. Black Christians, who often make up a minority whether in church or school or the workplace, need regular contact with others who share similar experiences and backgrounds. We need a group where we can vent, laugh and recharge — folks around whom we don’t have to explain our existence. We need relationships with people who “get it.”

Finally, I try to keep the racial situation in the church in perspective by distinguishing between the universal church and particular people and congregations. I have often felt betrayed by specific Christians and churches. Individual Christians have berated me to my face — telling me how I get race wrong. Churches and denominations have rescinded speaking invitations, and many, many others have been bold in asserting that race is a social or a political issue, but not a gospel one.

In the face of such barbs, I have grown cautious.

I do my best to carefully choose speaking engagements and writing platforms that will let me communicate my views freely while not exposing me to malicious criticism. Unfortunately, many predominantly white Christian outlets and organizations prove extremely hostile to any anti-racist messages. But those particular places do not represent the church as a whole.

Christ is building his church. And as the Gospel of Matthew tells us, the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

The church is a beautiful bulwark against bitterness. It is a church that spans across time, nations, races and ethnicities. It is an undefeated community. It is this church, imperfect though it is, that persuades me to persist. It is Christ’s church, universal and precious, that Christians who hate racism should fight to improve.

While the bigotry of individual Christians and institutions may bend us toward bitterness, the beauty of Christ’s bride hearkens us back to hope.

(Jemar Tisby is president of The Witness: A Black Christian Collective,  co-host of the podcast Pass The Mic and author of “The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism.” Follow him on Twitter @JemarTisby. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)

An ethical guide to responsible giving

An ethical guide to responsible giving

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Chancelor Bennett, better known as Chance The Rapper, has donated millions of dollars through his SocialWorks charity to shore up Chicago’s public schools.
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

Every holiday season, Americans find themselves showered with mailed appeals, beseeching phone calls and emotional pleas from Facebook friends seeking support for pet causes.

How should they sift through all these calls to give?

The conventional guidance, parroted as if it were gospel, goes something like: Be generous, follow your passions and do enough research to verify that a chosen charity won’t squander your money.

As a political philosopher who studies the ethics of philanthropy, I know it’s not that simple. In fact, there are at least five leading theories regarding the ethics of giving.

Scholars who study philanthropy and ponder why people should give to charity disagree on which is best. But they all agree that some critical reflection on how to give well is essential for making responsible decisions.

Sometimes the questions are clearer than the answers.

Giving from the heart

I call the aforementioned common position, promulgated by the likes of financial pundit Ron Lieber, glamorous humanitarian Jean Shafiroff and Vanguard Charitable, a donor-advised fund managing US$7 billion slated for future gifts to charities, “compassionate philanthropy.”

It urges donors to give from the heart and posits that no one can tell you what makes one cause better than another.

Compassionate philanthropists see choosing a cause as a two-step process. First, ask yourself what you are most passionate about – be it your religious faith, hunger, the arts, your alma mater or cancer research.

Then, verify that it follows sound accounting and management practices.

While simple and flexible, this philosophy of giving ignores considerations like a cause’s moral urgency and suggests that the only thing that matters when being charitable is what’s on the giver’s mind. It also implies that a charity’s effectiveness is measured only by management or finances, which is arguably untrue.

There are at least four other schools of thought worth considering in light of the conventional approach’s shortcomings: traditional charity, effective altruism, reparative philanthropy and giving for social change.

This Vanguard Charitable video emphasizes a theory that donors should follow their passions when they choose causes to support.

Giving to the neediest

A more traditional giving philosophy stems from Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Rather than telling donors to simply follow their own passions, traditional charity stresses that suffering people demand urgent attention. It treats relieving that pain and meeting those needs as the highest charitable priority.

People who think this way, for example, might have trouble seeing how donors can justify supporting their local community theaters when so many Americans are experiencing hunger or homelessness and could use a free meal from a charity like the Salvation Army.

They might be most concerned with meeting the needs of the 769 million people on Earth who live on less than what Americans can purchase for $2 a day.

The Salvation Army, a Christian charity that assists people in need with free Thanksgiving turkeys and other support, quotes the Bible to illustrate its mission.

Giving mindfully

A more modern, introspective approach, advanced by the philosopher Peter Singer and embraced by young Silicon Valley billionaires like Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and his wife Cari Tuna, is known as “effective altruism.”

This school of thought instructs donors to do the most good they can in terms of global well-being based on verifiable cost effectiveness.

These givers argue that it’s better to give $40,000 to a carefully vetted charity in sub-Saharan Africa that can cure as many as 2,000 people of blindness than to give that same sum to a group that will spend it training a single guide dog for a blind person in the U.S.

Effective altruists reject the advice of transparency groups like Charity Navigator, which rates nonprofits according to the percentage of funds they spend conducting their work versus running their organizations. Instead, they heed organizations like GiveWell and Animal Charity Evaluators, which draw from scientific evidence and use statistical reasoning to select charities they believe will achieve the maximum impact per donated dollar.

The philosopher Peter Singer explained what effective altruism is in a TED talk.

Giving to heal and address injustices

Another way to think about making charitable donations more responsible is to see them as a form of reparations.

With economic inequality growing, government spending on public education declining and cutbacks taking a toll on social services, social injustices are proliferating.

The political philosopher Chiara Cordelli developed this perspective. She reasons that under current conditions, the rich are not entitled to all of their wealth.

After all, under more just circumstances, they would likely be earning less and taxed more. Therefore, the rich should not think of what they spend on charity as a matter of personal discretion, nor simply as something to make lives better, Cordelli argues.

Instead, she sees excessive wealth as a debt to be repaid unconditionally to repair crumbling public services. One way that donors can engage in reparative philanthropy is by supplementing the budgets of cash-strapped public schools, as Chancelor Bennett – the Grammy-winning Chance the Rapper – is doing in Chicago.

Chance the Rapper’s SocialWorks organization had raised $2.2 million for the Chicago public schools’ arts programs by September 2017.

Giving to overcome unjust policies

A fifth major school of thought advises donors to support groups challenging unjust institutions.

This perspective may sound radical or new but it isn’t. The 19th-century luminary John Stuart Mill and the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
both embraced it.

Its adherents acknowledge that dismantling the structural causes of poverty and discrimination is hard and can take decades or longer. But they observe that even small policy changes can do more for large numbers of people than even the biggest charitable initiatives.

Contemporary advocates of this view like Canadian philosopher Will Kymlicka suggest giving money to political parties, advocacy groups and community organizers.

Gifts to political parties and lobbyists may not sound like a conventional way to be charitable and are not currently tax-deductible. But many advocacy nonprofits, voter education initiatives and community empowerment groups are considered charities by U.S. law and eligible for tax-deductible donations.

An animated lecture of controversial philosopher Slavoj Zizek discusses the irony of giving to charity amid unjust policies.

Mixing and matching

Perhaps no single school of thought offers a perfect guide to responsible giving.

But the scholars who espouse these different positions all agree on one key point: Donors should reflect more on their giving decisions.

Whether you settle on one school of thought or draw from several of them, thinking more about what it means to be charitable will help you give more responsibly.The Conversation

Ted Lechterman, Postdoctoral Fellow, Stanford University McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society

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

50 years in, Chisholm’s historic victory offers inspiration

50 years in, Chisholm’s historic victory offers inspiration

Video Courtesy of Shirley Chisholm channel.

In a history-making election, plenty of new and unexpected faces — many of them black and brown, many of them female — will now be taking their first steps into their congressional futures.

For inspiration and example, the list of winners that includes Ayanna Pressley, Lucy McBath, Jahana Hayes, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and others might want to learn from the lessons of Shirley Chisholm, the Brooklyn, New York, native who made history 50 years ago as the first African-American woman elected to Congress.

It was the start of a national political career in which Chisholm, who died in 2005, fearlessly and relentlessly stood up and spoke out for such causes as civil and women’s rights and that included a run for president just four years after her first federal win.

“We should be inspired by the fact that she always went up against the status quo,” said Rep. Yvette Clarke, whose Brooklyn district now includes a portion of the area that Chisholm was elected to represent and who introduced a bill earlier this year calling for a statue of Chisholm to be placed at the U.S. Capitol. “She was able to assert a moral political direction that galvanized people across this nation.”

In the days before the November 1968 general election, there was a lot of conventional wisdom spouted about the issues Chisholm faced in her first congressional campaign.

Her opponent, civil rights activist James Farmer, had a national reputation, while she was local. He had the endorsement of powerful politicians while she organized on the ground in her Brooklyn community. And he was a man.

A newspaper headline about the race in the days before the election simply referred to her as “woman.” But Chisholm won the race by a 2-1 margin.

She didn’t let the institutional power her campaign faced rattle her, said Zinga Fraser, professor and director of the Shirley Chisholm Project on women and activism at Brooklyn College. Instead, Chisholm went with a campaign theme of “unbought and unbossed” and reached out to build a coalition of black women and others who had been excluded from the power structure for their electoral support. It was the same approach she took in 1972, when she ran for president as a Democrat and became the first black major-party presidential candidate, competing in 12 state primaries and winning 28 delegates.

Chisholm “called herself the people’s candidate because she wanted to bring on a new way to think about democracy, and who was privileged and who had the audacity to run,” Fraser said.

“We all just take so much strength and inspiration from her, to walk in her footsteps,” said Kimberly Peeler-Allen, co-founder of Higher Heights, an organization that promotes the political power of black women as voters and candidates. “How she led, how she had no fear of speaking truth to power.”

Hayes, a Democratic teacher and first-time candidate who becomes the first black woman that Connecticut has sent to Congress, even referenced Chisholm in her victory remarks Tuesday night, acknowledging the 50th anniversary of Chisholm’s Nov. 5, 1968, election.

Chisholm, born in Brooklyn to West Indian immigrant parents, was already the first black woman in the New York state Legislature when she decided to run for the seat representing the newly drawn 12th Congressional District, which included central Brooklyn neighborhoods like Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights and had been created in a way that made it more likely Brooklyn would have its first black member of Congress.

After winning the Democratic primary, she faced Farmer, nationally known co-founder of the Congress of Racial Equality and leader of the 1961 Freedom Ride, who was endorsed by then-New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and other powerful politicians.

Letitia James, the New York City public advocate who made history Tuesday as the first African-American woman elected to hold statewide New York office as the state attorney general, said Chisholm’s example matters all these years later because “we’re fighting for the same people who don’t have a voice at the table.”

On Nov. 5, the 50th anniversary of Chisholm’s congressional victory, Rep. Clarke and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, who also represents some of what was Chisholm’s district, announced legislation that if it passes would recognize Chisholm with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor bestowed by Congress.

Lessons learned from Chisholm were clearly resonant for black women running for office this year, incumbents and challengers alike, those who won and those who didn’t.

Vanessa Enoch, 48, who ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for the Ohio congressional seat once held by John Boehner that hasn’t been out of Republican hands in decades, said she identified with Chisholm’s determination to run, in spite of how obvious it was that the power structure had lined up behind her opponent.

“I admire her courage, I admire her stamina to stick with the things that she believed in as she went into those places that were not welcoming to her, her wherewithal to continue to stand her ground and make sure her voice was not ignored,” Enoch said.

Chisholm left a legacy, she said, “that we don’t allow the status quo to continue to be comfortable ignoring our voices and ignoring those things that concern us.”

In Sudan, Rediscovering Ancient Nubia Before It’s Too Late

In Sudan, Rediscovering Ancient Nubia Before It’s Too Late

Video Courtesy of AncientSudan

In 1905, British archaeologists descended on a sliver of eastern Africa, aiming to uncover and extract artifacts from 3,000-year-old temples. They left mostly with photographs, discouraged by the ever-shifting sand dunes that blanketed the land. “We sank up to the knees at every step,” Wallis Budge, the British Egyptologist and philologist, wrote at the time, adding: “[We] made several trial diggings in other parts of the site, but we found nothing worth carrying away.”

For the next century, the region known as Nubia — home to civilizations older than the dynastic Egyptians, skirting the Nile River in what is today northern Sudan and southern Egypt — was paid relatively little attention. The land was inhospitable, and some archaeologists of the era subtly or explicitly dismissed the notion that black Africans were capable of creating art, technology, and metropolises like those from Egypt or Rome. Modern textbooks still treat ancient Nubia like a mere annex to Egypt: a few paragraphs on black pharaohs, at most.

Today, archaeologists are realizing how wrong their predecessors were — and how little time they have left to uncover and fully understand Nubia’s historical significance.

“This is one of the great, earliest-known civilizations in the world,” says Neal Spencer, an archaeologist with the British Museum. For the past ten years, Spencer has traveled to a site his academic predecessors photographed a century ago, called Amara West, around 100 miles south of the Egyptian border in Sudan. Armed with a device called a magnetometer, which measures the patterns of magnetism in the features hidden underground, Spencer plots thousands of readings to reveal entire neighborhoods beneath the sand, the bases of pyramids, and round burial mounds, called tumuli, over tombs where skeletons rest on funerary beds – unique to Nubia — dating from 1,300 to 800 B.C.

Sites like this can be found up and down the Nile River in northern Sudan, and at each one, archaeologists are uncovering hundreds of artifacts, decorated tombs, temples, and towns. Each finding is precious, the scientists say, because they provide clues about who the ancient Nubians were, what art they made, what language they spoke, how they worshipped, and how they died — valuable puzzle pieces in the quest to understand the mosaic of human civilization writ large. And yet, everything from hydroelectric dams to desertification in northern Sudan threaten to overtake, and in some cases, erase these hallowed archaeological grounds. Now, scientists armed with an array of technologies — and a quickened sense of purpose — are scrambling to uncover and document what they can before the window of discovery closes on what remains of ancient Nubia.

“Only now do we realize how much pristine archaeology is just waiting to be found,” says David Edwards, an archaeologist at the University of Leicester in the U.K.

“But just as we are becoming aware it’s there, it’s gone,” he adds. Within the next 10 years, Edwards says, “most of ancient Nubia might be swept away.”

Between 5,000 and 3,000 B.C., humans across Africa were migrating to the Nile’s lush banks as the Earth warmed and equatorial jungles transformed into the deserts they are today. “You cannot go 50 kilometers along the Nile River Valley without finding an important site because humans spent thousands of years here in the same place, from prehistoric to modern times,” Vincent Francigny, the director of the French Archeological Unit, tells me in his office in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. Nearby his office, the White Nile from Uganda and the Blue Nile from Ethiopia unite into one river that flows through Nubia, enters Egypt and exits into the Mediterranean Sea.

Roughly around 2,000 B.C., archaeologists find the first traces of the Nubian kingdom called Kush. Egyptians conquered parts of the Kushite Kingdom for a few hundred years, and around 1,000 B.C., Egyptians appear to have died, left, or mixed thoroughly with the local population. At 800 B.C., Kushite kings, also known as the black pharaohs, took over Egypt for a century — two cobras decorating the pharaohs’ crowns signify the unification of kingdoms. And somewhere around 300 A.D., the Kushite empire began to fade away.

Almost nothing is known about what life was like for people living in Nubia during this time. British Egyptologists of the 19th century often relied on accounts from ancient Greek historians who fabricated wild tales, Francigny says, never bothering to go to Sudan themselves. Some details were filled in by Harvard archaeologist George Reisner in the first part of the 20th century. Reisner discovered dozens of pyramids and temples in Sudan, recorded the names of kings, and shipped the most precious antiquities to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. With no evidence and unquestioning condescension, he attributed any sophisticated architecture to a light-skinned race. In a 1918 bulletin for the museum, he matter-of-factly wrote, “The native negroid race had never developed either its trade or any industry worthy of mention, and owed their cultural position to the Egyptian immigrants and to the imported Egyptian civilization.” And believing that skin pigmentation marked intellectual inferiority, he attributed the downfall of ancient Nubia to racial intermarriage.

Besides belonging to an overtly racist period, Reisner was a member of an old wave of archaeology that was more interested in recording the names of royalty and retrieving treasures than looking at antiquities as a means to understand the evolution of societies and cultures. Stuart Tyson Smith, an archaeologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, takes a newer approach when he brushes dust from objects he’s found in Nubian tombs over the past several years. Underground burial chambers hold skeletons whose bones are probed for details about age, health, and place of origin, as well as cultural clues, since the dead were buried with belongings. Smith and his team have been excavating a huge necropolis south of Spencer’s locale, called Tombos, that was in use for hundreds of years before the seventh century B.C.

Smith gleefully invites me into storerooms in Tombos overflowing with items he and his team have recently found. Our ancestors considered vanity on the journey to the land of the dead: They were buried beside kohl eyeliner, vases of cologne, and intricately painted cosmetics boxes. Smith cradles a clay incense burner shaped like a duck. He’s found one other like it, from a period around 1,100 B.C. “They had fads, like us,” Smith says, “Like, you just gotta get one of those duck incense things for the funeral.”

A woman’s skull half coated with termite-riddled dirt rests on a wooden table. Smith beams and locates an amulet the size of his fist that he found beside this skeleton. The amulet is shaped like a scarab beetle, a common symbol of rebirth in Egypt, but the insect bears a man’s head. “This is very unusual,” Smith says. He laughs as he paraphrases hieroglyphics etched into the scarab’s underside: “On the day of judgment, let my heart not testify against me.”

Smith’s colleague, Michele Buzon, a bioarchaeologist at Purdue University, will ship the skull back to her lab in Indiana to analyze the isotopic composition of strontium buried in tooth enamel. Strontium is an element found in rocks and soil, which varies from place to place. Because strontium integrates into layers of enamel as children grow, it signals where a person was born. It will reveal whether this woman was from Egypt, as the scarab suggests, or a local with a taste for Egyptian-like things.

So far, it seems clear that Egyptian officials lived and died alongside Nubians in Tombos between 1,450 to 1,100 B.C. Egypt taxed the region, which was a hub for trade, with ivory, gold, and animal pelts transported up the Nile from the south. But by 900 B.C., Buzon rarely finds indications of Egyptian roots buried in tooth enamel. Strontium isotopes reveal that people were born and raised in Nubia, although an Egyptian influence remained embedded in the culture. In many ways, it is an early sign of artistic appropriation. “They were creating new forms,” Smith says.

In 2005, he excavated a burial chamber with a male skeleton, filled with Nubian arrowheads, objects imported from the Middle East, and a copper cup with charging bulls engraved within — the cattle being commonplace in Nubian designs. “Although he’s got these traditional Nubian objects, there is also this cosmopolitan stuff that shows he’s part of the in-crowd,” Smith explains.

“This period has been burdened by racist colonial interpretations assuming that Nubians were backwater and inferior and now we can tell the story of this remarkable civilization,” he adds.

With so little known about life in ancient Nubia, every object that’s uncovered could prove to be invaluable. “We are rewriting history here,” Smith says, “not just finding one more mummy.”

That said, a member of Smith’s group did discover naturally mummified remains at an ancient cemetery near Tombos, called Abu Fatima. Sarah Schrader, a bioarchaeologist now based at Leiden University in the Netherlands, was on her knees in a dirt pit, chipping at mud cemented onto the skin of a disembodied human leg when she brushed away loose sand and saw a lump. “Oh my God, an ear!” she yelled. “Orocumbu!” she called out, using the Nubian word for head — an alert for a few local staff nearby. Trading the trawl for a brush, she exposed a mat of curly black hair. And when she swept away sand lower down, her stomach turned. A plump tongue stuck out below two front teeth. After taking a quick break, Schrader excavated the rest of the head.

Video Courtesy of the Discovery Channel

Schrader packaged the head carefully, and plans to ship it to a humidity-controlled chamber in the Netherlands. There, she will date the bones and assess strontium from the man’s tooth enamel to learn where he was from. Finally, his fleshiness gives her hope that ancient DNA might be extracted. With genetic sequencing, researchers might determine if modern-day Nubians, Egyptians, or one of hundreds of ethnic groups from the surrounding regions might trace their heritage to this early civilization.

To find the lost language of ancient Nubia, I sought out Claude Rilly, a linguist specializing in ancient languages, at Soleb and Sedeinga — sites recognized by majestic and crumbling temples and a field of small pyramids. The stretch of desert between those sites and Tombos is post-apocalyptic: scorched, flat earth and sable boulders as far as the eye can see. At a point when sand completely covers the road, I transfer into a rickety motorboat. Rilly is waiting on the riverbank. A towering man with a weathered face and easy grin, he welcomes me by saying, “Here we are in the cradle of humanity — in the place where human beings have the oldest home.”

Unprompted, Rilly begins to translate Egyptian hieroglyphics etched into the sandstone columns of the temple at Soleb. But he is eager to show off his most valuable finds: stele, stone slabs engraved with Meroitic text from ancient Nubia. Based at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, Rilly is one of only a few people who can translate Meroitic text. It’s unrelated to Egyptian hieroglyphics. Rather, Rilly has found ties between Meroitic and a handful of languages spoken today by ethnic groups in Nubia, Darfur, and Eritrea.

To figure out what the words mean, he compares each precious tablet of text to another, searching for commonalities and themes. He lifts a recently discovered stele out of a wooden Dewar’s whiskey box, and squints at the letters. They fall into slants like heavy metal logos. He explains that the inscription begins with an appeal to the gods, and ends with a benediction: “May you have plentiful water, plentiful bread, and may you eat a good meal.” But there is a word in the middle of the gravestone that Rilly does not know. “It is guess work,” he says, “I’m not sure if this adjective means supreme or something else.”

In late 2016, Rilly found a painted stele that had fallen between the bricks of a funerary chapel at Sedeinga and was shielded from sand storms and rain. The top of the stone is decorated with a sun disk encircled by a pair of golden yellow cobras, and surrounded by a pair of red wings. An engraved line separating the illustration from the text is blue — a rare pigment. And the text includes a word Rilly has never before seen. Based on languages spoken in the region today, he suspects it’s a second term for the sun — one for the god of the sun as opposed to the physical sun, the star.

Rilly is desperate to find more text so that he can narrow down the meanings of more words, and decode the stories they tell about Nubian religion. He feels there must be a buried city near the temples, where our ancestors might have left notes on papyrus. This month, Rilly’s team will drag a magnetometer around the region to search for signs of a settlement buried beneath farms along the Nile or the surrounding encrusted land. The boxy machine calculates the magnetic signal at the surface of the ground, and compares it to the signal two meters below. If the density between the spots is different, the point is assigned a medium-gray to black shade on a map of the region, indicating that something irregular lies underground.

Rilly also seeks the remains of a Kushite temple referred to in the stele he’s decoded thus far. “There are at least 15 mentions of Isis, as well as the god of the sun and the god of the moon,” Rilly says. “We know there was a Kushite cult here, and a cult cannot exist without a temple.”

Modern-day Nubians have heard tales about ancient Nubia, passed down through the generations. And whether or not they descend directly from the Kushites, the past is inextricably intertwined with their identity. They’ve grown up amid fallen statues, temples, and pyramids. On holy days, families from the Nile River town of Karima hike up the sandy side of Jebel Barkal, a holy mountain that is distinguished by a 250-foot spired pinnacle that was decorated with etchings perhaps 3,400 years ago. As the sun sets, the view can only be described as biblical, stretching from the green banks of the Nile to a dozen temples in the shadow of the mountain, to pyramids on the horizon.

When ancient Egyptians conquered the region, they identified Jebel Barkal as the residence of the god Amun, who was believed to help renew life each year when the Nile flooded. They carved a temple into its base, and illustrated the walls with gods and goddesses. And when ancient Nubians regained control, they converted the holy mountain into a place for royal coronations, and constructed pyramids for royalty beside it.

There is another holy mountain further north on the Nile, in a town where Ali Osman Mohamed Salih, a 72-year old professor of archaeology and Nubian studies at the University of Khartoum, was born. His parents taught him that God lives in the mountain, and that because people come from God, they too are made of the mountain. This logic links the present with the past, and a people with a place. Salih says it means, “You are as old as the mountain, and nobody can get you out of this land.”

Salih is concerned that three new hydroelectric dams that Sudan’s government has planned along the Nile might do just that — along with drown Nubian artifacts. According to an assessment by Sudan’s National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums, the reservoir created by one planned dam near the town of Kajbar would flood more than 500 archeological sites, including more than 1,600 rock etchings and drawings dating from the Neolithic period through medieval times. Estimates from activists in Sudan suggest that hundreds of thousands of people could be displaced by the dams.

Salih has protested Nile River dams before. While passing through Egypt on his way back home in 1967, he was detained in Cairo for his open opposition to the Aswan High Dam near the border of Sudan in Egypt. The dam created a 300-mile long reservoir that submerged hundreds of archeological sites, although the most grandiose were relocated to museums. It also forced more than 100,000 people — many of them Nubians — from their homes. Governments of countries along the Nile justify hydroelectric dams by pointing to a need for electricity. Today, two-thirds of Sudan’s population lacks it. However, history shows that those whose lives are uprooted are not always those who benefit from electricity and the profit it generates.

But there’s little room for negotiation. Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, a war criminal according to the International Criminal Court, rules the country with an iron fist. Since 2006, his security forces have shot more than 170 people and beaten, imprisoned, and tortured many others who have protested the dams and other politically charged topics. International archaeologists who wish to continue working in the country dare not speak ill of the dams on record. And most national archaeologists stay mum knowing they could disappear into jails.

Other wonders, such as Jebel Barkal and Tombos, are threatened more acutely by population growth and the desire to live modern lives with higher education and electricity. The mummified head at Abu Fatima was in fact found because of such developments. A few yards away from where it was buried, farmers had hit bone with a bulldozer. After consulting with archaeologists, they agreed to halt while researchers excavated the cemetery. That was lucky, and no one has any illusions of other developments coming to a halt.

Nature is a destructive force as well. Since the 1980s, sand storms have increasingly eroded the intricately carved walls of 43 decorative Kushite pyramids and a dozen chapels at a UNESCO World Heritage site named Meroe. With funding from Qatar, archaeologists have attempted to remove sand accumulating in the necropolis. But a 2016 report on the effort reads, “the volume of the sand dunes by far exceeds all removal capacities.” An archaeologist who works at the site, Pawel Wolf, from the German Archaeological Institute, believes the uptick in erosion is partly due to droughts in the 1980s and 1990s that pushed Saharan Desert dirt northwards. Another reason, he suggests, is that overgrazing nearby stripped vegetation and promoted desertification. And once winds carried sand into the basin where Meroe lies, the sand got trapped within the surrounding mountains, sweeping violently back and forth each season.

These threats and more worry the archaeologist managing Meroe, Mahmoud Suliman Bashir, at Sudan’s National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums. Bashir hesitates to expose the coordinates of sites he’s excavating in northern Sudan — points along a putative ancient trade route to the Red Sea — because of illegal gold diggers penetrating that part of the desert. “People with metal detectors are everywhere,” he says. “It’s crazy and uncontrollable.” Already, some of the tombs have been robbed.

“As an archaeologist, you are always feeling impatient and urgent,” says Geoff Emberling, an archaeologist from the University of Michigan. “There is limited time, limited money, you are always concerned.” Before turning to Nubia, Emberling focused on Mesopotamian archaeology in Syria. He says he would not have predicted that the Islamic State, or ISIS, would eventually raze ancient temples in Palmyra, and execute a Syrian archaeologist, hanging his headless body from a column.

“Syria taught me you can’t take anything for granted in life,” Emberling says, “It could all change overnight.”

Spencer, the British Museum archaeologist excavating pyramids and neighborhoods buried beneath the sand in Amara West, prepares for loss as he works. The sand starts encroaching every afternoon. If a heavy enough storm comes through, his team’s excavations may be buried once more. And if a dam planned further up the Nile is built, it will submerge Amara West entirely. Standing beside a labyrinth of recently excavated walls just below the surface of the ground, Spencer unfolds a magnetometry map, a blueprint that guides him. He points to a spot on the map outside of the grey lines of the settlements, and then off into an ocean of dunes in the distance. The low magnetic signal in this strip, Spencer says, “indicated there might have once been a river out there.”

Indeed, Spencer has revealed how different the region was about 3,300 years ago. With Optically Stimulated Luminescence — a technique used to determine when sediment was last exposed to light — his team dated the layers of fluvial clay buried beneath quartz in the strip on the map. It reveals that Amara West was in fact an island in the Nile when ancient Egyptians and Nubians inhabited the land. By 1,000 B.C., the Nile’s side channel appears to have dried up and the island became connected with the mainland.

Spencer’s colleague, Michaela Binder, a bioarchaeologist at the Austrian Archaeological Institute in Vienna, has found that bodies buried around this point died young. “Not a lot of people made it past 30,” Binder says. Their bones are often pocked — a sign of malnutrition that Binder believes occurred as farms failed. She has also found signatures of chronic lung disease in ribs — sand and dust had polluted the air. The research suggests that the town did not end through war or poor governance, as some earlier archaeologists hypothesized, but that climate change drove people out.

Amara West is uninhabitable today because of sandstorms. Spencer’s team resides on an island nearby in the Nile. In the frigid wee hours of the morning, he and his team travel to the site by boat under an ocean of stars. They start early because by noon, winds pick up and carry in clouds of sand and small flies. In addition to documenting their findings with notes, drawings, video, and models, the team also flies kites attached to digital cameras above ruins. The camera snaps a shot every two seconds. These photos are then stitched together with thousands of on-the-ground pictures, in a technique called “Structure From Motion” that can be used to create 3D reconstructions.

Back in London, the team can input these models into the same software used to develop first-person-shooter video games. On his laptop, Spencer shows me the results. He navigates through the suburb we had visited earlier that day with the scroll of mouse. The corridors that Spencer virtually walks through are so narrow that his shoulders seem to brush against the walls. He enters a cramped room with a bust of a man with a black wig and a red painted face. It is depicted precisely as Spencer found it.

A three-dimensional interactive model of neighborhood E13 at Amara West, Sudan. Explore the ancient alleys and remains of houses, courtesy The British Museum and Sketchfab.

Spencer exits the virtual room and scrolls down through the floor to expose older houses that the team had discovered buried below the more recent Egyptian-style settlement. A dome appears with a yolk-shaped area sectioned off. He presses another key, and the viewer swoops high into the sky like a runaway kite. Tamarisk and acacia trees stand as they did back then, according to microscopic analyses of charcoal near the dusty banks of the Nile.

The interactive graphics are now preserved on the British Museum’s website so that people can explore them without a trip to Sudan. Digital reconstructions of tombs and pyramids from elsewhere in ancient Nubia are making their way online as well. And many of the archaeologists working in Sudan post their annual finds on blogs — their academic publications following after. The interpretation of relics may shift as well, as Sudanese archaeologists lead projects and perceive the findings through an African, as opposed to European, lens. In the near future, high school teachers might inspire students with stories of ancient Nubia, and endow those relics with all the glory bestowed on ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Perhaps the next generation of students will not think of sub-Saharan Africa as a negative space lacking history, but rather as the birthplace of humans and as home to some of humankind’s earliest metropolises, replete with governance, religion, and art.

But to piece the picture together, archaeologists will need the time and funds required to explore vast territories of arid land. Both are in short supply.

“Archaeology is always a race against the clock,” Francigny, director of the French Archeological Unit in Sudan, says. But Nubia’s losses will be most dramatic because they don’t simply supplement a known history. Instead, the findings form chapters in a new, as yet untold story. “If you want to know about a god worshipped in Nubia, you need to dig up a temple and see the iconography — that’s not like in Rome, where someone has written a three-volume synthesis on all the gods and rituals,” Francigny says.

“Every single finding is valuable because we knew nothing before.”

Amy Maxmen is a staff reporter for Nature magazine. Her stories, covering the entanglements of evolution, medicine, policy — and of people behind research — have also appeared in Wired, National Geographic, and The New York Times, among other outlets.

This article was originally published on Undark. Read the original article.

How Christianity shaped the experience and memories of World War I

How Christianity shaped the experience and memories of World War I

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The crosses at Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France.
Jonathan Ebel, CC BY

World War I does not occupy the same space in America’s cultural memory as the American Revolution, the Civil War, World War II or the Vietnam War. The men and women who fought “the Great War” would likely be shocked at this relegation. For them, “the war to end all wars” was the most consequential war ever fought: a struggle between good and evil.

As an author of two books, “Faith in the Fight” and “G.I. Messiahs,” I have spent a good part of the last 15 years thinking about the place of religion in America’s experience of the Great War.

From the beginning of American involvement in the war to the construction of cemeteries in Europe for America’s war dead, Christian imagery framed and simplified a complex, violent world and encouraged soldiers and their loved ones to think of the war as a sacred endeavor.

America as a Christian nation

Writings by and for American soldiers used religious imagery and language, to contrast “progressive,” Christian America and “barbaric,” anti-Christian Germany.

Photo of editorial cartoon in Stars and Stripes.
Library of Congress, Serial and Government Publications Division

The June 14, 1918 issue of Stars and Stripes, a weekly newspaper written by and for American soldiers in France, featured an editorial cartoon that drew this stark division. In it, the crown prince of Germany and the Kaiser stroll casually past Christ as he hangs on the cross.

The prince, dressed in black with a skull and crossbones on his hat, smiles at his father and says,

“Oh, look, Papa! Another of those allies!”

The cartoon affirms that America’s cause is Christ’s cause at the same time that it argues that Germans are so morally perverse that they would recrucify Jesus if given the chance.

American pilot Kenneth MacLeish was just as blunt in a letter to his parents. (His mother collected his wartime correspondence and published a memorial collection after his death in combat.) He defended his decision to go to war with a very different image of Jesus, but conveyed a similar lesson about the German foe. He wrote,

“Do you think for a minute that if Christ had been alone on the Mount with Mary, and a desperate man had entered with criminal intent, He would have turned away when a crime against Mary was perpetrated? Never! He would have fought with all the God-given strength He had!”

MacLeish left no room for doubt as to which side should be imagined as Mary’s rapist, and which should be seen as her Christ-like defender. He was equally clear that waging war was morally acceptable. Writing in the same letter, he stated,

“Religion embraces the sword as well as the dove of peace.”

The Christian imagery that filled the pages of Stars and Stripes and the letters and diaries of American soldiers erased Germany’s Christian history and made a religiously diverse and conflicted America into a virtuous, Christian nation.

In fact, Germany, like the U.S., had large numbers of Protestants, Catholics and Jews, and had given rise to many religious movements and denominations that were thriving on American soil. Yet in the eyes of many American soldiers, the war confirmed that Germany was profoundly vicious.

In a letter home, Charles Biddle, another American pilot, reacted angrily to an aerial attack on a field hospital. In response, he cited a French postcard that inverted Jesus’ words from the Gospel of Luke: “Do not forgive them, for they know what they do!”

Christian imagery for the war dead

Joan of Arc.
Library of Congress, Serial and Government Publications Division

World War I came to an end on Nov. 11, 1918. American losses were small by comparison to other combatant nations, but still exceeded 100,000, including 53,000 who were killed in combat. (A large percentage of the other 57,000 died as a result of the global influenza pandemic.) By contrast, France lost 1.2 million soldiers, Great Britain lost 959,000, and Germany lost over two million. As individual American soldiers and the nation thought about how best to memorialize the fallen, they turned again to Christian imagery.

In May of 1919, Stars and Stripes published an image of Joan of Arc and an accompanying poem. Saint Joan hovers over a temporary burial ground, keeping watch over graves marked by crosses. Sergeant Hal Burrows of the Marine Corps signed the drawing. Second Lieutenant John Palmer Cumming wrote the poem.

“The kiss the wind may bear will stir the tranquil leaf.
And lay it softly on the mounds we made.
And we shall labor in the mart or bind the sheaf.
The while her spirit guards their quiet glade.”

The poem and the image confirmed that America’s war dead would not be alone. They would have a saint to watch over them. In dying for the nation, they had proven themselves worthy of such attention.

When the United States government set to work designing and constructing cemeteries in France, England and Belgium, they created environments that look very much like the “quiet glade” picture above, though on a much grander scale: The largest American cemetery, Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery near the French town of Romagne, contains 14,246 graves.

White marble crosses dominate these cemeteries, creating a much more explicitly Christian space than the veterans’ cemeteries located in the United States, where headstones are small, rounded rectangles.

Remembering the diversity

The crosses at Meuse-Argonne and America’s other overseas cemeteries do not call American soldiers to fight, as the Stars and Stripes imagery did. They call Americans to remember. But the crosses work in ways similar to the Stars and Stripes images.

As my research has shown, American men and women who died in the course of World War I came from many walks of life. They differed in terms of religious identity, ethnicity, race and class. Some were brave and morally upright. Others, likely, were not.

America’s Great War cemeteries make this diversity difficult, if not impossible, to discern. The cemeteries that the United States built overseas after World War II use even more pervasive Christian imagery, leaving no room for non-Christian soldiers among the unknowns.

As the crosses rise ramrod straight from tightly manicured lawns, they project American virtue and America’s alignment with Christ. They admit little, if any, moral complexity. The crosses bear the names of the individuals who lie beneath them, but that individuality and the complexities that went along with it are subsumed by a collective identity defined by near uniform Christianity and by nearness to Christ.

The truth is, World War I was not a war of religion. Men from different religious backgrounds fought alongside each other and killed men with whom they may have, in another circumstances, shared a Christian hymn. But in the United States, and in Europe as well, Christianity shaped the experience of the war and memories of it.

As Americans look back across the hundred years since the nation entered the war and try to remember and honor those who fought, they would do well both to note the role of Christian imagery in creating a world of violence and to reach for the diverse voices and experiences that those images all too often obscure.The Conversation

Jonathan Ebel, Associate Professor of Religion, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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

African-American GIs of WWII: Fighting for democracy abroad and at home

African-American GIs of WWII: Fighting for democracy abroad and at home

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Two U.S. soldiers on Easter morning, 1945.

Until the 21st century, the contributions of African-American soldiers in World War II barely registered in America’s collective memory of that war.

The “tan soldiers,” as the black press affectionately called them, were also for the most part left out of the triumphant narrative of America’s “Greatest Generation.” In order to tell their story of helping defeat Nazi Germany in my 2010 book, “Breath of Freedom,” I had to conduct research in more than 40 different archives in the U.S. and Germany.

When a German TV production company, together with Smithsonian TV, turned that book into a documentary, the filmmakers searched U.S. media and military archives for two years for footage of black GIs in the final push into Germany and during the occupation of post-war Germany.

They watched hundreds of hours of film and discovered less than 10 minutes of footage. This despite the fact that among the 16 million U.S. soldiers who fought in World War II, there were about one million African-American soldiers.

They fought in the Pacific, and they were part of the victorious army that liberated Europe from Nazi rule. Black soldiers were also part of the U.S. Army of occupation in Germany after the war. Still serving in strictly segregated units, they were sent to democratize the Germans and expunge all forms of racism.

A soldier paints over a swastika.

It was that experience that convinced many of these veterans to continue their struggle for equality when they returned home to the U.S. They were to become the foot soldiers of the civil rights movement – a movement that changed the face of our nation and inspired millions of repressed people across the globe.

As a scholar of German history and of the more than 70-year U.S. military presence in Germany, I have marveled at the men and women of that generation. They were willing to fight for democracy abroad, while being denied democratic rights at home in the U.S. Because of their belief in America’s “democratic promise” and their sacrifices on behalf of those ideals, I was born into a free and democratic West Germany, just 10 years after that horrific war.

Fighting racism at home and abroad

By deploying troops abroad as warriors for and emissaries of American democracy, the military literally exported the African-American freedom struggle.

Beginning in 1933, when Adolf Hitler came to power, African-American activists and the black press used white America’s condemnation of Nazi racism to expose and indict the abuses of Jim Crow at home. America’s entry into the war and the struggle against Nazi Germany allowed civil rights activists to significantly step up their rhetoric.

Langston Hughes’ 1943 poem, “From Beaumont to Detroit,” addressed to America, eloquently expressed that sentiment:

“You jim crowed me / Before hitler rose to power- / And you are still jim crowing me- / Right now this very hour.”

Believing that fighting for American democracy abroad would finally grant African-Americans full citizenship at home, civil rights activists put pressure on the U.S. government to allow African-American soldiers to “fight like men,” side by side with white troops.

The military brass, disproportionately dominated by white Southern officers, refused. They argued that such a step would undermine military efficiency and negatively impact the morale of white soldiers. In an integrated military, black officers or NCOs might also end up commanding white troops. Such a challenge to the Jim Crow racial order based on white supremacy was seen as unacceptable.

The manpower of black soldiers was needed in order to win the war, but the military brass got its way; America’s Jim Crow order was to be upheld. African-Americans were allowed to train as pilots in the segregated Tuskeegee Airmen. The 92nd Buffalo Soldiers and 93rd Blue Helmets all-black divisions were activated and sent abroad under the command of white officers.

Despite these concessions, 90 percent of black troops were forced to serve in labor and supply units, rather than the more prestigious combat units. Except for a few short weeks during the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944 when commanders were desperate for manpower, all U.S. soldiers served in strictly segregated units. Even the blood banks were segregated.

‘A Breath of Freedom’

After the defeat of the Nazi regime, an Army manual instructed U.S. occupation soldiers that America was the “living denial of Hitler’s absurd theories of a superior race,” and that it was up to them to teach the Germans “that the whole concept of superiority and intolerance of others is evil.” There was an obvious, deep gulf between this soaring rhetoric of democracy and racial harmony, and the stark reality of the Jim Crow army of occupation. It was also not lost on the black soldiers.

Women’s Army Corps in Nuremberg, Germany, 1949.
Library of Congress

Post-Nazi Germany was hardly a country free of racism. But for the black soldiers, it was their first experience of a society without a formal Jim Crow color line. Their uniform identified them as victorious warriors and as Americans, rather than “Negroes.”

Serving in labor and supply units, they had access to all the goods and provisions starving Germans living in the ruins of their country yearned for. African-American cultural expressions such as jazz, defamed and banned by the Nazis, were another reason so many Germans were drawn to their black liberators. White America was stunned to see how much black GIs enjoyed their time abroad, and how much they dreaded their return home to the U.S.

By 1947, when the Cold War was heating up, the reality of the segregated Jim Crow Army in Germany was becoming a major embarrassment for the U.S. government. The Soviet Union and East German communist propaganda relentlessly attacked the U.S. and challenged its claim to be the leader of the “free world.” Again and again, they would point to the segregated military in West Germany, and to Jim Crow segregation in the U.S. to make their case.

Coming ‘home’

Newly returned veterans, civil rights advocates and the black press took advantage of that Cold War constellation. They evoked America’s mission of democracy in Germany to push for change at home. Responding to that pressure, the first institution of the U.S. to integrate was the U.S. military, made possible by Truman’s 1948 Executive Order 9981. That monumental step, in turn, paved the way for the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

Hosea Williams, World War II Army veteran and civil rights activist, rallies demonstrators in Selma, Ala. 1965.
AP Photo

The veterans who had been abroad electrified and energized the larger struggle to make America live up to its promise of democracy and justice. They joined the NAACP in record numbers and founded new chapters of that organization in the South, despite a wave of violence against returning veterans. The veterans of World War II and the Korean War became the foot soldiers of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Medgar Evers, Amzie Moore, Hosea Williams and Aaron Henry are some of the better-known names, but countless others helped advance the struggle.

About one-third of the leaders in the civil rights movement were veterans of World War II.

They fought for a better America in the streets of the South, at their workplaces in the North, as leaders in the NAACP, as plaintiffs before the Supreme Court and also within the U.S. military to make it a more inclusive institution. They were also the men of the hour at the 1963 March on Washington, when their military training and expertise was crucial to ensure that the day would not be marred by agitators opposed to civil rights.

“We structured the March on Washington like an army formation,” recalled veteran Joe Hairston.

For these veterans, the 2009 and 2013 inaugurations of President Barack Obama were triumphant moments in their long struggle for a better America and a more just world. Many never thought they would live to see the day that an African-American would lead their country.

To learn more about the contributions of African-American GIs, visit “The Civil Rights Struggle, African-American GIs, and Germany” digital archive.The Conversation

Maria Höhn, Professor and Chair of History, Vassar College

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

In Uganda, Catholics protest as archbishop asks government to enforce tithe

In Uganda, Catholics protest as archbishop asks government to enforce tithe

A nun reflects during a solemn moment as Pope Francis leads a Holy Mass for the Martyrs of Uganda at the area of the Catholic Sanctuary in the Namugongo area of Kampala, Uganda, on Nov. 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

KAMPALA, Uganda (RNS) — Thousands of Catholics in one of the world’s poorest nations are objecting after the church asked the government to collect a 10 percent tithe from worshippers on its behalf.

A similar “church tax” in Germany has generated record revenue for the Catholic Church there, according to the German Handelsblatt newspaper — but the policy is also blamed for driving millions of people to leave the faith.

“Why should the church keep asking for money all the time?” asked John Mayanja, 46, a teacher at Kitante Primary School in the East African nation. “We are supposed to give tithe willfully and without any threats from our church leaders.”

During an Oct. 28 Mass at Rubaga Cathedral in the capital city of Kampala, Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga urged the Ugandan government to immediately begin deducting a 10 percent tithe from the monthly salaries of all Catholic believers to ensure the church’s work does not stop because of lack of funds.

Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga. Photo courtesy of Archdiocese of Kampala

Lwanga said many do not voluntarily give the church 10 percent of their incomes.

“We lie to God that we pay church tithe off our monthly salaries. But during a Mass like this, whenever we ask for tithe, everyone gives only what they have at that time,” Lwanga said.

“The Bible says a tenth of whatever you earn belongs to the church, and you should give me support as I front this proposal because it is good for us.”

Some Ugandan Christians questioned the church’s motives, saying a church tax forces poor people to fund extravagant lifestyles for some priests and bishops.

“They should understand that we are paying fees for our children and servicing government loans. We have no money,” Mayanja said.

More than a third of Uganda’s nearly 43 million people live on less than $1.90 per day, the international marker of extreme poverty, according to World Bank. The Brookings Institution reports 3 in 10 households in Uganda spend more than 65 percent of their income on food.

Lwanga said he wants Catholics in Uganda to emulate their counterparts in Germany, where 8-9 percent of churchgoers’ income is deducted and channeled to the respective faiths.

“The money is used to build and renovate their churches,” said Lwanga, who also serves as chairperson of the ecumenical Uganda Joint Christian Council. “If an employee in Germany gets $10,000, the government deducts $1,000 and gives it to the church, and it is working very well.”

The Catholic Church in Germany collected a record $7.1 billion last year in taxes, Handelsblatt reported, although more than 2.2 million Germans have formally deregistered from the church since 2000. Those who deregister are no longer subject to the church tax but can no longer participate in church life — an outcome Archbishop Georg Gänswein has called a “serious problem.”

Several other European nations also collect religious taxes, which are sometimes voluntary, according to the Pew Research Center.

Catholic faithful pray in front of a cross of Jesus Christ erected by a roadside in Kakoge, north of Uganda’s capital Kampala, on October 18, 2015. Photo by James Akena/Reuters

The idea of deducting tithes from salaries was widely supported by some Ugandan officials who are also Catholic believers. Many dismissed the archbishop’s critics, saying Lwanga’s suggestions were based on Scripture.

“The archbishop was reminding the church and only Catholics that they need the money to run church activities,” said Betty Nambooze, a legislator representing Mukono, a town in central Uganda.

Catholics are Uganda’s largest religious group, but the Catholic share of the population has declined slightly in recent years. Catholics made up 39.3 percent of the population in the 2014 census, down from 41.6 percent in 2002. Around 32 percent of Ugandans are Anglican, and 14 percent are Muslim.

Religious leaders from other denominations questioned Lwanga’s strategy.

“Any believer who is not paying his or her tithe has no space in heaven. They are stealing and cheating God,” said Pastor Moses Mugisa of Redeemed Church of God, a Pentecostal church. “So there’s no need of forcing believers to pay tithe through government.”

Some vowed not to support the idea, saying the Bible does not sanction governments to collect tithes and offerings from worshippers.

“I want to ask the government to revoke credentials of any priest or bishop that petitions it to help them collect tithe,” Cyrus Rod, a bishop at Dominion Temple International, a Pentecostal church, told journalists in Kampala. “The clergy are working purely for material reward and we’ll not allow them to mislead the country. The role of priests is to collect tithes and offerings. It’s a not a political role.”

Mayanja and other Catholics said they will oppose Lwanga’s proposal because they believe it goes against Catholic teaching.

“God does not demand a certain amount of money from his people,” said Mayanja. “We give offering and tithe from our hearts. What our leaders are doing is extortion and is not based on the word of God.”

Uganda, in red, located in eastern Africa. Image courtesy of Creative Commons

Marie Maynard Daly: The first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry

Marie Maynard Daly: The first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry

In May, 2017, I was honored to serve as the kickoff speaker for Project Accelerate, a program to encourage women to pursue careers in civil engineering and construction in Southeast Michigan. With less than 9 percent of construction jobs held by women, Project Accelerate provides education and training to help meet the growing demands of construction-based jobs. In my remarks, which focused on the theme of “falling forward,” I emphasized the importance of women helping each other to navigate a successful career pathway.

I stated, in part, “Throughout my various life experiences, I’ve seen and felt the discomfort and discouragement of being urged by someone, well-meaning or not, to pursue a less technical path simply because of perceived challenges with a subject or particular topic. There are always people around to quickly coach you out of a situation instead of through a situation. They make you feel that trying something and finding that you are not good at it the first time is a reason to quit when in actuality, it is a reason to try again.” I emphasize the importance of persistence and grit, which is absolutely critical for a successful STEM career pathway. As women, we have a responsibility to help other women succeed.

During the past year, I have been given a tremendous platform to highlight and celebrate the important contributions of women and scientists of color. These Unsung heroes include Alice Augusta Ball, Dr. James LuValle, Dr. Jewel Plummer Cobb, Dr. William Claytor and Dr. Evelyn Boyd Granville. The intellectual contributions of these STEM trailblazers include developing a treatment for leprosy (Hansen’s disease), investigating potential cancer drugs, and using mathematics to nudge mankind into space. In this spirit, I finish up this series by telling the story of a remarkable Unsung STEM hero, Dr. Marie Maynard Daly, the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry.

Daly was born in Corona, a neighborhood in Queens, New York in April of 1921. She was the eldest child of Ivan C. Daly and Helen Page. Ivan had enrolled at Cornell University to study chemistry, but had to drop out due to the high cost of tuition. He worked as a postal worker to provide for his wife and three children.

Daly herself graduated from Hunter College High School and then enrolled at Queens College in Flushing, New York. She graduated magna cum laude with a degree in chemistry in 1942 and initially started working as a laboratory assistant at the school.

Daly decided to continue her studies and applied for graduate work at New York University, where she received a fellowship to pursue a master’s degree. After earning her master’s in 1943, she received another fellowship to pursue her doctoral degree from Columbia University, working under the direction of Dr. Mary L. Caldwell, a pioneering chemist who focused on carbohydrate chemistry. Caldwell is certainly a trailblazer in her own right. After receiving her master’s degree and Ph.D. from Columbia, she began teaching at the university as an instructor in 1922. She was promoted to full professor in 1948, and was the first woman hired as a senior faculty member in chemistry at Columbia.

Daly earned her Ph.D. in 1948, with the thesis “A Study of the Products Formed by the Action of Pancreatic Amylase on Corn Starch.” Caldwell’s research group focused on the chemistry of the enzyme amylase, which converts starch into sugars. Thus, Caldwell played a pivotal role in supporting and mentoring a woman of color to succeed in STEM. In other words, women helping other women to be successful.

After completing her doctoral studies, Daly was hired as an instructor at Howard University, a historically black college in Washington, D.C., by Dr. Herman Branson, a renowned physicist and chemist.

That same year, she was awarded a grant from the American Cancer Society and began working in the research laboratory of Dr. Alfred E. Mirsky at the Rockefeller Institute, focusing on cancer research. This was a fruitful research collaboration leading to six peer-reviewed articles published in the Journal of General Physiology and the Journal of Biological Chemistry between 1949 and 1953.

In 1955, Daly returned to Columbia University, where she worked in the research laboratory of Dr. Quentin B. Deming. Her research efforts focused on the important relationship between cholesterol and heart attacks. This type of research effort has had a tremendous societal impact due to the ongoing efforts focused on treatment for cardiovascular diseases. Daly and Deming published three peer-reviewed papers during their research collaboration in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, the Journal of Clinical Investigation, and the Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine.

Over the course of her distinguished career, Daly held various prestigious positions, including working as an investigator for the American Heart Association. In 1960, she joined the faculty of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University as an assistant professor. Daly was promoted to associate professor of Biochemistry in 1971. She remained active in research focused on atherosclerosis and hypertension, publishing her efforts in the journals Circulation Research, Lipid Research, and the American Journal of Physiology.

In December 1975, Daly was one of 30 minority women scientists that attended a small conference hosted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, specifically addressing the challenges faced by minority women in the STEM disciplines. The conference led to a final report, “The Double Bind: The Price of Being a Minority Woman in Science,” co-authored by Shirley M. Malcom, Paula Quick Hall, and Janet Welsh Brown. The chairperson of the conference was Dr. Jewel Plummer Cobb, another Unsung STEM hero. Other conference attendees included Dr. Shirley A. Jackson, a physicist and current president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “The Double Bind” is significant because the report provided important recommendations for the recruitment and retention of minority women scientists, serving as yet another example of women helping other women in STEM.

Daly is known for being the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry. This, however, is not why she is important. Rather, by the time she retired in 1986, Daly had made important scientific contributions to the study of cardiovascular disease, which remains a viable and important area of research today. Daly died in New York City on October 28, 2003.

Sibrina Collins is an organometallic chemist and former writer and editor for the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C. In July, 2016, she became the first executive director of the Marburger STEM Center at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan.

This article was originally published on Undark. Read the original article.

How one Chicago principal is leaning on data to help black boys

How one Chicago principal is leaning on data to help black boys

Marilyn McCottrell. Photo by Adeshina Emmanuel

Test scores were rising at Fuller Elementary School when Marilyn McCottrell took over in 2016. Yet troubling trends loomed behind the numbers.

“A lot of growth has been made,” said McCottrell, Fuller’s third principal in six years. “But that growth is not equal among students.”

She’s talking about black boys.

Black girls had driven most of Fuller’s academic improvement since the 2012-13 school year, when Chicago Public Schools handed management of the Bronzeville school over to the non-profit Academy for Urban School Leadership, which replaced the staff and principal in a turnaround effort. Black boys had improved much slower. They got most of the school’s Ds and Fs, and were much less likely than girls to meet or approach expectations for college readiness on state tests.

PARCC Scores

Last school year, McCottrell and her staff crunched the data and made changes at Fuller to shorten the gaps between boys and girls. The stakes are high. Black boys, especially those from low-income households, are more prone than their sisters to falling behind in school and running into the juvenile criminal justice system. As adults, they are more likely to be arrested, imprisoned, or chronically unemployed. McCottrell believes what Fuller did, starting with painstakingly crunching data at the school, classroom and individual levels, could help other schools do better for black boys.

But she wants to be clear about something: Black boys don’t need to be “saved.”

“They need to be respected and appreciated for the differences and the unique gifts that they bring to the educational experience,” she said.

Fuller Elementary School students (from left)Tyrese Robinson-Guy, Terrell Johnson, and Jasean Waters at a community garden in Bronzeville. Photo by Adeshina Emmanuel

Fuller, a Level 1 school in good standing, occupies the corner of St. Lawrence Avenue and 42nd Street in Bronzeville. Nearly all of its 370 students are black and come from economically disadvantaged households. About half of the teachers are white, and about half are African-American. When CPS turned over management of Fuller, it was seeking to lift up a school that had been on academic probation five consecutive years. Fuller still has far to go. In 2017, only 10 percent of Fuller students were ready for the next level compared to 26 percent across the school district and 34 percent across the state. Growth has been above average, but, as McCottrell said, that growth hasn’t been equal.

PARCC Scores

Last August, McCottrell arrived at Fuller for a training session for teachers bearing handouts packed with data on black boys’ grades and test scores. Middle school reading teacher Arlicia McClain was shocked to see the stark disparities.

“It made me buck up and say I need to talk to these students,” she said. “I need to know what is going on that is preventing them from improving. Is it me? Is it something going on with them individually? Is it something they are missing?”

Girls’ math scores had increased by 193 percent compared with 90 percent for boys since the turnaround effort began in the 2012-13 school year. The gender performance gap was even more striking in reading, where black girls’ scores jumped 140 percent compared with 31 percent for boys.

As McClain and other teachers reflected on the numbers, they recounted their  own experiences in the classroom. For example, they could all name which students were removed from class the most for disciplinary reasons, and nearly all were black boys.

Arlicia McClain

PHOTO: Courtesy of Arlicia McClain Fuller Elementary School teacher Arlicia McClain.

McClain realized she tended to call on black girls more in class.

McClain, African-American herself, wondered if she was favoring girls or failing to challenge boys enough, and how that could affect their learning. She resolved to push black boys more during her second year at Fuller.

She also left the session with another big take-away: A lot of boys who wouldn’t participate in classroom-wide sessions engaged more in small groups. Wedding the data to her realizations has helped the young teacher come up with tailored approaches for struggling students.

“Look at them as individuals who want to learn, but who sometimes need the individualized attention to do that,” McClain said. “If you really are about the progression of black youth, you’re going to need to be individual-focused, and you’re going to need the data to do it.”

In the 2016-17 school year, for the subjects of English language arts and math, about 70 percent of all Ds and Fs at Fuller went to black boys.

In the first quarter of last school year, McCottrell and her staff revised Fuller’s grading policies in hopes of addressing the disparity.

They switched to what McCottrell called “a more equitable grading scale,” where the lowest a student could score is a 50, adopted a “no-opt out policy” for homework, so children who failed to turn in their homework by deadline wouldn’t automatically get a zero and had to make up assignments, and allowed students to redo certain parts of failed tests and quizzes after reteaching.

By the end of the first quarter, the numbers of Ds and Fs had decreased by nearly half.

But black boys were still getting about the same percent of them as before.

So McCottrell decided to go in for a closer look.

“The numbers only tell part of the story,” she said.

McCottrell ate with boys in the lunchroom. She played flag football with them at recess. She sat with them in class, assisted their teachers, and taught her own lessons across grades and subjects.

She talked to the boys — and listened.

Jasean Waters, 13, said he found it hard to focus on his school work.


Some distractions come from inside the classroom, like the bullies Jasean’s run into. Other distractions live in the world outside Fuller, like the gun violence whose victims are overwhelmingly black males.

“It’s a big struggle for us,” he said. “There’s a lot of people dying around here, so we gotta watch our backs, and when we’re walking home we feel like we’re unsafe, so we just focus on us being safe. It’s hard to focus on school.”

Boredom is another issue. Jasean said that he does well in math, but struggles sometimes with reading, and that his interest wanes with the lack of characters and authors he can relate to in school texts. That sounded familiar to McCottrell.  When she spoke with boys, she heard that school amounted to a seven-hour suppression of their personalities, interests, and voices — especially in reading and English classes, where black voices and black writers were missing.

“When kids have to pick a book for independent reading, they don’t relate to the characters in those classroom libraries,” she said. “It’s really hard coming to a class everyday when nothing relates to you.”

Parcc ScoresMcCottrell decided to teach an optional African-American literature class every Friday during a weekly “intervention time” for students needing help in reading and math  About 17 boys showed up on the first day and read excerpts from Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” whose protagonist proclaims, “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”

McCottrell said many of the boys could expertly analyze the Harlem Renaissance classic, because they related to the idea of not being heard, seen, or understood for who they really are. The students offered examples like the portrayal of black men in the media.

“Many of them were saying things like, ‘I’m not a gangbanger, but this is what people think I am, because I’m dark or because I’m tall,’” she said. “They talked about it in the context of their teachers not knowing who they are.”

The class soon doubled as word of mouth drew others in. Jasean, a C student at the start of the class, joined them. He said he learned things he hadn’t been introduced to before. He read about segregation, speeches by Martin Luther King, and books like “Bud, Not Buddy,” about a 10-year-old black orphan during the Great Depression.

He said he rededicated himself to doing 100 minutes of reading a night and by the end of last school year earned an A in reading. He said he raises his hand to ask and answer questions in class more.

“It feels good,” he said.

Jasean’s grandmother, local school council member Regina Waters, praised McCottrell’s hands-on approach with students and her efforts to build one-on-one relationships with the boys.

“She’s upfront with the kids, and she knows all the kids by name which is unusual in the short time she’s been there,” Waters said.

Fuller’s boys closed the gap with girls in several ways over last school year.

They went from getting 70 percent of the Ds and Fs in English and math to 60 percent. In 2016-17, 46 percent of boys compared with 55 percent of girls were on track, meaning they earned a C or higher in reading and math and had an attendance rate of at least 95 percent. In 2017-18, the percentage of boys on track increased by 23 percentage points compared to 19 points for girls. But sitting in her office at Fuller one day earlier this summer, McCottrell admitted something about her efforts for black boys.

“Nothing is solved,” she said.

Despite some progress last school year, when the 2018-19 school year starts, black boys at Fuller will still lag behind black girls. Forces outside of education like poverty, mass incarceration, and racial discrimination will continue to disadvantage black youth in ways that manifest in classrooms, where they land heaviest on black boys.

The odds aren’t yet even for black boys at McCottrell’s school, or at most schools across America. However, McCottrell believes that educators learned a lot that they can build on down the line.

Next year, McCottrell said she’s urging teachers to incorporate more of the black experience and black voices into lesson plans and to increase small-group instruction.

Teachers are having more data conferences with McCottrell and with each other to guide instruction and target specific students’ needs. McCottrell is also promoting more social-emotional learning techniques and restorative practices rather than punitive approaches to discipline, and incorporating cultural awareness and bias training into teachers’ professional development.

Marlene Aponte, the Academy for Urban School Leadership’s director of coaching,  said that in some ways Fuller’s story resembles other schools’ in the years after turnarounds. After focusing on rigorous instruction and ambitious growth targets,“we’re starting to really hone in on some of the pieces that we may have overlooked, such as gender bias, gender equity, access in equity,” she said.

McCottrell wants her boys to have the tools to succeed. She knows there are some issues that her school won’t be able to solve.

But it’s a start.

This story was originally published on Chalkbeat.com

Stacey Abrams still in it as Georgia governor’s race too close to call

Stacey Abrams still in it as Georgia governor’s race too close to call

Video Courtesy of CBS This Morning

Democrats and Republicans nationwide had their eyes trained on Georgia to see whether the emerging battleground state, would elect the first black woman governor in American history or double down on the Deep South’s GOP tendencies with an acolyte of President Donald Trump.

But they’ll have to wait a little longer.

Here’s a look at what’s happening in the contest, why Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams agree it’s not over and what it means in Georgia and beyond.


With more than 3.8 million votes counted, Kemp stood at 50.8 percent, enough for an outright victory under a quirky Georgia law requiring a majority to win a general election without a runoff. But Abrams and Kemp agree there are absentee, mail-in and provisional ballots left to be counted.

Not surprisingly, the two rivals differ on how much that will matter.

Says Kemp: “There are votes left to count, but … make no mistake, the math is on our side to win this election.”

Abrams says the number of pending ballots is enough to push Kemp’s total below the 50 percent threshold, since a Libertarian candidate is taking about 1 percent of the vote.

“I promise you tonight we’re going to make sure that every vote is counted,” Abrams added.

The Abrams campaign estimated early Wednesday at least 97,000 early votes and mail-in ballots from key counties had not been tallied, based on its tracking. Separately, it’s not yet clear how many provisional and paper ballots were cast at polling places on Tuesday. Neither the Kemp campaign nor Secretary of State Kemp’s office — he happens to be the state’s chief elections officer — has offered its detailed data.

Abrams’ campaign estimates she’d need a net gain of almost 25,000 votes to trigger a runoff, which would be held Dec. 4.


Abrams’ historic candidacy made this a race to watch from the start. She’s already the first black woman in U.S. history to be a major party’s gubernatorial nominee. In Georgia, one of the original 13 states, she’d be the first woman, and the first non-white governor. (Yes, that means nothing but white men for 242 years.)

Beyond breaking barriers, the matchup exhibits the nation’s bitter partisan, ideological divides and underscores the cultural and racial fissures still lingering in the Deep South.

Abrams is a 44-year-old lawyer, former state legislative leader and moonlighting romance novelist who campaigns as an unabashed liberal. She promises to expand Medicaid insurance coverage and prioritize spending on public education, while endorsing tighter gun regulations and criticizing President Donald Trump’s hard line on immigration.

Kemp is a 55-year-old, two-term secretary of state who’s echoed Trump’s immigration rhetoric. He’s flaunted his guns, chain saw and pickup truck in his campaign ads. He promises to “put Georgians first,” blasts “fake news” and lambastes Abrams as a tool of “socialists” and “liberal billionaires” who “want to turn Georgia into California.”

Both nominees framed the race as a “battle for the soul” of the state — a characterization supported by Georgians voting in numbers nearing their turnout for the 2016 presidential election.

The stakes are high enough that Trump and former President Barack Obama made opposing visits within 48 hours on the final weekend. Oprah Winfrey, the media icon who typically sits out politics, came to campaign for Abrams.

All this plays out in a Georgia on the cusp of becoming a true battleground state ahead of the 2020 presidential campaign. As governor, Kemp would be Trump’s biggest cheerleader in a state the president won by 5 percentage points in 2016. Abrams, as Georgia’s chief executive, would be among the most coveted endorsers in what’s likely to be a crowded Democratic field of aspiring presidents.


The counting was to continue Wednesday and perhaps beyond. In a race already fraught with racial innuendos surrounding the ballot access and voting system that Kemp runs, that process will likely be neither calm, nor quiet.

Abrams has called Kemp “an architect of voter suppression” for the way he’s managed voter registration rules and elections. In outlining the possibilities of a runoff, the campaign attributed an apparent rise in provisional and paper ballots to a shortage of reliable voting machines, and blamed Kemp for the lack of preparation.

Kemp has insisted he’s done his job, and argued that Abrams wants to help noncitizens vote illegally. He cited a speech in which she listed “undocumented” people as being part of her coalition.

But Kemp also had to admit within days of Tuesday’s voting that the online voter registration system he oversees was vulnerable to hackers. When a whistleblower alerted a voting rights lawyer who alerted the FBI and Kemp’s office of an apparent weakness, Kemp accused the Georgia Democratic Party, without offering evidence, of trying to tamper with the system.

Given that environment, it’s not unreasonable to wonder whether Kemp supporters would accept the legitimacy of a runoff or whether Abrams’ supporters would accept an outright Kemp victory.

How safe is your place of worship?

How safe is your place of worship?

Video Courtesy of CBN News

Many Americans may be wondering what security measures are in place at their place of worship after 11 people were killed in Oct. 27 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

President Donald Trump also alluded to this question when he said “the results would have been far better” if the Tree of Life congregation had armed guards or members.

According to news reports, the Tree of Life synagogue did not have armed guards present at the time of the shooting. Many community leaders rebuked Trump’s statements and argued that increasing armed security was not the solution.

We are a sociologist and criminologist who in 2015 conducted a national study of religious congregations’ experiences with, fears of and preparations for crime.

Our study, which was supported by the National Science Foundation, featured a survey of over 1,300 places of worship and in-depth interviews with more than 50 congregational leaders.

We asked each leader – individuals with significant knowledge of the congregation’s operations – about the congregation’s history of crime, its security measures, the individual’s assessment of future crime risk and fears, and a variety of questions about the congregation’s operations and neighborhood.

While the Tree of Life synagogue was not part of our study, the results of this work may hold useful insights for conversations about crime and security in places of worship. Here’s what we found.

Threats and fear

Crimes, most commonly vandalism and theft, were committed at about 40 percent of congregations in the year prior to the survey. This overall percentage was not significantly different across religious traditions.

When we dug deeper, though, we found that synagogues and mosques deal with crime-related problems that are much different than the average church.

Our survey found, for instance, that synagogues and mosques were three times more likely than congregations overall to have received an explicit threat in the prior year.

Respondents also reported significantly greater fear that congregants would be assaulted or murdered on the congregation’s property. This helps explain another pattern we found: Jewish and Muslim congregations are in many ways far ahead of congregations representing other religious traditions when it comes to thinking about and implementing security measures.

Security measures

The survey showed that 40 percent of congregations have in place at least four of the 18 security measures asked about in our survey. About 43 percent of congregations have an alarm system, 28 percent use security cameras, and 25 percent have taken steps to restrict the number of entries into their buildings.

Our interviews found that most places of worship have a hard time implementing security. Some of this is simply not enough money. Larger and wealthier congregations tend to have more security in place.

Beyond resources, our interviews consistently found that places of worship view security measures as a potential threat to their mission of creating a sacred space that is open to their communities.

However, our survey also found that synagogues and mosques were much more likely than the average congregation to have security cameras, restricted entry points, security guards and other security measures. For example, only 17 percent of all the congregations in our survey reported any use of security guards, whether full-time, part-time or for special events. This compares to just over 54 percent of synagogues and 28 percent of mosques. Synagogues are also more likely to have communicated with their local police.

Beyond the statistics, our in-depth interviews with leaders of congregations found that synagogues and mosques tend to put a great deal of thought into security. For synagogues in particular, our interviews found that local organizations are effective at sharing information and resources about security threats and strategies – for example, the Jewish Community Relations Councils.

Future steps

The U.S. must find ways to address the threats and violence against synagogues, mosques and other places of worship. In the meantime, congregations can evaluate their security risks and precautions.

The sparse resources of most congregations present some limitations, but there are steps they can take at little or no cost. For instance, congregations can assess whether entry points should be restricted to increase the ability of staff and members to observe who enters the building.

Congregations are not alone in these efforts. Many local police departments will conduct a security assessment for specific congregations or offer a workshop for multiple congregations. Furthermore, many congregations have members who have relevant skills, from installing new locks to setting up security cameras. Simply starting a conversation within your community can help your congregation identify these resources.The Conversation

Christopher P. Scheitle, Assistant Professor of Sociology, West Virginia University and Jeffery T. Ulmer, Professor of Sociology and Criminology, Pennsylvania State University

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

Urban Faith #YourVoteMatters Guide

Urban Faith #YourVoteMatters Guide

Michelle Obama:
When We All Vote

Video Courtesy of When We All Vote

Why this year’s midterm elections may be unprecedented

Video Courtesy of USA Today

The midterm elections are here! Black and brown people need to be #woke and on point — voter suppression is real. Bring your ID, even if you don’t think you’ll need it. No ID? VoteRiders can get you one. If there is a Black wave coming, we all need to be proactive. Are you registered to vote? Find out in 30 seconds at Vote.org. Need more information? The National Association of Secretaries of State has state-by-state information on where to vote. Some states allow you to register online.

Who’s on the ballot this year?

Not sure how to vote? These PDF downloads will get you up-to-speed:

Black and/or Civil Rights Voter Drives
Black Voters Matter Fund
Electoral Justice Project: The Movement for Black Lives
#Wokevote18: African American Voter Registration, Education, and Participation
NAACP Voter Registration
Your Vote Your Voice
When We All Vote

Did we miss one? Email us at [email protected].

Get a Free or Reduced Ride to the Polls
The Ride to Vote: Use Lyft to Exercise Your Rights


Urban Faith #YourVoteMatters Guide

Have you voted yet? We’ve got links to all the information you need to cast your ballot. Also, get the lowdown on why these midterm elections are so critical.

Legal decisions and a racist robocall in Georgia gov. race

Last-minute legal decisions, a racist robocall and a protester wearing a giant chicken suit holding a sign that reads “too chicken to debate.” These are the scenes playing out amid the final furious days of the hotly contested and historic race for Georgia governor between Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp.

Oprah, Trump, Obama: Georgia’s star-studded closing act

In the final days in one of the nation’s hottest governor’s races, Oprah Winfrey and President Donald Trump, as well as former Presidents Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter and Vice President Mike Pence, are trying to put their imprint on the Georgia election.

Georgia GOP governor candidate sued over voter registrations

Civil rights organizations have filed a federal lawsuit against Georgia Secretary of State and Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp, accusing his office of preventing minority voters from registering ahead of next month’s closely watched race.

The lessons after threats drive a black legislator to quit

Voters in this very liberal, very white state made Kiah Morris a pioneer when in 2014 they elected her as its first black female legislator. Two years later, another Vermont surfaced: racist threats that eventually forced her to leave office in fear and frustration.

4 Questions to Ask When Comparing Midterm Candidates

You’ve probably seen a fair amount of “horse race” coverage focusing on competition between rival candidates while downplaying policies and platforms. But if you know how to read these stories, it helps you understand what’s at stake for you and can even inform your own political participation.

Voter ID tied to lower turnout in Wisconsin

A recent PRRI/The Atlantic 2018 Voter Engagement Survey found that 5 percent of Wisconsin residents surveyed said they or someone in their household was told they lacked the proper documentation to vote.

The 98%: Black Women Organizing, Voting and Winning

The CBC Foundation panel explored the strategies that African American women are using to mobilize their communities and how their work is changing the face of government and our overall political landscape.

Where Are The Black Male Voter Mobilization Campaigns?

Roland Martin and Mark Thompson, host of SiriusXM’s “Make It Plain” discussed the lack of voter mobilization programs that specifically target African American men after the success of the push to mobilize Black women voters in Alabama.

Booker fuels 2020 talk with South Carolina Dem fundraiser

Fueling speculation about his White House ambitions, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker will headline a Democratic fundraiser in South Carolina, which hosts the South's first presidential primary. The Orangeburg County Democratic Party told The Associated Press that Booker...

Edwards wins; would be 1st black NH congressman

A candidate endorsed by the Trump administration has won the Republican nomination for a U.S. House seat in New Hampshire, and he’d be the state’s first black congressman if elected in November.

A TV God for the age of anxiety

A TV God for the age of anxiety

Joe Morton, left, and Brandon Micheal Hall star in “God Friended Me,” in which Hall’s character, Miles Finer — the atheist son of an Episcopal priest, played by Morton — receives a friend request from God on social media. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Wenk/CBS Broadcasting Inc.

Even in our present “golden age” of television, with the number of scripted programs on network, cable and streaming channels expected to top 500 this year, shows that feature religion or faith are scarce.

Rarer still are spiritually themed series that successfully find an audience, if not critical acclaim, amid the thrum of hundreds of other viewing options.

Those shows seem to come along perhaps once a decade — “7th Heaven” in the 2000s, “Touched by an Angel” in the ’90s, “Highway to Heaven” in the ’80s, “The Flying Nun” in the late ’60s through the early ’70s.

Then this fall, the new CBS hourlong dramedy “God Friended Me” premiered to such impressive ratings that the network gave a full-season order for it after only three episodes. Its surprise success has caused some media watchers to wonder whether we’re on the cusp of a religion renaissance on the small screen.

“It’s cyclical,” said Jeffrey Mahan, a professor of religion and communication at Iliff School of Theology in Denver and author of “Media, Religion and Culture: An Introduction.” “It’s not random. We get them in response to something.”

After 9/11 came shows such as “Survivor,” “Fear Factor” and “Lost,” which reflected the existential crises and angst experienced by many Americans, said Craig Detweiler, president of the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology and author of several books about the intersection of faith and culture, including “A Matrix of Meanings: Finding God in Pop Culture.”

“Now we have so much existential dread generated by the fear industry that is network news and is thriving in the Trump era — they’re pushing that fear button every day — that we have shows that have to wrestle with despair and ultimate questions,” Detweiler said.

The wildly popular apocalyptic visions of “The Walking Dead,” for instance, are a “perfectly rational response” to what feels like a kill-or-be-killed era, Detweiler said. “Or the visions of the afterlife that started with a show like ‘The Leftovers’ on HBO and that continue with ‘The Good Place’ or ‘Forever’ in a more accessible way. The questions are still the same: Are we living in hell? Do things get better?”

In the face of societal anxiety, Mahan believes, TV shows that depict divine or supernatural intervention are a comfort. “The genre … says God is in his heaven and all’s right with the world, God is attentive, God is jerking people back from in front of the subway train, God has a partner for you,” he said.

Whether for dramatic or comedic effect (and with varying degrees of artistry and efficacy), in troubled times, mainstream television seems to experience an uptick in programs featuring celestial or superhuman beings interacting with humankind, or mere mortals wrestling with eternal conundrums.

Since the 2016 presidential election, for instance, shows such as “Kevin (Probably) Saves the World,” “Living Biblically” and “Lucifer” have come and gone from network television (although after Fox canceled “Lucifer” in May, Netflix has picked it up for a fourth season to air next year.)

Cable and myriad streaming channels have proffered grittier shows with spiritual themes and settings to slake an audience’s thirst for metaphysical solace or intrigue, including “The Path” on Hulu, “The Leftovers” and “The Young Pope” on HBO, “Preacher” on AMC, “Call the Midwife” on PBS and “Greenleaf” on Oprah’s OWN network.

For the last decade or two, spiritual and religious content in mainstream television programming, while certainly remaining a minority, has run the genre gamut from the serious (“Big Love,” “Joan of Arcadia,” “Saving Grace”) to the silly (“Jane the Virgin,” “John from Cincinnati,” “Impastor,” “GCB,” “The O’Neals”) and the earnest-if-twee heavenly-hosts oeuvre (“Touched…” “Highway…” “7th…”).

Most never find an audience robust enough to keep them on the air for more than a season or two. But sometimes a dark-horse show appears in the right place at the right time.

From left to right: Violett Beane as Cara Bloom, Brandon Micheal Hall as Miles Finer and Suraj Sharma as Rakesh Singh appear in an episode of “God Friended Me.” Photo courtesy of Michele Crowe/CBS Broadcasting Inc.

Over at CBS this fall, God is having a moment.

“God Friended Me” chronicles the adventures of the atheist son of an Episcopal priest who’s dispatched by a Facebook user who goes by the handle “God” to rescue perfect strangers. The supporting cast includes Jewish, Hindu and Muslim characters. Its Sept. 30 debut earned a 1.4 Nielsen rating and drew 10.4 million viewers — noteworthy, particularly given the show’s subject matter: faith, doubt and the nature of the divine (if it does, in fact, exist).

It’s an unorthodox programming mix for mainstream TV, for sure, and it’s also one of the most highly rated new dramas on television.

For more nuanced and robust exploration of those themes, Mahan said he looks to popular shows that dip into the faith arena for an episode or two, or in the secondary story arc of a larger narrative.

Think of Kathryn Hahn’s character, Rabbi Raquel Fein, and the various Pfefferman family members’ wrestling with Judaism and the nature of faith itself in Amazon Studios’ “Transparent,” or the earthy faith of Jenifer Lewis’ sassy grandmother character Ruby Johnson — “Black Jesus, Black Jesus!” — on ABC’s “Black-ish,” which dedicated a whole episode to the Johnson family’s experiences at a white hipster evangelical church.

Or the multi-seasonal storyline on “The Americans” when the teenage daughter of Russian spies living in Washington, D.C., rebels by becoming a born-again Christian and sharing the family secret with her youth pastor.

“I think we tend to get better episodic dealing with religion than we get from the shows that have a big commitment to proving that religion, particularly Christian religion, is good,” Mahan said.

What you rarely find are series that revolve around a religious community (although “Call the Midwife,” set in part among the nurse-midwives and members of an Anglican religious order in 1960s London, is a notable exception) or with a lead character or characters who are clergypersons or for whom faith is the grounding motivation for how they live.

The million-dollar question, then, is why not?

“It just doesn’t rate — not a big enough audience,” said Julie Piepenkotter, executive vice president of research for FX Networks. “And it certainly goes against the edgier fare that seems so popular now…. Nobody sets out to make a mediocre-rated show. It’s hard enough to do with shows that aren’t hampered by treacliness that is not in vogue.”

Shows that attempt to put a relentlessly positive spin on religion or faith in general will find it nearly impossible to find purchase in the era of “Under His Eye” and the dystopian nightmares of “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “American Horror Story: Apocalypse,” she said.

Jonathan Bock, founder and CEO of Grace Hill Media, which specializes in marketing faith-based content in film and television, places part of the blame for the dearth of artful, thoughtful spiritual content on TV on the audience itself.

“For the most part right now, American Christians like the world portrayed as it should be, not as it is,” Bock said. “That’s why you have a lot of ‘Christian’ movies where a nice person becomes nicer, and it works because it’s only 90 minutes…. But on television that’s hard to sustain” without sex, violence and moral quandaries that make some Christians uncomfortable.

They don’t want messy. They don’t want moral ambiguity. But what makes one group of the faithful nervous is precisely what most intrigues another.

“What I’d like to see is progressive religiosity that thinks that faith matters, that having a ritualized or a spiritual practice is sustaining in the midst of a life where God is not in control of everything and bad stuff happens,” Mahan said. “Whether there’s any kind market for a story like that is a whole other question.”

For a spiritually themed TV show to succeed, Piepenkotter said, it would need to go deeper than superficial niceties and be controversial. Ultimately, that is up to the people who create the character and the narrative.

“You have to find the writers who want to tell those stories and have the ability to tell them well, with multilayered characters, complex characters, relationships and execution,” she said. “I want to see what’s behind that curtain. I want to see a level of hypocrisy that I see from the outside looking in.… That’s probably a really interesting show.”

Legal decisions and a racist robocall in Georgia gov. race

Legal decisions and a racist robocall in Georgia gov. race

Last-minute legal decisions, a racist robocall and a protester wearing a giant chicken suit holding a sign that reads “too chicken to debate.”

These are the scenes playing out amid the final furious days of the hotly contested and historic race for Georgia governor between Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp.

A robocall apparently from a white supremacist group is injecting racism directly into the race, which has already been fraught with a race-laden debate over ballot access and voter suppression. Abrams would be the first black female governor in U.S. history. Kemp, who oversees elections as Georgia’s secretary of state, vehemently denies charges that he’s used his office to make it harder for minorities to vote.

Abrams and Kemp are both condemning an automated telephone call filled with racist and anti-Semitic statements. The call, sent to an unknown number of Georgians, impersonates Oprah Winfrey, the billionaire media titan who came to Georgia on Thursday to support Abrams.

The robocall says it was paid for by The Road to Power, a group organized by Scott Rhodes of Idaho. He has been linked to several other racist robocalls, including a recent effort in Florida, where Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum would become the first black governor in his state’s history.

Kemp issued a statement calling the tactic “vile” and “contrary to the highest ideals of our state and country,” and condemning “any person or organization that peddles this type of unbridled hate and unapologetic bigotry.”

The Abrams camp likewise blasted the move but took a shot at Kemp and his highest profile supporter, President Donald Trump, who is coming to Georgia to campaign Sunday. A top Abrams aide said both Kemp and Trump have contributed to a poisonous atmosphere, and that Kemp has been silent on previous racially loaded attacks on Abrams.

“These automated calls are being sent into homes just days before President Trump arrives, reminding voters exactly who is promoting a political climate that celebrates this kind of vile, poisonous thinking,” said Abrams’ spokeswoman Abigail Collazo.

Abrams sidestepped the issue Saturday in brief public remarks as she greeted voters at an Atlanta shopping complex along with her local congressman, civil rights icon John Lewis.

“Georgia has long been on a path of change and evolution,” Abrams said. But she also said the election is about issues like expanding Medicaid insurance and focusing state spending on public education, job training and small business startups.

“I’m the only candidate with a plan to get that done and to do that without vitriol, without vilifying people,” she added.

Lewis, the 78-year-old congressman who as a young man was severely beaten by police as he fought for voting rights in the Jim Crow South, put Georgia’s choice in the broadest context: “This young lady is playing a major role in helping liberate all of us, liberate the state of Georgia, liberate the South, liberate America.”

Kemp did not address the robocalls at his only scheduled campaign stop Saturday at a Cuban restaurant in a diverse north-Atlanta suburb.

Kemp told the packed crowd of supporters that the race for governor was a simple choice: one between continued economic prosperity under Republican leadership, or a turn to “socialism” under Democrats.

Kemp said the election was about “this generation and generations to come and the kind of state that we leave them.” He then blasted Abrams’ policy pitches on health care and education.

The Kemp event was also hit by a number of protesters. Two men protesting Kemp’s immigration policy while Kemp was onstage were forcibly removed from the restaurant.

As a TV crew from MSNBC tried to film the hecklers being removed, a Kemp supporter physically blocked their path and the view of their lens.

And someone out front was wearing a giant chicken suit holding a sign that reads “too chicken to debate,” alluding to Kemp withdrawing from a debate scheduled Sunday in favor of appearing in Macon with President Donald Trump.

Much of the final stretch of the race was consumed by a bitter battle over race and access to the polls.

Tensions grew after an Associated Press report in early October that more than 53,000 voter applications — nearly 70 percent of them from black applicants — were on hold with Kemp’s office ahead of the election.

Many of the applications were flagged for failing to pass the state’s “exact match” verification process, which requires that identification information on voter registration applications precisely match information already on file.

Kemp’s office says that eligible voters on the “pending” list can still vote if they bring a proper ID that substantially matches their registration information. He called the controversy “manufactured.”

But critics say county officials aren’t always trained to make the proper determination and the system can be particularly hard to navigate for recently naturalized citizens.

In response to a lawsuit brought by civil rights groups, a judge on Friday ruled the state unfairly burdens about 3,100 possible voters whose registration was flagged for citizenship issues.

She ruled that Georgia must immediately start allowing poll managers — not just deputy registrars — to clear flagged voters who show proof of citizenship.

In a statement, Kemp said the lawsuit forced the state “to waste time and taxpayer dollars for the judge to tell us to do something that we already do.”

The soundtrack of the Sixties demanded respect, justice and equality

The soundtrack of the Sixties demanded respect, justice and equality


The Supremes, with their polished performances and family-friendly lyrics, helped to bridge a cultural divide and temper racial tensions.

When Sly and the Family Stone released “Everyday People” at the end of 1968, it was a rallying cry after a tumultuous year of assassinations, civil unrest and a seemingly interminable war.

“We got to live together,” he sang, “I am no better and neither are you.”

Throughout history, artists and songwriters have expressed a longing for equality and justice through their music.

Before the Civil War, African-American slaves gave voice to their oppression through protest songs camouflaged as Biblical spirituals. In the 1930s, jazz singer Billie Holiday railed against the practice of lynching in “Strange Fruit.” Woody Guthrie’s folk ballads from the 1930s and 1940s often commented on the plight of the working class.

But perhaps in no other time in American history did popular music more clearly reflect the political and cultural moment than the soundtrack of the 1960s – one that exemplified a new and overt social consciousness.

That decade, a palpable energy slowly burned and intensified through a succession of events: the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War.

By the mid-1960s, frustration about the slow pace of change began to percolate with riots in multiple cities. Then, in 1968, two awful events occurred within months of each other: the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy.

Through it all, there was the music.

Coming of age during this time in Northern California, I had the opportunity to hear some of the era’s soundtrack live – James Brown, Marvin Gaye, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and The Doors.

At the same time, virtually everyone in the African-American community was directly connected in some way or another to the civil rights movement.

Every year, I revisit this era in an undergraduate class I teach on music, civil rights and the Supreme Court. With this perspective as a backdrop, here are five songs, followed by a playlist that I share with my students.

While they offer a window into the awakening and reckoning of the times, the tracks have assumed a renewed relevance and resonance today.

Blowin’ in the Wind,” Bob Dylan, 1963

First made a hit by the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary, the song signaled a new consciousness and became the most covered of all Dylan songs.

The song asks a series of questions that appeal to the listener’s moral compass, while the timeless imagery of the lyrics – cannonballs, doves, death, the sky – evoke a longing for peace and freedom that spoke to the era.

As one critic noted in 2010:

“There are songs that are more written by their times than by any individual in that time, a song that the times seem to call for, a song that is just gonna be a perfect strike rolled right down the middle of the lane, and the lane has already been grooved for the strike.”

This song – along with others such as “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and “Chimes of Freedom” – are among the reasons Bob Dylan received the Nobel Prize in Literature.

A Change is Gonna Come,” Sam Cooke, 1964

During a 1963 tour in the South, Cooke and his band were refused lodging at a hotel in Shreveport, Louisiana.

African Americans routinely faced segregation and prejudice in the Jim Crow South, but this particular experience shook Cooke.

So he put pen to paper and tackled a subject that represented a departure for Cooke, a crossover artist who made his name with a series of Top 40 hits.

The lyrics reflect the anguish of being an extraordinary pop headliner who nonetheless needs to go through a side door.

Singer Sam Cooke stands next to a huge reproduction of his head on the roof of a Manhattan building.
AP Photo

Showcasing Cooke’s gospel roots, it’s a song that painfully and beautifully captures the edge between hope and despair.

“It’s been a long, a long time coming,” he croons. “But I know a change is gonna come.”

Sam Cooke, in composing “A Change is Gonna Come,” was also inspired by Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”: According to Cooke’s biographer, upon hearing Dylan’s song, Cooke “was almost ashamed to have not written something like that himself.”

Come See About Me,” The Supremes, 1964

This was one of my favorites of their songs at the time – upbeat, fun and necessarily “unpolitical.”

The Supremes’ record label, Motown, played an important role bridging a cultural divide during the civil rights era by catapulting black musicians to global stardom.

The Supremes were the Motown act with arguably the broadest appeal, and they paved the way for other black artists to enjoy creative success as mainstream acts.

Through their 20 top-10 hits and 17 appearances from 1964 to 1969 on CBS’ popular weekly live program “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the group had a regular presence in the living rooms of black and white families across the country.

Say it Loud – I’m Black And I’m Proud,” James Brown, 1968

James Brown – the self-proclaimed “hardest working man in show business” – built his reputation as an entertainer par excellence with brilliant dance moves, meticulous staging and a cape routine.

But with “Say it Loud – I’m Black And I’m Proud,” Brown seemed to be consciously delivering a starkly political statement about being black in America.

The track’s straightforward, unadorned lyrics allowed it to quickly become a black pride anthem that promised “we won’t quit movin’ until we get what we deserve.”

Respect,” Aretha Franklin, 1967

If I could choose only one song to represent the era it would be “Respect.”

It’s a cover of a track previously written and recorded by Otis Redding. But Franklin makes it wholly her own. From the opening lines, the Queen of Soul doesn’t ask for respect; she demands it.

The song became an anthem for the black power and women’s movements.

As Franklin explained in her 1999 autobiography:

“It was the need of a nation, the need of the average man and woman in the street, the businessman, the mother, the fireman, the teacher – everyone wanted respect. It was also one of the battle cries of the civil rights movement. The song took on monumental significance.”

Of course, these five songs can’t possibly do the decade’s music justice.

Some other tracks that I share with my students and count among my favorites include Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence,” Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction” and Lou Rawls’ “Dead End Street.”The Conversation

Michael V. Drake, President, The Ohio State University

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

Ethiopians Make Progress Restoring Precious Church Forests

Ethiopians Make Progress Restoring Precious Church Forests

  • In Meket – a district in Ethiopia’s Amhara National Regional State (ANRS) – efforts are underway to restore what experts say is one of the more severely deforested and degraded regions in the country.
  • Of the land in ANRS, less than 2 percent forested land remains, and efforts are underway to restore degraded and deforested areas.
  • In 2016, Ethiopia turned to forestry sector development projects in the form of short rotation planting and rehabilitation of degraded lands in ANRS and other districts.

DEBRETABOR, Ethiopia – At a tree nursery in Ethiopia’s Meket district, young men and women pack small plastic bags with soil. The indigenous and exotic species grown here were previously sown directly into the earth, but the growth efficiency was less than 50 percent, according to Melak Dagnew, a forest development project coordinator in the country’s Meket district.

With the introduction of the plastic bags, into which the seedlings are first planted, and a consistent regimen of post-plantation care — watering, weeding, adding compost — the efficiency rate has risen to 93 percent, Dagnew says, and the trees have grown as much as 5 meters (16 feet) in just a year.

“Soil erosion, land degradation and, as a result, a reduction of productivity were observed widely,” says Dagnew. Meket is one of the four districts in Ethiopia’s Amhara National Regional State (ANRS) where land restoration pilot projects are being carried out.

“The lack of forest products like fuelwood, wood for fencing and housing purposes for the community were observed because of population increase followed by the consumption of natural forests in a short period of time,” he said.

Known for its densely populated highlands and rain-dependent agriculture, the ANRS is one of the more severely deforested and degraded regions in the country. Recent studies show that out of 157,000 square kilometers (60,600 square miles) of land, less than 2 percent is covered by forest.

An analysis of forest coverage by Ethiopia’s Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Climate Change found that nearly 12,000 square kilometers (4,600 square miles) of forest — an area half the size of the island of Sicily — was lost between 2000 and 2013.

Students of the church live in small huts around the church's land. Photo by Maheder Haileselassie Tadese for Mongabay.
Students of the church live in small huts around the church’s land. Photo by Maheder Haileselassie Tadese for Mongabay.

Only 2,460 square kilometers (950 square miles) of forest cover was gained, making the forest sector one of the top contributors to domestic greenhouse gas emissions. By pledging to restore 150,000 square kilometers (58,000 square miles) of its degraded and deforested land by 2025, an area half the size of Arizona, Ethiopia has joined the global movement toward forest landscape restoration, or FLR.

Just over a fifth of that figure, or 34,000 square kilometers (13,100 square miles), has recently been identified as suitable for reforestation.

Native vs. non-native trees

The landscape in Meket district is rugged and highly degraded, and ranges in altitude from 1,200 to 3,000 meters (3,900 to 9,800 feet). Since 2016, it’s been among the districts where forestry sector development projects have been implemented in the form of short rotation planting and rehabilitation of degraded lands.

The species planted here include the naturally occurring African juniper (Juniperus procera), wild olive (Olea africana) and flat top acacia (Acacia abyssinica). Non-native varieties include Tasmanian bluegum (Eucalyptus globulus), river red gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) and Mexican cypress (Cupressus lusitanica).

Of the indigenous seedlings that are planted, 35 percent are fast-growing species and 30 percent are slow-growth varieties. Despite the considerable effort being invested to promote native plants, farmers who need fuelwood for income and for construction purposes favor non-native plants like eucalyptus, which reach maturity for cutting quickly and can grow back up to four times faster than some native species after the initial cut.

Part of a secured land for restoration in Meket, Amhara region. Photo by Maheder Haileselassie Tadese for Mongabay.
Part of a secured land for restoration in Meket, Amhara region. Photo by Maheder Haileselassie Tadese for Mongabay.

But this expediency comes at a cost. Eucalyptus trees are known to affect soil conditions, groundwater and the overall biological diversity of the areas in which they occur. Yet despite this, studies show that 90 percent of plantations in Ethiopia are covered by these species, favored for their fast-growing nature, rotation periods and market demand.

Tree selection isn’t the only challenge facing the reforestation effort. Other factors identified by researchers earlier this year include weed infestations and the spread of grazing and farmland. Shallow soil depths and scarcity of moisture in Meket district have also been obstacles.

On the other hand, the reforestation projects have hindered the free movement of area locals and their livestock herds.

In total, 165 square kilometers (64 square miles) from four restoration sites and 12 square kilometers (4.6 square miles) from half a dozen plantation sites have been undertaken in the last two to three years in Meket district alone. After the progress here and in other forestry sector development projects, the scope has grown. An initial slate of nine projects has expanded to 54 nationwide. The Amhara region remains at the forefront, with 24 reforestation projects.

A way forward

Mainly dependent on agriculture, Ethiopia’s economy is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Already it has suffered from recurring droughts and food security woes. The government has taken several steps toward combating these impacts, including the launch of the Climate Resilient Green Economy (CRGE) policy in 2011, aimed at building a zero-net-emissions economy by 2030 while maintaining the high growth rate needed to attain middle-income status by 2025.

This October, the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Climate Change launched a 10-year road map for the forest sector, in collaboration with several nongovernmental partner institutions.

Perimeter of Debresena church near Debretabor, Ethiopia. Photo by Maheder Haileselassie Tadese for Mongabay.
Perimeter of Debresena church near Debretabor, Ethiopia. Photo by Maheder Haileselassie Tadese for Mongabay.

Tefera Mengistu, a coordinator for the ministry’s Forest Sector Development Program, said five pillars were included in the road map: enabling environment; sustainable forest production and value chain; forest and rural livelihood; forest and environmental functions; and forest and urban greening. Unlike REDD+, which focuses mainly on reducing emissions from degradation and deforestation, the road map is concerned about the forest sector in general.

Land restoration and improvement of biodiversity get due emphasis under the pillar of forest and environmental functions, aimed at meeting the country’s commitment for the restoration of 150,000 square kilometers of land.

An alternative hope for farmers

Just outside the plant nursery, Asrat Haile, 61, weeds his farm where he hopes in a few months to start harvesting teff, the food grain used to make injera, Ethiopia’s national dish. To supplement his income, Haile also works as a security guard for one of the restoration sites in Meket district. Since it’s a rural area, it’s common for people to take a side job to gain more income.

Farmers cut grass and shrub fodder for their livestock. Photo by Maheder Haileselassie Tadese for Mongabay.
Farmers cut grass and shrub fodder for their livestock. Photo by Maheder Haileselassie Tadese for Mongabay.

“All this terrain had no tree coverage and was severely degraded. But it’s coming back to life now that the project started.” Haile says, recalling the floods that followed during the rainy season because of the eroded soil and the severely degraded mountainous landscape. “I no longer see the water coming down.”

He and other farmers who make up to 61 percent of the earned income in the district are excited that the project includes many people living in poverty and creates employment opportunities. They plant the seedlings grown in the nurseries, both native and non-native trees. As the trees take root in their woodlots, they serve both as a source of fuelwood and timber, and as shade to rest under. Thousands of young men and women are now employed at sites for pitting, planting, watering and other post-plantation management.

In an effort to reduce wood cutting for fuel and construction purposes, the project has distributed hundreds of fuel-saving stoves and solar lights to households that have demonstrated the best performance throughout the project activities. The project also allows livestock farmers to enter areas secured for restoration to collect grass and shrubs for fodder during the January-May dry season.

There are other benefits.

On a nearby hill covered with bright yellow indigenous flowers locally known as adey abebaBidens macroptera), trained farmers gather at a beekeeping site that’s part of the reforestation project. They are able to produce up to 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of honey each year from a single hive.

“People were skeptical of the project at first,” says Dagnew, the project coordinator. “Drought and intensive grazing were identified to be major problems.” It took numerous discussions with the community before a mutual understanding was reached and the local people started to accept the projects.

They represent not just an economic advantage for the farmers, surrounded by harsh terrain, but also protection for the land against erosion and flooding. That also improves crop yield and productivity along the way.

The role of the church

The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church has more than 40 million followers and over 35,000 churches all over the country, known for the old forests that envelop them. Even as the rest of the country consistently lost forest coverages over decades, it is in the vicinity of these churches where more than 200 of its last surviving indigenous tree species and remaining biodiversity are found.

Alemayheu Wassie, a leading researcher on the topic of church forests, was born and raised in the Amhara region’s South Gondar zone, where there are more than 1,400 church forests. He began his research in 2002 and has since then published more than 20 scientific papers focusing on the conservation and restoration of church forests. Five years ago, he led a project to build walls around or mark for protection 15 church forests carefully selected based on their high biodiversity and indigenous species.

One of these churches stands atop a hill in South Gondar. Known as Debresena it was established in the first half of the 16th century. The church forest contains 34 different tree species on just 11.5 hectares (28 acres) of land. But until a recent demarcation measure undertaken by Wassie and his team, it had been under severe pressure from intensive livestock grazing. This was followed by the planting of eucalyptus trees to replace the dominant indigenous trees such as hachitu (Dicrocephala integrifolia) and maget (Trifolium sp.).

Seedlings planted and grown in plastic bags have a high success rate. Photo by Maheder Haileselassie Tadese for Mongabay.
Seedlings planted and grown in plastic bags have a high success rate. Photo by Maheder Haileselassie Tadese for Mongabay.

“Upon consultation with the community, we found the construction of stone walls on the perimeter of the church to be the easiest way of protecting the forest,” Wassie says. Stone walls are preferred because materials are easily available, there is potential for plants to grow in between the stones, and they are tough for cattle to push down. Whenever stone is unavailable for building walls, an artificial demarcation between the roads and farmlands and the church forest is used.

Once the area closure or demarcation is done, the local people are reluctant to encroach. As a result, a visible difference in terms of both quality and forest coverage area has developed. The difference is especially stark when compared to other church forests in the area where demarcation measures were not taken.

Forests have long been an important companion of the churches. They signify the dignity and prestige of the church and provide a tranquil atmosphere for the hermits and monks who live and contemplate in them. Many churches are built on hills, and the forest surrounding them helps to prevent wind and floods. Additionally, in early Ethiopian and church history, inks made from roots, leaves and flowers of various plants were used to draw paintings and produce books.

Changing times

According to Wassie, intensive livestock grazing and the increased need of farmers for more land to plow are the two major factors endangering the church forests of Ethiopia. The former hampers the regeneration of seeds by leaving no room for new trees to replace older ones, while the latter significantly reduces the forest coverage area.

With his persistent efforts and funding from the Florida-based Tree Foundation, Wassie was able to enclose more than a dozen churches in South Gondar. However, he says he’s concerned that, despite his repeated appeals, both church and government administrations won’t pay heed to the conservation and restoration work needed for church forests.

But there are also churches that are focused mainly on rotation plantation and self-sustainability, in addition to conserving what’s already there. Tsegur Michael Church is one of the many found in South Gondar that was established hundreds of years ago.

Melakesahel Kindu Kassahun, 52, is head of the church and the person in charge of overseeing all the decisions regarding the forest at Tsegur Michael. He says that 20 years ago the church asked the community for the surrounding land. The local people agreed, even though they grazed their cattle on the land.

Part of a Eucalpytus tree. Photo by Maheder Haileselassie Tadese for Mongabay.
Part of a Eucalpytus tree. Photo by Maheder Haileselassie Tadese for Mongabay.

Since then, the church has busied itself with planting eucalyptus for sale. The income generated from these trees pays for the salaries of the clergy and the purchase of items for the church, thus making the church self-sustaining and productive.

In addition to eucalyptus, they also plant trees Mexican cypress and grevillea that have a longer life cycle. The difference is that the trees for sale are planted outside the main compound of the church, because no cutting is permitted inside.

“It was first fenced to provide protection for the graveyard,” Kassahun says. Today, the fence that was meant to protect the dead has given life to the forest within.

Once a year after the completion of the Sunday mass service, an announcement is made for the farmers, reminding them to participate on terrace work at the plantation site, starting with the sections that are prone to erosion. This is followed by planting trees.

Unlike the conservation projects initiated by government policies and various nonprofit organizations in many parts of the country, the work that goes on at many of these church forests are initiated by the church and the community itself.

“[Church] forests are stepping stones and boot disks for the land restoration work that’s currently happening in different parts of the country.” Wassie says. “They will be the starting point if we wish to restore our previous natural forest.”

This article was originally published on Mongabay.

7 ways to teach civil discourse to students

7 ways to teach civil discourse to students

Students Speak Up: What Bias Means to Them

Video Courtesy of Education Week

If young people are to engage in democracy and society, young people need to learn how to respectfully disagree. Yet, educators often find it challenging to lead discussions on contentious issues.

Based on my experience as a middle school social studies educator, I’ve discovered that there are ways teachers and others who work with young people can show them how to deal effectively and respectfully with controversial topics – as well as what controversial topics to take up. Though the list of seven ideas I have created below were designed with educators in mind, they are applicable beyond the classroom.

1. Avoid personal attacks

In my former classroom, we had a mantra: “We address the ideas, we don’t attack the person.” When a person feels attacked, they stop listening.

Collectively determine what respect looks and feels like within these types of discussions. For example, a student may raise their voice as they passionately discuss a topic, but that can be perceived as yelling. Have a conversation on students prior to discussion on tone, style and how to engage in a topic when it becomes heated.

The educator’s role as a facilitator is to ensure that students maintain respect for their peers as they passionately express themselves. Making this investment will pay off tremendously for any discussion you have, whether in a classroom or another venue. If young people don’t feel like their viewpoints will be heard and respected, they will likely not speak up.

2. Try easy topics first

Before you dive into a more contentious topic, practice the skills of debate and disagreement with a topic such as school uniforms or cellphone use in classrooms.

A critical element of disagreement must also be empathy. Lived experiences often shape beliefs. Allow young people to share their experiences and their rationale. You may not agree, but you can be sensitive and try to understand their perspective. Remind students to seek to understand without focusing on being right.

3. Introduce familiar as well as new topics

To engage students, select social issues that young people are passionate about. This allows them to utilize their own experiences and knowledge as a frame of reference. It’s important that you truly know and ask your students what they’re interested in. Do not make assumptions. At the same time, recognize that there are topics or issues students may not aware of such as racism, global warming, indigenous and LGBTQ struggles for justice, and that this can be an opportunity to introduce them to narratives outside of their lived experiences or interests.

Be mindful when discussing issues that are connected to young people’s lived experience. Understand that certain topics can evoke strong emotions.

4. Keep discussions structured

Effective discussions are structured, whether it is a formal debate or Socratic seminar where students facilitate their own learning through group discussion rooted in shared texts or sources. No matter the format, establish and communicate clear rules. This will make it easier for you as a facilitator to enforce the rules of engagement and respect.

5. Have students prepare

Students should be prepared for the discussion, which means they should have read, viewed and researched multiple sources on the topic. It’s important to emphasize that students understand the topic from various viewpoints. Allowing time for students to prepare will ensure that all students will be able to contribute and engage in the discussion.

6. Take politics head on

Election season provides an array of topics to analyze, which will provide lots of material to inform student opinions for the discussion. With the midterms, students can discuss and evaluate candidate platforms as they relate to various social issues and their proposals for change. Ballot measures and amendments such as abortion in West Virginia, transgender rights in Massachusetts, and voting rights in Florida are vital to evaluate as well. Have students read and question the ballot. There are many social issues embedded within ballot measures and examining them prepares students to be informed voters when they are a little older. The midterms can serve as a springboard, but you can continue having these discussions throughout the school year.

7. Examine social movements

A police officer leads an arrested National Woman’s Party protester away from a woman’s suffrage bonfire demonstration at the White House in 1918. Everett Historical/www.shutterstock.com

The complexities of social movements such as women’s suffrage and civil rights are not highlighted enough in middle school and high school curricula. There is usually a focus on leaders and not the long-term collective actions of individuals.

Examining historical and contemporary social movements like pro-choice and pro-life, Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter, and the LGBTQ movement, provides fertile ground for diverse individual and collective perspectives of an issue. Students can analyze the websites, news articles of social movements, or engage in a pro/con exercise to grapple with perspectives of a social issue. Questions can be posed to students such as: “Why are people organizing?” or “How does each group see the issue differently?” You could facilitate writing projects to legislators and activists or design a research project where students investigate the purpose, perspective and civic actions of a social movement. A lot of insight can be gleaned from social movements that can enhance discussions. More importantly, young people can find ways to engage in civic action themselves beyond the classroom.The Conversation

Tiffany Mitchell Patterson, Assistant Professor of Secondary Social Studies, West Virginia University

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

Publishing in Color Conference for under-represented Spiritual Writers

Publishing in Color Conference for under-represented Spiritual Writers

Publishing in Color seeks to increase the number of books published by groups of writers who are currently under-represented. 


We are excited that our conference in Chicagoland will be starting soon! Below is important information to help you get the most out of the conference.

Location: Elmhurst Christian Reformed Church, 149 West Brush Hill Road, Elmhurst, IL 60126. Phone: 630-600-5100

Registration and 1-on-1 Meeting Sign-up: Onsite registration for the main conference opens at 1:30 PM on Thursday Nov. 8. Refreshments will be available. Arrive promptly in order to have the best selection of the limited 1-on-1 meetings available. Please remember that 1-on-1 meetings are simply informal chats; they are not intended to be manuscript review sessions, and speakers are not obligated to follow up after the meeting.

In addition to our speakers, three additional Acquisitions Editors will be joining us for 1-on-1 meetings:

Ethan McCarthy – InterVarsity Press
Patnacia Goodman – Bethany House Publishers
Andy McGuire – Bethany House Publishers

If you know anyone else who would like to attend, there are plenty of slots still available.

Also, seats are still available for the DigDeeper Retreat on Tuesday Nov. 6 – learn more and register.

Food: Our Networking Event with appetizers takes place Thursday at 7:00 PM. Lunch will be provided on Friday. There will also be refreshments provided Friday morning. Dinner is on your own. Here are recommended nearby restaurants.

How World War I sparked the artistic movement that transformed black America

How World War I sparked the artistic movement that transformed black America

Image 20170330 4551 1tsqipp.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

Aaron Douglas. “Aspects of Negro Life: From Slavery to Reconstruction.” Oil on canvas, 1934. The New York Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Art and Artifacts Division.

Though we often discuss World War I through the lens of history, we occasionally do it through literature. When we do, we’ll invariably go to the famous trilogy of Hemingway, Faulkner and Fitzgerald – the authors most representative of America’s iconic Lost Generation. Their work is said to reflect a mood that emerged from the ashes of a war that, with its trail of carnage, left survivors around the world with a despairing vision of life, self and nation.

The anxiety and hopelessness of the Lost Generation has become embedded in literary and cultural history. But for black artists, writers and thinkers, the war meant something entirely different: It spawned a transformation of the way African-Americans imagined themselves, their past and their future.

With Africa as a source of inspiration, a “New Negro” emerged out of the ruins of the Great War – not broken and disenchanted, but possessed with a new sense of self, one shaped from bold, unapologetically black models.

Denying an African legacy

Before World War I, African-American literature depicted stoic, but constrained, black protagonists. They emulated European codes of class and respectability while rejecting any sort of African legacy or inheritance. In other words, they talked like white people, dressed like white people and accepted the narrative that white men were the source of America’s greatness.

From the most well-known 19th-century African-American writer, Frederick Douglass, to his less remembered contemporary, Alexander Crummell, literary black advocacy or racial uplift too often rested on this approach.

Still, in the years leading up to World War I, there were rumblings of the “New Negro” archetype. For example, in Paul Laurence Dunbar’s 1902 novel “The Sport of the Gods” and Pauline Hopkins’ serialized novel “Hagar’s Daughter,” we see restless, dissatisfied young people who have no desire to become shuffling, servile second-class citizens.

This defiance, however, would not become widespread in African-American literature until the end of the war.

A ‘New Negro’ emerges

Black soldiers abroad during World War I experienced a type of freedom and mobility unattainable back home. In cities from London to Paris, many, for the first time, could travel without the worry of being denied equal lodging accommodations or admission to entertainment venues.

Once they returned stateside, they became increasingly impatient with Jim Crow laws and codes of racial discrimination. Life, they realized, didn’t have to be this way. In a nation that was now half a century beyond slavery, the fever spread among a new generation of blacks.

A group of soldiers pose from the 93rd Division’s 369th Infantry Regiment, which was nicknamed the ‘Harlem Hellfighters.’ US National Archives

In the war’s aftermath, racial tensions heightened – a reflection of this mood. The summer of 1919 was known as the “Red Summer” for the number of race riots that erupted around the country, with one of the worst in Chicago, where 38 people died.

And in black literature, African-American characters no longer looked to the white man – or his nations – as models of civilization. In his 1925 anthology entitled “The New Negro,” writer, philosopher and Howard University professor Alain Locke has been credited with marshaling in the era we now know as the Harlem Renaissance. Locke, in his text, called on a generation of emerging black writers, artists and activists to look to Africa and to black folk culture in the United States and the Americas as a way to mine and explore a new strand of humanity.

We see this in Langston Hughes’ poetry; in “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” he heralds Africa as source of creativity and cultural grounding:

   I built my hut by the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
   I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.

Two Jakes – one black, one white

Unlike the emerging literati of the Lost Generation, blacks, for the most part, weren’t angst-ridden over a post-war world devoid of meaning: they had never internalized the myth of America as a shining “city upon a hill.” For them, the war brought no end or loss, no disillusionment or void.

Claude McKay. Wikimedia Commons

We see this difference if we compare Hemingway’s protagonist Jake in “The Sun Also Rises” (1926) to Claude McKay’s protagonist in “Home to Harlem” (1928), also named Jake. Unlike Hemingway’s lost, sullen and impotent hero who can’t find his way home, McKay’s Jake happily traverses Europe for a period after the war until he realizes he yearns for home.

While life is still a struggle and racism persists, McKay’s hero looks to the future with hope; he returns to Harlem where he relishes the many shades of black and brown beauties that he missed in Europe. McKay’s Jake immerses himself in a black world of love and laughter – a place that loudly celebrates life. He becomes inspired not by the readings and ideals of white thinkers and writers, but through black prototypes in and beyond America. His West Indian co-worker introduces him to Toussaint L’Ouverture and Jean-Jaques Dessalines, the black heroes of the Haitian Revolution, and to the history of great African empires dating back to antiquity.

In the literary works of black women, a new ethos also emerged. In Zora Neale Hurston’s 1937 novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” the main character, Janie, is daring in her quest for freedom: She leaves the confines of her restrictive community to take up with a younger man.

Black musicians, artists and writers of the Harlem Renaissance are celebrated as leaders of this transformative era in black history. But Harlem wasn’t alone. Cities such as Kansas City, St. Louis and Chicago also became hubs of black cosmopolitanism.

Above all, the African-American literary works born out of the ashes of World War I went on to spur the bold spirit of resistance of the African-American protest movement into the 21st century.

We also see that American literature is not a monolith of interpretation and experiences: In the case of post-World War I literature, even though one generation was lost, another was found.The Conversation

Elizabeth J. West, Professor of English, Georgia State University

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

Oprah, Trump, Obama: Georgia’s star-studded closing act

Oprah, Trump, Obama: Georgia’s star-studded closing act

Video Courtesy of MSNBC

In the final days in one of the nation’s hottest governor’s races, Oprah Winfrey and President Donald Trump, as well as former Presidents Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter and Vice President Mike Pence, are trying to put their imprint on the Georgia election.

Winfrey joins Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams for two town hall-style events Thursday, the same day that Pence travels to the state for several rallies with Republican Brian Kemp.

Trump and Obama will follow with their party’s candidate over the next three days. Carter, an Abrams supporter and former Georgia governor, garnered significant attention already this week with a personal plea that Kemp resign as secretary of state, Georgia’s chief elections official, to ensure public confidence in the results of what’s expected to be a close race.

The blitz underscores the high stakes in one of the defining contests of next week’s midterms, as Abrams vies to become the first black female governor in American history, while Kemp tries to maintain the GOP’s dominance in a state Democrats believe is on the cusp of becoming a presidential battleground.

The appearance by Winfrey, among the world’s wealthiest and most famous black women, is a significant coup for Abrams, who needs to maximize her support from nonwhite voters but also from liberal white women. All of those demographics overlap with Winfrey’s fan base, and she will hit them all with events in Republican-leaning Cobb County and heavily Democratic DeKalb County, both within miles of downtown Atlanta.

Though sometimes mentioned as a 2020 presidential candidate, Winfrey has demurred on her intentions. Her most visible foray into electoral politics was as an outspoken supporter of Obama, her fellow Chicagoan, when he first won the White House in 2008.

Trump’s appearance may claim as a casualty the last debate scheduled between Kemp and Abrams.

The two campaigns had agreed weeks ago to a debate at 5 p.m. Sunday in the studios of Atlanta’s WSB-TV. But Kemp’s campaign said the president’s schedule takes precedence, and he’s coming to Macon, about 100 miles south of Atlanta, to hold a campaign rally with Kemp at 4 p.m.

Abrams’ campaign manager, Lauren Groh-Wargo, says the debate is off because Kemp backed out. Kemp adviser Ryan Mahoney says his candidate is willing to find another time slot, but Groh-Wargo says Abrams is booked through Tuesday’s election.

Multiple polls show a statistical dead heat between Kemp and Abrams, with a low percentage of undecided voters remaining. There’s a possibility of a December runoff, given that Libertarian Ted Metz also is on the ballot and Georgia’s requirement that the winner garner a majority of the votes.

That could mean that events that energize the base, like a rally with Trump or Obama, could carry more weight than a debate less than 48 hours before Election Day.

Both candidates have run consistent appeals to their respective bases. Kemp has embraced Trump and echoed the president’s hard-line policies on immigration, and he’s focused much of his campaigning in the state’s more conservative pockets beyond metro Atlanta.

Visits from Trump and Pence — and the location of those events — illustrate that strategy.

While Abrams has touted her experience working with Republicans as minority leader in the Georgia legislature, her positions on health care, education spending, criminal justice and gun regulations make her an unapologetic liberal. She’s openly courting Democratic-leaning voters who have largely sat out midterm elections in the past, arguing it’s a better path to victory than trying to coax crossover votes from older white voters who abandoned Democrats.

Obama will appear with Abrams on Friday at a cluster of historically black colleges near downtown Atlanta.

Church-run credit unions keep the faith despite challenges

Church-run credit unions keep the faith despite challenges

Board members of the Greater Galilee Missionary Baptist Church Credit Union gather in the credit union’s office in Milwaukee on Oct. 21, 2018. Board members are Ed Murphy, from left, Jynette Hamilton, Gloria Neff, William Coffer, Ella Dunbar and Vinia Neal. The group runs the credit union on a volunteer basis. RNS photo by Katelyn Ferral

When Milwaukee’s Greater Galilee Missionary Baptist Church started a credit union in 1965, its predominantly African-American members were often denied loans, lines of credit and other basic financial services from banks.

More than 50 years later, in what is still one of the most racially segregated cities in the country, “not much has changed,” said Gloria Neff, a credit union board member and small-business owner.

Greater Galilee’s members, many of whom are elderly, still struggle to secure loans — even if they have the means to repay them.

“We’re still having the same challenges,” she said. “We’re still having the same problems.”

That reality drives board members, all volunteers, to keep the credit union going and to expand the financial services it offers.

Church members need what the credit union offers, Neff said.

“Although they pay their bills and they have the finances to pay, they still need to come to an establishment like this to get loans,” she said.

Greater Galilee Credit Union is part of a shrinking group of faith-based credit unions nationwide.

They are a distinct dimension of the credit union industry, offering a consumer-focused alternative to payday lenders and impersonal larger banks — along with shared religious beliefs.

As church attendance has fallen nationwide, some small, local church-based credit unions have shuttered.

According to the National Credit Union Administration, there are 133 active credit unions with a faith-based charter in the United States and 276 inactive ones.

Ones that remain open, like Greater Galilee, face obstacles in a rapidly changing consumer bank industry with more, costly government regulations. But Greater Galilee and other faith-based credit unions are finding ways to continue and adapt.

“At the end of the day that is the objective — to make sure the credit union is going at full force,” said Ella Dunbar, who also sits on the board.

The Greater Galilee Credit Union is run out of the Greater Galilee Missionary Baptist Church in Milwaukee. The building, which housed Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue until 1960, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Greater Galilee Credit Union has about 200 members, all of whom must be members of the church or related to a member. The credit union is run separately from the church though it is housed in two rooms in the basement of the congregation’s home on the north side of Milwaukee. It offers passbook savings accounts and personal and auto loans, along with funeral estate planning. The credit union also hopes to offer services for preparing wills and power of attorney documents for members, said Ed Murphy, board president.

Without its services, many  credit union members would likely go to payday lenders and other high-interest-rate institutions, said Murphy, especially in a state that relaxed restrictions on the payday lending industry over the last decade.

“There is a lot of predatory lending that takes place in our community,” Murphy said.

Greater Galilee’s board rates are modest compared to those of a payday lender, Murphy said. And the credit union tries to educate borrowers on the “pitfalls of those institutions,” he said. It is also planning to offer workshops on sound money management and financial literacy.

To increase business, the credit union board is considering opening up membership to people outside the church and is working on offering debit cards and checking accounts.

“We are moving in that direction; we’re just not there yet,” Murphy said. “It’s costly and you have to have a certain level of activity for it to be profitable for you. For us, being a closed shop for just a church and the church members — that’s not a large enough audience.”

Credit unions can be chartered at the state or federal level and are insured by the National Credit Union Administration and regulated by states.

Credit union officials in Wisconsin say faith-based credit unions have decreased statewide.

“It’s definitely been on the decline. A lot of them have mergered out of existence in Wisconsin,” said Mary Bliss, chief operating officer of the Wisconsin League of Credit Unions, based in Madison. “In general, they’ve had challenges in trying to grow.”

Keeping up with increasing government regulations is also costly. Leaders of the Greater Galilee Credit Union say it’s hard to keep up.

“We’re charged with carrying out the same kind of built-in controls, the internal controls, that the larger institutions have to abide by despite the fact that we are considerably smaller,” said Murphy. “We don’t have the resources … and we’re all volunteer.”

Image courtesy of Creative Commons

Costly compliance and technological changes led Notre Dame Federal Credit Union in Notre Dame, Ind., to create the Catholic Credit Union Association in 2016. Its aim is to help Catholic credit unions nationwide share resources and stay in business.

The group has about 30 member credit unions nationwide and runs a blog to educate the public and Catholic Church leadership about the benefits and history of credit unions in the Catholic Church.

Catholic credit unions have decreased in number from about 827 in 1960 to fewer than 100 today, said Robert Kloska, who works for Notre Dame Federal Credit Union and helped organize the association.

Most Catholic bishops are not aware of the Catholic social teaching that underpins the mission of credit unions, Kloska said.

It was once common to see a Catholic parish, school and credit union work together, a three-pronged institutional approach to serving a person’s soul, mind and temporal needs, said Kloska.

Now, Kloska said, “most of our bishops never talk about them.”

“I think it’s a very balanced and elegant and common-sense response to the needs of the world,” he said.

The association helps smaller Catholic credit unions comply with state and federal regulations and provides technological resources. And larger credit unions will sometimes team up with smaller ones on some loans, allowing the smaller credit unions to get some additional income from interest.

Credit unions largely started in Italy and Germany in the early part of the 19th century. Both were Catholic countries at the time, he said. The idea then spread through Catholic priests who traveled as missionaries to North America and Canada, he said.

“They saw that the people in town were not being treated well by the banks so they organized their parishioners,” Kloska saidBefore long, some of their Protestant neighbors began joining as well.

Solidarity — a key Catholic social teaching — is also a pillar of the credit union’s mission, Kloska said. In this case, solidarity means people banding together for the common good.

“The purpose of a bank is to make money for the investors,” said Kloska. “The purpose of a credit union is to serve the membership.“

Rick Gonsiorek, 37, became a member of Notre Dame Federal Credit Union when he was a student at Holy Cross College in Notre Dame. He stayed on after graduation, because he says the credit union didn’t charge ATM fees and had great customer services.

Eventually, Gonsiorek, the general manager of a Catholic radio station in South Bend, made the credit union his primary banking institution and got his mortgage through it. He said the credit union’s values fit with his Catholic faith.

“I’ve been really impressed with the ways they give back to the community and the types of organizations they choose to give back to,” he said.  “Many of them are Catholic organizations that are doing such great work.”

A sense of mission also drives the leaders of Greater Galilee’s credit union. Keeping their credit union alive and figuring out how to adapt is about helping their neighbors attain a higher quality of life and affording them opportunity, said board members.

“We care enough to give them an opportunity,” Neff said. “We care about them — we genuinely care. That’s the key.”

Violence prompts churches to weigh security vs. welcoming

Violence prompts churches to weigh security vs. welcoming

Lisa McNair’s older sister Denise McNair, 11,  died in the bombing of a black church 55 years earlier in Birmingham, Ala. Denise was one of four black girls who died when a bomb planted by Ku Klux Klansmen exploded outside the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)

Before he was accused of shooting and killing two black people in a Kentucky grocery store last week, Gregory Bush knocked on the door of a predominantly African-American church.

It was 2:44 on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, a day when many churches have midweek services. About 70 people had been inside First Baptist Church Jeffersontown for a Bible study, but it had ended by the time Bush arrived and the doors were locked.

If Bush had been there just 45 minutes earlier, “it probably would have been very different,” said Pastor Kevin L. Nelson.

“We caught him on camera at the front door, after he knocked and pulled on it and banged on it, he stood there and put his hand on his gun,” Nelson said, adding that he believes the gunman would have shot whoever came to the door.

“We felt that that was his attempt to make it another Charleston,” he said.

A police chief in Kentucky has acknowledged the shooting deaths of two black people at a Kroger grocery store in suburban Louisville were racially motivated. Bush, who is in custody, is white, and the FBI has said it is investigating the shooting as a potential federal hate crime.

On Saturday, a man killed 11 people in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, adding to a growing list of violence at houses of worship. Nelson mentioned the 2015 racially motivated shooting deaths of nine black people at an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina. Others followed, including the shooting deaths of two people at a New York City mosque in 2016 and the murder of 26 people at a Baptist church in Texas in 2017.

Federal prosecutors set in motion plans to seek the death penalty against Robert Gregory Bowers, the man charged in the Pittsburgh shootings. Authorities say Bowers expressed hatred for Jews during the rampage and later told police that “I just want to kill Jews” and that “all these Jews need to die.”

Speaking to a gathering of the conservative Federalist Society in Kentucky, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said of the Kentucky and Pennsylvania shootings: “if these aren’t the definitions of hate crimes, I don’t know what a hate crime is.”

Asked by a reporter if overheated political rhetoric bears any blame for violent actions, McConnell replied: “It’s hard to know. The political rhetoric is always pretty hot before an election. It’s not the first time.”

“I think the whole tone in the country right now needs to be ratcheted down,” McConnell said. “And these horrible, criminal acts only underscore the need for all of us to kind of dial it back, and to get into a better, more respectful place.”

The violence has prompted church leaders to grapple with finding a balance between securing their congregations and maintaining robust outreach programs they say are the core of their faith.

“I think it is sad you have to even lock the doors of the church,” Nelson said. “It was just the mindset where I grew up; you didn’t do certain things around the house of worship or even among the people of God. All that is changed today.”

In March, the Kentucky Baptist Convention — one of the state’s largest denominations — held a statewide church security conference for the first time. More than 1,000 people attended, said Paul Chitwood, the convention’s executive director. He said many people come to church because “they are hurting and they are confused.”

“The church wants to receive those people. And just because somebody looks different or acts a little different, well we want them in our churches,” he said. “But sometimes there is an individual who wants to do harm. We want for our churches to be prepared to respond to that and protect the congregants.”

Nelson said his church, which is not affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention, has police officers in their services. He said they would likely “tighten up” security. In the meantime, he says he his praying for the victims and for the men charged with the crimes.

“Every soul is precious to God,” he said. “And it should be to us.”

Why are we STILL explaining that blackface is racist?

Why are we STILL explaining that blackface is racist?

Megyn Kelly sat down with Roland Martin and Amy Holmes to discuss her comments about blackface.

Once again, another racist incident about blackface has made headlines. This time it surrounds NBC host Megyn Kelly, who apologized both on air and in a memo to colleagues after her on-air comments defending racist Halloween costumes.

During a round-table discussion about costumes on the Today show, Kelly said it was OK for white people use blackface to dress up as Black people. She defended a reality star who portrayed Diana Ross last year. “But what is racist?” Kelly asked. “ …Back when I was a kid that was OK, as long as you were dressing up as, like, a character.”

It now seems NBC will fire Kelly as a result of this incident, undoubtedly raising questions about whether such a response is an over-reaction.

Black journalists like CNN’s Don Lemon and NBC’s Al Roker have publicly indicted Kelly’s statements.

Many claim the offensive element of blackface dates back from a long time ago, and doesn’t have anything to do with today. They claim blackface costumes, especially at Halloween, are just innocent fun. What could be the harm?

What is blackface?

Blackface is the practice in which non-Black people darken their skin to deliberately impersonate, and usually to ridicule, Black people. It’s popular right now on university campuses, often during Halloween and at campus events for students.

Blackface costumes often include other paraphernalia such as wigs, fake dreadlocks or stuffed bosoms or behinds to further parody Black people. They also occasionally celebrate violence against Black people.

Though blackface is likely as old as transatlantic slavery, its use is most often associated with minstrel shows, a form of racist white entertainment in the United States that emerged in the 1820s.

The minstrels in these shows were white performers pretending to be Black. They painted their skin black with burnt cork or shoe polish, leaving wide areas around the mouth uncovered or painted red or white giving the appearance of oversized lips.

Minstrel performers would then use ungainly movement, exaggerated accents, malapropisms and garish attire to further ridicule Black people. Blackface was a deliberate attempt to represent Black people as bizarre and deviant, while appropriating their cultural forms for profit and to get a laugh.

My research has found that when used in the present, blackface still intensifies feelings of racial pleasure for those who wear it, and for their audiences. But humor is a funny thing.

What is it that makes blackface “funny” in the first place? Why are we motivated to put on costumes that appropriate other people’s bodies, experiences and lives?

Humor and racism

While we imagine that we each have individual tastes in humor, this is only to a degree. Our humor depends integrally upon the contexts in which it occurs. We rely on prevailing ways of thinking and common understandings of what things mean. These “shared ideas” make us fairly certain that others will find our jokes funny. No one wants to laugh alone.

Megyn Kelly defended a white reality TV star who dressed up as Diana Ross, calling her a ‘character.’ Here Ross and her family are seen at the 2012 Clive Davis pre-Grammy party at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Paul Smith/Shutterstock

The United States and Canada have several distinctive ways of thinking about racialized people — both historically and in the present. Ongoing settler-colonial relationships continue to define us.

These are relationships where settlers perpetuate ideas that Indigenous peoples are dead or dying out. This makes them a part of history, but not the present, and helps to justify settler access to Indigenous land.

Similar relationships portray non-Black racialized groups as perpetually foreign, and culturally inferior, never able to belong to the nation.

Many racially charged Halloween costumes are fueled by these ways of thinking. Costumes that appropriate Indigenous culture, portray them as part of the past, or, worse, in “cowboy and Indian” scenes, reflect settler ideas that Indigenous people no longer exist. If they no longer exist, they cannot contest settlers’ claims to the land.

Costumes of sheiks, geishas or Mexicans in sombreros emphasize the foreign-ness and ostensible absurdity of non-Black racialized groups.

The “humor” and allure of these costumes flow directly from investment in settler-colonial relationships. It matters little whether those who engage in this kind of costuming understand the implications, or say that they wear them as tribute. Racist humor pushes the limits of acceptable racial discourse.

Blackface, settler-colonialism and slavery

Settler-colonial relationships and the history of slavery also influence how Black people are regarded today. These relationships attempt to place Black life outside the realm of the human. Philosopher Sylvia Wynter argues Black folk are construed as property — unworthy of human dignity. These ideas are normalized and impact the way Black people are treated with disregard and profound violence.

Blackface costumes play on these historical relationships. They make the Black body property to be appropriated and discarded. They portray Black people as thugs, as worthy of death or make Black people’s bodies into spectacle. They celebrate the dehumanization of and disregard for Black people.

Heightening this effect is the way in which blackface is practiced despite Black objection. Even if they claim not to know about minstrel shows, very few people who wear blackface nowadays are unaware of the fact that it is a racially edgy form of costuming, or that many Black people object to it.

In wearing blackface, they, like Kelly, defend it despite these objections instead of trying to find out why Black people find it offensive. Doing so dismisses Black people’s perspectives and insists instead that their interpretations prevail.

Worse yet, this kind of racist expression is frequently defended as free speech. What is accomplished by defending the ostensible humor and fun of blackface?

Humor has always been a vehicle for expressing racism. While minstrel shows did so overtly, humor has currently become an important tool for covertly expressing racism when overt racism is, at least officially, frowned upon.

Those engaging in racist humor propagate racist ideas at the same time as they deny the racism by saying: “Lighten up! We’re only joking.” We saw this frequently with internet memes and political cartooning directed against Barack Obama.

In fact, in recent years, the far right has become quite adept at using racist humor to air racist ideas. This makes claims that “I was not aware” largely irrelevant, if not suspicious.

Even when apologies follow, the damage has been done. It is much like removing a nail from a piece of wood. It never repairs the damage.

The circulation of these ideas bolsters the increasing global racial nationalism of our day. So it is actually a much larger issue than people failing to be sensitive because Black people cannot get over the past.

Rather, the issue is the denial and furthering of racist relationships in the present. Efforts to defend blackface and justify other racist expressions erase the racism of the past and, crucially, protect the racism of the present.

They also serve to delegitimize Black opinion, and anyone who objects to racist humor. These “jokers” label dissenters as oversensitive and politically correct. This plays into the same disregard of Blackness that blackface represents. These effects must be taken seriously if we wish to push back against the ways in which racist narratives and practices are becoming increasingly normalized in our day.The Conversation

Philip S. S. Howard, Assistant Professor of Education, McGill University

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

Wake Up: Your Silence Without Action May Speak Your Consent

Wake Up: Your Silence Without Action May Speak Your Consent

Change can be fearful. Procrastination carries consequences. Anxiety is habit-forming. However, possessing wisdom with a sense of urgency is fearlessness combined with a drop of faith. It’s all we need to create the change we desire.

During our waking hours, some of us are indeed offering encouragement and educating all generations on reasons to take the nation’s midterm elections seriously and exercise our right to vote. Yet more recently, while we lay down to sleep, our democracy was threatened and our political landscape changed drastically overnight. Many saw it happening live on the 24-hour news cycle, but even more of us woke to senseless chaos, uncertainty, and doubt on all levels. That’s what an attack feels like. Perhaps it was even more disturbing to those who are not aware of our historic circumstances.

High drama is not new to the faith community and the African-American church in particular. Our ancestors kept each other “woke” at all times. Under the covering of God’s amazing grace and prayer, spirit-filled people strengthened themselves and their strategic interests. They dog-whistled like others influencers we hear today, but only among each other without shame or political correctness. Whether attending church, visiting the local grocery store, or at work in plain sight of their oppressors, Black Christians made their plight to obtain civil rights and equality clear. They took time to teach the illiterate, educate their children, and, most importantly, communicate with little regard for political affiliation.

Video Courtesy of Premier On Demand

Much has changed since the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act of 1964, ending both segregation and granting equal voting rights. Today we have many platforms of social media. We don’t own them, but we spend millions of dollars to invest in them using the latest technologies. We have somehow become cozy with these conveniences.  Let’s face it; we enjoy our toys that keep us entertained causing us to become less engaged with humanity.

Technical inanimate objects allow us to keep in touch with those we care about without human voice or touch. It is appreciated as an asset in our society. Yes, we digitally celebrate birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, achievements and such, but we must be cautious about what is shared through these mediums. Perhaps it is also a brilliant distraction as the megabytes we use can literally tick away our freedoms when abused.

As a researcher and writer, I posted one simple question to my modestly sized social media audience one day prior to the bomb threats.

Question: “Given your personal history or social concerns that may affect you or individuals within your life or community, why will you choose to vote in this 2018 midterm election?”

For nearly 24 hours, everyone was silent. Then one response was received. That individual sincerely shared that her faith is in “Jehovah, not man.”

Even in our silence, we should reach deep into our mustard seed of faith and wake up, fearless and ready to take action. Voting is the most active resistance we have as a civil right. Our enthusiasm should empower us and encourage others.

Weren’t we told to “Wake Up Everybody” 43 years ago by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes ironically in November 1975?  Singer and songwriter Elton John told us to “hold the borders open” in 1970.  Are we even aware of the message that Rev. Dr. Frank Thomas encouraged in his book “How to Preach a Dangerous Sermon(2018)?” He shares with us a simple truth, “When we do not choose productive options and constructively confront issues…the issue does not go away…buried feelings do not die.”

When we are socially or spiritually asleep, we become more involved with our own personal daily agendas.  I offer here a bit of nutrition for spiritual thought. The Bible teaches us in Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NIV) “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

Are we asleep in spite of our own best interest or complacent to our own demise? Are we aware of how high the stakes are for ourselves if we chose not to vote? Are we proactively awake enough to effectively communicate and participate in this critical process to educate both the eligible or disenfranchised voter?

If our choice is to remain silent, then perhaps the real question is — what are we doing with our stewardship? Wake Up! Stay Woke! Make the change you desire. It requires both prayer and action. Obviously, others who may not have our best interests at heart have a well-planned strategy. What’s ours? Make sure you at least use your right to vote now while you still have that right!

Why Do So Many Kids Have ADHD?

Why Do So Many Kids Have ADHD?

October is Disability Awareness Month

Video Courtesy of Help for ADHD

The number of children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has reached more than 10 percent, a significant increase during the past 20 years, according to a recent study.

The rise was most pronounced in minority groups, suggesting that better access to health insurance and mental health treatment through the Affordable Care Act might have played some role in the increase. The rate of diagnosis during that time period doubled in girls, although it was still much lower than in boys.

But the researchers say they found no evidence confirming frequent complaints that the condition is overdiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

The U.S. has significantly more instances of ADHD than other developed countries, which researchers said has led some to think Americans are overdiagnosing children. Dr. Wei Bao, the lead author of the study, said in an interview that a review of studies around the world doesn’t support that.

”I don’t think overdiagnosis is the main issue,” he said.

Nonetheless, those doubts persist. Dr. Stephen Hinshaw, who co-authored a 2014 book called “The ADHD Explosion: Myths, Medication, Money, and Today’s Push for Performance,” compared ADHD to depression. He said in an interview that neither condition has unequivocal biological markers, so it makes it hard to determine if a patient truly has the condition without lengthy psychological evaluations. Symptoms of ADHD can include inattention, fidgety behavior and impulsivity.

“It’s probably not a true epidemic of ADHD,” said Hinshaw, a professor of psychology at the University of California-Berkeley and a professor of psychiatry at UC-San Francisco. “It might be an epidemic of diagnosing it.”

In interpreting their results, however, the study’s authors tied the higher numbers to better understanding of the condition by doctors and the public, new standards for diagnosis and an increase in access to health insurance through the ACA.

Because of the ACA, “some low-income families have improved access to services and referrals,” said Bao, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Iowa College of Public Health.

The study, published in JAMA Network, used data from the National Health Interview Survey, an annual federal survey of about 35,000 households. It found a steady increase in diagnoses among children from about 6 percent of children between 1997 and 1998 to more than 10 percent between 2015 and 2016.

Advances in medical technology also may have contributed to the increase, according to the research. Twenty years ago, preterm or low-weight babies had a harder time surviving. Those factors increase the risk of being diagnosed with ADHD.

The study also suggests that fewer stigmas about mental health care in minority communities may also lead to more people receiving an ADHD diagnosis.

In the late 1990s, 7.2 percent of non-Hispanic white children, 4.7 percent of non-Hispanic black children and 3.6 of Hispanic children were diagnosed with ADHD, according to the study.

By 2016, it was 12 percent of white kids, 12.8 percent of blacks and 6.1 percent of Hispanics.

Over the past several decades, Hinshaw said, there’s been an expanded view of who can develop ADHD. It’s no longer viewed as a disease that affects only white middle-class boys, as eating disorders are no longer seen as afflicting only white middle-class girls.

Still, he cautioned against over-diagnosing ADHD in communities where behavioral issues could be the result of social or environmental factors such as overcrowded classrooms.

The study found rates of ADHD among girls rose from 3 to more than 6 percent over the study period. It said that was partly a result of a change in how the condition is classified. For years, ADHD pertained to children who were hyperactive. But in recent years, the American Psychiatric Association added to its guide of mental health conditions that diagnosis should also include some children who are inattentive, Bao said. That raised the number of girls, he explained, because it seems they are more likely to be in that second subtype.

“If we compare these two, you can easily imagine people will easily recognize hyperactivity,” he said.

That rang true for Ruth Hay, a 25-year-old student and cook from New York who now lives in Jerusalem. She was diagnosed with what was then called ADD the summer between second and third grade.

Hay said her hyperactive tendencies aren’t as “loud” as some people’s. She’s less likely to bounce around a room than she is to bounce in her chair, she said.

Yet despite her early diagnosis, Hay said, no one ever told her about other symptoms. For example, she said, she suffers from executive dysfunction, which leaves her feeling unable to accomplish tasks, no matter how much she wanted to or tried.

“I grew up being called lazy in periods of time when I wasn’t,” Hay said. “If you look at a list of all the various ADHD symptoms, I have all of them to one degree or another, but the only ones ever discussed with me was you might be less focused and more fidgety.”

“I don’t know how my brain would be if I didn’t have it,” she added. “I don’t know if I’d still be me, but all it has been for me is a disability.”

Religious leaders, others express horror at synagogue attack

Religious leaders, others express horror at synagogue attack

Video Courtesy of MSNBC

Religious leaders and politicians react to the Saturday morning shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, where a man killed 11 people and wounded six in one of the deadliest attacks on Jews in U.S. history:

“This evil Anti-Semitic attack is an assault on humanity. It will take all of us working together to extract the poison of Anti-Semitism from our world. We must unite to conquer hate.” — President Donald Trump.


“We grieve for the Americans murdered in Pittsburgh. All of us have to fight the rise of anti-Semitism and hateful rhetoric against those who look, love, or pray differently. And we have to stop making it so easy for those who want to harm the innocent to get their hands on a gun.” — former President Barack Obama.


“The actions of Robert Bowers represent the worst of humanity.” — Scott Brady, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania.


“Today, we saw another horrific act of hate at a house of worship — this time, the murder of at least eight congregants at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue … It reminds us of the slaughter of nine African American worshippers at Charleston’s Mother Emmanuel Church in 2015, the killings of six Sikh worshippers at a temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in 2014, and, of course, the bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963 that left four young African American girls dead. The violence in Pittsburgh follows on the heels of a string of attempted pipe bombings by a white supremacist who targeted frequent critics of President Trump. Our hearts go out to the families of the most recent shootings.” — Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center.


“We are devastated. Jews targeted on Shabbat morning at synagogue, a holy place of worship, is unconscionable. Our hearts break for the victims, their families, and the entire Jewish community.” — Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League.


“I was heartbroken and appalled by the murderous attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue today. The entire people of Israel grieve with the families of the dead. We stand together with the Jewish community of Pittsburgh. We stand together with the American people in the face of this horrendous anti-Semitic brutality. And we all pray for the speedy recovery of the wounded.” — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a video message posted online.


“This has always been a thought in the back of my mind, scenarios just like this. During the week the building is locked. We have a security camera to see who comes. But on Sabbath it’s an open door. And there are people right there where he would have walked in.” — Chuck Diamond, former Rabbi at the Tree of Life Synagogue.


“When Jews are murdered in Pittsburgh, the people of Israel feel pain. All Israel are responsible for one another.” — Naftali Bennett, Minister of Education and Minister of Diaspora Affairs in Israel.


“We are thinking of ‘our brothers and sisters, the whole house of Israel, in this time of trouble,’ as we say in the morning prayers. We are thinking of the families of those who were murdered and praying for the quick recovery of those who were injured. I am sure that the law enforcement agencies and the legal authorities in the U.S. will investigate this horrific event thoroughly and that justice will be served on the despicable murderer.” — Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.


“We send our thoughts and prayers to those affected by this morning’s tragedy in Pittsburgh. We will continue to pray for everyone involved.” — Pittsburgh Steelers.


“We are incredibly saddened to hear of this morning’s tragedy at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. We send our thoughts and prayers to all those affected.” — Pittsburgh Penguins.


“We are sickened by this horrific attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s historic Jewish neighborhood. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the dead and injured as well as the rest of the congregation and Jewish community.” — Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Author Ntozake Shange of ‘For Colored Girls’ fame has died

Author Ntozake Shange of ‘For Colored Girls’ fame has died

Video Courtesy of reelblack

Playwright, poet and author Ntozake Shange, whose most acclaimed theater piece is the 1975 Tony Award-nominated play “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf,” died Saturday, according to her daughter. She was 70.

Shange’s “For Colored Girls” describes the racism, sexism, violence and rape experienced by seven black women. It has been influential to generations of progressive thinkers, from #MeToo architect Tarana Burke to Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage. After learning of Shange’s death, Nottage called her “our warrior poet/dramatist.”

Poet, playwright and actress Ntozake Shange is shown in New York City in July 1976. (AP Photo)

Savannah Shange, a professor of anthropology at the University of California at Santa Cruz, said Saturday that her mother died in her sleep at an assisted living facility in Bowie, Maryland. She had suffered a series of strokes in 2004.

“She spoke for, and in fact embodied, the ongoing struggle of black women and girls to live with dignity and respect in the context of systemic racism, sexism and oppression,” Savannah Shange said.

“For Colored Girls” is an interwoven series of poetic monologues set to music — Shange coined the form a “choreopoem” for it — by African-American women, each identified only by a color that she wears.

Shange used idiosyncratic punctuation and nonstandard spellings in her work, challenging conventions. One of her characters shouts, “i will raise my voice / & scream & holler / & break things & race the engine / & tell all yr secrets bout yrself to yr face.”

Author Ntozake Shange attends a special screening of ‘For Colored Girls’ at the Ziegfeld Theatre on Monday, Oct. 25, 2010 in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini)

It played some 750 performances on Broadway — only the second play by an African-American woman after “A Raisin in the Sun” — and was turned into a feature film by Tyler Perry starring Thandie Newton, Anika Noni Rose, Kerry Washington and Janet Jackson.

Born Paulette Williams in Trenton, New Jersey, she went on to graduate from Barnard College and got a master’s degree from the University of Southern California. Her father, Dr. Paul T. Williams, was a surgeon. Her mother, Eloise Owens Williams, was a professor of social work. She later assumed a new Zulu name: Ntozake means “She who comes with her own things” and Shange means “She who walks like a lion.”

“For Colored Girls” opened at the Public Theater in downtown Manhattan, with Shange, then 27, performing as one of the women. The New York Times reviewer called it “extraordinary and wonderful” and “a very humbling but inspiring thing for a white man to experience.” It earned Shange an Obie Award and she won a second such award in 1981 for her adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage and Her Children” at the Public Theater.

Shange’s other 15 plays include “A Photograph: A Study of Cruelty” (1977), “Boogie Woogie Landscapes” (1977), “Spell No. 7” (1979) and “Black and White Two Dimensional Planes” (1979).

Her list of published works includes 19 poetry collections, six novels, five children’s books and three collections of essays. Some of her novels are “Sassafrass, Cypress, and Indigo” (1982) and “Some Sing, Some Cry,” with her sister, Ifa Bayeza. Her poetry collections include “I Live in Music” (1994) and “The Sweet Breath of Life: A Poetic Narrative of the African-American Family” (2004). She appeared in an episode of “Transparent” and helped narrate the 2002 documentary “Standing in the Shadows of Motown.”

She worked with such black theater companies as the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre in San Francisco; the New Freedom Theater in Philadelphia; Crossroads Theatre Company in New Brunswick, New Jersey; St. Louis Black Rep; Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota; and The Ensemble Theatre in Houston, Texas.

Shange taught at Brown University, Rice University, Villanova University, DePaul University, Prairie View University and Sonoma State University. She also lectured at Yale, Howard, New York University, among others.

In addition to her daughter and sister, Shange is survived by sister Bisa Williams, brother Paul T. Williams, Jr. and a granddaughter, Harriet Shange-Watkins



Cory Booker could be a candidate for the ‘religious left’

Cory Booker could be a candidate for the ‘religious left’

Cory Booker meets with demonstrators at a protest in Washington, D.C., on June 28, 2017. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

Questions about religion can paralyze some politicians, but not Cory Booker.

If anything, the topic seems to relax him. Sitting in his spacious but spartan office on Capitol Hill in early October, the senator propped his sneakered feet up on his desk and waxed poetic about spiritual matters, bouncing between discussions of Jesus’ disciples, housing policy and his own religious practices.

“When I get up in the morning, I meditate,” the New Jersey Democrat said, a practice he has often linked to his spiritual health. He paused for a moment, then quickly corrected himself: “Actually, I pray on my knees, and then I meditate.”

Booker’s comfort with his faith is unusual for Democrats in Washington, but it’s standard fare for the 49-year-old former mayor of Newark and has even become a mainstay of his blossoming political persona: Even the hyperbole-averse Associated Press recently compared him to an “evangelical minister” after Booker addressed a group of Democrats in Iowa.

AP had good cause: The decidedly progressive speech, which many speculated was a warmup for a 2020 presidential run, was peppered with talk about “faithfulness” and “grace.” Booker closed by citing Amos 5:24 (“But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”) before shouting “Amen!” over the roaring crowd.

Asked about his tendency to fuse the political with the spiritual, Booker shrugged.

“I don’t know how many speeches of mine you can listen to and not have me bring up faith,” he said. He noted he had just come from a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting where he had lifted a line from his stump speech: “Before you tell me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people.”

The sentiment, along with a message of unity that he brands as a “new civic gospel,” is generating buzz among Democrats. But Booker’s brand of public religiosity is especially attractive to an oft-forgotten but increasingly powerful group: the amorphous subset of religious Americans sometimes known as the religious left.

If he does run for president, as many expect, Booker may be one of the first Democratic candidates in decades to actively cultivate support from religious progressives.

A favorite of lefty faithful

Raised in an African Methodist Episcopal church and now a member of a National Baptist church in Newark, Booker has become a fixture at left-leaning religious gatherings as far back as 2014, when he showed up at a summit hosted by Sojourners, a Christian social justice organization. He “basically preached a sermon at the opening reception,” tweeted one organizer of the event.

In 2017, Booker attended a protest outside the U.S. Capitol hosted by the Rev. William Barber II, a prominent religious progressive who was there to denounce the Republican-led effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Earlier this year, Booker spoke at the Festival of Homiletics, a preaching conference attended by primarily white, liberal mainline clergy.

His appearance at these events has often resulted in standing ovations, and near endorsements.

“I don’t hope to move to New Jersey, but I do hope to vote for you someday, if you catch my drift,” the Rev. David Howell, the Presbyterian founder of the Festival of Homiletics, said while introducing Booker in May.

Booker claims that his faith is not partisan: He said religion is a way to reach across the aisle, and Republican Sen. John Thune is reportedly a member of his Bible study (along with New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, another potential Democratic presidential hopeful). But if Booker is unapologetic about his faith, he’s also unapologetic about the potential political effect of his God-talk.

“I think Democrats make the mistake often of ceding that territory to Republicans of faith,” Booker said.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., in his Washington office on Oct. 17, 2018. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

Eric Gregory, who studied with Booker at Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar and at Yale, said the senator’s fascination with faith is nothing new.

“He certainly has always been religiously musical,” said Gregory, now a professor of religion and chair of the humanities council at Princeton University.

Booker’s fluency with faith isn’t restricted to Christianity. His Facebook feed includes mentions of the Buddha, he referenced the Hindu god Shiva in a recent interview, and at Oxford in the 1990s he chaired the L’Chaim Society.

“He was always curious about diving deeply into different religious traditions and trying to understand them but also find wisdom within them,” said Gregory.

Still, Booker roots his personal faith in Christianity, particularly the black church tradition in which he was reared.

“I will talk about my faith, and I also talk about other faiths I study,” Booker told Religion News Service, sitting beneath an image of Mahatma Gandhi, one of the few adornments on his office walls. “I’ve studied Torah for years. Hinduism I’ve studied a lot. Islam, I’ve studied some, and I’ve been enriched by my study. But, for me, the values of my life are guided by my belief in the Bible and in Jesus.”

It’s an approach to religion — multifaith, LGBTQ-inclusive, liberation theology-influenced and social-justice focused — that jibes perfectly with the makeup of the liberal coalition.

“The life of Jesus is very impactful to me and very important to me,” he said. “He lived a life committed to dealing with issues of the poor and the sick. The folks that other folks disregard, disrespect or often oppress. He lived this life of radical love that is a standard that I fail to reach every single day, but that really motivates me in what I do.”

But Booker insisted his connection with religious left leaders such as Barber, who spoke at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, has less to do with political angling and more to do with a natural overlap of shared values.

“I find kinship with people I find inspiration from — people I would love to be more like,” he said. “Rev. Barber is powerful. To me, his charisma speaks, in an instructive way, towards my heart and my being. He is somebody who believes that being poor is not a sin or that poverty is a sin.”

Riding progressive religious power

Progressive religion, drowned out in recent decades by the well-organized religious right, has been revived by the rise of President Trump. Within weeks of the 2016 election, left-leaning religious groups saw spikes in funding. Their coalitions became a crucial part of the “resistance” to Trump’s travel ban, the repeal of the ACA and the separation of families along the U.S.-Mexico border. Leaders such as Barber and Linda Sarsour, a prominent Muslim activist and core organizer of the Women’s March, have been elevated to the national stage.

As their influence increased, so too did side-by-side appearances with potential 2020 presidential hopefuls such as Booker, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.; and others.

For modern religious progressives the new attention comes with a dilemma: What does it mean not only to protest power but to influence it — or even be courted by it?

“I think faith communities, particularly the religious left, need to become even more aware of the significant, for lack of a better word, lobbying power that they have,” said the Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, a theology professor and dean of Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary in New York.

Marie Griffith, director of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis, said the shift harks back to the era of President Carter, who ran as a Southern Baptist Democrat.

“I would absolutely see (Carter) as exemplifying this progressive Christian vision,” she said, noting that after he lost re-election the progressive religious spirit that elected him “went underground.” In a sense, the rise of Bookers and Barbers signals a return to form.

“They’ve got their boldness back, and they’re willing to speak in the name of religion and not hide their light under a bushel,” she said.

Douglas also highlighted the importance of Booker’s attachment to the black church.

“Historically, black communities have relied on the leadership and the wisdom of their faith leaders,” she said.

It’s unclear whether white Democrats of faith, whose numbers continue to dwindle, can be successfully courted along faith lines, despite numerous attempts over the years by groups such as Sojourners and others. But appealing to the faith of nonwhite Democrats, according to data unveiled earlier this year by Pew Research, suggests that may be a crucial long-term strategy for those seeking to turn red states blue. Although states with higher religious attendance and expression tend to be Republican, nonwhite populations in those states skew highly religious and deeply Democratic.

Douglas pointed out that Booker already exhibited the power of the black faith community in the 2017 Alabama senate race. As Republican Roy Moore battled accusations of child sex abuse, Democrat Doug Jones reached out to black voters, using the last days before the election to campaign at several black churches.

Standing next to Jones during those church visits was Booker.

Two days later, analysts largely credited Jones’ victory to massive black voter turnout.

Preaching a new ‘civic gospel’

Booker is not the only potential presidential hopeful vying for the religious left’s attention. Warren, Harris and others are also winning hearts among the faithful. Booker has also faced hard questions from the left, including religious progressives, for taking large donations from Wall Street.

He’d likely also have to address the concerns of slightly less than a third of Democrats who do not claim a religious affiliation, many of whom are uneasy with politicians who cite faith as a guide. 

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., addresses Festival of Homiletics attendees at Metropolitan AME Church on May 22, 2018, in Washington. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

But Booker is already working out ways to talk to them, too.

“I prefer to hang out with nice, kind atheists than mean Christians any day,” he has often said.

Meanwhile, the larger struggle may be to convert the religious left into an organized political force.

Gregory identifies “a kind of paralyzing despair or prophetic critique that disables the possibility of politics more than enabling it. In some ways, I think one of the reasons why Senator Booker often gets a lot of enthusiastic reception is because he is capable of recognizing severe challenges but also not giving in to the despair or withdrawal.”

Booker’s optimism is embodied in his concept of a “civic gospel,” a vision for a politics devoid of the “meanness” and “moral vandalism” that he sees in current political discourse, especially from Trump.

“I think God is love,” Booker said, leaning across his desk. “I think God is justice. I think that the ideals of this country are in line with my faith. I don’t need to talk about religion to talk about those ideals that all Americans hold dear.”

Perhaps Booker is something of an evangelical — or at least an evangelist — for this ecumenical sense that politics and religion are not mutually exclusive, all while reaching those outside the religious fold with a broader inclusive message. Whether the faithful, literal and figurative, will rally around that idea will likely be the question of his next two years.

“Every speech I give, I will not yield from talking about that revival of civic grace,” he said.

Ethiopia Gets Its First Female President

Ethiopia Gets Its First Female President

Video Courtesy of SABC Digital News


Ethiopia’s parliament has made Sahle-Work Zewde the country’s first female president. And while the role is largely ceremonial, her appointment carries power in what it signifies.

Sahle-Work, an experienced diplomat, is the first female head of state in Ethiopia’s modern history. In June, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres appointed Sahle-Work as special representative to the African Union and head of the U.N. Office to the African Union — the first woman in the role. She was previously director-general of the U.N. Office at Nairobi and held a range of diplomatic posts, including Ethiopia’s ambassador to France and Djibouti.


Why the Christian idea of hell no longer persuades people to care for the poor

Why the Christian idea of hell no longer persuades people to care for the poor

Video Courtesy of National Geographic Documentary – HD Documentaries

It’s that time of the year when hell is used as a common theme for entertainment and hell-themed haunted houses and horror movies pop up all over the country.

Although many of us now associate hell with Christianity, the idea of an afterlife existed much earlier. Greeks and Romans, for example, used the concept of Hades, an underworld where the dead lived, both as a way of understanding death and as a moral tool.

However, in the present times, the use of this rhetoric has radically changed.

Rhetoric in ancient Greece and Rome

The earliest Greek and Roman depictions of Hades in the epics did not focus on punishment, but described a dark shadowy place of dead people.

In Book 11 of the Greek epic the “Odyssey,” Odysseus travels to the realm of the dead, encountering countless familiar faces, including his own mother.

Near the end of Odysseus’ tour, he encounters a few souls being punished for their misdeeds, including Tantalus, who was sentenced eternally to have food and drink just out of reach. It is this punishment from which the word “tantalize” originated.

Hundreds of years later, the Roman poet Virgil, in his epic poem “Aeneid,” describes a similar journey of a Trojan, Aeneas, to an underworld, where many individuals receive rewards and punishments.

This ancient curriculum was used for teaching everything from politics to economics to virtue, to students across the Roman empire, for hundreds of years.

In later literature, these early traditions around punishment persuaded readers to behave ethically in life so that they could avoid punishment after death. For example, Plato describes the journey of a man named Er, who watches as souls ascend to a place of reward, and descend to a place of punishment. Lucian, an ancient second century A.D. satirist takes this one step further in depicting Hades as a place where the rich turned into donkeys and had to bear the burdens of the poor on their backs for 250 years.

For Lucian this comedic depiction of the rich in hell was a way to critique excess and economic inequality in his own world.

Early Christians

By the time the New Testament gospels were written in the first century A.D., Jews and early Christians were moving away from the idea that all of the dead go to the same place.

Early Christians portrayed hell through different terms. paukrus/Flickr.com

In the Gospel of Matthew, the story of Jesus is told with frequent mentions of “the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.” As I describe in my book, many of the images of judgment and punishment that Matthew uses represent the early development of a Christian notion of hell.

The Gospel of Luke does not discuss final judgment as frequently, but it does contain a memorable representation of hell. The Gospel describes Lazarus, a poor man who had lived his life hungry and covered with sores, at the gate of a rich man, who disregards his pleas. After death, however, the poor man is taken to heaven. Meanwhile, it is the turn of the rich man to be in agony as he suffers in the flames of hell and cries out for Lazarus to give him some water.

For the marginalized other

Matthew and Luke are not simply offering audiences a fright fest. Like Plato and later Lucian, these New Testament authors recognized that images of damnation would capture the attention of their audience and persuade them to behave according to the ethical norms of each gospel.

Later Christian reflections on hell picked up and expanded this emphasis. Examples can be seen in the later apocalypses of Peter and Paul – stories that use strange imagery to depict future times and otherworldly spaces. These apocalypses included punishments for those who did not prepare meals for others, care for the poor or care for the widows in their midst.

Although these stories about hell were not ultimately included in the Bible, they were extremely popular in the ancient church, and were used regularly in worship.

A major idea in Matthew was that love for one’s neighbor was central to following Jesus. Later depictions of hell built upon this emphasis, inspiring people to care for the “least of these” in their community.

Damnation then and now

The idea of hell is used to bring about conversions. William Morris

In the contemporary world, the notion of hell is used to scare people into becoming Christians, with an emphasis on personal sins rather than a failure to care for the poor or hungry.

In the United States, as religion scholar Katherine Gin Lum has argued, the threat of hell was a powerful tool in the age of nation-building. In the early Republic, as she explains, “fear of the sovereign could be replaced by fear of God.”

As the ideology of republicanism developed, with its emphasis on individual rights and political choice, the way that the rhetoric of hell worked also shifted. Instead of motivating people to choose behaviors that promoted social cohesion, hell was used by evangelical preachers to get individuals to repent for their sins.

Even though people still read Matthew and Luke, it is this individualistic emphasis, I argue, that continues to inform our modern understanding of hell. It is evident in the hell-themed Halloween attractions with their focus on gore and personal shortcomings.

These depictions are unlikely to portray the consequences for people who have neglected to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, cloth the naked, care for the sick or visit those in prison.

The fears around hell, in the current times, play only on the ancient rhetoric of eternal punishment.The Conversation

Meghan Henning, Assistant Professor of Christian Origins, University of Dayton

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

‘Mockingbird’ chosen as America’s best-loved novel in vote

‘Mockingbird’ chosen as America’s best-loved novel in vote

Video Courtesy of Movieclips

“To Kill a Mockingbird,” a coming-of-age story about racism and injustice, overpowered wizards and time travelers to be voted America’s best-loved novel by readers nationwide.

The 1960 book by Harper Lee emerged as No. 1 in PBS’ “The Great American Read” survey, whose results were announced Tuesday on the show’s finale. More than 4 million votes were cast in the six-month-long contest that put 100 titles to the test. Books that were published as a series counted as a single entry.

The other top-five finishers in order of votes were Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series about a time-spanning love; J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” boy wizard tales; Jane Austen’s romance “Pride and Prejudice”; and J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” fantasy saga.

Turns out the contest was a “Mockingbird” runaway.

“The novel started out at No. 1 on the first day of the vote, and it never wavered,” series host Meredith Vieira said.

Joining her to sing the book’s praises was writer Aaron Sorkin, whose adaptation of “Mockingbird” starts Broadway previews next month, and cast members. Sorkin (“The West Wing,” ”The Social Network”) said reading Lee’s novel was his first brush with “astonishing writing.”

“There is soul-crushing injustice in this book that still exists,” he said. “And at the center, morality, decency and what it is to be a person strikes us.”

LaTanya Richardson Jackson, who portrays Calpurnia in the play, marveled at Lee’s achievement.

“I was most impressed that a woman wrote that way” during that era, the actress said, and that Lee was so “deeply involved on the right side of right.”

Lee’s slender, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel proved enduring enough to overcome the popularity of hefty epics adapted as blockbuster movie franchises (the Potter and Tolkien works) or for TV (“Outlander”). Even “Pride and Prejudice,” the 200-year-old inspiration for numerous TV and movie versions and with an army of “Janeites” devoted to Austen and her work, couldn’t best Lee’s novel.

Debbie Ford of Orion, Illinois, an “Outlander” fan whose love of the books was showcased on an episode of “The Great American Read,” expressed disappointment they didn’t win. But she delighted in the attention they — and the joy of reading — received.

“I believe this PBS series has reminded some of us again that reading is important, and it has exposed us to books that we may not ordinarily pick up. And that’s such a good thing!” Ford said in an email Tuesday, adding a friendly plug: “So please go read a book that you have not read before — especially if you haven’t yet discovered ‘Outlander’!”

“To Kill a Mockingbird” has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide and remains a fixture on school reading lists. The 1962 screen adaptation won three Oscars, including a best-actor trophy for Gregory Peck’s portrayal of heroic Atticus Finch.

Set in the 1930s South, the book centers on attorney Finch and his young children, daughter Scout and son Jem. When Finch defends an African-American man falsely accused of assaulting a white woman, the trial and its repercussions open Scout’s eyes to the world around her, good and bad.

Lee’s second published novel, “Go Set a Watchman,” was written in the 1950s before “Mockingbird” but is essentially a sequel. After being put aside by the author, it was rediscovered and released in 2015. Lee died the next year at age 89.

Besides the TV series, “The Great American Read” initiative included a 50,000-member online book club and video content across PBS platforms, Facebook and YouTube that drew more than 5 million views.

The 100-book list voted on by readers was based on an initial survey of about 7,000 Americans, with an advisory panel of experts organizing the list. Books had to have been published in English but not written in the language, and one book or series per author was allowed. Bookworms could vote once daily for their favorite work.

Forgotten black scholar studied – and faced – structural racism in the 1940s

Forgotten black scholar studied – and faced – structural racism in the 1940s

Image 20170208 17316 1b8pki3.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

Allison Davis, circa 1965. Courtesy of the Davis family., CC BY-ND

When black historian Carter G. Woodson founded Negro History Week in 1926 (expanded to Black History Month in 1976), the prevailing sentiment was that black people had no history. They were little more than the hewers of wood and the drawers of water who, in their insistence upon even basic political rights, comprised an alarming “Negro problem.”

To combat such ignorance and prejudice, Woodson worked relentlessly to compile the rich history of black people. He especially liked to emphasize the role of exceptional African-Americans who made major contributions to American life. At the time, that was a radical idea.

W. Allison Davis (1902-1983) came of age in the generation after Woodson, but he was precisely the type of exceptional black person whom Woodson liked to uphold as evidence of black intelligence, civility and achievement.

Davis was an accomplished anthropologist and a trailblazer who was the first African-American to earn tenure at a predominantly white university – the University of Chicago in 1947. But Davis has faded from popular memory. In my book “The Lost Black Scholar: Resurrecting Allison Davis in American Social Thought,” I make the case that he belongs within the pantheon of illustrious African-American – and simply, American – pioneers.

Allison Davis, forgotten pioneer

Allison and Elizabeth Davis in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1939. Courtesy of the Davis family., CC BY-ND

Allison Davis and his wife Elizabeth Stubbs Davis were among the first black anthropologists in the country. Bringing their experiences on the wrong side of the color line to mainstream social science, they made landmark contributions to their field, including “Deep South” (1941) and “Children of Bondage” (1940). Those books sold tens of thousands of copies in the middle decades of the 20th century; they advanced social theory by explaining how race and class functioned as interlocking systems of oppression; and they broke methodological ground in combining ethnography with psychological assessments rarely applied in those days.

Allison Davis’ extensive body of research also had a real impact on social policy. It influenced the proceedings in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), undergirded the success of the federal Head Start program and prompted school districts all across the country to revise or reject intelligence tests, which Davis had proven to be culturally biased. His “Social-Class Influences Upon Learning” (1948) made the most compelling case of that era that intelligence tests discriminated against lower-class people.

Despite the very real advances that Davis helped to inspire within American education in the 20th century, today those same accomplishments are at risk. American schools remain as racially segregated as ever due to poverty and discriminatory public policies. The investment in public education, especially compensatory programs such as Head Start, looks to further diminish amid the growing support for privatization, charter schools, and school vouchers – or, the Betsy “DeVos playbook,” as critics describe it. To understand the nature of these issues today, one must understand their history, which Davis’ career helps to illuminate.

Davis’ scholarly contributions are unquestionable when considered now, many decades later. But as the problems above suggest, it is no longer enough to simply celebrate exceptional African-American pioneers like Davis, or just give lip service to their ideas. The next step is confronting the circumstances that constrained their lives. This means viewing their experiences in relation to the structural racism that has shaped American life since colonial times.

Bending – not breaking – academic color line

Consider Davis’ landmark appointment to the University of Chicago. Fitting the story into a master narrative of racial progress obscures more than it reveals. While the appointment did represent the crossing of a racial boundary and heralded the many more barriers that would be challenged in the ensuing decades, a closer look at the story gives little reason to celebrate.

Like all black scholars of his time, Davis had to be twice as good to get half as much as his fellow white male scholars (and the situation was far worse for black women scholars like Elizabeth Stubbs Davis). Only through compiling a truly remarkable record of achievement, and only amid the national fervor to make the U.S. the “arsenal of democracy” during World War II, would Chicago even consider appointing Allison Davis. Even then, he only received a three-year contract on the condition that the Julius Rosenwald Foundation (JRF) agree to subsidize most of his salary.

Even with the subsidy, certain university faculty members, such as Georgia-born sociologist William Fielding Ogburn, actively opposed the appointment on racist grounds. So, too, did some trustees at the JRF, including the wealthy New Orleans philanthropist Edgar B. Stern, who attempted to sabotage the grant. Discounting Davis’ accomplishments and implying instead a sort of reverse racism, Stern asserted that “the purpose of this move is to have Davis join the Chicago Faculty, not in spite of the fact that he is a Negro but because he is a Negro.” Similarly myopic charges have been a staple of criticism against affirmative actions programs in more recent times.

The Quadrangle Club was where (white) faculty gathered at University of Chicago, midcentury. University of Chicago Photographic Archive, apf2-06088, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

The opposition ultimately failed to torpedo Davis’ appointment, but it did underscore the type of environment he would face at Chicago. As faculty members openly debated if he should even be allowed to instruct the university’s mainly white students, the administration barred him from the Quadrangle Club, where faculty regularly gathered and ate lunch. In a private letter to him, the university made clear that it “cannot assume responsibility for Mr. Davis’ personal happiness and his social treatment.”

As time wore on, such overt racism did begin to ebb, or at least confine itself to more private quarters. What never did subside, though, was an equally pernicious institutional racism that marginalized Davis’ accomplishments and rendered him professionally invisible.

As Davis collaborated with renowned white scholars at Chicago, his contributions were submerged under theirs – even when he was the first author and chief theorist of the work. When Daniel Patrick Moynihan, writing for Commentary magazine in 1968, failed to count Davis among his list of black scholars who studied black poverty (even though Davis was among the most prolific black scholars in that area), he registered the depth of Davis’ marginalization. Such marginalization, which stemmed also from Davis’ interdisciplinary approach and iconoclasm, has caused even historians to lose track of him and his important career.

Davis was ensnared by the racism he studied

Even the most exceptional African-Americans have never been able to transcend the racial system that ensnares them. Davis’ appointment did not usher in a new era of integration of faculties at predominantly white universities. It took another three decades for substantial numbers of black scholars to begin receiving offers of full-time, tenure-track employment. And because of the vastly disproportionate rates of poverty, incarceration and municipal neglect plaguing the black community, jobs in higher education often continued – and still continue – to be out of reach.

Few people better understood, or more thoughtfully analyzed, these very realities than did Allison Davis. This was a man who laid bare the systems of race and class that govern American life. He understood that education needed to be a bulwark for democracy, not merely a ladder for individual social mobility. He embodied how to confront injustice with sustained, productive resistance. Moreover, this was a man who refused to surrender to despair, and who chose to dedicate his life to making the country a better, more equal, more democratic place.The Conversation

David Varel, Visiting Assistant Professor of History, University of Mississippi

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

Bump in number of Clergywomen over two decades, at times equaling men

Bump in number of Clergywomen over two decades, at times equaling men

The Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, center, gives the benediction at Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., on July 27, 2014. The Rev. Theresa S. Thames, associate pastor, left, and the Rev. Dawn M. Hand, executive pastor, right, joined her. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

The share of women in the ranks of American clergy has doubled — and sometimes tripled — in some denominations over the last two decades, a new report shows.

“I was really surprised in a way, at how much progress there’s been in 20 years,” said the report’s author, Eileen Campbell-Reed, an associate professor at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tenn. “There’s kind of a circulating idea that, oh well, women in ministry has kind of plateaued and there really hasn’t been lot of growth. And that’s just not true.”

The two traditions with the highest percentages of women clergy were the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ, according to the “State of Clergywomen in the U.S.,” released earlier this month. Fifty-seven percent of UUA clergy were women in 2017, while half of clergy in the UCC were female in 2015. In 1994, women constituted 30 percent of UUA clergy and 25 percent of UCC clergy.

Clergy Women in American Denominations. Graphic courtesy of StateofClergywomen.org

UUA President Susan Frederick-Gray credits the increase to a decision by her denomination’s General Assembly in 1970 to call for more women to serve in ministry and policymaking roles. She noted that as of this year, 60 percent of UUA clergy are women.

“All that work in the ’70s and ’80s made it possible for me, in the early 2000s, to come into ministry and be successful and lead thriving churches,” said Frederick-Gray, “and now be elected as the first female, first woman minister elected to the UUA presidency.”

Campbell-Reed and a research assistant gathered clergywomen statistics that had not been collected across 15 denominations for two decades.

The Rev. Barbara Brown Zikmund, who co-authored the 1998 book “Clergy Women: An Uphill Calling,” welcomed the new report as a way to start closing the gap in the research.

“While the experiences of women and the evolution of church life and leadership have changed dramatically over the past two decades, there have been no comprehensive studies on women and church leadership,” she said.

Reached between recent convocation events at Andover Newton Seminary, the Rev. Davida Foy Crabtree, a retired UCC minister, said the report’s findings were reflected around her.

“I was sort of looking around and seeing so many women and remembering that in my years in seminary in the ’60s how few of us there were,” said Crabtree, a trustee and alumna of the theological school. “So it’s definitely a sea change in terms of women’s ordination.”

Campbell-Reed’s research found a tripling of percentages of clergywomen in the Assemblies of God, the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America between 1994 and 2017

But Campbell-Reed also found that clergywomen — with the exception of Unitarian Universalists — continue to lag behind clergymen in leading their churches. In the UCC, for example, female and male clergy are equal in number, but only 38 percent of UCC pastors are women.

Instead, many clergywomen — as well as clergymen — serve in ministerial roles other than that of pastor, including chaplains, nonprofit staffers and professors.

Paula Nesbitt, president of the Association for the Sociology of Religion, said other researchers have long observed “the persistent clergy gender gap in attainment and compensation.”

For women of color, especially, significant gaps remain, and for women in some conservative churches, ordination is not an option.

Campbell-Reed noted that clergywomen of color “remain a distinct minority” in most mainline denominations. Those who have risen to leadership in the top echelons of their religious groups, she said, have done so after long years of service.

“Some of them are also being recognized for their contributions and their work, like any other person who’s got longevity and wisdom, by being elected as bishops in their various communions,” she said of denominations such as the United Methodist Church and the ELCA.

Women’s Leadership by Denomination. Graphic courtesy of StateofClergywomen.org

Campbell-Reed also pointed out the role of women who serve churches despite being barred from pastoral positions in congregations of the country’s two largest denominations, the Southern Baptist Convention and the Roman Catholic Church.

Former Southern Baptist women like herself have joined the pastoral staffs of breakaway groups such as the Alliance of Baptists, which have women pastoring 40 percent of their congregations. And Catholic women constitute 80 percent of lay ecclesial ministers, who “are running the church on a day-to-day basis,” she said.

Patricia Mei Yin Chang, another co-author of “Clergy Women: An Uphill Calling,” said the new statistics prompt questions about the meaning behind them, such as changing attitudes of congregations or decreases in male clergy.

“Those are two really different causes and they may differ across denominations,” she said.

Campbell-Reed, whose 20-page report concludes with two pages of questions for seminaries, churches, researchers and theologians, said she thinks the answers about the often-difficult job hunt for clergywomen relate to sexism.

“Just because more women enter into jobs in the church or are ordained does not mean that the problems of sexism have gone away,” she said. “At times, the bias is more implicit but no less real.”

But some women are reaching “tall-steeple” pulpits — leadership in prominent churches — instead of being relegated to struggling congregations, often in denominations on the decline.

Frederick-Gray said her denomination, which she said is working on race equality as well as gender equality, is seeing greater opportunities for women to preach in its largest churches. Of the 41 largest congregations in the Unitarian Universalist Association, 20 are served by women senior ministers.

Women’s leadership, Frederick-Gray said, is necessary at a time of decline for many religions.

“The decline is not the responsibility of women,” she said. “But maybe we will be the hope for the future.”

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.    

Florida’s culture clash pits Gillum against Trump voters

Florida’s culture clash pits Gillum against Trump voters

Video Courtesy of CNN

President Donald Trump’s loyalists here at Florida’s premier retirement community fear Andrew Gillum.

It has nothing to do with his race, they insist, when asked about the 39-year-old Democrat who could become the state’s first African-American governor. Instead, The Villages’ deeply conservative residents are convinced a Gillum victory would trigger an era of high crime, higher taxes and moral failing.

“He’ll kill everything that’s good about Florida,” says Talmadge Strickland, a 66-year-old retired firefighter wearing a “Trump 2020” baseball cap at a rally for Gillum’s opponent. “He will hurt us; he will physically hurt us with his socialist mentality.”

In an era defined by deep political partisanship, there’s perhaps no state where the divide runs deeper than Florida, which is in the grip of a fierce culture clash over guns, race, climate change and the president. Gillum sits at the center of the melee, his campaign a proxy for the larger fight between Democrats and President Donald Trump’s GOP.

Gillum’s fate is inexorably linked to fellow Democrats whose success could determine control of Congress. That’s especially true for three-term Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who could benefit from Gillum’s appeal among young voters and minorities.

As early voting begins in Florida this week, that link is tenuous.

“New voters and infrequent voters are everything to us winning,” Gillum told The Associated Press when asked about his impact on Nelson’s race. “I think they will vote for both of us, and that will be to his benefit.”

Young people and minorities are traditionally among the least reliable voters, particularly in midterm elections. Meanwhile, white voters in place like The Villages are lining up behind his opponent, former Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis.

The electorate in Florida this year is especially unpredictable due to an unusual collision of events: a massive hurricane, the nation’s deadliest high school shooting and Gillum’s historic candidacy.

DeSantis has benefited from Trump’s occasional backing on social media, including after the debate. And Gillum is scheduled to campaign this week alongside former Vice President Joe Biden and 2016 presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. In the interview, he noted he’s been in touch with former President Barack Obama, who may campaign on his behalf.

Gillum acknowledged some Florida voters might oppose him because of his race, but insisted “that voter is not the majority of the people in our state.”

During Sunday night’s CNN debate, he accused his Republican opponent of fanning racial animus ever since DeSantis first warned Florida voters not to “monkey this up” by electing Gillum.

“The ‘monkey up’ comment said it all,” Gillum charged. “He has only continued in the course of his campaign to draw all the attention he can to the color of my skin. The truth is, you know what, I’m black. I’ve been black all my life. So far as I know, I will die black.”

Meanwhile, a small, but significant portion of the state’s Republican base remains consumed by recovery efforts almost two weeks after Hurricane Michael devastated the Panhandle. The secretary of state extended early voting hours, but both sides expect a drop in turnout across the heavily-Republican region as residents struggle without electricity and lodging in many cases.

Nelson’s challenger, Gov. Rick Scott, has yet to resume any campaign activities since the storm made landfall.

The state’s other trauma — a school shooting earlier this year that left 17 students and staff dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland — looms over the races. Backed by the fortune of Democratic billionaires Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg, Florida’s young people are fighting to be heard.

Those rallying behind Gillum in recent days include 16-year-old Sari Kaufman, a Parkland survivor who spent Sunday canvassing for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

In an interview, Kaufman suggested young people are more excited about Gillum than Nelson, particularly because of Gillum’s status as a younger candidate running statewide for the first time.

“If he is successful and other candidates are successful, it will mean that my fellow classmates didn’t die in vain,” Kaufman said.

African-American leaders are also working to reverse their community’s typical drop-off in midterm elections. NAACP President Derrick Johnson said his organization is “microfocused” on boosting black turnout this fall. A statewide canvassing effort is underway across Florida, where organizers hope to bump black turnout by at least 5 percent from four years ago.

It was easy to find evidence of Gillum’s influence among so-called low-propensity voters in recent days, as activists from more than a half dozen competing groups scoured the state to ensure they cast ballots.

Anne Fazio, a 19-year-old Jacksonville student, was among thousands of people contacted at home over the weekend by the Koch-backed Americans For Prosperity’s massive door-knocking push. Standing at her front door, she didn’t hesitate when a conservative volunteer asked whether she was going to vote.

“I’m voting for Andrew Gillum,” Fazio said, praising his support for gun control and expanding Medicaid coverage for hundreds of thousands of low-income residents.

Asked by the AP whether she would support Nelson, she said: “I think I’ll probably vote for him — he’s a Democrat, right?”

The Republican DeSantis is making little effort to expand his coalition as he embraces Trump and his policies in a state the president carried by 1 point.

DeSantis vowed during Sunday’s debate to work closely with the Trump administration, while noting that Gillum has called for Trump’s impeachment. “You’ve got to be able to work with the administration,” DeSantis declared.

He also dismissed Parkland students’ calls for stronger efforts to reduce gun violence when asked about his opposition to modest gun control measures passed by Florida’s Republican-led legislature in the wake of the Parkland shooting.

DeSantis said local law enforcement and school officials “let them down” by not acting sooner to detain the shooter and address his mental health issues sooner.

Meanwhile, a flood of money is shaping the Florida elections.

Since the beginning of September alone, each side has dumped more than $44 million into television advertising for the governor’s race. While that may be the most in the country, it’s a fraction of the spending in Florida’s Senate contest, according to political operatives tracking media spending.

Paced by the Scott campaign’s $50 million, the Republican side has invested nearly $79 million in television spending since April compared to Democrats’ $49 million behind Nelson.

Back at The Villages, the attack ads against Gillum appeared to be resonating with retirees gathered for a Saturday DeSantis appearance that drew about 400.

“He scares me, I’m sorry,” 75-year-old retiree Suzanne Zimmerman, a member of Villagers for Trump, said of Gillum.

His race has nothing to do with her fear, she said.

“Although Gillum does say that there are too many white men in government,” Zimmerman added. “So that’s unfortunate that he is actually a racist.”

Generation Z voters could make waves in 2018 midterm elections

Generation Z voters could make waves in 2018 midterm elections

Courtesy of WeAreSoze

Unlike the much-studied millennials, we don’t know much about Generation Z, who now make up most of the 18- to 24-year-old voting bloc.

These young people started first grade after 9/11, were born with the internet, grew up with smartphones and social media and practiced active-shooter drills in their classrooms.

In 2018, they have taken an active role in political activism on issues like gun control, Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. For example, Parkland high school students started the movement against gun violence and named voting as a way to support the movement.

Yet, many people are skeptical about Generation Z’s commitment to voting. For instance, The Economist explained, in a piece titled “Why Young People Don’t Vote,” that “young people today do not feel they have much of a stake in society.”

Will Generation Z affect the midterm elections?

The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, where we do research, has been watching young people’s civic and political behaviors for nearly 20 years. This fall, my colleagues and I are conducting two large-scale national surveys of 2,087 Americans ages 18 to 24 to document and understand what Gen Zs are thinking, feeling and doing when it comes to politics.

So far, the data point to a surge in political engagement, intention to vote and outreach between friends to encourage voting. Gen Zers may be voting for the first time, but they are certainly not new to politics.

All signs point to youth wave

Young voters have a reputation of not showing up to the polls, especially in midterm elections. This trend goes back 40 years.

There are a few ways we can find out how likely it is that people in Generation Z will turn out to vote.

First, we can just ask. In our survey, 34 percent of youth said they are “extremely likely” to vote in November. While a survey can’t predict exact turnout numbers, data from previous surveys we’ve done using this approach have been close to actual turnout numbers. Other evidence supports this measure of intent to vote: Voter registration among young people is up in key battleground states and overall.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student. Reuters/Joe Skipper

Research also shows that activism and intent to vote are strongly correlated. So, in our survey we also asked young people about activism, such as participating in protests, union strikes, sit-ins and walk-outs.

The proportion of young people who join protests and marches tripled since the fall of 2016, from 5 percent to 15 percent. Participation is especially high among young people who are registered as Democrats.

Finally, we found that young people are paying attention to politics more than they were in 2016. In 2016, about 26 percent of young people said they were paying at least some attention to the November elections. This fall, the proportion of youth who report that they are paying attention to the midterm races rose to 46 percent.

It’s clear that more young people are actively engaged in politics this year than 2016.




Cynicism and worry aren’t obstacles

To learn more about what might be motivating Generation Z to vote, we asked our survey participants to rate their level of agreement with three statements.

“I worry that older generations haven’t thought about young people’s future.”

“I’m more cynical about politics than I was 2 years ago.”

“The outcomes of the 2018 elections will make a significant impact to everyday issues involving the government in my community, such as schools and police.”

In this year’s survey, we found that young people who feel cynical are far more likely to say they will vote. Other research has found that cynicism about politics can suppress or drive electoral engagement depending on the contexts.

Among young people who said “yes” to all three of those questions, more than half – 52 percent – said they are extremely likely to vote. Among young people who said “no” to all three of those questions, only 22 percent were extremely likely to vote.

Our poll results suggest political involvement in this generation is far above the levels we usually see among youth, especially in midterm election cycles.

In fact, almost 3 out of 4 youth – 72 percent – said they believe that dramatic change could occur in this country if people banded together. Gen Z is certainly aware of the challenges ahead but they are hopeful and actively involving themselves and friends in politics. Beyond almost any doubt, youth are involved and feel ready to make a dramatic change in the American political landscape.

This article was originally published in The Conversation.

Lawsuit: Teacher shamed student over pledge protest

Lawsuit: Teacher shamed student over pledge protest

A Connecticut teenager who says she was mocked and shamed for not standing up during the Pledge of Allegiance filed a federal lawsuit this week against her teacher and the school board.

The unnamed 14-year-old student said she and other students remained seated as part of a “peaceful and nondisruptive” protest over racial discrimination against black people in her lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court.

The Waterbury Arts Magnet School teacher brought another teacher into the classroom to lecture the students on their “supposed lack of patriotism” while praising others who stood, according to the lawsuit.

The student’s attorney, John Williams, said the teacher “went way overboard,” and his actions violated her First Amendment rights.

“As long as they are not being disruptive, they are entitled to freely express political views,” he said.

Williams told the Republican-American the student’s mother reached out to him after attempts to resolve the issue with school administrators failed.

He said the student has been “frightened and intimidated” as a result of the teacher’s actions.

Williams said they’re seeking an injunction to stop the teacher’s behavior and get undisclosed damages.

A message left at the school district’s superintendent’s office Thursday was not immediately returned.

Mukwege, Nobel Prize-winning doctor, a ‘blessing’ to Congolese Pentecostals

Mukwege, Nobel Prize-winning doctor, a ‘blessing’ to Congolese Pentecostals

Congolese gynecologist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Denis Mukwege, in his office at Panzi Hospital on Feb. 6, 2013, in eastern Congo. Photo by PINAULT/VOA/Creative Commons

NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) — At a tender age, Denis Mukwege accompanied his father, a Pentecostal church pastor, as he moved around the villages of Congo’s South Kivu Province praying for sick parishioners.

Those experiences inspired Mukwege to become a doctor — and later to found Panzi Hospital, a church-run facility in Bukavu, a community in eastern Congo. There, Mukwege has become known as the doctor who heals women suffering horrific damages after rape.

On Oct. 5, Mukwege and Nadia Murad, a young Iraqi human rights activist, won the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict in their countries.

The 63-year-old gynecologist, a Pentecostal Christian, is the medical director at Panzi Hospital, where for two decades he has treated thousands of women and girls badly mutilated after being subjected to rape.

In eastern Congo, armed men have been using rape as a weapon of war in a prolonged conflict largely centered on the control of mineral wealth. The region is rich in tantalum, a rare earth metal, along with tungsten and gold.

“I think they want to destroy the community. They rape in the presence of family members and the villagers,” Mukwege told this writer in an interview at Panzi Hospital at the peak of the violence in 2009.

“I feel bad when I see children, the same age as mine, have been raped, and they have been destroyed. They have no rectum, no sex organs, and this has been done by men who just want to destroy. This affects me as a person.”

But at the hospital, survivors of sexual violence have been finding help.

The doctor has been performing reconstructive surgery, giving them a new lease of life. And when they leave the hospital, the women are also emotionally and mentally empowered, apart from receiving financial and educational support to help rebuild their lives.

Since its founding, the hospital has treated more than 85,000 women and girls with complex gynecological injuries. More than 50,000 are survivors of sexual violence.

Rape survivors learn practical skills while recovering at Panzi Hospital in Bukavu in eastern Congo in 2009. RNS photo by Fredrick Nzwili

The doctor has dedicated his award to women all over the world harmed by conflict and suffering violence every day.

“Indeed, this honor is an inspiration because it shows that the world is … paying attention to the tragedy of rape and sexual violence and that the women and children who have suffered far too long are not being ignored,” Mukwege said in a statement released soon after he learned of the prize. He was in the midst of a surgery when the announcement was made.

“This Nobel Prize reflects this recognition of the suffering and the need for just reparation for female victims of rape and sexual violence in countries across the world and all continents.”

According to the doctor, the Nobel Prize will have real meaning only if it helps mobilize people to change the situation for victims of armed conflict. For years, he has advocated for the reclassification of sexual assaults, gang rapes and sexual mutilations by soldiers as war crimes. He has taken this advocacy to the United Nations, the U.N. Security Council and other international organizations.

Since the beginning, his work has been inspired by his faith.

Dr. Denis Mukwege in November 2014. Photo © Claude Truong-Ngoc/Creative Commons

In 1999, he founded the Panzi Hospital with support from the Communauté des Eglises de Pentecôte en Afrique Centrale. CEPAC, which was founded in 1921 by Swedish Pentecostals, is one of the largest Pentecostal groups in Congo. The church manages the hospital.

Although the hospital’s main focus is to offer medical and psychological treatment to survivors of sexual violence, it runs other projects too, including a training for medical staff on repair of fistulas, an HIV and AIDS program and a nutrition one, among others.

In Congo, CEPAC has an estimated membership of about 800,000 in more than 700 congregations concentrated in the eastern parts. The church runs more than 1,000 schools and about 160 health centers and implements several humanitarian and development projects in the war-torn region.

“We (churches) see Dr. Mukwege as a true blessing and a gift from God to CEPAC and Congo,” the Rev. Mateso Muke, spokesman of the 8th Community of Pentecostal Churches in Central Africa, said in a telephone interview Thursday (Oct. 18). “It’s a rare commitment to be helping ordinary citizens badly affected by violence, especially women. He is a true patriot.

“The award has given a good image to CEPAC and its work. Through him Congo and Africa have got a true defender of peace,” added Muke.

Other churches in eastern Congo have welcomed news of Mukwege’s Nobel Prize, saying it will boost the war against sexual violence in the region.

“We are very happy,” Bishop Josue’ Bulambo Lembelembe of the Church of Christ in Congo said. “This is also great recognition for the work of the church.”

Roman Catholic Archbishop Marcel Utembi Tapa of Kisangani said the award was an encouragement to all to oppose any forms of violence against women.

“The criminal use of rape as a weapon of war is a serious violation of life and respect for all human beings, especially women,” said Utembi.

Tired of war, South Sudanese pray for latest peace deal

Tired of war, South Sudanese pray for latest peace deal

JUBA, South Sudan — During a recent Sunday service, Pastor Jok Chol led the congregation at his Pentecostal church to pray for a sustainable peace after President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar signed the latest peace agreement in neighboring Sudan.

The two leaders signed an agreement in mid-September, hoping to end years of conflict.

“I want to rebuke the spirits of confusion in our leaders,” Chol prayed, amid cheers of “Amen” from hundreds of worshippers. “We thank God and pray that he touches the hearts of our leaders so that they can embrace the new peace agreement.”

During his sermon, Chol urged his congregants to have faith and hope and continue to pray for a sustainable peace. He said they should refuse to be divided by political leaders along ethnic lines.

“We are all children of God,” said Chol, 55, a father of three. “We should treat each other with the love of Jesus Christ. Please don’t do anything wrong because your leader has told you. Follow what the Bible says and you will be blessed.”

Chol and his congregants are among thousands of Southern Sudanese gathering in churches and various mosques across major cities and refugee camps to pray for their country, which has been embroiled in civil war since 2013.

South Sudan, red, in central Africa. Map courtesy of Creative Commons

South Sudan erupted into civil war after a power struggle ensued between Kiir and Machar. The conflict spread along ethnic lines, killing tens of thousands of people and displacing millions of others internally and outside the border. The economy has collapsed as a result of the ongoing war. Half of the remaining population of 12 million faces food shortages.

The latest treaty is the second attempt for this young nation to find peace. South Sudan became officially independent from Sudan in 2011. In 2013, civil war broke out after Kiir fired Machar as his deputy, leading to clashes between supporters of the two leaders.

A previous peace deal in 2016 tried to bring warring sides together so they could find a permanent solution. But fighting broke out in the capital city of Juba a few months later when Machar had returned from exile to become Kiir’s vice president as outlined in the peace agreement.

Under the new power-sharing arrangement Machar will once again be Kiir’s vice president.

Religious leaders such as Chol are optimistic that the latest peace agreement will hold up. They believe it is an answered prayer for thousands of faithful.

“I have hope in the new peace agreement,” said Bishop Emmanuel Murye of Episcopal Church in South Sudan. “We have been praying for peace to return to the country and we are happy that our leaders are committed to bring peace.”

Murye has been holding evangelistic meetings in refugee camps in Uganda, where more than 1 million South Sudanese have taken refuge. He said people in the camps have been praying for leaders to embrace the new deal.

“People want to come back home,” he said. “They are tired of staying in the camp. Life in the camp is not easy because there is no food to eat and children are not going to school. They have been praying for peace and they believe this is an answered prayer.”

But others still doubt the new peace deal.

South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, center, and opposition leader Riek Machar, right, shake hands during peace talks at a hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on June 21, 2018. The two leaders signed an agreement in mid-September. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene)

Fighting broke out in the country, killing 18 civilians, two days after the warring sides signed the latest agreement to end the civil war. Kiir and Machar supporters blamed each other for the attacks.

Religion has played a major role in South Sudan’s conflicts.

According to a recent report by Pew Research Center, Christians make up about 60 percent of the population of South Sudan, followed by 33 percent who are followers of African traditional religions. Six percent are Muslim.

The war for South Sudanese independence was often framed in religious terms — pitting Christians and followers of traditional religions against the Muslim leaders of Sudan.

Achol Garang, a catechist at the Bidi Bidi refugee camp in northern Uganda, said God was punishing her country for its sins. She said political leaders in South Sudan used religion as a tool to fight for independence from Sudan.

“They called themselves Christian liberators when they were fighting and promised to take us to the promised land of self-government,” said Garang, 45, a mother of five who fled Yei town in southwest South Sudan in 2015. “They lied to God and that’s the reason we are suffering now. We should just continue to pray for forgiveness of sins. We will get the answer one day.”

The South Sudanese government has accused church leaders of promoting violence among congregants by dividing them along ethnic lines.

The East Africa nation has two major tribes that have been involved in the civil war. People from Dinka tribe are loyal to Kiir, while people from Nuer tribe are led by Machar.

Religious leaders agree there has been ethnic conflict. But they say the church still remains strong.

“While individual clergy may have their own political sympathies, and while pastors on the ground continue to empathize with their local flock, the churches as bodies have remained united in calling and for an end to the killing, a peaceful resolution through dialogue, peace and reconciliation — in some cases at great personal risk,” John Ashworth, who has advised Catholic bishops and other church leaders in South Sudan, told Inter Press Service in Juba.

Chol, the Pentecostal pastor, believes the country has now found new peace after prayers.

“We must have faith that we have already found peace,” he said. “God has promised that he will never abandon his children, and we are happy he has answered our prayers.”