The long history of how Jesus came to resemble a white European

The long history of how Jesus came to resemble a white European

The portrayal of Jesus as a white, European man has come under renewed scrutiny during this period of introspection over the legacy of racism in society. As protesters called for the removal of Confederate statues in the U.S., activist Shaun King went further, suggesting that murals and artwork depicting “white Jesus” should “come down.” His concerns about the depiction of Christ and how it is used to uphold notions of white supremacy are not isolated. Prominent scholars and the archbishop of Canterbury have called to reconsider Jesus’ portrayal as a white man.

As a European Renaissance art historian, I study the evolving image of Jesus Christ from A.D. 1350 to 1600. Some of the best-known depictions of Christ, from Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper” to Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment” in the Sistine Chapel, were produced during this period. But the all-time most-reproduced image of Jesus comes from another period. It is Warner Sallman’s light-eyed, light-haired “Head of Christ” from 1940. Sallman, a former commercial artist who created art for advertising campaigns, successfully marketed this picture worldwide.

Through Sallman’s partnerships with two Christian publishing companies, one Protestant and one Catholic, the Head of Christ came to be included on everything from prayer cards to stained glass, faux oil paintings, calendars, hymnals and night lights.

Sallman’s painting culminates a long tradition of white Europeans creating and disseminating pictures of Christ made in their own image.

In search of the holy face

The historical Jesus likely had the brown eyes and skin of other first-century Jews from Galilee, a region in biblical Israel. But no one knows exactly what Jesus looked like. There are no known images of Jesus from his lifetime, and while the Old Testament Kings Saul and David are explicitly called tall and handsome in the Bible, there is little indication of Jesus’ appearance in the Old or New Testaments. Even these texts are contradictory: The Old Testament prophet Isaiah reads that the coming savior “had no beauty or majesty,” while the Book of Psalms claims he was “fairer than the children of men,” the word “fair” referring to physical beauty. The earliest images of Jesus Christ emerged in the first through third centuries A.D., amidst concerns about idolatry. They were less about capturing the actual appearance of Christ than about clarifying his role as a ruler or as a savior.

To clearly indicate these roles, early Christian artists often relied on syncretism, meaning they combined visual formats from other cultures. Probably the most popular syncretic image is Christ as the Good Shepherd, a beardless, youthful figure based on pagan representations of Orpheus, Hermes and Apollo. In other common depictions, Christ wears the toga or other attributes of the emperor. The theologian Richard Viladesau argues that the mature bearded Christ, with long hair in the “Syrian” style, combines characteristics of the Greek god Zeus and the Old Testament figure Samson, among others.

Christ as self-portraitist

The first portraits of Christ, in the sense of authoritative likenesses, were believed to be self-portraits: the miraculous “image not made by human hands,” or acheiropoietos.

This belief originated in the seventh century A.D., based on a legend that Christ healed King Abgar of Edessa in modern-day Urfa, Turkey, through a miraculous image of his face, now known as the Mandylion.

A similar legend adopted by Western Christianity between the 11th and 14th centuries recounts how, before his death by crucifixion, Christ left an impression of his face on the veil of Saint Veronica, an image known as the volto santo, or “Holy Face.”  These two images, along with other similar relics, have formed the basis of iconic traditions about the “true image” of Christ. From the perspective of art history, these artifacts reinforced an already standardized image of a bearded Christ with shoulder-length, dark hair.

In the Renaissance, European artists began to combine the icon and the portrait, making Christ in their own likeness. This happened for a variety of reasons, from identifying with the human suffering of Christ to commenting on one’s own creative power.

The 15th-century Sicilian painter Antonello da Messina, for example, painted small pictures of the suffering Christ formatted exactly like his portraits of regular people, with the subject positioned between a fictive parapet and a plain black background and signed “Antonello da Messina painted me.”

The 16th-century German artist Albrecht Dürer blurred the line between the holy face and his own image in a famous self-portrait of 1500. In this, he posed frontally like an icon, with his beard and luxuriant shoulder-length hair recalling Christ’s. The “AD” monogram could stand equally for “Albrecht Dürer” or “Anno Domini” – “in the year of our Lord.”

In whose image?

This phenomenon was not restricted to Europe: There are 16th- and 17th-century pictures of Jesus with, for example, Ethiopian and Indian features. In Europe, however, the image of a light-skinned European Christ began to influence other parts of the world through European trade and colonization. But Jesus’ light skin and blues eyes suggest that he is not Middle Eastern but European-born. And the faux-Hebrew script embroidered on Mary’s cuffs and hemline belie a complicated relationship to the Judaism of the Holy Family. The Italian painter Andrea Mantegna’s “Adoration of the Magi” from A.D. 1505 features three distinct magi, who, according to one contemporary tradition, came from Africa, the Middle East and Asia. They present expensive objects of porcelain, agate and brass that would have been prized imports from China and the Persian and Ottoman empires.

In Mantegna’s Italy, anti-Semitic myths were already prevalent among the majority Christian population, with Jewish people often segregated to their own quarters of major cities. Artists tried to distance Jesus and his parents from their Jewishness. Even seemingly small attributes like pierced ears – earrings were associated with Jewish women, their removal with a conversion to Christianity – could represent a transition toward the Christianity represented by Jesus. Much later, anti-Semitic forces in Europe including the Nazis would attempt to divorce Jesus totally from his Judaism in favor of an Aryan stereotype.

White Jesus abroad

As Europeans colonized increasingly farther-flung lands, they brought a European Jesus with them. Jesuit missionaries established painting schools that taught new converts Christian art in a European mode. A small altarpiece made in the school of Giovanni Niccolò, the Italian Jesuit who founded the “Seminary of Painters” in Kumamoto, Japan, around 1590, combines a traditional Japanese gilt and mother-of-pearl shrine with a painting of a distinctly white, European Madonna and Child.

In colonial Latin America – called “New Spain” by European colonists – images of a white Jesus reinforced a caste system where white, Christian Europeans occupied the top tier, while those with darker skin from perceived intermixing with native populations ranked considerably lower. Artist Nicolas Correa’s 1695 painting of Saint Rose of Lima, the first Catholic saint born in “New Spain,” shows her metaphorical marriage to a blond, light-skinned Christ.

Legacies of likeness

Scholar Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey argue that in the centuries after European colonization of the Americas, the image of a white Christ associated him with the logic of empire and could be used to justify the oppression of Native and African Americans.

In a multiracial but unequal America, there was a disproportionate representation of a white Jesus in the media. It wasn’t only Warner Sallman’s Head of Christ that was depicted widely; a large proportion of actors who have played Jesus on television and film have been white with blue eyes. Pictures of Jesus historically have served many purposes, from symbolically presenting his power to depicting his actual likeness. But representation matters, and viewers need to understand the complicated history of the images of Christ they consume.The Conversation

Anna Swartwood House, Assistant Professor of Art History, University of South Carolina

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

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.

 

 

Our God believes in Justice

Our God believes in Justice

Devotional Scripture

Deuteronomy 16:18-20

18 “Appoint judges and officials for yourselves from each of your tribes in all the towns the Lord your God is giving you. They must judge the people fairly. 

19 You must never twist justice or show partiality. Never accept a bribe, for bribes blind the eyes of the wise and corrupt the decisions of the godly. 

20 Let true justice prevail, so you may live and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

In a world where everyone has an opinion of what justice is, and what is wrong seems to be appealing and receiving the most media attention, as believers, it is very encouraging to know God’s pure intention and desire for what true justice is.

In Deuteronomy 16: 18-20 Living Bible Translation there are specific takeaways that are listed to ensure Justice prevails and there is success in the land

  1. Appointing judges and administrative officials to administer justice in every part of the land
  2. Not twisting justice to benefit the rich
  3. Never accepting bribes, because bribes blind the eyes of the wisest and corrupt their decisions

 

It is important to understand that God cares about what happens to the land we live in. It is a form of great stewardship, when we are able to appoint officials who will govern with wisdom and counsel.

True Justice in God’s eyes, does not involve buying favors, classism or oppression, as we often see in various governments in our current world. He desires for fruitfulness and peace, while those in power, serve in diligence, grace, and integrity for the good of the people.

This week, pray for elected officials. Let us ask God to touch the hearts and minds of those who have the honor to serve at any capacity in our current government. Let us pray for a heart of conviction, wisdom and the desire to do what is right for the sake of the people.

We have a duty as believers to pray and when the opportunity arises, appoint and elect the right officials to rule in our land so that we experience the blessings of peace and prosperity. We cannot give up hope, regardless of what is happening, or ignore the responsibility we have in picking right leaders. God cares for us, His love is unwavering and this year will not be any different. He will guide us to make the right decisions to elect leaders who will move our nation forward. Peace and stability is a great blessing to have, and pursuing pure justice will pave the way for that to happen.

Prayer

Dear God,

Of late it has been difficult to believe that true and pure Justice can be a possibility in our current world. Thank you for the reminder to trust you, and not take the power of decision for granted. Help me this year to pray for my leaders. All elected officials, in every area of government. Touch their hearts and minds with conviction and the desire to do what is right. Give me the wisdom to do my due diligence in selecting leaders with integrity and not lean on bias or prejudice, but true judgement of character. I desire to have peace and prosperity in the land where I reside. Let that be a blessing I get to experience this year.

In Jesus Name,

Amen

Why an HBCU Med School Decided to Put CARES Act Money Into Students’ Pockets

Why an HBCU Med School Decided to Put CARES Act Money Into Students’ Pockets

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Just before students at Meharry Medical College went home for Thanksgiving, Dr. James Hildreth, the school’s president, emailed them a video message that he acknowledged seemed hard to believe. Or at least they had to give it a second listen.

“We’ll gift each of you $10,000 in cash,” he said, looking at the camera. “You heard me right.”

They were told to expect a direct deposit the next day or pick up a check in person. Hildreth, an expert in infectious diseases who helped lead Nashville’s pandemic response, explained that this gift with no strings attached was money from the CARES Act, a major covid-19 relief law passed by Congress in 2020. He asked only that they be “good stewards” of the windfall.

After deep consideration, Meharry’s administration decided to give roughly a third of its CARES Act funding — $10 million — directly to its future doctors, dentists and public health researchers. All told, 956 students received payments.

Meharry’s students had already been heavily involved in the pandemic response, staffing Nashville’s mass covid testing and vaccination sites. But the money isn’t so much surprise compensation for volunteer efforts as it is an investment in a future career — and an assist in overcoming financial hurdles Black students especially face to become medical professionals.

While Black Americans make up roughly 13% of the population, the Association of American Medical Colleges finds Black doctors account for just 5% of the nation’s working physicians — a figure that has grown slowly over more than a century. And studies have found that Black patients often want to be cared for by someone whom they consider culturally competent in acknowledging their heritage, beliefs and values during treatment.

Meharry graduates more Black physicians than almost any other U.S. school. And half of its M.D.s enter the high-demand but lower-paying specialty of primary care.

“We felt that there was no better way to begin distributing these funds than by giving to our students who will soon give so much to our world,” Hildreth said.

Cheers erupted in the library as students clicked the video link.

Andreas Nelson fell silent, he recalled later. He went to his banking app and stared in disbelief. “$10,000 was sitting just in my bank account. It was astonishing,” he said. “I was literally lost for words.”

The Chicago native is finishing a master’s degree in health and science at Meharry with hopes of entering its dental school. The average student loan debt in the program totals more than $280,000. So, undoubtedly, 10 grand won’t make much of a dent in the debt.

But the money in his pocket eases his top concern of making rent each month. Nelson said it feels as though he’s being treated like an adult, allowing him to decide what his greatest needs are in getting through school.

“It’s motivating,” Nelson said. “Because that means they have trust in us to do with this money whatever the cause may be — whether it be student debt, investing or just personal enjoyment.”

Across the board, students at HBCUs rely more on student loans than students at historically white institutions. Roughly 80% take out student loans, according to an analysis by UNCF, formerly known as the United Negro College Fund, and they borrow considerably more.

Meharry was founded a decade after the Civil War to help those who had been enslaved. But the 145-year-old institution has always struggled financially, and so have its students.

The reasons are rooted in the country’s racist past, which has left the institutions with less money potentially available for scholarships than other universities. And students’ families generally have less wealth to tap into since Black households across the country have averaged around $17,000 in net worth — about a tenth of the average for white families.

Meharry’s average student debt is far higher than other area schools of medicine at Vanderbilt University and the University of Tennessee, representing both private and public institutions.

Virtually all colleges and universities received allotments under the CARES Act, but HBCUs have been much more aggressive about funneling substantial amounts directly to students, who tend to have greater need. More than 20 HBCUs have erased outstanding tuition balances. Some have canceled student fees.

But Meharry, one of the few stand-alone HBCU graduate schools, is a rare case in cutting checks for students.

“These young people are rising to medical school against all odds,” said Lodriguez Murray, who leads public policy and government affairs at UNCF. “Of course, they have to borrow more because people who look like them have less.”

During the pandemic, major philanthropists have taken new interest in supporting the few HBCU medical schools. Michael Bloomberg committed $100 million to four institutions, including Meharry, to help educate more Black doctors.

Students at Meharry can now apply for $100,000 scholarships. The $34 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies is also going toward other kinds of financial support.

The school is now offering, for no additional fee, expensive test-prep services through a Boston-based company, MedSchoolCoach. The service, which entails paying a doctor by the hour to help with studying, can cost thousands of dollars.

While the price is often out of reach for students tight on cash, acing the benchmark exams toward board licensure is key to landing coveted fellowships, qualifying for lucrative specialties or just finishing on time. And Meharry’s four-year completion rate of roughly 70% is below most schools. The most up-to-date national average is around 82%.

For some, Murray said, a $10,000 windfall may make all the difference in whether they cross the finish line and become a doctor who can afford all their medical school debt.

“Many of those students are borrowing a lot of money to complete their dream, and to become relatively high earners in the future,” Murray said. “The fact that these students are largely coming from lower socioeconomic backgrounds means that the funds that Meharry turned around and gave to the students are particularly impactful.”

This story is from a partnership that includes Nashville Public Radio and KHN.

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Will you recognize Him when you see Him?

Will you recognize Him when you see Him?

It had been a long day. Not long because I had crammed one activity after another into a very small window of time, but long in the tangible way I had felt every hour pass. Even though I arrived late to pick up my son from track practice, his older brother and I ended up having to wait for him to come out of the building. As he opened the van door, pitched his backpack into the van, and hopped onto the seat, I skipped my customary “Hi, how was your day” greeting. My mind was too harried to bother with perfunctory courtesies.

I swerved into the exit lane of the school driveway, but just then a man walking alongside a bicycle stepped into the crosswalk. He appeared to be talking to himself. At the precise moment when my car stopped to wait for him to pass, he turned and saw me. Now he was coming back toward the van. Oh no, not today, I thought. But yes, today was the day, and it has now become to me an act of mercy and life-altering grace that I will never forget.

I rolled down my window, lowered the radio volume so he wouldn’t hear the Christian music playing, and fixed my face with an impassive look that I hoped would indicate an absence of hostility but also a need to finish quickly whatever our interaction would be.

When he came to the window, I was expecting him to start explaining what he needed. But instead, he handed me a piece of notepaper that I could see was about half full of writing. As I started to read, he began saying something that I couldn’t quite make out, but I could tell he was probably hearing impaired. His note basically related that he was new in town, didn’t have a place to stay, had no friends or family in the area, and hadn’t eaten in three days. He concluded with a simple request for money to buy food.

Now that I’ve had time to reflect on the experience, I realize that should have been my first clue that something unexpected was about to happen. Even with all his apparent needs—without a home, physical and perhaps cognitive impairments, hunger, no family—he had narrowed his request down to one thing: I’m hungry. Can you help me get some food? I see this now for what it was: raw humility.

I looked up from the note and explained that I didn’t have any cash. Usually I at least have some loose change in my ashtray or the well in the driver side door, but not today. So being satisfied that I had dispatched my obligation as best I could, I apologized for being unable to help and began rolling my window back up. Unlike other people in his situation I’ve met before, he didn’t look angry, nor did he become aggressive. He took the note back from me, smiled, and started walking back in the direction he was originally going.

As I pulled out onto the road, I said to my sons, “I really need to start carrying some cash so I can help when situations like this come up.” They both mumbled, “Yeah,” and I could hear in their voices that surly cynicism people get when they hear someone say something that they knew would quickly be forgotten. They were right. I had said this before.

But this time it felt different.

Continuing in the vein of my day, I started mentally processing what had just happened. Unsolicited, I heard and felt God’s whisper in my heart, saying, “You don’t have any cash, but you can still give him something to eat.”

Duh, of course … I did have my debit card! In a flash, it hit me with such intensity that it came bursting out of my mouth without me really intending it to. “Hey, I have a card!” I shouted.

Now my sons were energized too. They both sat up straighter in their seats and started looking for a place we could stop and buy our stranger something to eat. At the same time, we all spotted the Burger King to our left. In my new excitement and haste to rectify my original un-helpfulness, I swung the van into the turn lane and practically skidded into the BK drive-thru line. We were all thinking the same thing: we needed to hurry because he might not be in the near vicinity for too long. My sons both started yelling things we could order, and we settled on grilled chicken, fries, and a sprite. We figured if he hadn’t eaten in three days, his stomach might be sensitive, so grilled rather than fried seemed to fit the bill. I also was price conscious because my own finances were pretty slim.

After we ordered and paid, we started looking for him. Panic began to rise as we scanned the street in front of us and the sidewalk on both sides and didn’t see him.

“There he is!”

My younger son spotted him in the parking lot of a corner convenience store where he appeared to be talking with another driver about his plight. I made a half u-turn into the store parking lot and pulled up beside our friend. When he shifted on his feet to face us, I could see on his face a flicker of recognition, but just shy of familiarity. My older son was closest to him, so I handed the bag of food to him and he reached out the window. A look of sheer surprise spread over the man’s face. Clearly he couldn’t believe we were back. My son handed him the bag, and tears welled up in the man’s eyes.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you so much, and God bless you,” the man said. We blessed him back and pulled off.

I knew what had just happened, but I also knew something else had happened. That simple hand-off of food had ushered something “other” into our midst. A hush fell over all three of us, and my spirit bore witness that the interior of my van had been transformed into holy ground. The presence of God was overwhelming. Tears started running down my face, and I saw that my younger son was struggling to hold back the tears that sat pooled right behind his eyelids. Finally he said, “Gosh, he was so grateful … poor guy.”

I heard what my son said, but I also heard someone else speaking: “Whatever you do to the least of these, you’ve done it unto Me. Thanks for feeding Me when I was hungry.” Then again: “When you give to the poor, you lend to the Lord. Thanks for the loan; I’ll pay you back.”

I was speechless. On a day when I felt the burden of so much of my own need, and was almost near the edge of panic about my own money situation, the Lord Himself visited my little tribe and gave us an opportunity to see Him, and to be blessed not just by Him but with Him. God was there as real as I’ve ever experienced Him. I saw Him in the man’s unashamed humility, his open gratitude, his peaceful demeanor despite what had to be a grinding existence, and his ready forgiveness of my earlier rejection. This man may indeed be a pauper by earthly standards, but he was just as sure a prince by eternal standards. In that simple act of obedience, I had received so much more than I had given.

Since my meeting him that day, now more than a month ago, I have thought of him every day and prayed for him when I thought to do it. He makes me wonder how many times, in our harried and distracted living, we miss the opportunity to see Jesus because we don’t recognize Him when we see Him.

Our cities and urban areas are full with people who need to be fed, clothed, comforted. But I believe we pass Him by because of the “distressing disguise” in which he appears to us. Run-down tenements, trash-strewn alleys, and overrun housing projects are not usually our idea of heavenly places. But heaven is where Jesus is, and I think maybe He’s waiting for us to realize that truth.

I almost wish I could see my hungry friend again, just so I could thank him. Through his humanity and his need, he gave me a glimpse of Someone I desperately needed to see. He gave me the opportunity of a lifetime.

As Congress debates, Black Baptist leader calls denial of voting rights ‘evil’

As Congress debates, Black Baptist leader calls denial of voting rights ‘evil’

(RNS) — On the day of a major voting rights debate on Capitol Hill, a social justice coordinator for the Progressive National Baptist Convention said fighting for voting rights is an effort to conquer evil.

“This convention practices a ministry of erosion,” said the Rev. Willie D. Francois III, co-chair of its social justice arm, during a Tuesday (Jan. 18) news conference held in Atlanta and livestreamed on the denomination’s social media.

“What does that mean? We keep showing up so that we wear evil down. The denial of voting rights is evil. The protection of Senate rules over the protection of the public is evil.”

The news conference was held at the historically Black denomination’s midwinter board meeting, just as legislators on Capitol Hill debated voting rights bills that the PNBC, along with a number of other faith organizations, support. However, the bills are not expected to pass.

Francois said the PNBC would be working with Faiths United to Save Democracy, a new coalition that has urged the Senate to change its rule about the filibuster, a stalling technique that requires 60 votes to end it and which is often used by the minority party to stop a bill from passing with a simple majority vote.

“The filibuster that was used to block anti-lynching laws cannot be used right now to block voter expansion,” Francois said. “And so we’re calling on our Senate to reform its filibuster to ensure that we can actually pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and we can also pass the Freedom to Vote Act.”

Regardless of what happens during the current debate, the PNBC leaders said they intend to move ahead with plans to lobby members of Congress in March and register voters weekly in their congregations and communities, aiming to increase voter rolls by 500,000.

The Rev. Adolphus Lacey, a pastor in New York’s Brooklyn borough, said these efforts will continue despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“COVID is real; COVID is a threat,” said Lacey, a PNBC social justice commissioner. “But even more serious than COVID, as real and scary as it is, is to see thousands and thousands of thousands of voters not being able to vote, and it was on our watch. We refuse to stop. We refuse to turn around.”

The denomination’s voter registration initiative will be aimed particularly at millennials and members of Gen Z.

But it will also focus on states with key races expected to have close margins, said the Rev. Darryl Gray of St. Louis.

“We don’t want to just register a half a million people,” said Gray, a PNBC pastor who served in the Kansas Senate in the 1980s and ran an unsuccessful 2020 campaign for Missouri state representative. “We want to register a half a million people in United States senatorial campaigns that are going to be consequential.”

PNBC leaders noted they belong to the denominational home of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., in a state at the center of voting rights debates. King co-pastored Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which was influential in the civil rights movement, also is based in the city.

“We believe it is no coincidence that this convention, born out of the need to fight for justice, is in this state and city at such a time as this when our voting rights are under fierce attack,” said the Rev. David R. Peoples, president of the PNBC.

“This is a call to action from the Progressive National Baptist Convention. We come to not just pray. We come to not just push. We come to not just preserve. We’ve come to protect the right to vote.”

READ THIS STORY AT RELIGIONNEWS.COM

Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.

Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.

Video, courtesy of TIME

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

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

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

Podcast Shorts: How Do People of Faith Address Violence?

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

MLK: Remembering the Dream

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

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

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

Celebrating Dr. King with Service

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

The Power of a Praying King

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

Faith and Politics at King Dedication

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

King Memorial Controversy Continues

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

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Opens

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

Stranded on MLK Blvd.

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

MLK: A Life

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

The Day MLK Died

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

How a heritage of black preaching shaped MLK’s voice in calling for justice

How a heritage of black preaching shaped MLK’s voice in calling for justice

Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the Freedom March on Washington in 1963.
Bettmann/Contributor via Getty images

The name Martin Luther King Jr. is iconic in the United States. President Barack Obama mentioned King in both his Democratic National Convention nomination acceptance and victory speeches in 2008, when he said,

“[King] brought Americans from every corner of this land to stand together on a Mall in Washington, before Lincoln’s Memorial…to speak of his dream.”

Indeed, much of King’s legacy lives on in such arresting oral performances. They made him a global figure.

King’s preaching used the power of language to interpret the gospel in the context of black misery and Christian hope. He directed people to life-giving resources and spoke provocatively of a present and active divine interventionist who summons preachers to name reality in places where pain, oppression and neglect abound.
In other words, King used a prophetic voice in his preaching – the hopeful voice that begins in prayer and attends to human tragedy.

So what led to the rise of the black preacher and shaped King’s prophetic voice?

In my book, “The Journey and Promise of African American Preaching,” I discuss the historical formation of the black preacher. My work on African American prophetic preaching shows that King’s clarion calls for justice were offspring of earlier prophetic preaching that flowered as a consequence of the racism in the U.S.

From slavery to the Great Migration

First, let’s look at some of the social, cultural and political challenges that gave birth to the black religious leader, specifically those who assumed political roles with the community’s blessing and beyond the church proper.

In slave society, black preachers played an important role in the community: they acted as seers interpreting the significance of events; as pastors calling for unity and solidarity; and as messianic figures provoking the first stirrings of resentment against oppressors.

The religious revivalism or the Great Awakening of the 18th century brought to America a Bible-centered brand of Christianity – evangelicalism – that dominated the religious landscape by the early 19th century. Evangelicals emphasized a “personal relationship” with God through Jesus Christ.

This new movement made Christianity more accessible, livelier, without overtaxing educational demands. Africans converted to Christianity in large numbers during the revivals and most became Baptists and Methodists. With fewer educational restrictions placed on them, black preachers emerged in the period as preachers and teachers, despite their slave status.

Africans viewed the revivals as a way to reclaim some of the remnants of African culture in a strange new world. They incorporated and adopted religious symbols into a new cultural system with relative ease.

Rise of the black cleric-politician

Despite the development of black preachers and the significant social and religious advancements of blacks during this period of revival, Reconstruction – the process of rebuilding the South soon after the Civil War – posed numerous challenges for white slaveholders who resented the political advancement of newly freed Africans.

As independent black churches proliferated in Reconstruction America, black ministers preached to their own. Some became bivocational. It was not out of the norm to find pastors who led congregations on Sunday and held jobs as schoolteachers and administrators during the work week.

Others held important political positions. Altogether, 16 African Americans served in the U.S. Congress during Reconstruction. For example, South Carolina’s House of Representatives’ Richard Harvey Cain, who attended Wilberforce University, the first private black American university, served in the 43rd and 45th Congresses and as pastor of a series of African Methodist churches.

Others, such as former slave and Methodist minister and educator Hiram Rhoades Revels and Henry McNeal Turner, shared similar profiles. Revels was a preacher who became America’s first African American senator. Turner was appointed chaplain in the Union Army by President Abraham Lincoln.

To address the myriad problems and concerns of blacks in this era, black preachers discovered that congregations expected them not only to guide worship but also to be the community’s lead informant in the public square.

The cradle of King’s spiritual heritage

Many other events converged as well, impacting black life that would later influence King’s prophetic vision: President Woodrow Wilson declared entrance into World War I in 1917; as “boll weevils” ravaged crops in 1916 there was widespread agricultural depression; and then there was the rise of Jim Crow laws that were to legally enforce racial segregation until 1965.

Such tide-swelling events, in multiplier effect, ushered in the largest internal movement of people on American soil, the Great “Black” Migration. Between 1916 and 1918, an average of 500 Southern migrants a day departed the South. More than 1.5 million relocated to Northern communities between 1916 and 1940.

Records of immigration and passenger arrivals during the Great Migration stored at the National Archives in Washington.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

A watershed, the Great Migration brought about contrasting expectations concerning the mission and identity of the African American church. The infrastructure of Northern black churches were unprepared to deal with the migration’s distressing effects. Its suddenness and size overwhelmed preexisting operations.

The immense suffering brought on by the Great Migration and the racial hatred they had escaped drove many clergy to reflect more deeply on the meaning of freedom and oppression. Black preachers refused to believe that the Christian gospel and discrimination were compatible.

However, black preachers seldom modified their preaching strategies. Rather than establishing centers for black self-improvement focused on job training, home economics classes and libraries, nearly all Southern preachers who came North continued to offer priestly sermons. These sermons exalted the virtues of humility, good will and patience, as they had in the South.

Setting the prophetic tradition

Three clergy outliers – one a woman – initiated change. These three pastors were particularly inventive in the way they approached their preaching task.

Baptist pastor Adam C. Powell Sr., the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (AMEZ) pastor Florence S. Randolph and the African Methodist Episcopal bishop Reverdy C. Ransom spoke to human tragedy, both in and out of the black church. They brought a distinctive form of prophetic preaching that united spiritual transformation with social reform and confronted black dehumanization.

Bishop Ransom’s discontentment arose while preaching to Chicago’s “silk-stocking church” Bethel A.M.E. – the elite church – which had no desire to welcome the poor and jobless masses that came to the North. He left and began the Institutional Church and Social Settlement, which combined worship and social services.

Randolph and Powell synthesized their roles as preachers and social reformers. Randolph brought into her prophetic vision her tasks as preacher, missionary, organizer, suffragist and pastor. Powell became pastor at the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. In that role, he led the congregation to establish a community house and nursing home to meet the political, religious and social needs of blacks.

A March 9, 1965 file photo of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama. King learned from these progressive black preachers who came before him.
AP Photo, File

Shaping of King’s vision

The preaching tradition that these early clergy fashioned would have profound impact on King’s moral and ethical vision. They linked the vision of Jesus Christ as stated in the Bible of bringing good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind and proclaiming liberty to the captives, with the Hebrew prophet’s mandate of speaking truth to power.

Similar to how they responded to the complex challenges brought on by the Great Migration of the early 20th century, King brought prophetic interpretation to brutal racism, Jim Crow segregation and poverty in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Indeed, King’s prophetic vision ultimately invited his martyrdom. But through the prophetic preaching tradition already well established by his time, King brought people of every tribe, class and creed closer toward forming “God’s beloved community” – an anchor of love and hope for humankind.

This is an updated version of a piece first published on Jan. 15, 2017.

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Editor’s note: This piece has been corrected to state that President Woodrow Wilson declared entrance into World War I in 1917.The Conversation

Kenyatta R. Gilbert, Professor of Homiletics, Howard University

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

Hartford International University expands Black ministries with Howard Thurman Center

Hartford International University expands Black ministries with Howard Thurman Center

Howard Thurman was a theologian and mystic who taught at both Howard University and Boston University. Photo courtesy of Emory University

‘(RNS) — Hartford International University for Religion and Peace has launched its new Howard Thurman Center for Justice and Transformational Ministry, an expansion of its longtime Black Ministries Program, named for the 20th-century theologian and mystic.

Joel N. Lohr, president of the university that previously was known as Hartford Seminary, said the center fits into the school’s strategic plan that focuses on peace building.

“It was my hope that this would be a moment to grow, to envision a center that would do more to support students, justice and ministry,” he said at a Tuesday (Jan. 11) webinar that officially launched the center and was attended by alumni, as well as Thurman’s grandchildren.

The center, which is a $2 million project, is supported by a $1 million grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc. The grant will support a resource center, pay for a Black church scholar and assure that students will not be excluded if they cannot afford the coursework.

The HTC will be led by Bishop Benjamin Watts, who will also continue to lead the Black Ministries Program founded in 1982 by the late Christian Methodist Episcopal Senior Bishop Thomas Hoyt.

“The center’s North Star will be Thurman’s insistence on social justice and responsibility within a spiritual framework,” said Watts in an introductory video during the launch event.

In live comments, Watts spoke of plans to move beyond the center’s regional focus in its two-year certificate course and to become a national model of theological training for pastors and lay people. He said the center also wants to expand the training to include health, wellness and trauma education.

“Those of us of faith have to find ways to continually engage with other persons, and particularly our youth who seem to be falling away from our worship centers,” he said.

During a live interview, Watts asked the Rev. Walter Fluker, editor of “The Papers of Howard Washington Thurman,” to describe the center’s namesake, who died in 1981.

“Thurman, like great mystics — the Dalai Lama, Bishop Tutu — if you meet them, they’re always laughing, because they understand the deep, tragic sense of life and it’s only because of their deep sense of the tragic that they’re able to look at the world and laugh at the world,” said Fluker, a professor at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. ”To meet Howard Thurman is to meet not a detached mystic unconcerned about the affairs of the world, but a very earthly human being.”

The launch event also featured video comments from the Rev. Andrew Young, a longtime civil rights activist who worked with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and is an alumnus of the Connecticut university, and an interview with former Spelman College President Beverly Daniel Tatum, who earned a master’s in religious studies from the school.

READ THIS STORY AT RELIGIONNEWS.COM

Rev. Al Sharpton calls for justice in police killing of Valentina Orellana Peralta

Rev. Al Sharpton calls for justice in police killing of Valentina Orellana Peralta

LOS ANGELES (RNS) — The Rev. Al Sharpton, speaking at the funeral of the 14-year-old fatally shot by a Los Angeles Police Department officer, recalled coming to Los Angeles 30 years ago to protest the beating of Rodney King by police.

“We keep seeing LAPD get it wrong. And here we are again. How long will it take for you to get it right?” Sharpton asked.

Valentina Orellana Peralta was with her mother, Soledad Peralta, on Dec. 23 in the dressing room of a Burlington clothing store in the San Fernando Valley’s North Hollywood neighborhood when, according to news reports, LAPD officer William Dorsey Jones Jr. fired at a 24-year-old man identified as Daniel Elena Lopez, who had been assaulting a woman in the store. The officer’s shots killed Lopez, and Valentina was also killed when one of the bullets went through a wall.

Both the girl and her mother had come to the United States from Chile.

Sharpton, on Monday (Jan. 10), eulogized Orellana Peralta, who was displayed in a pink dress inside a flower-draped casket during her funeral at City of Refuge, United Church of Christ in Gardena, near Los Angeles.

Today I’m eulogizing 14-year-old #ValentinaOrellanaPeralta who was killed by a LAPD stray bullet as she shopped for a Christmas dress. I’m praying for her parents and loved ones and we will seek justice in her name
📹 @rachelnoerd pic.twitter.com/NPyYj3lDhu

— Reverend Al Sharpton (@TheRevAl) January 10, 2022

“There is nothing normal about shooting so recklessly that a young teenage girl looking to live the American dream, that was shopping with her dear mother Soledad, possibly getting a Christmas dress, ends up being dressed for her funeral,” Sharpton said. “This could have been my daughter. This could have been your daughter.”

The shooting made international news when President Joe Biden called Chilean President-elect Gabriel Boric to congratulate him on winning his country’s election and during that conversation, “offered his deep condolences to the people of Chile for the tragic death” of Orellana Peralta.

Orellana Peralta was remembered as a happy teen who excelled in school, who was an advocate for animals and who yearned to become a U.S. citizen. Her father said she had dreams of becoming an engineer to build robots.

Sharpton, during the eulogy, said it was important to make it clear that “we don’t just fight for our own because we all are our own,” Sharpton said.

“Whether you are from South Central, Harlem, or Chile, right is right … If we call for justice for some, we must call (for) it for all, and I wanted to come 3,000 miles to say, ‘Justice for (Valentina)!’” Sharpton proclaimed.

Added Sharpton: “There are those … around America that talk about refugees coming to America, some from Chile, some from Central and South America, some from Mexico, and they ask me why I stand and fight for them to have rights. I fight for them to have rights because I worship a refugee from Bethlehem.”

“Jesus was a refugee, and you cannot despise refugees and then stand up and say you are a believer in Christ,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

At Milwaukee church, refugees find welcome from a less suspicious time

At Milwaukee church, refugees find welcome from a less suspicious time

MILWAUKEE (RNS) — Asher Imtiaz is the kind of person who always seems to be wandering into a great story.

Like the time in 2017, when the Pakistani American computer scientist and documentary photographer walked into a Target in Nebraska and ended up being invited to a wedding thrown by Yazidi refugees from the Middle East.

Imtiaz had gone to Nebraska to shoot pictures of life in small-town America in the age of Trump, far from the country’s urban centers. Among his portfolio from the time is another Yazidi family, dressed in patriotic garb and heading to a Fourth of July picnic.

“I went to see America and found these new Americans,” said Imtiaz at a coffee shop on the north side of Milwaukee last year.

Imtiaz fits right in at Eastbrook Church, a multi-ethnic congregation where he serves as a volunteer leader at an outreach ministry for international students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus nearby.

Eastbrook is a bit of an outlier these days, a place where refugees, immigrants and international students are welcome at a time when American evangelicals are increasingly suspicious of newcomers to the United States.

According to data from the Public Religion Research Institute’s Immigration Policies Survey, nearly 6-in-10 (59%) white Evangelical Protestants agreed with the statement “Immigrants are invading our country and replacing our cultural and ethnic background.” By contrast, only 31% of Americans overall agreed with that statement.

At an outdoor service at Eastbrook in August, Imtiaz wandered through the congregation greeting friends and exchanging hugs as a diverse worship team led the congregation through a mix of traditional and contemporary songs. The service started with the singing of the traditional Doxology, which begins, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow,” followed by songs like “You Are Good” and “Way Maker,” by Nigerian gospel singer Sinach.

That was followed by a reading of Psalm 23 in English, Spanish and Yoruba.

The church was founded in 1979 by members of Elmbrook Church, a megachurch about 20 miles to the west. Elmbrook’s then pastor was hoping to get church members more involved in the communities where they lived. Dubbed Eastbrook, it was led for three decades by former missionaries Marc and Nancy Erickson. For the past 11 years the pastor has been Matt Erickson (no relation).

The proximity of the university campus led to an intentional outreach to college students, especially those from overseas, which continues four decades later.

Every fall, church members give tours of Milwaukee to newly arrived international students, who are then invited to have dinner at the homes of church members. Many of those students come from Christian backgrounds and are seeking to connect with a church, said Imtiaz, who was raised as an Anglican in Pakistan, a country where only about 2% of the population is Christian.

Those students are also looking for friendship. Imtiaz pointed to a 2012 study of international students in the South and Northeast, which found that 40% of those students had no close friendships with Americans. Through the outreach at Eastbrook, their students often make friends in their first days in the country. Many of them end up spending holidays with church members and making longtime friendships.

“It’s basically providing a home away from home,” he said.

The church also operates an International Community Center on the south side of the city, where a number of recent refugees and other immigrants have settled. The center teaches English as a Second Language classes and provides support with issues like housing and education. About 30 people will end up dropping by the center most days, Dan Ryan, senior director of mission at the church, said in an interview in early January 2022.

Ryan said the church is helping resettle some recent refugees from Afghanistan. He understands that some of his fellow evangelicals around the country are resistant to the idea of resettling refugees. Since refugees are here in the States, he said, churches need to reach out in love.

“Yes, have your political ideas,” he said. “But don’t lose sight of the people involved.”

Ryan said that the church and the center are very open about the Christian motivations for their outreach efforts. But they also steer clear of proselytizing. Their main goal, Ryan said, is to show love and welcome to their new neighbors, a point echoed by Matt Erickson.

“It’s a ministry of care and concern and tangible ways of loving people welcoming people,” he said.

“These folks are treasured by God and valuable in his sight,” said Erickson, who spent several years on the staff of World Relief, a Christian organization that helps resettle refugees in the United States.

While he’s not shy about talking about faith, Imtiaz doesn’t see himself as a “Christian photographer.” He said that Christians in the United States sometimes see their neighbors as “projects” or prospective converts, rather than seeing them as people first. He takes a slower approach, trying to befriend people and see them as a neighbor who is valuable in God’s sight.

As a photographer, Imtiaz practices something he calls “God at ‘I’ level” — trying to connect with the people he photographs as human beings, long before taking their picture.

Like many churches in the United States, Eastbrook has felt the pressure of the country’s political polarization inside the church. Erickson said that Eastbrook has always tried to bring together people from different backgrounds, as task made more difficult by the broader conflicts in American public life over race, politics and increasingly, COVID-19.

He often turns to a verse from the New Testament Book of Galatians, in which the apostle Paul urges his readers to “bear one another’s burdens.”

“The last couple of years have given us lots of opportunities to live that out,” he said. “Sometimes we are doing it well and sometimes we are not. Part of being a body is that we have to learn to talk with each other, and we have to learn how to understand each other.”

During his sermon at the outdoor service in August, Erickson urged church members to ground their lives in the Bible and its message of love, rather than on the noise of the outside world. Without that solid foundation, he said, their lives won’t reflect the kind of love God wants them to share.

“Brothers and sisters, I just want to ask us today, are we giving more time to the news, are we giving more time to social media than we are to the Word of God and letting it sink into our lives?” he said. “I’m not trying to be legalistic. I’m just sick of us being brainwashed and want us to stand in the kingdom.”.

Among the people at Eastbrook that Sunday were Mahitha Voola and Manna Konduri, both originally from India, who came to Eastbrook through the church’s outreach to international students and ended up staying after graduation.

From the beginning, people at the church made them feel at home.

“They say, ‘Oh, taste and see the Lord is good,’” Voola said, quoting a verse from the Psalms. “I’ve tasted that love of God through these people and through the church. I feel very blessed to be part of it.”

The two said they hope to pass on the welcome they have received.

“Today we are the recipients of this love,” Konduri said. “Tomorrow, maybe we will be the ones to show that to someone else.”

Eastbrook’s ethic of welcome, Imtiaz said, has been as much a boon for him as it is for the newcomers.

He’s particularly interested in documenting the story of immigrants and refugees, whom he likes to refer to as “new Americans.” For several years he lived in an apartment complex where newly resettled refugees were living so that he could get to know them. He ended up photographing a number of neighbors after building friendships. When he got COVID-19 — a mild case — one of his former neighbors, a woman from Iraq, would send him soup.

Imtiaz hopes that his photographs and work at the church will inspire people to get to know their neighbors, no matter where they come from.

“If I can go to Nebraska and go to Target and meet 400 Yazidis, anybody else can,” he said.

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

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

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

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

 

This teen has a lot to tell Eric Adams about the future of NYC schools

This teen has a lot to tell Eric Adams about the future of NYC schools

“This story was originally published by Chalkbeat. Sign up for their newsletters at ckbe.at/newsletters

Amy Zimmer, Chalkbeat New York

In promising to rebuild the department of education from the ground up, Mayor-elect Eric Adams and incoming schools Chancellor David Banks vowed to seek input from students.

So far, they seem to be practicing what they preach. Adams’ transition team for education includes four “youth co-chairs”: two high school students and two college students from the City University of New York. Adams included dozens of other CUNY students on his transition team through an internship program.

Chalkbeat spoke with co-chair Mia Payne, a senior at Manhattan’s Talent Unlimited High School, who has been on the forefront of pushing for more civic education in New York City schools. 

The 17-year-old Bronx resident has been a leader the past two years with YVote, a youth civic engagement organization. As a civic fellow with Next Generation Politics — a related youth-led organization focused on cross-partisan civic engagement — Payne grappled with issues such as cancel culture, immigration, police reform and critical race theory, the academic framework that examines how policies and the law perpetuate systemic racism.

After sending a memo with ideas on increasing voter registration and civic engagement in schools to Sanda Balaban, co-founder of YVote and Next Generation Politics, Payne connected with the education department’s Civics for All team, inspiring them to start a student advisory group.

“Mia is a deep thinker about how to improve NYC schools and how to improve the Bronx and NYC more broadly,” Balaban said. “Last spring when all of our YVoters were analyzing mayoral candidates, almost all wanted to do a write-in campaign ‘Mia for Mayor.’”

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Congratulations on your role as a youth co-chair. Do you know if previous transition teams have had such a role?

I think this is the first time that they’re having it. When I learned about that I looked at my position differently because I’m like, ‘OK, are they gonna put me on the transition team as a publicity stunt for hearing youth voices or are they actually going to address the issues that I’m concerned about and take them into consideration?’

So that’s kind of like an extra level of responsibility. A lot of the time, politics is just a picture game. It’s all about image. But I’m a product of the NYCDOE. I go to school, I’m impacted by this. This isn’t another policy or administration for me. This is my real life. So I have to make sure that I get that across.

And what exactly is your role?

I wanted to make sure that my stories and experiences are not being exploited, so I had to make the platform my own. 

It’s not really responsibilities, like creating meeting agendas or anything, it’s more like, ‘You’re a participant like everyone else, but because it’s the first time we have youth as co-chairs, your story is going to be highlighted through a 10-minute session in the agenda.’

So yeah, I had that 10-minute session, but then also, something that really pushed me  — I’m like, there’s people in this meeting that have the power to change these issues I’m so concerned about by shifting culture. I didn’t want to let it be another panel where we’re gonna talk about issues and problems. I want it to actually lead to tangible action. 

So after the first meeting [out of three], where David Banks was like, ‘Tell me what you want. What are Day 1 priorities? What are actual tangible solutions?’ — that was my motivation because I’m like, okay, ‘cause I already know a lot of organizations that have been waiting for someone to ask that question. 

And so literally following up that meeting, I spent the whole weekend just kind of filling out a Google doc of everything that I feel like we need to be focused on, like integrating New York City schools, redesigning the curriculum, career and college readiness, prioritizing to the mental health of the students, reimagining their schools’ culture, and ways to spotlight our teachers. 

Tell me a little more about what you’d like to see changed.

We have one of the most segregated school systems in the country, which is mind-boggling to me because New York City is so diverse, and then you go inside the schools and ethnic diversity isn’t reflected.

So, a factor towards resolving this is the city needs to abolish the specialized high school admissions exam. I feel like a student’s potential shouldn’t be measured from their ability to answer math or ELA questions on an exam. 

It is very much an equity issue with the screening of our schools. And there needs to be funding for the opportunity for every school district to redesign their own community-driven diversity plan. 

We should expand education with emphasis on marginalized populations. I feel like that does not get talked about enough. There’s youth in the juvenile justice system that need quality education, homeless youth, migrant children — they’re not receiving the same education, simply based on their circumstances, which is not right. Everyone needs a quality education regardless of background or circumstances because that is how you’re progressing in society. The justice system is supposed to be a rehabilitation system, and you can’t rehabilitate someone without giving them education. 

You also mentioned career and college readiness. 

There is definitely a lack of college support in New York City schools, especially now with the pandemic because of understaffing.

We can have partners with nonprofits or different programs that want to do this — that want to get students mentored and give resources. That can help ease the caseload for schools. Teachers can’t provide the individualized feedback and attention that every student deserves because of an intense amount of classes they have to teach.

Another thing is just connecting with the College Now program [where New York City high school students take CUNY courses]. That’s really what got me interested in education. I took an urban education course at Hunter College and that was life-changing for me, honestly. It really just opened my eyes about the interconnectivity of American systems. I didn’t know the history of it. I didn’t know that if you’re strategically trying to target Black and brown students from an education, you’re trying to diminish a whole population within themselves. You’re depriving them of unlocking the potential and creativity of their minds and restricting them from being productive, powerful, and contributing members of society.

And [it helped me notice] how voting is so important. If you don’t have civics education, then politicians don’t care if millions are outside rallying for climate change, if less than 10% of that crowd is going to take their demands to the ballot box.

I’m working on expanding Civics for All week right now with the DOE in creating a student advisory team for the Civics for All department. Students may not know anything about government when they graduate, and statistically, it’s marginalized communities that aren’t receiving that knowledge, leaving them unequipped and civically illiterate in a nation that is governed by democracy.

And you mentioned mental health.

Students feel pressure to succeed and are worried about imperfection because their worth and potential are measured by their grades. I feel like we have to redefine what success is and reimagine a school’s culture — this is a broad issue because it has to do with the global culture of education and the way in which students are pressured to be elite. But students need to know that when they go beyond their initial expectations of themselves, and they’ve reached a level of nobility that society isn’t mature enough to honor, that is the real point of success. You should never have to bear that burden of having to get a 1600 on your SAT or having to get 100 in every class, to be seen as brilliant. 

I don’t think the traditional way of testing is really effective. Students are very aware that big testing companies are just making a buck off of their stress. They’re very aware of it, but they still go through it because they want to go to college. They joke about it, but it then leads to actual anxiety attacks and leads to actual suicidal thoughts. I’m very concerned about how normalized it’s getting within my generation and the paradox of advocating for mental health while falling victim to mentally demanding educational expectations.

So we have to evaluate the way that we test students in a way that’s actually effective. Like performance based-assessments so students go into college and work spaces with public speaking and teamwork skills, rather than only knowing pen and paper. We need performance-based assessments that really say, ‘I need you to reflect on the curriculum. I need you to be creative.’

When are you going to be chancellor?

My focal point right now isn’t education, though it is something I prioritize when being civically engaged. I’m looking into engineering. I will be double majoring in aerospace engineering, and civil and environmental engineering. I find intersection in almost every issue. So in civil and environmental engineering, I find a connection between redlining policies and the disproportionate placement of  highways that directly impact Black and brown neighborhoods, along with toxic waste facilities and other forms of environmental racism. And with aerospace engineering  I want to kind of branch out the solutions to climate change to come up with innovations. 

And then I want to minor in international policy and management so that I can spearhead multinational organizations that can bring those innovations to developing countries and understand how to do that throughout the world.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.