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.

 

 

Breaking the Myth of Generational Curses-A Devotional

Breaking the Myth of Generational Curses-A Devotional

There is a widespread myth in many churches that God sends generational curses on people for the sins of their parents. The myth argues that I am being punished by God because my father or mother sinned against God, didn’t repent for a sin, or did something wrong. The belief in this myth is often rooted more in experience than in the truth of God’s Word. Sometimes people feel like their difficulties must be a punishment from God, and yet the blame for that punishment rests on their parents who should have done something differently. However, Ezekiel 18:1-4 (NLT) says:

“Then another message came to me from the LORD:

“Why do you quote this proverb concerning the land of Israel: ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, but their children’s mouths pucker at the taste’?

As surely as I live, says the Sovereign LORD, you will not quote this proverb anymore in Israel.

For all people are mine to judge—both parents and children alike. And this is my rule: The person who sins is the one who will die.”

As we read through the rest of the chapter, it is abundantly clear that the Lord does not hold the sins of parents against their children or the sins of children against their parents. In its context, this scripture was particularly important because the prophets made it clear that the judgment of God on Israel was not because of the sins of past generations. 

Ezekiel and Jeremiah’s audiences in Israel were going into Babylonian captivity because of their sins against God, not because God was punishing them for the sins of every generation of Israelites up to that point (Ezekiel 18:4, Jeremiah 31:29-30). The Lord judges each person according to their own actions, not the actions of anyone else. Each person in Israel had the ability and responsibility to choose a right relationship with the Lord and to follow His commandments; it was not based on the decision of their parents. 

The myth continued even in Jesus’ time. In John 9, Jesus is questioned about why a young man was born blind. The crowd thought it was because of his parents’ sins or his sins. Jesus responds that the answer is neither. He explains that it was an opportunity for God to be glorified when the man was healed (John 9:3). The sins of the man’s parents did not cause the blindness. There was no curse from God for sin. 

It is important to note that the sins or wrongdoing of a parent can absolutely impact a child.  The characteristics of a parent can also be passed on to his children. We do not have to look far to see how the favoritism of Isaac can be seen in Jacob, or how the infidelity of David hurts his entire family. There are a plethora of statistics that identify significant correlation between adversity and surviving a childhood with a parent who abused drugs or was incarcerated, for example. 

But statistics, family history, or precedent cannot define a person, even though they may impact the individual greatly. A person who learns not to trust because of an untrustworthy parent must deal with their trust issues. But they are not punished by God for their parent’s poor choices to lie and abuse trust. In fact, in scripture we see story after story of God empowering individuals to overcome their circumstances and family trauma. Moses went from adopted orphan to prince of Egypt to deliverer from Egypt. David was rejected by his father but became king of Israel. Jonathan stood up to his father Saul in order to save David. Esther was raised by her uncle and was an outcast before she became the queen of Persia and delivered her people. 

There is no generational curse for those who follow the Lord. We are free from any curse because of the blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus has freed us from the power of sin, death, hell, and the grave. We have the Holy Spirit living inside of us. We can choose to love God and receive His love. We can receive peace, joy, and freedom through Christ, regardless of what our parents may have done. 

We must reject the myth of generational curses as believers. Ezekiel and Jeremiah make that clear. Jesus breaks every curse. We can put our faith in God knowing we are not being punished for the sins of our parents. We can confront our unhealthy family histories and embrace our life-giving family traditions. We can walk in freedom from the myth of generational curses through the power of Jesus Christ our Savior! 

 

Feeding your Temple: Body, Mind, and Spirit

Feeding your Temple: Body, Mind, and Spirit

In college, I was quite the busy-body. I found my self-worth in participating in every possible activity, club, and organization. I was in the band, played tennis, and a member of student council. I was also a member of the student television news station, volunteered with the Chapel every Sunday, and I pledged a sorority. Can you say, “busy?!” The less I slept, the more meals I skipped, and the more coffee I drank, the more valuable I felt.

I was not taking care of my temple. Instead, I was abusing it as if that was a way to win God’s approval. As I write this now, it sounds so silly. I’ve matured a lot. But in my younger years, I had some serious insecurities and lacked self-worth. I literally hated everything about the body I was in. I hated my mind, I hated my body, and I hated my spirit. As a result, every part of me was mistreated by…me.

Thankfully, I’ve learned a lot since my college days. I’ve learned that there is nothing I can do to earn God’s love and make him value me more than He already does. How could I forget that He was the one who formed me in my mother’s womb? How could I forget that He created me in His own image? How could I not honor Him by taking care of the body, mind, and spirit that He formed—in detail—when He created me?

Since taking care of myself was a completely foreign concept to me, it didn’t happen overnight. I didn’t wake up one morning and begin eating healthy meals and taking time for myself. I truly struggled with how to start valuing and treating myself like a daughter of The King.

“Dear friend, I hope all is well with you and that are as healthy in body as you are strong in Spirit.” — 3 John 1:2

 

God is glorified when we take care of the temples He gave us, and it is important that we do so in body, mind, and spirit.

Feeding your temple: BODY

In college, I was barely eating. I skipped meals to make time for all of my activities, and when I did eat, I only ate cereal, ramen noodles, and fries from the dollar menu at fast-food restaurants. Talk about nutritious! However, I realized that I wanted to be energized to do work for God’s Kingdom, but the way I was fueling my body was leaving me tired, weak, and lethargic. It was time for a diet change.

If you’re active on social media and spend your life online—like most people do—you are most likely aware of the constant pressure to eat healthier, lose weight, and feel your best. However, with my focus being on God’s glory, I chose to change my diet to ensure that His temple that He created was thriving. He is my motivation for healthy living – not how my body looks.

So, if you are looking to make some changes in how you feed your temple, here are a few tips:

Take time out to prepare three healthy meals a day. Breakfast is as important as lunch and lunch is as important as dinner. It is so tempting to skip a meal when we are on-the-go, but we are truly doing ourselves a disservice when we do this.

Start small. It can be overwhelming to change every eating habit at once. Start with breakfast. Set an alarm for 20 minutes earlier than you normally get up to allow yourself time to prepare and eat a nutritious meal.

If you have a sweet tooth like me, look up healthy alternatives online to satisfy that craving. My go-to is a chocolate peanut butter smoothie that is made with raw cacao powder and organic peanut butter. Super healthy and super delicious! It doesn’t have to be hard to feed your body delicious, nutritious meals. You will feel more energized and your body will thank you.

Feeding your temple: MIND

I believe that this falls under the category of taking time for yourself. Let’s face it. We are busy people. This society thrives on “busyness.” I fell into that trap in college and I still have trouble with it today as a wife and mom.

Things have to get done! There is no time for myself! Sleep? What is that?

Sound familiar?

However, if we neglect sleep and fail to take time for ourselves, our minds become cluttered. And, I realized that when my mind is cluttered, I struggle to hear God and stay in tune with His presence. I am here to glorify the Lord through my every step and if I can’t hear Him, due to a cluttered mind, how can I glorify Him?

I recommend writing down areas in your life that you can see as mind clutter. For me, it’s social media, my busy schedule, and a constant need for perfectionism. Once you figure out what your areas are, write down ways to clear your mind from these things.

I’m going to make a commitment to find time every day to be social media-free. I am going to commit to saying “no” to something on my agenda that just isn’t important and replace that time with something a bit more relaxing.

What commitments can you make to clear your mind? Whatever they are, write them down to help you stick to them. Place Post-It Notes around your house with your commitments. Set reminders on your phone. Write them down in your planner. Ask an accountability partner to remind you of your commitments.

Feeding your temple: SPIRIT

Finally, it is important to feed your spirit. It is the spirit of The Lord that lives inside of you. It is the spirit that God intricately created that makes you, YOU. It is your relationship with the Holy Spirit. Feeding this area of your temple is so important.

However, can I be honest with you? This is the hardest area for me to feed and keep healthy. Can anyone else relate? Why is it easier to scroll through social media than it is to open our Bibles and receive the Truth?

I’ll be the first to admit that planning a healthy meal is much easier for me than devoting time to my relationship with God. I am so thankful for God’s grace and strength in this huge area of weakness for me.

One thing that has truly helped me in this area is getting connected in my church community. Serving in the Church and being a part of small groups Bible studies are both ways to fuel my spirit. They are great ways to ensure that I am taking time out to refresh with The Lord.

However, alone time with the Lord is equally as important and should be a part of our daily lives.

One of my favorite ways to incorporate alone time is to worship in the car while I am driving. No phone, no distractions, just me and the Lord.

While working on your relationship with God, keep in mind that we are not earning God’s approval by spending more time with Him. We cannot do anything to make Him love us more. We are strengthening our relationship with Him because He desires us so much! Don’t let the enemy turn your efforts into a guilt trap when you fall short, because, the truth is, we will always fall short. We are human.

Our Heavenly Father gave each of us these beautiful temples that were made in His image. It is imperative that we take care of them and treasure them just as He treasures us. When we do so, we are making ourselves even more available for Him to use us at His will for His glory, and we are fueled and ready to live the lives that God has called us to live.

What are some healthy ways that you use to feed your temple? Share them below.

The American Rescue Plan is welcome relief for faith communities

The American Rescue Plan is welcome relief for faith communities

Members and leaders of Belmont United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tenn., worship in a mostly empty sanctuary Sunday, March 15, 2020, after church leadership encouraged people to worship from home via video livestream in response to the coronavirus. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News

(RNS) — For communities of faith, COVID-19 has introduced new stress to the already demanding pastoral work of comforting the families and friends of those who have died and ministering from afar to those who are sick. While virtual worship turns out to be possible, it is a less than ideal way to make vital community connections.

But there is another immediate and concrete way that faith communities have been called to action during the pandemic: in feeding the hungry, supporting those who have lost their jobs, income or housing and offering emotional support to families who have increasing requirements as caregivers.

While faith communities often serve as first responders to the needs of people in their communities, it is simply impossible for houses of worship or social service agencies to shore up and sustain everyone in our communities. Our faith convinces us that we have a moral imperative to care for all of those left behind in this crisis. We need the support of our government, a government that works for all the people.

When Congress passed the American Rescue Plan in March, it dramatically shifted how the United States addresses the ravages of the pandemic and the ravages of poverty. Not only was there funding to support vaccine distribution, the legislation provided structural support for people who struggle to pay their monthly bills.

Two popular tax credit programs — the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit — were expanded, allowing child poverty to be cut in half this year. Imagine what it means to moms and dads who can now afford food, diapers, clothing and utility bills and know they are no longer living on the edge of the chaos that comes from never having enough money.

Recently, Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio joined the Rev. Eugene Cho, president and CEO of Bread for the World, and me to discuss the dramatic impact of the American Rescue Plan in helping families who struggle to pay the rent and keep their families from the edge of destitution. As Brown said of his vote on the American Rescue Plan: “The best day of my career. Look what we did. Shots in people’s arms and money in people’s pockets. Kids back in school and people back in jobs.”

The job of addressing the pandemic and poverty is far from over. These effective tax credit programs will need to be made permanent in legislation that Congress will consider later this year. It’s a step that the interreligious faith community will be there to raise its voice for.

Churches will also continue to build trust with their members to become vaccinated. The president has encouraged faith leaders to help build confidence for everyone to get vaccinated, saying, “They’re going to listen to your words, more than they are me, as president of the United States. We need you to spread the word, let people in our communities and your community know how important (it) is to get everyone vaccinated when it’s their turn. … I think this is the godly thing to do. Protect your brother and sister.”

Just as communities of faith have been called on the last 13 months to respond to serve others — with emotional, material and advocacy support — we continue to be called on to support the common good to defeat the pandemic and to defeat poverty.

( Diane Randallis the general secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a national, nonpartisan Quaker lobby for peace, justice and the environment. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service or UrbanFaith.)

It’s Time to Take Control of Your Financial Health

It’s Time to Take Control of Your Financial Health

Video Courtesy of CBN – The Christian Broadcasting Network


Recently, a co-worker shared something that enlightened me. They always used a financial counselor to advise them on various decisions that they needed to make regarding their finances and investments. However, they didn’t seem to be satisfied with the outcome of their investments.

They shared with me that, after talking in detail with their spouse, they decided to learn more about investments and the stock market. They signed up for classes and realized they could actually manage their own financial portfolio. They took charge of their investments and began to see a positive turnaround within the first few months of releasing their financial counselor.

They seemed confident about what they had learned and we’re looking forward to managing their financial portfolio in the months and years to come.

The biggest fear that many people have, is the fear of not knowing what you don’t know. That sounds odd but it is true. What you do not know about your finances, or financial health, may seem scary to some to the point of denying its existence or choosing to deal with it when things get really tough.

God desires for us to have balance in everything we do. Having the confidence to handle your finances is a commitment you have to make to yourself. Hosea 4:6 states “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge” KJV.

If people are bold enough to admit they do not know, they take the time to educate themselves in the areas that matter to them. So, why not us, children of the faith?

There are so many resources on finances. The question you need to ask yourself is, “What is my area of struggle when dealing with money?”

  • Is it a saving problem? Most likely you have not established boundaries and self-control, and you may need to set up a budget to stick to it.
  • Do you have unrealistic goals and expectations that leave you disheartened each month when you review your finances? Set goals for yourself that will boost your confidence because you are able to achieve them. This will result in becoming a better steward of your money because you have established a level of faith in yourself that you are capable of meeting goals when you set them.
  • Are you drowning in debt? Find out the exact amount that you owe so that you can establish a precise plan of tackling it.

When it comes to money, you have to be bold and face the issues head on. If you are tremendously blessed financially and have no issues with money, find ways to educate others to live in that liberty that you have been blessed to experience.

I learned a great lesson from that co-worker. What you don’t know, you can learn, and what you learn can enlighten you to make better and sound decisions that can position you financially to be in a stable place.

Are you ready to face what you don’t know about your finances? Start today. Learn something. It could serve as the trigger of change to a great financial future for you in the years to come.

Philanthropists and politicians: Religion is not a problem to solve, it’s a partnership opportunity

Philanthropists and politicians: Religion is not a problem to solve, it’s a partnership opportunity

(RNS) — In a period of significant pressure on our democracy, our health and our overall well-being as a people, faith has provided a hidden infrastructure that has held America together. We miss out on much good when we do not recognize the role of faith and religious institutions in our communities.

Last month, the Bridgespan Group released a report confirming what many of us already knew: While faith-inspired organizations, congregations and individuals make up a large percentage of America’s civic and social landscape — especially when it comes to providing aid to low-income people and those on the margins — they are significantly underrepresented and overlooked by philanthropic institutions who fund in these areas. Although faith is often in the headlines as a subject of political intrigue and a tool of partisan warfare, in the lives of millions of Americans, faith is felt closer to home, helping them to survive and make it week to week, day to day.

If you’re not familiar with the basic state of play, the findings of the Bridgespan Group might strike you as something more problematic than simply a missed opportunity. The report finds that “faith-inspired organizations account for 40 percent of social safety net spending across a sample of six cities, which vary in size and demographics. Yet, while some individual philanthropists and community foundations have recognized faith-inspired organizations as platforms for impact, that perspective has not translated into funding from the largest institutional philanthropies — particularly those seeking to address the effects of poverty and injustice.”

The report quotes Kashif Shaikh, co-founder and executive director of the Pillars Fund, a grantmaking organization that invests in American Muslim organizations, who rightly points out: “Secularism is the dominant narrative in the U.S., but often less so in vulnerable communities, in my experience. It’s a disservice to not even acknowledge it.”

Indeed, while it is certainly within the rights of philanthropic institutions to “not do religion,” such an approach undermines any meaningful, holistic commitment to community or place-based philanthropy in much of this country and in many places around the world. At best, a categorical rejection of religious engagement among institutions working in significantly religious communities amounts to an acknowledgment of an organizational deficiency. At worst, it adds up to a willful act of disruption and disrespect for the values, beliefs and culture of the communities that are “served.”

The problem is not just in philanthropy. In politics and public life, faith is often viewed as a sword or a shield for one’s own agenda. Religious communities are too rarely considered on their own terms, categorized instead as political foe or ally. This dynamic contributed to an unfortunate and harmful tenor of conflict between some governments and religious communities as we sought to mitigate COVID-19. These conflicts emerged, in part, because many elected officials viewed religious communities as a problem to solve rather than a potential partner. Politicians need to start viewing faith communities as not just sources of votes, but sources of wisdom and expertise.

Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE) detected a lack of understanding for how faith and civic health are tied together, and in particular, how faith communities are helping people build relationships and work together across difference. In 2019, they launched a funding and learning initiative, Faith In/And Democracy, to support faith-inspired organizations and efforts that are helping to hold our communities and our democracy together.

As an adviser to this program, I have been able to see the tireless, often thankless, work grantees of the program have advanced. We set out to determine if there was a distinct field of faith organizations and actors supporting our civic life, and our efforts have been met with a resounding “yes.” In its pilot year, over 130 qualified organizations applied to the program, and five were selected to participate in a robust learning community that included a range of advisers as well as philanthropic leaders committed to this work. Together, we grappled with what COVID-19 might mean for our grantees’ work, and we saw up close how they discovered creative ways to persist in their mission despite numerous roadblocks. During an election year when some sought to stir up religious resentment and conflict, our grantees were working to strengthen our democracy and build bridges of faith between disparate communities.

Through the crises of this year and my experiences working in the White House under President Obama, I have come to rely on the fact that if there is a crisis or challenge in the news, there are people of faith at work to address it for the common good. Faith is always at work.

As we turn our focus from lockdowns to vaccinations, public officials are turning to religious communities for support. In recent weeks, Dr. Francis Collins and Dr. Anthony Fauci participated in a service with D.C.-area clergy focused on the vaccine. Dr. Fauci has referred to the imperative to get adults vaccinated as a “‘love thy neighbor’ opportunity.” After relative dormancy during the Trump years, President Biden has reestablished and reinvigorated the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, which should ensure the federal government is able to effectively partner with the faith community to keep the national response to COVID-19 on track.

If respected, valued and included, people of faith and religious institutions can be partners on so many of the issues at the top of the national agenda. For example, the Biden administration should not merely welcome the support of people of faith for the anti-poverty provisions in the American Rescue Plan, but rather, invite faith leaders to champion the provisions, to claim them as a harbinger of a new national commitment to better care for the “least of these.”

Likewise, we cannot have a conversation about strengthening our democracy without recognizing the role of faith as a molder of civic character and a shaper of civic consciousness. Faith communities’ value to our democracy does not only show up for “Souls to the Polls,” but in the countless ways in which faith beckons Americans outside of themselves and toward their neighbors. In many communities, congregations serve as civic incubators, forums for strengthening muscles of service, negotiation and love.

Philanthropy, governments and other sectors should never instrumentalize faith, nor impose their values on faith communities. The point is not that faith communities should be viewed as potential avenues for advancing someone else’s agenda — rather, that so much of what we struggle to do and be is already attended to by the resources inherent in many religious communities.

Nothing does what faith does the way faith does it. We’re going to need it in the days ahead, just as it has been here — quietly, at times — all along.

(Michael Wear is founder of Public Square Strategies, LLC, and an adviser to PACE’s Faith In/And Democracy initiative. Heserved in the White House as part of President Barack Obama’s faith-based initiative. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

 

A Mom Trusting God in The Unknown

A Mom Trusting God in The Unknown

Raising children is not an easy task! There are many articles, friends, mom tips, and overwhelming support from mom groups that make our jobs a lot easier. From the first day I found out I was going to be a mom back in 2010, I knew that I had support. Whatever question or concern I had, all I had to do was ask my mom or google and there it was: an instant answer! But in early 2020 this reality changed for me and many parents across the world. A devastating pandemic reared its ugly head and completely shut the world down without warning.

In March 2020, at the start of the pandemic, my husband and I received news that we would be expecting our third child. I remember the excitement we felt at first!  We would have the opportunity to love, mold, and nurture another gift from God. Shortly thereafter, an overwhelming sense of panic and worry crept over me. I was frightened. I had no idea what to do. I do not believe anyone knew what to do as they faced the reality of a pandemic. I could not turn to my mother, articles, or blogs for advice on how to proceed or respond and receive the same knowledge or wisdom as I had before. 

At the same time my children as well as many others across the world were being sent home from school and away from their friends and community. They were told to socially distance when we had no clue how to define what that meant. During this abrupt transition parents were being held to an even higher level of expectation. We had to continue on with our lives and keep it together as if the world was not in turmoil right before our eyes. I often asked myself how could I protect my children from something I knew nothing about? How could I protect them when thousands of people were losing their lives on a daily basis? Reports were circulating about pregnant women who were infected with a mysterious virus who were being denied their birthing rights. Some even had to experience giving birth alone. Reality hit home for us when I was instructed to attend my first prenatal exam alone and was told that would be the norm for the remainder of my pregnancy. 

Like many others I could have given up, but I knew the first step in figuring out how to proceed within the unknown was to pray and be encouraged by the Word of God. My husband and I had to learn to lean on the Lord in a different way to lead and guide us in raising our family as well as being aware of our own emotional, physical, and spiritual needs throughout the pandemic. 

Proverbs 3:5-6 to tells us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”

This scripture took on a new meaning for my family. As a wife and mother, I had to be intentional with every decision I made moving forward even when the circumstances presented to me did not make sense. I learned to trust that God has our steps ordered and regardless of what was happening in the natural, God has and will always provide all of our needs according to His riches and glory in Christ Jesus. I had to learn to ask for wisdom in a different way every morning before I started my day. I learned how to increase my ability to listen to my children and be ok with not having all the answers.  I learned more than ever to just be present with them. 

There are many accounts in the Bible of those who were faced with numerous challenges and the unknown. What kept many of the people in scripture anchored was God’s faithfulness and their ability to trust Him even in the unknown. Many mothers like Sarah, Rachel, Mary and Elizabeth did as they were instructed, although they had no idea what lay ahead on the journey before them. They did not have books, articles, or even written history to reflect back on to determine what they could and could not do. All they had was God’s faithfulness and promises that He had given to them. They all had the choice to accept or reject the promises the Lord had for them, but they did not. They could not foresee what the future held for them and their families, but they trusted that the Lord’s will would be done through their obedience. These examples from scripture encouraged me in to trust God throughout this pandemic. Because of God’s faithfulness, I have truly seen the Lord’s hand on my family members’ lives. I gave birth to a healthy baby girl, our two older children are thriving in school, I am able to be present and responsive for my husband, and our home has been filled with the pure joy only the Lord could give. 

To all the mothers, I want to wish you a Happy Mother’s Day!  You are strong, resilient, appreciated and loved. I want to encourage you all to not lose hope. Keep praying, seeking, and trusting God even in the unknown. He has proven himself faithful and will continue to be faithful for generations to come!

Happy Mother’s Day! Enjoy 10 Podcast Shorts on Mothers and Motherhood

Happy Mother’s Day! Enjoy 10 Podcast Shorts on Mothers and Motherhood

Every mom’s journey to and through motherhood is a little different. That’s the beautiful thing about motherhood — there’s no perfect way to do it, yet most moms find their way to doing the best that they can with God’s help. So, today we’re celebrating each unique motherly experience with a compilation of 10 two-minute podcast shorts by Dr. Melvin E. Banks, founder of UMI. We’ve pulled them from Dr. Banks’ daily radio program called Daily Direction, which covers a variety of issues and topics.  Listen in and remember all of what you love (or loved) about your mom.


More on Motherhood


The Right Day for Prayer-A Devotional

The Right Day for Prayer-A Devotional

Pentecost is only a few weeks away, and for many of us living through the pandemic we have lost track of important days. Amid negative news, racial unrest, and daily frustrations, there is more than enough reason for prayer. Today is the National Day of Prayer, but it is not on a lot of people’s calendars this year. The National Day of Prayer was instituted in 1952 by President Harry Truman and has continued for the past 69 years with various presidents, congress people, and other officials observing it each year. There is a non-profit organization called the National Day of Prayer Task Force that coordinates events surrounding the day with particular themes and bringing some unity to Christians observing the day.  No matter the theme or who recognizes it, whether official or informal, it is always a good time to pray. 

We all face challenges and we are always in need of God’s peace. It is enough to worry about what is going on in our homes, our classrooms, and our communities without having the constant worry of the world we are aware of through social media. Especially as black believers living in this moment, we are carrying more questions than answers. The world as we know it has been turned upside down, and not in a good way. Many of us are struggling to redefine our faith and feel connected to God and other people we haven’t felt present with in a long time.

Psalm 35:6 encourages everyone who is godly to pray at the acceptable time. The Apostle Paul encourages believers to pray without ceasing in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. Jesus tells His disciples a parable in Luke 18:1 to teach them to always pray and never give up. 

Philippians 4:6-7 is one of the most well known passages about prayer in the Bible. Paul says:

6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 NLT)

This verse in Philippians reminds us that when we pray, the peace we will experience surpasses our understanding! It is peace that we feel, that we can rest in when nothing else makes sense.

I remember the days after my grandfather died of COVID were filled with worry, anger, sadness and frustration. There were so many barriers to getting answers, making arrangements, honoring the life of a man whose legacy I am living. When I realized I was doing worse than I expected I got a phone call from a friend. He had no idea what I was going through but asked could he pray for me. When he finished praying I felt the weight of the world lift from me. I couldn’t explain it, because I had just received peace that exceeded my understanding.

That same peace is available for all of us when we pray, and when we receive prayer from others. Take some time today to pray for yourself. Acknowledge something you are worrying about to God, He cares about all that concerns us. Then pray for someone else. Pray that God will meet them with His perfect peace. Reflect on the fact that today, you are praying alongside millions of Christians across the country. And may the peace of Christ will meet you in a way you do not have to fully understand to fully receive.  

Ahead of Andrew Brown Jr’s funeral, North Carolina clergy cry out for justice

Ahead of Andrew Brown Jr’s funeral, North Carolina clergy cry out for justice

by Yonat Shimron, RNS

(RNS) — Many of North Carolina’s prominent clergy have called for police reform and accountability in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin.

But the killing of Andrew Brown Jr., a 42-year-old man shot and killed by sheriff’s deputies in eastern North Carolina’s Elizabeth City, a town of 18,000 people on the bend of the Pasquotank River, is personal.

Brown died of multiple gunshot wounds — at least one to the back of the head — on April 21, as deputies served a warrant for drug charges. Coming one day after former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree murder of Floyd, Brown’s killing brought out deeper cries for justice from the state’s top religious leaders. His funeral will be held Monday (May 3).

Brown’s death served as a stark reminder that Chauvin’s conviction is not enough to reform a persistent pattern of unarmed Black people dying at the hands of law enforcement.

In North Carolina, where Blacks constitute 21% of the population but are twice as likely as whites to die at the hands of law enforcement, according to a project called Mapping Police Violence, the killing of Brown has stoked a renewed passion for change.

And no one has expressed as much pain and indignation at the killing as civil rights leader the Rev. William J. Barber II, co- chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.

Barber grew up in Washington County, 50 miles south of where Brown was killed. His parents’ lifelong mission was to desegregate the public schools in the region, which resisted desegregation until well into the late 1960s and early 1970s.

On Wednesday, a judge said he would not consider releasing body-cam images for at least another month while the state conducts its investigation.

Barber and other clergy are demanding the full release of body-cam video of the killing and for the case to be handed over to North Carolina’s attorney general. The family of Brown, which has seen a short snippet of the video, has called his killing “an execution.” (An autopsy showed Brown was shot five times.)

“A warrant is not a license to kill, even if a suspect supposedly drives away,” Barber said. “A warrant does not mean a person is guilty. A warrant is not permission to shoot someone, possibly with assault rifles, multiple times.”

A coalition called Justice for the Next Generation, led by the Rev. Greg Drumwright,  protested Sunday at the Elizabeth City Courthouse.

In Elizabeth City, where Blacks make up 48% of the population, a march through the city earlier this week drew several clergy leaders. Those included the bishop of the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, the presbyter of the Presbytery of New Hope and the presiding bishop of the Eastern North Carolina Episcopal District of the AME-Zion Church.

“What I see this time around is, ‘Oh, my gosh, now it happened here, too,'” said the Rev. Jennifer Copeland, executive director of the North Carolina Council of Churches. “When it happens in your backyard you pay more attention to it and you get a little more involved in the different actions occurring. I do believe that’s happening.”

The council is planning a vigil on May 6.

Barber, who has made numerous visits to Elizabeth City, has reminded people of the South’s stumbling efforts to overcome a legacy of racism. He said he could count at least five Black men from Eastern North Carolina who were wrongly accused of murder and later exonerated. To this day, people of color are underrepresented in the court system, the judicial system and the police department.

“This is where I was raised,” Barber told RNS. “It brought back: Why am I 58 years old and still having to see and deal with what my father dealt with when I was 12 and 13 years old?”

Barber will deliver what he called “words of comfort” to the family during Monday’s private funeral for Brown at Fountain of Life Church in Elizabeth City. The Rev. Al Sharpton will deliver the eulogy.

A visitation for family and friends took place Sunday.

Elizabeth City has seen nights of street protests and the imposition of overnight curfews as people from the state and beyond have marched on the city to demand racial justice.

Barber and other clergy are planning another press conference next week.

 

 

“America Is Not Racist”-A Prophetic Reflection

“America Is Not Racist”-A Prophetic Reflection

West side of the Capitol Building at Capitol Hill in Washington DC. Daily photos in the afternoon, good for late autumn, winter and early spring illustration

On the night before President Joe Biden’s 100th Day in office, he gave a speech to a joint session of the United States Congress. This speech was intended to be an opportunity to talk about the president’s accomplishments in his first one hundred days in office, as well as policy proposals for the future. For the past 55 years, after the president gives a speech to a joint session of Congress, there is a response from a member of the opposing political party. In the case of President Biden, a Democrat, the opposition response came from Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina. Both speeches were filled with appealing rhetoric, rehearsal of recent party of achievements, and promises about possibilities for the future given that party’s leadership. However, for many African Americans who watched these two addresses, the discussions of racism stood out most. President Biden called white supremacist terrorism as the most lethal form of racism in the nation right now. Senator Scott talked about how he experienced the pain of discrimination when he pulled over for no reason and followed in a store. Both made statements that stole headlines for Black audiences.

For President Biden, it was:

 

“We have a giant opportunity to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice. Real justice. And with the plans I have outlined tonight, we have a real chance to root out the systemic racism that plagues American life in so many ways.”

For Senator Scott, it was:

“From colleges to corporations to our culture, people are making money and gaining power by pretending we haven’t made any progress. By doubling down on the divisions we’ve worked so hard to heal. You know this stuff is wrong. Hear me clearly: America is not a racist country.”

The contrast was stark. A white man holding the highest office in the land spoke openly about the problem of systemic racism, and a Black man, who is the first non-white senator from his state since reconstruction, said America is not a racist country. Both men believe Americans must work together to overcome issues, including racism. But their visions for the extent of the work and the approach to the work are radically different. How should we respond as Black Christians to this politicization of the sin of racism?

Isaiah offers us both challenge and hope in Isaiah 29, as we face the complexity of confronting racism in the United States. The first thing is to acknowledge that God is not looking for great speeches from us. He is looking for true faithfulness. The Lord was disappointed in Israel for saying they loved Him, but their actions showed the opposite. The United States has a history of being hypocritical when it comes to race; it is a clear contradiction that the same Constitution that guarantees equality and freedom to its citizens makes African Americans 3/5 of a human, denies rights to everyone except white land-owning men, and appropriates land taken from American Indians. As a country, we have made amendments to our Constitution, passed legislation to create a more just and equitable society, and had celebrations to recognize the contributions of different cultures. But we often live in denial or outright embrace our historic sins as a nation. We have yet to truly repent for how racism has harmed our nation.

Isaiah calls out the sins of Israel, and then prophesies a day when the Lord’s truth and justice will reign. Isaiah speaks to God’s judgment on the status quo oppression of the vulnerable in the nation, and God’s ultimate redemption of His people. Isaiah assures us that even our intelligence and wisdom are nothing compared to God’s ultimate wisdom. However, we temporarily solve problems that pale in comparison to God’s desire for His children. God’s promise of His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven is greater than anything we could imagine. God wants to use His people to speak honestly about the sin in the world, and also His hope for the world.

Isaiah says:

“For when they see their many children and all the blessings I have given them, they will recognize the holiness of the Holy One of Jacob. They will stand in awe of the God of Israel” (Isaiah 29:23, NLT).

It is God’s work in our lives, and especially how we impact the next generation, that will cause others to recognize His glory, and His wisdom that will cause others to want to learn His ways. We must do the work to make our nation more just, while having the humility to never mistake our human work as God’s ultimate justice (Micah 6:8). We must build a more just world for our children and the next generation. The sin of racism is a problem we must all confront, but the ultimate justice flows from God. Let us be humble as we continue to seek God’s justice on earth as it is in heaven.

We Need Servants of Peace, Not Soldiers of Fear

We Need Servants of Peace, Not Soldiers of Fear

As another high-profile unjust killing fills the headlines across the nation, I can’t help but lament our current state of affairs – and the complicity the evangelical church shares with it.

Yes, the militarization of police is a problem. Yes, the police need better training. Yes, even though some police jurisdictions are using body cameras, there needs to be better civilian oversight regarding their deployment and the use of the resultant footage.

Nevertheless, there’s a connection between disproportionate uses of force (whether by police or civilians) against black people, and a fundamental misunderstanding of a popular passage of Scripture – Ephesians 6, where Paul describes “the armor of God.” As in many tragic illustrations of fallen humanity, the active toxic ingredient is fear.

Bad Experiences Can Generate Fear in the Hearts of God’s People

In the 2003 remake of The Italian Job, there’s a scene with Mos Def (now known as Yasiin Bey) as an explosives expert named Left Ear participating in a stakeout. Left Ear mentions that the person the team is surveilling has a dog on the premises. “I don’t do dogs,” he said. “I had a real bad experience.”

The team leader, played by Mark Wahlberg, chimes in. “What happened?” Left Ear claps back with a quickness.

“I HAD A BAD EXPERIENCE,” he says, stretching out the word ‘had’ for emphasis. It’s a funny moment because you can tell whatever that bad experience was, it left a significant mental scar, and he does not want to talk about it.

Unfortunately, this is the lens by which too many Christians view their engagement with the world around them. Maybe they were victims of crime, maybe they were made fun of for being a Christian at school or at work, maybe they experienced legitimate persecution for their faith, but whatever it was, they had a bad experience, okay?

These bad experiences often generate fear in the hearts of God’s people, and in an effort to avoid those them, sometimes we assume postures that are, let’s say, less than loving. We may get defensive and behave like everyone is a potential threat. (If you grew up in a household where no secular music or television was allowed, you know what I’m talking about.)

Or we may go on the offensive and behave as though it’s our job to eradicate the forces of evil around us. Any potential source of secular encroachment on our religious liberty, we treat like a national crisis. (If you’ve ever known anyone who thought about suing Starbucks because their cups read “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” then you know what I’m talking about.)

Again, don’t forget … the operative word here is “fear.” It is fear of unbelieving, secular humanity – and the evil that can sometimes reside in the hearts of those who don’t know God – that drives people into these defensive or offensive stances.

Thus, when someone in this fear-driven mindset reads about the armor of God in Ephesians 6, they subconsciously go into full-on vigilante mode. Even if they don’t own any guns or weapons or whatever, because of how much our broader culture glorifies violence, they can’t help themselves. I mean, I grew up on action movies in the 80s, and I did this too. When I first was presented with teachings on what it means to “put on the full armor of God,” I had an image of Arnold Schwarzenegger gearing up for battle in the first Predator movie.

This is why we must read the Scriptures in context.

See, you can’t fully understand Ephesians 6:10-20 without first reading and taking in the other five chapters of Paul’s letter.

So, here’s an overview of those five chapters:

In Ephesians 1, Paul tells the Ephesians what an incredible, mysterious blessing of inheritance that they have in Christ. In Ephesians 2, he talks about how they were dead but became alive again, and because of this new life, the old ethnic categories that used to divide them would do so no longer.

In Ephesians 3, Paul explains that the mysteries of God that had previously been revealed to Jews like himself were now available to everyone. In Ephesians 4, Paul urges them – in light of the great opportunity for unity that the gospel affords – to live with unified maturity, following up in Ephesians 5 to remind them to reject any improprieties (sexual or otherwise) that could undermine that unity or maturity.

Note the lack of fear mongering! Paul isn’t trying to get them riled up and afraid, he just wants them to live a blessed life. For the rest of that fifth chapter, and going into the sixth, Paul begins to break down how that life of unified maturity applies to various common relationships – between spouses, from children to parents, even from masters to slaves (which in current vernacular is more like boss to servant).

This is the point where Paul then writes this iconic passage:

“Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Eph. 6:10 NIV).

Once you read it in context, it becomes clear – the image isn’t an armed vigilante gearing up, but of a peace officer who vows to serve and protect.

Paul wants the Ephesians to have the armor of God, not in order to strike back at their enemies but to preserve the unity and maturity they are supposed to live out as a witness to others. This is why Paul has to remind them in verse 12 that their enemies aren’t flesh-and-blood people because he knows that it’s easy for people from differing cultural and ethnic backgrounds to fight and feud with each other. This is why he refers to having feet covered with a readiness to share a gospel of peace. Paul isn’t trying to inject fear, he’s trying to remove it.

Don’t Use Fear as a Motivator


But therein lies the rub – often, the people most often who are governed by fear are those who are supposed to be trained to rise above it – actual peace officers. And when officers are, to use the language that is most often employed in defense of these kinds of shootings, “afraid for their lives” then the kind of snap judgments that result in these shootings are often driven by fear.

And fear can be a useful emotion. It can help motivate us to act, in order to neutralize a potentially deadly threat. Soldiers are often trained through the use of fear. A broadened sense of fear can promote the tribal instinct to band together against a dangerous Other.

Unfortunately, too many churches are doing exactly that – promoting a misunderstanding of Ephesians 6 by teaching people they should be afraid of people who aren’t like them, and that they should strike back against those trying to take away their religious freedoms. This climate of fear is toxic for our faith, which is part of the reason why so many churches are in decline. Evangelicals – particularly white evangelical leaders – tend to use fear as a motivator, and not only does it endanger black lives, but it betrays the very Scripture that they profess to love.

But 1 John 4:18 tells us that perfect love casts out fear. So this is where God’s people need to live. Where there is fear – especially when that fear is fed by anti-black bias – it needs to be honestly and consistently addressed and rectified. And those of us who carry firearms, whether as part of law enforcement or for other reasons, absolutely MUST be willing to confront those fears and admit those biases if we want these kinds of tragic shootings to stop.

More importantly, we cannot afford to wait for police agencies to do this work on their own. If we are to hold police accountable to the motto of “serve and protect,” we must also be willing to model servant leadership, extending both grace and discipline in equal measure. Churches full of Christ-following, Spirit-led people can create a spiritual climate where all of God’s people can be loved and valued, and in places where that is happening, it’s easier to hold accountable those who twist Scripture out of context to justify their violence, particularly when that violence is racialized.

If police forces are supposed to serve and protect, let’s be people who love to serve, creating an environment that’s worth protecting. In 2021, the church doesn’t need more soldiers of fear, it needs more servants of peace.

The Simple and Hard Facts About Being a Healthy Black Person

The Simple and Hard Facts About Being a Healthy Black Person

Young african american woman eating an appleBeing healthy is pretty simple, but most people in the United States find it pretty hard. And for an African American, it’s over-the-top hard. Not only is the struggle of getting healthy and maintaining a healthy lifestyle embedded in the culture, but there are sometimes actual physical and financial obstacles to overall health.

There are many things in life that are simple and hard. Like staying committed to your spouse. It’s simple. Just stay faithful to one person for the rest of your life. It’s hard because there are all kinds of ups and downs you go through.

Alongside various temptations, you will also lose that euphoric feeling you had when you first met. That’s what makes it hard for the long haul.

Following Jesus seems simple. Jesus is to be the Ruler and number one priority in your life.

Sounds simple, right? It is but it’s also hard to do it. It means you have to deny yourself. Who wants to do that?

It means that you have to trust someone you cannot see. That’s a pretty high expectation, and if you have ever tried it, it’s extremely difficult.

Application is Key

The simple part about being healthy is summed up in a maxim from Michael Pollan, the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food Rules: “Eat [real] food, not too much, mostly plants.” It can also be summed up in the overall guideline of staying active. That seems simple enough but even in the overall culture, it is a tall order. Folks who try often get buried in a mountain of guilt over late-night binges and how that occasional donut in the morning becomes habitual.

There seems to be no end to the people telling us that we need to eat better and stay active. The problem is not more information but application.

Usually where application fails is when we try to break ourselves from our normal routine. It’s all about habits. Habits are what shape our lives.

In his book the Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg says that habits can be broken down into three basic steps.

First, there is a cue or the trigger that tells our brains that we need to do something. The next step is the routine, which is the behavior that leads to the reward. The next step is the reward that reinforces the habit.

This is something he has labeled the habit loop.

Breaking Old Habits

Woman Doing Resistance TrainingIt seems simple to break a habit then. All we need to do is recognize our cues. Then we can choose alternate behaviors that lead to a different reward.

The problem comes when your whole culture is made up of cues that go against the habit you are trying to break. That’s when the mountain of unhealthiness seems insurmountable.

At that point, you have to choose between your cultural identity and your personal well-being. What do I mean by that?

It’s Sunday afternoon at Big Mama’s house and everyone is famished after spending hours at church. Big Mama’s table is full of all kinds of things that are detrimental to your health: creamy mac and cheese. Fried chicken. Chocolate cake.

The only thing that’s decent is the collared greens and those have been overcooked with ham hocks. So the health factor is reduced.

What do you do? Do you skip the meal? You’re hungry and after all, you don’t want to disappoint Big Mama. Plus your family has been eating this way for years.

Besides that not only has your family been eating this way but millions of African American families have been eating this way. It’s embedded in your culture.

You begin to remember that time when your unusual cousin from California came and ate a salad the whole week and everyone ridiculed her and said she had been hanging around white folks too much.

You don’t want to be thought of as betraying your race. So you reach for the fried chicken. It’s only right.

Limited Time and Resources

Bald office worker eating burger while typing on laptopHow about the many African Americans who are single moms? You don’t have time to cook healthy meals for the kids. You are just trying to make it through the day and get some peace once they are finally put to bed.

So what do you do? You give them the quickest and easiest thing.

Most of the time the quickest and easiest thing is also the unhealthiest. It is loaded with sodium and sugar. It is targeted to parents and children and has been tested and refined to produce a bliss point.

I learned about this concept from the book by Michael Moss titled Salt Sugar Fat

The bliss point is the perfect combination of salt, sugar, and fat that will get people craving for more. You don’t want to hear this but you’ve been had.

The food companies are deliberately making you unhealthy so they can make a profit from your lack of time to cook healthy meals for your family.

What if you did choose to live healthy in spite of the inconvenience of cultural identity and time? You still may face other challenges.

Let’s say you decided to follow Michael Pollan’s food maxim of eating real food and mostly plants. The economics are against you. Real food just costs more.

When you’re faced with feeding your family with the amount of money for food in your budget you have to make some choices. If it doesn’t add up you will buy the junk. And then you’re pulled back into the cycle.

There is also the existence of food deserts that totally trump eating healthy. A food desert is a swath of a usually urban community that does not have a grocery store.

There is no access to healthy food and families resort to buying food from the corner store which is usually processed and packaged. No fresh fruits or vegetables in sight.

If you are part of the 23.5 million people (mostly African American and Latino) in the United States who live in a food desert, this is a huge obstacle.

Let’s Talk Money

How about if you said that you wanted to stay active? You want to get a gym membership. That’s going to cost. You also have a family to take care of and a job to go to. You have to find time to squeeze it in.

Not only that but when most of your friends are not active then you won’t be active. Jim Rohn, the popular self-help guru, is often quoted as saying “You are the average of the five people you most spend time with.”

When it comes to being active, most black people don’t hang around other active black people. Watching sports on TV doesn’t count.

This is the essence of the struggle many black people face when it comes to health. On the surface, it seems like the struggle that anyone who wants to make a major change faces.

In many ways it is. What makes it unique is the cultural factors surrounding health.

For most African Americans eating processed, cheap, nutrient-absent foods and sitting on the couch watching reality shows has become a way of life.

Gathering around the table to consume salt, sugar, and fat in copious amounts has become the symbol of what it means to be family.

History of Soul Food

Man on ScaleDon’t get me wrong. I love soul food. I think that the distinct flavor of the cuisine that we grew up with is worth having once in a while but I also believe that some of the ingredients have gone the way of just wowing the taste buds instead of delivering the sustenance we need.

Bryant Terry, author of Afro-Vegan, in his article “Reclaiming True Grits” points out that once upon a time African American food was nutrient dense and less processed.

He recalls the meals that his Ma’ Dear made in Tennessee and how they were organic and contained ingredients from the garden. It is important to note that we didn’t always eat like this.

So what happened? Corporate America happened. Concern for profit became more important than concern for humans.

In the 1960s, Soul Food became a hit and the recipes became more dangerous to our health. We have come to equate soul food with the fare showcased in the episode of the Boondocks about the “itis.”

You know, that feeling you get after a big meal and you just want to fall over and go to sleep.

TV or play video games on the couch are not what we are designed to do.

It’s a way of life I’ve seen played out in too many homes. Personally, I’ve tried to break away from it. I do it in fits and starts.

Some leafy greens here. Some HIIT workouts there. Then sooner or later the holidays come. That’s when the temptation levels are the highest.

My mind has two thoughts battling each other. The first thought is to not give in and pursue my highest ideals. The second one is that I’m not only missing out on the stimulation of my taste buds but the community that I’m a part of.

Community Woes

Most African Americans are a part of the church. It would seem that this makes things even worse. When church people get together, they eat.

And they don’t just eat but they eat good (or bad depending on your point of view). Treating our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit seems to only apply to sex, smoking, and drinking in the church world. Packaged foods and large meals get a free pass.

I can remember when I was a strict vegan for six months in college. I was filled with energy and it was mostly from the food that I was eating and not eating.

I felt like I was lighter than air. My mind was clear and I didn’t have any illnesses. Why did I stop? Family telling me I was eating rabbit food.

To put it simply I had no community to support me. And when it comes to food and many other lifestyle choices, the community always wins. That’s why for most African Americans, eating healthy is simple and hard at the same time.

Thankfully there are those in the African American community who are banding together to promote good health. Here are just a few websites to help you find the community for your new fitness habits.

So what about you? Do you find it hard to live a healthy lifestyle? Do you find African American culture presents a barrier to a healthy lifestyle?

A Man on a Mission

A Man on a Mission

Dwayne A. Jones with children from the Have Faith Mission Orphanage.

It started with a mission trip to Ghana, West Africa, in 2003, working with Habitat Global Village

Before Dwayne A. Jones even landed in the country with the nonprofit group, he immediately started seeking out churches, not realizing how big Ghana is. The first church that came up was Amazing Grace Gospel International church. He found a name on the site to contact — Isaac Akorli. When Dwayne arrived in Ghana with the Habitat group, Isaac was waiting for him at the airport, having traveled 8 hours by bus to meet him.

“When he got there, he didn’t have anywhere to stay, so I invited him to stay in the room with my roommate and me from the Habitat group. We talked and chit-chatted. He wanted me to come to visit. I said, ‘No, I can’t separate from my team. This is my first time in the country, and I’m with a group of people.’ So I promised him that I would make another trip and come back,” said Jones.

And he did. It was the beginning of a friendship and shared ministry that would last nearly 20 years. Jones fell in love with the kids, people, and culture in Ghana.

Jones returned the following year and visited Isaac in the Volta Region, west of Togo. Isaac had active ministries there in about eight churches, seven in Ghana and one in Togo. Jones, an ordained Baptist minister at New Olivet Baptist Church in Memphis, TN, preached, baptized people in the ocean, and held a revival for eight days.

“I think it was 26 different locations. It was a great experience and some challenges too. When I was baptizing in the ocean there, they had to tie a rope around me to keep me from being pulled out by the waves,” said Jones.

He returned to Ghana several times with his teams. In addition to his ministry, Jones wanted to help the people. He initially focused on building houses as he did with Habitat. The people were always gracious, but as time went on and he traveled to remote villages and had one-on-one meetings with village chiefs, he started to ask people what they wanted, and housing wasn’t a priority. 

“They said, ‘We don’t have a problem with housing. We need something for health care. We need something to educate our children. We’re okay living in little mud huts and little houses,” said Jones.

Children in class learning to speak Portuguese.

Have Faith Orphanage children in class learning to speak Portuguese.

With that, Jones, now 54, started to shift the focus of his trips. He partnered up with Americares, a global nonprofit organization focused on health and development that responds to individuals affected by poverty, disaster, or crisis, and arranged for doctors and different health care professionals to provide medical care in churches. On one of his trips, he brought a pediatrician from his church who took care of many kids with childhood obesity, diabetes, blood pressure, colds, and rashes. The medical professionals gave HIV/AIDS tests and educated women about personal hygiene items, birth control, diabetes, and blood pressure.  

Have Faith Orphanage teens listening to Jones preach.

Often, well-intentioned foreign volunteers will come with their agenda for helping people in other countries. Jones was able to have a significant impact by simply asking people what they needed. That’s how the idea for creating a school to teach sewing came to fruition. He set up a meeting with the West Africa AIDS Foundation (WAAF), had an informal conversation, and took notes. There he learned about The Almond Tree, an income-generating project created for people living with HIV and AIDS in Accra, Ghana, by WAAF in partnership with the AIDS Committee of London in Canada. In The Almond Tree’s program, people make clothes, hats, and all kinds of items to sell. However, outside of Accra, poor people who wanted to do the same thing didn’t have electricity in the remote areas. 

“I went to an internet café where they have old computers connected up to car batteries. I did some research, and I found out we could buy a sewing machine for $50. So I went and bought 15-16 sewing machines. We went to the remote village and took them there. Put them up on a table, and they screened women and brought women in, and they set up training to teach women how to sew and how to become self-sufficient by selling the clothes,” said Jones.

That training facility was named the Amazing Grace Sewing School. 

Over the years, Jones’ missionary travels have expanded beyond Ghana and into India and Haiti. He has brought anywhere from two to eight people on various trips, including family, friends, educators, preachers, people who want to do construction, and church members. The only requirement is that they understand it’s a faith-based Christian trip, and they’ll need to participate and accept ministry opportunities, no matter where they are in their faith. It’s not a vacation. That said, it does take a lot out of him.

“Every time I go on a mission trip, I come back more tired than when I left. For one, it’s spiritually draining, and two, the travel … being a team leader, there’s a lot of logistics between food, immunizations, safety, internet access, currency exchange, lodging, coordinating with the host, and just making sure people have a great experience. It’s always stressful for me, but I’ve been doing it long enough it gets easier with time. There’s a lot involved before I go,” said Jones.

Danger and Corruption

Being a missionary can have dangerous consequences. In 2005, Jones was in Togo when Gnassingbe Eyadéma, the president of Togo at the time, died of a heart attack. Eyadéma’s son was attempting to take over the government, and a war broke out. He was trapped in Togo and couldn’t get out. They had shut the country down, and the border was closed. 

“In Togo, the country’s national language is French, but they have that native African tongue. I didn’t speak French or the native tongue. There was a guy who was an interpreter, and we’re at the internet café. We see these guys in big pickup trucks with bandanas and suits on, and I said, ‘Oh, we got a soccer gang.’ You know I didn’t know what was going on,” said Jones. “I had to call the embassy, and they were sending some Apache helicopters, but the pastor was able to negotiate with the people at the border, and they got me out of the country.”

And then there are the nefarious activities of corrupt people. In 2020, even with the COVID pandemic raging, he traveled to the Have Faith Mission Orphanage in Haiti. No one came in or left except the teachers. Even he only left twice during his stay. At the orphanage, they follow the US protocols with mask-wearing. However, Jones said around town that wasn’t the case. He pointed out that at the time, very few people were diagnosed with COVID. In the two days he was there, they had zero cases. That said, he was asked multiple times in the airport to see his negative COVID test.

“It was four checks to see if you had your COVID test and a temperature check on your forehead before you could even get to baggage claim,” said Jones.

Like his visits to Africa, he tried to bring the Haitian kids vitamins, medicine, support items for personal hygiene, education supplies, and even some toys and fun things. In Haiti, the orphans haven’t necessarily lost their parents. In many cases, the parents aren’t able to care for their children, but they still maintain a relationship. It’s like foster care, adoption, and an orphanage all in one. However, he didn’t make it out of the airport without people stealing some of his supplies and goodies.

“I had 12 bags of candy for the kids. They stole candy at customs,” said Jones. “I had 14 little fire tablets for them to do wifi and go online. The airport police wanted to take those, but they extorted $100 instead. The guy was there from the orphanage and everything.” 

Jones says he’s had customs agents demand money for his medicines, and they’ve confiscated syringes and items to treat diabetes. But in one particular case, the corruption resulted in souls being saved. Jones had to return to the airport a few times to get all of his luggage. One time on his way back to the airport, he saw a little girl walking down the street. The people he was with dismissed her as a peasant girl, but he wanted to talk to her. With a translator, he learned her name was Nadez and that she was from a remote village and hungry. He got her some food and made her one of those twisty balloons entertainers often give young kids.

“I ended up asking her, ‘Do you know Jesus?’ She said no. So I told her a story about Jesus Christ and asked her if she’d like to accept Jesus. She said yes. So I prayed with her right there. She accepted Jesus, and before I left, there were 200 and some people there who accepted Jesus at the airport,” said Jones. “I’d go with one intention, and then something else happened. I’d tell people maybe there was a reason my medicine was confiscated from me so that I could meet Nadez.”

I Build By Faith

Jones and children from Have Faith Orphanage.

Jones is an international missionary, but he also has a construction business. He received a degree in architectural engineering from Tennessee State University and a master’s in management from the University of Phoenix, where he’s currently working toward a Ph.D. in organizational management. Dwayne A. Jones Construction Company, LLC, is what has helped to fund his missionary trips. As much as he’s accomplished around the world, he’s also created a name for himself by taking on poverty in the United States through building personal “tiny houses” for the homeless, organizing bike drives, and sprouting up community gardens. But poverty in the United States still isn’t like it is in Haiti or Africa.

“It’s totally different because even with our people in poverty, they have way more means and access. It’s on a scale that will blow your mind because if a person is in poverty here in the United States, they have access to running water somewhere, even if you take a homeless person. They can go to a restaurant, and they can go to use the bathroom facility. In Haiti, you don’t have running water anywhere,” said Jones.

He puts all of his community service efforts and ministries under the umbrella organization of “I Build By Faith.” It started out as connecting his faith to his construction business and profession, but now it’s all about community building and changing lives. Jones says the most significant difference between Haiti and Africa is the distance when it comes to poverty. 

“The same construction, people, same food, same problems, same poverty, they’re just in a different place. It is so similar, it’s eerie,” said Jones. “I would like to provide a facility where young people here in my community, Orange Mound (Memphis, TN), can help rebuild this community and be an international hub to bring children from Haiti and Africa to Orange Mound and take kids from Orange Mound to those countries and get that exposure. I want to make a global educational facility for both sets of children, here and abroad. This is pre-pandemic, but I still believe by faith that it can happen.”

 

Meet the ‘Successful Moms of the Bible’

Meet the ‘Successful Moms of the Bible’

Successful Moms Book Cover

Good parenting advice is hard to find. In fact, many of us have spent a lot more money than we’d like to admit on self-help books when all of the advice we’ve ever needed on being a great parent could be found right in the Bible. Enter the perfect resource for moms of the 21st Century: Successful Moms of the Bible.

Author Katara Washington Patton, a fellow mom-on-the-go, brings us an in-depth look at the stories of ten, strong women of the Bible who serve as great examples of being a successful mother by any means necessary.

“It’s based on biblical characters but it really is for contemporary moms,” Patton says about the first installment of her new 3-part series. Each chapter begins with an overarching lesson based on the stories of each biblical character.

“I really tried to mix it up,” Patton says. “Of course, I had to include my favorite, Ruth, so she came naturally, and of course, I had to include Mary, the mother of Jesus.”

Patton also included ladies that may be a bit less familiar, including Jochebed, the mother of Moses. Patton’s chapter on Jochebed embodies the concept of protecting your children at all costs. “That woman had guts,” she says. “She saved her son’s life!”

Although her goal was to share the stories of other moms, Successful Moms of the Bible also gives us a glimpse of Patton’s own close-knit relationship with her mother. “My mom died ten years ago in May, so writing about moms is very close and personal to me as we honor the 10-year anniversary of her death,” she says.

Patton says we can expect the other two books in the Successful series within the next several months. Successful Women of the Bible is scheduled for release in August 2016 and Successful Leaders of the Bible, the third and final installment, will be available early 2017.

Single Moms of the Bible is available on Patton’s website.

Who are some of your favorite moms of the Bible? Let’s talk about it below.

How using music to parent can liven up everyday tasks, build family bonds

How using music to parent can liven up everyday tasks, build family bonds

Parents can sing their way through the day.
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc./Getty Images

Editor’s Note: Lisa Huisman Koops researches how parents incorporate music into everything from daily chores and routines to family and religious practices. It’s something she believes has taken on more importance now that families are spending more time together in close quarters due to COVID-19. Here, Koops elaborates on the concept of parenting musically and what it involves.

1. What is parenting musically?

Parenting musically is the way I describe what happens when moms and dads use music for many nonmusical tasks and goals. These activities can involve everyday things or ways to better relate to one another. For example, a mother can sing a song to help cue her kids to brush their teeth. Or a father can use a playlist to make Saturday morning chores more fun. Children can also sing songs with grandparents through videoconferencing as a way to deepen their emotional bonds.

An example of parenting musically – helping a child brush their teeth for a certain amount of time.
Author provided (No reuse)1000 KB (download)

An example of parenting musically – helping a child speak about their day.
Author provided (No reuse)2.02 MB (download)

These are just some of the ways to get children to see the richness in the ways they can experience the world through music.

2. What are the most interesting examples you’ve seen?

Several families in my research project used music to help develop their child’s identity. For instance, by singing Hungarian folk songs she had learned growing up, one mother encouraged her daughter, Francesca, to sing them over Skype with her grandparents in Hungary.

One couple curated a playlist for their daughter Maggie as a way to nurture her identity as an African American girl growing up in a transracial adoptive family with white parents.

This family intentionally introduced a broad range of musicians, including many who are African American, and talked about the importance of familiarity with music as a form of social meaning.

Other families used music for transitions and rituals. One father composed little songs for his son Joel to help him through his bedtime routine. The songs were cues for what each of them needed to do as well as a joyful way to connect.

Another family, who were observant Orthodox Jews, used music throughout their daily and weekly religious practices and holidays. For instance, the children learned songs at home and school about Purim, a Jewish holiday, that explained the background and significance of their celebrations.

3. Does parenting musically involve formal music lessons?

It depends on the family. There can be more than one reason for parents to engage their children in music through formal lessons as well as in everyday life. I’ve found that having several reasons for enrolling kids in music lessons might help keep children interested when enthusiasm flags or practicing becomes a struggle.

Music lessons involve more than just mastery.
MoMo Productions/Getty Images

Parents should communicate whatever their and their children’s hopes and dreams are to music teachers. If a teacher assumes the goal is for my daughter to be the top violinist in a youth orchestra, when my goal is for my daughter to understand and accept that it’s OK to struggle to master a difficult skill, there can be a mismatch that leads to frustration on all sides.

There’s no one right way to parent musically, and no one best way to be musical. Learning informally with online materials, taking time to explore children’s musical passions through listening to music together or rocking out to quarantine parodies – these are all ways to enjoy and grow with music.

For me personally, the goal of parenting musically is to embrace experiences with my four children today that help us navigate hurdles in life, bring us together as a family and develop skills and interests that will be with them throughout their lives.

[You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can read us daily by subscribing to our newsletter.]The Conversation

Lisa Huisman Koops, Professor of Music Education, Case Western Reserve University

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

Stop Blaming Tuskegee, Critics Say. It’s Not an ‘Excuse’ for Current Medical Racism

Stop Blaming Tuskegee, Critics Say. It’s Not an ‘Excuse’ for Current Medical Racism

Video Courtesy of ABC News


This story is from a partnership that includes NPR, KQED and KHN.  

For months, journalists, politicians and health officials — including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Dr. Anthony Fauci — have invoked the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study to explain why Black Americans are more hesitant than white Americans to get the coronavirus vaccine.

“It’s ‘Oh, Tuskegee, Tuskegee, Tuskegee,’ and it’s mentioned every single time,” said Karen Lincoln, a professor of social work at the University of Southern California and founder of Advocates for African American Elders. “We make these assumptions that it’s Tuskegee. We don’t ask people.”

When she asks Black seniors in Los Angeles about the vaccine, Tuskegee rarely comes up. People in the community talk about contemporary racism and barriers to health care, she said, while it seems to be mainly academics and officials who are preoccupied with the history of Tuskegee.

“It’s a scapegoat,” Lincoln said. “It’s an excuse. If you continue to use it as a way of explaining why many African Americans are hesitant, it almost absolves you of having to learn more, do more, involve other people — admit that racism is actually a thing today.”

It’s the health inequities of today that Maxine Toler, 72, hears about when she asks her friends and neighbors in Los Angeles what they think about the vaccine. As president of her city’s senior advocacy council and her neighborhood block club, Toler said she and most of the other Black seniors she talks with want the vaccine but are having trouble getting it. And that alone sows mistrust, she said.

Toler said the Black people she knows who don’t want the vaccine have very modern reasons for not wanting it. They talk about religious beliefs, safety concerns or a distrust of former U.S. President Donald Trump and his contentious relationship with science. Only a handful mention Tuskegee, she said, and when they do, they’re fuzzy on the details of what happened during the 40-year study.

“If you ask them ‘What was it about?’ and ‘Why do you feel like it would impact your receiving the vaccine?’ they can’t even tell you,” she said.

Toler knows the details, but she said that history is a distraction from today’s effort to get people vaccinated against the coronavirus.

“It’s almost the opposite of Tuskegee,” she said. “Because they were being denied treatment. And this is like, we’re pushing people forward: Go and get this vaccine. We want everybody to be protected from covid.”

Questioning the Modern Uses of the Tuskegee Legacy

The “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male” was a government-sponsored, taxpayer-funded study that began in 1932. Some people believe that researchers injected the men with syphilis, but that’s not true. Rather, the scientists recruited 399 Black men from Alabama who already had the disease.

Researchers told the men they had come to Tuskegee to cure “bad blood,” but never told them they had syphilis. And, the government doctors never intended to cure the men. Even when an effective treatment for syphilis — penicillin — became widely available in the 1940s, the researchers withheld it from the infected men and continued the study for decades, determined to track the disease to its endpoint: autopsy.

By the time the study was exposed and shut down in 1972, 128 of the men involved had died from syphilis or related complications, and 40 of their wives and 19 children had become infected.

Given this horrific history, many scientists assumed Black people would want nothing to do with the medical establishment again, particularly clinical research. Over the next three decades, various books, articles and films repeated this assumption until it became gospel.

“That was a false assumption,” said Dr. Rueben Warren, director of the National Center for Bioethics in Research and Health Care at Tuskegee University in Alabama, and former associate director of minority health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 1988 to 1997.

A few researchers began to question this assumption at a 1994 bioethics conference, where almost all the speakers seemed to accept it as a given. The doubters asked, what kind of scientific evidence is there to support the notion that Black people would refuse to participate in research because of Tuskegee?

When those researchers did a comprehensive search of the existing literature, they found nothing.

“It was apparently a ‘fact’ known more in the gut than in the head,” wrote lead doubter Dr. Ralph Katz, an epidemiologist at the New York University College of Dentistry.

So Katz formed a research team to look for this evidence. They completed a series of studies over the next 14 years, focused mainly on surveying thousands of people across seven cities, from Baltimore to San Antonio to Tuskegee.

The conclusions were definitive: While Black people were twice as “wary” of participating in research, compared with white people, they were equally willing to participate when asked. And there was no association between knowledge of Tuskegee and willingness to participate.

“The hesitancy is there, but the refusal is not. And that’s an important difference,” said Warren, who later joined Katz in editing a book about the research. “Hesitant, yes. But not refusal.”

Tuskegee was not the deal breaker everyone thought it was.

These results did not go over well within academic and government research circles, Warren said, as they “indicted and contradicted” the common belief that low minority enrollment in research was the result of Tuskegee.

“That was the excuse that they used,” Warren said. “If I don’t want to go to the extra energy, resources to include the population, I can simply say they were not interested. They refused.”

If you say Tuskegee, then you don’t have to acknowledge things like pharmacy deserts, things like poverty and unemployment,

Karen Lincoln

Now researchers had to confront the shortcomings of their own recruitment methods. Many of them never invited Black people to participate in their studies in the first place. When they did, they often did not try very hard. For example, two studies of cardiovascular disease offered enrollment to more than 2,000 white people, compared with no more than 30 people from minority groups.

“We have a tendency to use Tuskegee as a scapegoat, for us, as researchers, not doing what we need to do to ensure that people are well educated about the benefits of participating in a clinical trial,” said B. Lee Green, vice president of diversity at Moffitt Cancer Center in Florida, who worked on the early research debunking the assumptions about Tuskegee’s legacy.

“There may be individuals in the community who absolutely remember Tuskegee, and we should not discount that,” he said. But hesitancy “is more related to individuals’ lived experiences, what people live each and every day.”



‘It’s What Happened to Me Yesterday’

Some of the same presumptions that were made about clinical research are resurfacing today around the coronavirus vaccine. A lot of hesitancy is being confused for refusal, Warren said. And so many of the entrenched structural barriers that limit access to the vaccine in Black communities are not sufficiently addressed.

Tuskegee is once again being used as a scapegoat, said Lincoln, the USC sociologist.

“If you say ‘Tuskegee,’ then you don’t have to acknowledge things like pharmacy deserts, things like poverty and unemployment,” she said. “You can just say, ‘That happened then … and there’s nothing we can do about it.’”

She said the contemporary failures of the health care system are more pressing and causing more mistrust than the events of the past.

“It’s what happened to me yesterday,” she said. “Not what happened in the ’50s or ’60s, when Tuskegee was actually active.”

The seniors she works with complain to her all the time about doctors dismissing their concerns or talking down to them, and nurses answering the hospital call buttons for their white roommates more often than for them.

As a prime example of the unequal treatment Black people receive, they point to the recent Facebook Live video of Dr. Susan Moore. When Moore, a geriatrician and family medicine physician from Indiana, got covid-19, she filmed herself from her hospital bed, an oxygen tube in her nose. She told the camera that she had to beg her physician to continue her course of remdesivir, the drug that speeds recovery from the disease.

“He said, ‘Ah, you don’t need it. You’re not even short of breath.’ I said ‘Yes, I am,’” Moore said into the camera. “I put forward and I maintain, if I was white, I wouldn’t have to go through that.”

Moore died two weeks later.

“She knew what kind of treatment she should be getting and she wasn’t getting it,” said Toler of L.A., contrasting Moore’s treatment with the care Trump received.

“We saw it up close and personal with the president, that he got the best of everything. They cured him in a couple of days, and our people are dying like flies.”

Toler and her neighbors said that the same inequity is playing out with the vaccine. Three months into the vaccine rollout, Black people made up about 3% of Californians who had received the vaccination, even though they account for 6.2% of the state’s covid deaths.

The first mass-vaccination sites set up in the Los Angeles area — at Dodger Stadium and at Disneyland — are difficult to get to from Black neighborhoods without a car. And you practically needed a computer science degree to get an early dose, as snagging an online appointment required navigating a confusing interface or constantly refreshing the portal.

White, affluent people have been snatching up appointments, even at clinics intended for hard-hit Black and Latino communities, while people of color have had trouble getting through.

It’s stories like these, of unequal treatment and barriers to care, that stoke mistrust, Lincoln said. “And the word travels fast when people have negative experiences. They share it.”

To address this mistrust will require a paradigm shift, said Warren of Tuskegee University. If you want Black people to trust doctors and trust the vaccine, don’t blame them for their distrust, he said. The obligation is on health institutions to first show they are trustworthy: to listen, take responsibility, show accountability and stop making excuses. That, he added, means providing information about the vaccine without being paternalistic and making the vaccine easy to access in Black communities.

“Prove yourself trustworthy and trust will follow,” he said.

This story is from a partnership that includes NPR, KQED and KHN.

Subscribe to KHN’s free Morning Briefing.

10 Two-minute Podcast Shorts on Justice

10 Two-minute Podcast Shorts on Justice

Two-minute Daily Direction podcasts by UMI Founder Dr. Melvin E. Banks, Sr., will get you thinking about the intersection of Christianity, social justice, and the role of the church.

A court of justice looks for eye witness testimony
Elijah Lovejoy left the pulpit to work for peace and justice
Radicals burn churches hoping to impede justice
The Leadership Conference sees disparities in justice
Rosa Parks protested injustice with non-violence
Chuck Colson advocated for restorative justice
Peaceful protest against injustice shows wisdom
Andrew Young has been a champion for justice
Dr. King stressed nonviolence to fight injustice
Dr. Carl Henry left a good word about social justice

Can We Respond to George Floyd’s Case with Hope?

Can We Respond to George Floyd’s Case with Hope?

Santa Fe, NM: A roadside memorial to George Floyd Memorial near downtown Santa Fe.

On April 20 as the afternoon grew later, the world awaited one of the most anticipated verdicts in a generation. The case was the State of Minnesota v. Derek Chauvin, but it seemed as though once again the value of Black Life was on trial in the United States of America. Chauvin was accused and found guilty on all accounts for the murder of George Floyd, but the nation and the world knew more was at stake in the verdict. When George Floyd was killed in May 2020, it was a moment where  the specter of racism and police violence were thrust again into the national consciousness from their home in the daily lives of black people. The murder was particularly cruel and horrific. For nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds the former police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on the neck and back of George Floyd, suffocating him to death as he cried out for help, for his mother, and for God. 

The incident was caught on video by a teenager who shared it to social media. Multiple news outlets picked it up and it’s playing sparked national outrage that ignited protests in large cities and small towns across America. While the world was on pause in the midst of the pandemic, millions got to see with their own eyes what many black families fear: a public death at the hands of a law enforcement officer, and another black man passing from life to become a hashtag. 

As the verdict was read, guilty on all counts, a mix of emotions could be seen and heard throughout the nation. Relief, sadness, hope, anger, fatigue, closure. At the same time there was an acknowledgment that this was not the end of the struggle for equal justice under the law for black people, but another point in the middle. For many believers it was on occasion for lamentation more than celebration for a number of reasons. People breathed a sigh of relief for accountability by a law enforcement officer, but many noted that this guilty verdict could not bring restoration of George Floyd’s life. There is still much violence in the land and great need for God’s intervention. There is a lot of change to be had, a lot of work to be done and thousands of other stories that did not end the way George Floyd’s did. Within the same week, in the same state there was yet another case of an unarmed black man who lost his life too soon in an encounter with the police. In this nation there are people who lose their lives every day to violence. It is the reason many law enforcement officers go to work everyday, to protect and serve and prevent people from losing their lives. And yet the shadow of death by violence looms large in our communities. This enduring reality causes many of us to still cry out to God for justice, mercy, and change. 

Lamentations is a book of the Bible that doesn’t get read very often, but is filled with violent and difficult imagery. The author wrote it during a time of great trauma when the children of Israel were in exile in Babylon and still facing destruction, disease, and death in the once great city of Jerusalem. They were aware that it was sin that brought the terrible conditions of suffering and injustice they experienced, but they were also aware that their hope was in God’s intervention. Our world in the wake of violence is similar to theirs in many ways, different than theirs in many others, but our hope remains the same in God’s intervention. The writer confesses his faith in the Lord and urges others to remember this time of trouble. This seems like a strange thing to do, remember a time of trouble, but it is instructive for us today. 

Lamentations 3:20-23(NLT) says: 

20 I will never forget this awful time, 

as I grieve over my loss.

21 Yet I still dare to hope

    when I remember this:

22 The faithful love of the Lord never ends!

    His mercies never cease.

23 Great is his faithfulness;

    his mercies begin afresh each morning.

It is tempting to forget pain, trauma, and the difficulty of a struggle; especially when we receive some relief. It is tempting to move on from the case of George Floyd because the verdict has been rendered, but the lessons must be enduring if we are to love in a world that keeps more people like George Floyd alive instead of relieved at their murderer being punished. This is one reason Lamentations may be in the Bible, to give hope to everyone going through a time of individual and societal struggle. It speaks to the presence of pain, but also the endurance of God’s presence in ways that encourage our souls to overcome weariness. 

Believers are invited by Lamentations to hear and remember the pain we experience, as well as the pain of others. But also to bear witness to the hope of God in the midst of it. Great is God’s faithfulness, His love never ends. Let us be lovers of ourselves, our neighbors, and our communities as we continue to cry out and advocate for God’s justice in the midst of the weariness and violence that continues to plague our land. 

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.

Faith leaders across US join in decrying voting restrictions

Faith leaders across US join in decrying voting restrictions

Video Courtesy of ABC15 Arizona


In Georgia, faith leaders are asking corporate executives to condemn laws restricting voting access — or face a boycott. In Arizona and Texas, clergy have assembled outside the state capitols to decry what they view as voter-suppression measures targeting Black and Hispanic people.

Similar initiatives have been undertaken in Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and elsewhere as many faith leaders perceive a threat to voting rights that warrants their intervention in a volatile political issue.

“It is very much in a part of our tradition, as Christians, to be engaged in the public square,” said the Rev. Dr. Eric Ledermann, pastor at University Presbyterian Church in Tempe, Arizona, after the event outside the Statehouse.

“When people say, ‘Let’s not get political in the church’ — Jesus was very political,” Ledermann said. “He was engaged in how his culture, his community was being shaped, and who was being left out of the decision-making process.”

Georgia already has enacted legislation with various restrictive voting provisions. More than 350 voting bills are now under consideration in dozens of other states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a public policy think tank. Among the proposals: tightening requirements for voter IDs, reducing the number of ballot drop boxes and curtailing early voting.

African Methodist Episcopal Bishop Reginald Jackson, who oversees AME churches in Georgia, has been urging corporate leaders to do more to fight voting restrictions. So far, he’s dissatisfied with the response, and says he may call for boycotts of some companies.

In this Tuesday, April 13, 2021 file photo, Reverend Kenneth Pierce, 1st VP of the Detroit Branch NAACP, and pastor at Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church, speaks Tuesday, April 13, 2021, during a rally to support voting rights & end voter suppression at the Capitol in Lansing, Mich. In Georgia, faith leaders are asking corporate executives to condemn laws restricting voting access — or face a boycott. In Arizona and Texas, clergy have assembled outside the state capitols to decry what they view as voter-suppression measures targeting Black and Hispanic people. Similar initiatives have been undertaken in Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and elsewhere. (Matthew Dae Smith/Lansing State Journal via AP, File)


In numerous states, voting rights activism is being led by multi-faith coalitions that include Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups. Here is what some of the faith leaders are saying:

The Rev. Dr. Cassandra Gould, executive director of Missouri Faith Voices, for whom the issue is “very personal”:

“I’m from Alabama, a little town called Demopolis. It’s 47 miles west of Selma, where my mother fought for rights, went to jail on Bloody Sunday (in 1965). … So those are the stories that I grew up with. I never imagined that I would still be fighting the same fight.”

“There is a playbook to suppress votes, to shrink the electorate. And we believe fundamentally, as a tenet of faith, that it should be expanded so that people are included, not excluded.”

___

The Rev. Dr. Warren H. Stewart, Sr., senior pastor at First Institutional Baptist Church in Phoenix and chairman of Arizona’s African American Christian Clergy Coalition:

“If you read the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, it talks about justice, talks about being on the side of the oppressed, the downtrodden, the orphan, the poor. And this whole voter-suppression issue is about fighting against those who would oppress people of color, the poor, people who are struggling to make it in life. So it is a faith issue as much as a justice issue. They’re not disconnected.”

“The reaction of the Republican Party, to the most people ever voting in the history of the United States, is that ‘we’re gonna lose in the future.’ So it’s very obvious that this is not about accountability or about ethics, it’s about politics. And that’s unjust, and so that’s why we’re out here.”

___

The Rev. Frederick Haynes III, pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas:

“We have those in leadership — in Texas government — who have in their ideological DNA the same mindset of those slave masters who denied the humanity of Black people. The same mindset of those individuals who upheld Jim and Jane Crow segregation. … Gov. (Greg) Abbot and his Republican cronies have decided to dress up Jim and Jane Crow in a tuxedo of what they call voter integrity, but it’s still Jim and Jane Crow. … You are simply trying to create a problem for voters you don’t want to vote.”

___

The Rev. Edwin Robinson, organizer of Dallas Black Clergy:

“No matter what side of the political aisle you find yourself, any attempt to hinder voting is an attempt to take away our greatest freedom and liberty. … We should be doing everything to protect our greatest freedoms — and make ways for our citizens to enthusiastically vote and do so free from fear and intimidation.”

___

The Rev. Anne Ellsworth, priest at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Parish in Tempe:

“I am a pastor in a white congregation. I am a priest in a church, the Episcopal Church, that is famous for our white, Christian, moderate stance. … My interest is in awakening knowledge in other white, moderate, Christian women who have remained silent or who have felt powerless or think that it doesn’t matter to them. My guiding light is a quote from Martin Luther King: ‘There are not enough white people who value or who cherish democratic principles more than white privilege.’”

“White Christian women know what it is to have our voices silenced. And we cannot stand by while other people’s voices are also being silenced. We need to recognize our privilege and use it as leverage to fight voter suppression aimed at Black Americans.”

___

Rabbi Lydia Medwin of The Temple in Atlanta:

“The Jewish community has responded to the call of our African American brothers and sisters since the since the Civil Rights era began. When our partners and people that we care deeply about say to us, ‘We’re hurting, we’re being treated unfairly,’ we have no other response but to step up.”

___

Rabbi David Segal, Texas organizer for the Religious Action Center for Judaism Reform:

“The backlash against Georgia passing legislation is actually helping us in Texas, because we’re able to point to that and organize the anger around those laws to try and stop it here. … People of faith stand for inclusion and stand for respect and stand for acceptance and a different kind of justice.”

___

Associated Press writer Jeff Amy in Atlanta contributed to this report.

___

In this Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020 file photo, Voters line up outside Vickery Baptist Church waiting to cast their ballots on Election Day in Dallas. In Georgia, faith leaders are asking corporate executives to condemn laws restricting voting access — or face a boycott. In Arizona and Texas, clergy have assembled outside the state capitols to decry what they view as voter-suppression measures targeting Black and Hispanic people. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

Prayer, Praise, and Prostitutes

Prayer, Praise, and Prostitutes

RELATED: The Prayer of Examen: A Prayer for Greater Self-Awareness

This article is updated and republished from a version in 2019.

Our rendezvous point was the home of a saint. Together, we climbed the 25 steps that led to the bedroom of Mother Teresa, a five-foot giant of love and mercy. We peered into the small, modestly adorned space where she had slept, prayed, and responded to letters from every corner the world. Slowly, we descended the stairs and walked into the chapel that contained Mother’s tomb. Some of the women kissed the tomb. Some gave alms. Some cried. One showed her daughter how to fold her hands in prayer. They were prostitutes and owners of brothels. I was a woman who was about to journey from ignorance to understanding, and from judgment to love.

This was just one of the many mind-changing and heart-opening encounters I had on a recent mission trip to India. For years, Anita, a missionary and friend of mine, had been asking me to accompany her overseas, but I always had one good excuse or another. I had supported her efforts financially, but I didn’t think I was called to go to other parts of the world to serve when there were enough folks in my own backyard who needed to be served. Mind you, I wasn’t really serving people in my own backyard, but the excuse made me believe that I had my priorities straight. This year though, she had urged me, was the right year for me to go because she would be doing something different. Along with distributing rice, other staples, and the good news of God’s love for everyone, she wanted to offer soul care to religious leaders as well as HIV-positive children living in orphanages, widows, nursing mothers, those attending churches in the jungle, the hearing impaired, and prostitutes. She thought that since I had a certificate in the practice of spiritual direction and a master’s degree in family ministry and spiritual formation, I was well equipped to help people pay greater attention to the quality of their relationship with God.

I knew that I was ill-equipped to speak to such a broad range of audiences, but I decided to go because I was interested in visiting that part of the world and curious about what I could learn from a different culture. Learning, I was to discover, was about to take on a whole new depth after I spent a day with women whom I thought I knew. What I deemed to be knowledge had been prejudice in disguise.

Sharing Life Together

Writer Maisie Sparks at the home of Mother Teresa.

After we left the chapel, the women and I went to the museum that chronicles Mother Teresa’s life. Some of the women couldn’t read English or their own language, but we looked at the pictures and followed the visual narrative about the impact Mary Teresa Bojaxhiu had made on the world.

The women were well-dressed. Not in that I’m-trying-to-pick-up-a-guy kind of way that I had assumed they would be, but in a I’m-going-somewhere-important-and-I-should-dress-for-the-occasion way. Their saris were made of vibrant, colorful, and intricately designed materials. I, on the other hand, was sorely underdressed. I had bought an inexpensive contemporary Indian-styled blouse on the first day of my arrival. My attempt at replicating the culture’s fashion sense was so bad that one of my interpreters convinced a store owner to give me a better price on some souvenirs because I was not a rich American. The evidence of my station in life, she pointed out, was the kind of material my clothes had been made from. Although my pride was hurt, my wallet was happy.

As we walked through the courtyard that connected the buildings that comprised the Mother House of the Missionaries of Charity, I pulled out my journal and began to capture some of my thoughts. I was starting to feel as if this was going to be a watershed day and that I should write down as much of it as I could. But I had to stop. A group photo was being organized, and I hurried over to make sure that I was part of it to memorialize the day that I began to see similarities and not just differences. Even though we didn’t speak the same language and were from different cultures, we all shared the same desires. We wanted better for our lives, and especially, the lives of our children. We had suffered at the hands of others and had been impacted by systems and circumstances that restricted the financial mobility of the poor—especially women. We all, at some point in our lives, had overstepped the bounds of righteousness to secure the life we thought we wanted.

Uncomfortable Truths

In some cultures, prostitution is a viable choice for women who are poor, lack education, and have little, if any, hope for help from charities or government programs. It provides a career path to ownership of bars, hotels/brothels, catering services, and other ancillary services once a woman can earn more money than she needs to survive. Indeed, several of the women I met were business owners.

One of the missionaries who we served with in India told me that the women have been open to hearing the gospel, especially in the engaging ways Anita had shared it on previous visits. Yet, few have been motivated to change their careers. Where she’d seen the greatest change is in the numbers of them enrolling their children in the pre-schools she had established.

As the day continued, I would learn that even before the local missionary opened her pre-schools, many of the women had given their children an education. Some had even put their children through college—both boys and girls. Educating girls is significant because they don’t have equal worth in this and many other cultures. I realized that this belief is pervasive and is manifested in my own culture by unequal pay, glass ceilings to career advancement, and the inability of women to obtain business loans.

Teaching and Learning

After visiting Mother Teresa’s home, we took a short walk to a cloistered hotel with a beautiful lawn and an air-conditioned meeting room. Anita began the teaching part of our day by sharing the good news of the sacrificial love of Christ. The session ended with joyous songs of praise from the women. To take a break from a long spell of sitting, we went outside to play a game.

Anita had each woman find a partner. One partner was blindfolded, and the other had to guide the blindfolded person through a maze of chairs by giving only verbal directions. It was comical to watch and uncomfortable to experience. But it led us into a discussion about what it’s like to walk in darkness, to stumble around, to be fearful. We asked ourselves: Can we trust the voice we hear? Are we good at giving directions? Are we good at taking directions? Do we know our left from our right? The exercise elicited much laughter. Anita transitioned from talking about the darkness to introducing the Light. There is a voice we can trust, she declared. That voice invites us to walk a path that leads to the better life that we all seek.

After a spicy lunch, it was my turn to teach, and I introduced the women to the prayer of examen. Each time I shared this prayer in this culture, I wondered whether it would be experienced as relevant. Poor people don’t need a reflective prayer, I thought. They need a prayer about getting God to do things for them through prayer. What I was to learn, however, is that everyone, everywhere needs time to reflect on what they think about God. We all need to discover that our deepest desire is to know God deeply, no matter where we live, what we’ve done, or what our circumstances are.

As I shared my presentation, I often paused, asking questions, and waiting for feedback to see whether I was explaining the prayer clearly. They responded with answers that let me know that they understood me. Near the end, one woman stood and prayed the prayer using examples from her own life—direct confirmation for me that she got it.

I discovered that prayer – reflective, sincere, and unbiased – can activate compassion and give birth to love. We ended the day singing songs of praise, playing balloon volleyball, giving gifts, and sharing hugs. I no longer experienced their presence as “them and me.” We were one: women united with a universal bond and a desire to know God, each other, and our own selves at a much deeper level.

I had traveled more than 8,000 miles to be part of a mission trip, but in reality, I had taken a longer journey. I had experienced the mysterious lengths God will take to get us out of our heads and into His heart. That is the longest and most significant distance each of us can ever travel.



Maisie Sparks is a spiritual director and the author of Holy Shakespeare and other titles.

Time to straighten out our Jericho Road

Time to straighten out our Jericho Road

Video Courtesy of hardknocktv


When Jesus wanted to teach a lawyer the universal truth about what it means to be a neighbor, He told a story about a man from one ethnic group who helped a man from another ethnic group who had been beaten and left for dead along the Jericho Road. This anonymous brother’s keeper has been venerated as the Good Samaritan, and schools, hospitals, and streets are named after him. But today, if Jesus were telling this story, I wonder if He would only focus on one person helping another person. Today’s Jericho Road is not a one-person problem. If we’re to understand what it means to be a neighbor and straighten out our Jericho Road, we’ll need a national body of determined individuals who come together to fix a dangerous curve in our historical road that has caused damage to many for far too long.

What do I mean by straighten out our Jericho Road? First, a little context. In biblical times, the Jericho Road was the way from Jerusalem to Jericho, a flourishing city. The rich and famous built their vacation homes in Jericho. Religious leaders spent their days off there, perhaps resting under a palm tree. But the road to Jericho had many twists and turns where evil people lurked and attacked unsuspecting travelers. Far too many people taking the four-hour trek down the Jericho Road found themselves victims of evildoers.

Some would question why anyone would knowingly travel such a dangerous roadway, but a better question would be: Why should anyone be unable to travel to Jericho in safety? Are we to surrender our freedom because some would want to deny our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Why are we told to go back to Africa when our forefathers and foremothers helped build this great society—for free? When we gather for Bible study in our own churches, do we have to fear that evil people are going to jump out of nowhere and attack us?

Today’s Jericho Road is a twisted state of mind

Our Jericho Road is not offenders lurking on some mountain path over in Israel. It’s individuals with twisted states of mind who believe they can wait in their own dark shadows and then, without warning, jump out and attack people because they don’t like how they look or falsely believe that individuals searching for peace and rest are a threat to them. How do we straighten out such a mindset? Do we need metal detectors at every church door? Should we take off our shoes off before we enter our places of worship, not because we’re standing on holy ground, but because we want to ensure no one is hiding a bomb in their shoes?

When our nation has experienced natural disasters and terrorist tragedies in the past, we’ve come together, stepped up with celebrity telethons, public service announcements, days of silence, and other forms of active support to tell ourselves and the world that we’re better than this… that we shall overcome all terrorist threats to a humane society.

Go public against racial hatred

When a group of African Americans tried to cross a bridge in Selma and were denied, the country rallied. People of all ethnic stripes came against forces that wanted to infringe upon the God-given dignity of others. In one collective voice, they said, “No more. Not on my watch. Never again.”

Do we have enough Good Samaritans today who are willing to go public with their determination to end racism? Can we get enough people to just say no to racism so that our national consciousness reaches a tipping point that ends racial injustice? Will we call out and straighten out our own family members, friends, co-workers, and associates when they espouse ideas and actions that would undermine the safety and sanctity of others?

There’s been a lot of talk about having conversations about race, but as we all know, talk is cheap—unless it’s meant to broaden our understanding and respect for people who are “other” to us. Should we have such honest and transparent conversations, we’d quickly find out that underneath the skin, we’re all pretty much the same, with the same dreams and aspirations for ourselves and future generations. But until people, famous and anonymous, lock arm in arm and publicly declare that life matters and that racial hatred is wrong and will not be tolerated here, we can expect more of the same.

It’s been said that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. If that is true, then good people must take just actions until evildoers realize that we the people are intolerant of racial injustice. What Jesus taught must still be shared: We are all neighbors. We all are made in the image of God. Christ died so we could all experience our universal oneness in Him. When a Black child is murdered in the streets, we all suffer. When a White child is murdered in her elementary schoolroom, we all suffer. We are all human. No one else needs to be senselessly gunned down to make this heart-wrenching point.

 

Why some Christians want Target to stop carrying a bestselling book of prayers

Why some Christians want Target to stop carrying a bestselling book of prayers

Video courtesy of pghseminary


A bestselling book on prayer has some Christians upset and calling on Target stores to remove it from their shelves.

“ A Rhythm of Prayer: A Collection of Meditations for Renewal ” — edited by progressive Christian author Sarah Bessey — features a number of different types of prayers written by theologians, pastors and authors from various Christian traditions. It hit bestseller lists in both the United States and Canada when it was released in February.

The prayers in the book include a benediction by Bessey, a poem by Potawatomi Christian author and speaker Kaitlin Curtice, a prayer based on a chicken soup recipe by pastor and peacemaker Osheta Moore, “A Liturgy for Disability” by author and disability advocate Stephanie Tait and even blank pages for those times when it feels like there aren’t words.

But it’s the “Prayer of a Weary Black Woman” by clinical psychologist and womanist theologian Chanequa Walker-Barnes that has caught the attention of Fox News and conservative Christians on Twitter, some tweeting at Target to remove the book from its stores.

One line from the prayer in particular has caused the backlash, which reads: “Dear God, Please help me to hate White people.”

Bessey and other contributors to “A Rhythm of Prayer” responded to what they said has been a “firestorm of harassment, criticism, coordinated attacks, threats, and furor against her and the book” with a statement published Thursday evening (April 8) on Bessey’s website, saying critics are missing the point of the prayer.

“Dr. Walker-Barnes’ prayer is faithful, honest lament, modelled on Scripture. It is a gift of intimacy and vulnerability to the Church and we are grateful to her, not only the prayer, but for her work and her witness in the world,” the statement reads.

“The backlash that Dr. Walker-Barnes is facing because of her prayer ironically serves as proof of why such a prophetic, powerful, and potent prayer is necessary.”

The controversy seems to have started — as most controversies do these days — with a tweet.

Over the weekend, a Virginia pastor posted a photo of the first page of Walker-Barnes’ prayer that he said was sent to him by a member of his church who spotted the book at Target. The controversial first line of the prayer was underlined.

In a follow-up tweet, Ryan McAllister, an elder and lead pastor at Life Community Church in Alexandria, Virginia, added, “This kind of thinking is a direct result of CRT and is completely anti-biblical.”

CRT, or critical race theory, is an academic theory examining systemic racism.

The theory has become a lightning rod since the Southern Baptist Convention’s Council of Seminary Presidents issued  a statement in November  declaring it incompatible with the denomination’s statement of faith. The statement did not define critical race theory or explain how it clashes with the core beliefs of Southern Baptists, and several prominent Black Southern Baptists since have announced their departures from the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S.

Conservative writer Rod Dreher described the prayer as racist and blasphemous Thursday in a blog post.

“What Walker-Barnes and her progressive Christian allies represent is, let’s be clear, the spirit of Antichrist. It is blasphemous to call on God to make you hate people at all, much less on the basis of race,” Dreher wrote.

The statement from contributors to “A Rhythm of Prayer” pointed out Walker-Barnes’ prayer is modeled on biblical Psalms of lament and anger, called imprecatory Psalms.

“Prayers in Scripture often reflect a similar arc of anger and exhaustion and longing that turns the petitioner right back to trust in God’s goodness, hope, and call to love, just as Dr. Walker-Barnes modelled so well,” it reads.

Walker-Barnes tweeted, “Being a professor, I can tell when people haven’t done or understood the reading.”

The author explained on social media that she had written “Prayer of a Weary Black Woman” after a white person she had considered a friend used the “N-word” in casual conversation with her.

“I took my rage to God in prayer. I owned it. I was truthful to God about what I was struggling with. And I prayed for God not to let anger and hatred overwhelm me,” Walker-Barnes tweeted.

While her own personal experiences and her family history — her grandfather fled sharecropping in South Carolina — have given her reason to hate white people, she tweeted, God has given her “a different spirit, one that insists on looking for goodness and possibility, one that holds anger and hope together.”

RELATED: Chanequa Walker-Barnes resurrects self-care as a Lenten practice

In the prayer, Walker-Barnes begins by asking God to help her “at least want to hate” white people, to stop her from “striving to see the best in people,” to be “able to walk away from them and their sinfulness without trying to call them to repentance.” But, she continues, “You have kept my love and my hope steadfast even when they have trampled on it.”

The prayer ends: “Thus, in the spirits of Fannie and Ida and Pauli and Ella and Septima and Coretta, I pray and I press on, in love.”

Duke Ellington’s melodies carried his message of social justice

Duke Ellington’s melodies carried his message of social justice

 

File 20190423 175539 89s5jv.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Duke Ellington leads his orchestra in a rehearsal in Coventry, England, on Dec. 2, 1966. Associated Press

 

At a moment when there is a longstanding heated debate over how artists and pop culture figures should engage in social activism, the life and career of musical legend Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington offers a model of how to do it right.

Ellington was born on April 29, 1899 in Washington, D.C. His tight-knit black middle-class family nurtured his racial pride and shielded him from many of the difficulties of segregation in the nation’s capital. Washington was home to a sizable black middle class, despite prevalent racism. That included the racial riots of 1919’s Red Summer, three months of bloody violence directed at black communities in cities from San Francisco to Chicago and Washington D.C.

Ellington’s development from a D.C. piano prodigy to the world’s elegant and sophisticated “Duke” is well documented. Yet a fusion of art and social activism also marked his more than 56-year career.

Ellington’s battle for social justice was personal. Films like the award-winning “Green Book” only hint at the costs of segregation for black performing artists during the 1950s and 60s.

Duke’s experiences reveal the reality.

Ellington and his Cotton Club Orchestra playing ‘The Mooche,’ 1928.

Cotton Club to Scottsboro Boys

Ellington first rose to fame at Harlem’s “whites only” Cotton Club in the 1920s. There, the only mingling of black and white happened on the piano keyboard itself, as black performers entered through back doors and could not interact with white customers.

Ellington quietly devoted his services to the NAACP and its racial equality activities in the 1930s. Whether it was demanding that black youth have equal entrance rights to segregated dance halls or holding benefit concerts for the Scottsboro Boys, nine black adolescents falsely imprisoned for rape in 1931, Ellington used his growing fame as a prominent band leader for a greater good.

In our literary and historical research on African American entertainment, Ellington’s ability to travel and perform across national boundaries stands out.

After success in Harlem’s night spots, Ellington composed, recorded and appeared in film shorts like 1935’s “Symphony in Black” as himself. He traveled the world with his orchestra, at first performing in the U.K. in the 1930s. Later, Ellington continued to perform on behalf of the U.S. State Department as a “jazz ambassador” in the 1960s and 70s. Audiences in such places as India, Syria, Turkey, Ethiopia and Zambia were given the opportunity to hear and dance to Ellington’s compositions.

However, not even international popularity ensured that hotels would host Ellington’s all-black ensemble during a tour in the U.K. in June 1933. Members scrambled to find boarding homes in London’s Bloomsbury neighborhood when mainstream hotels turned them away on account of their race.

Despite success, racism

Ellington’s 1932 “It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got That Swing” was the soundtrack for the nation’s swing era of the 1930s and 40s. The tune stayed on the Billboard charts for six weeks in 1932 and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008.

But when Ellington traveled in the South, he still had to hire a private rail car to avoid crowded, poorly maintained “colored only” train seating, or hotels and restaurants that refused service to black Southerners.

Ellington and band members playing baseball in front of the ‘colored’ only Astor Motel while touring in Florida in 1955. Library of Congress/Charlotte Brooks photographer

Northern or western engagements in the 1930s and 1940s often proved no better. While there were no “white only” signs on the doors of these hotels or restaurants, establishments enforced segregation by telling black customers to enter through back doors or purchase their meals to go.

Bassist Milt Hinton recalled that Ellington and fellow band leader Count Basie often stayed at black-owned boarding houses rather than risk being thrown out or ignored.

White band managers attempted to protect the black bands they managed from these racist practices, but this still did not prevent Ellington from being denied service in a Salt Lake City hotel’s cafe in the 1940s.

Subtle style

Once the civil rights movement of the 1950s began to fight for racial equality through direct-action techniques like mass protests, boycotts and sit-ins, activists in the early 1950s criticized the older Ellington. His subtle activism style had focused on benefit concerts, and not “in the streets” protests.

But as the movement continued, Ellington included a non-segregation clause in his contracts and refused to play before segregated audiences by 1961. He maintained in an interview in the Baltimore Afro American newspaper that he had always been devoted to “the fight for first class citizenship.”

This was a devotion best seen in his music.

Ellington used his creative musical talents against racist beliefs that African Americans were inferior or unintelligent.

His diverse and wide-ranging catalog of music demanded the kind of serious attention and respect that had previously only been reserved for elite, white composers of classical music.

Songs such as “Black and Tan Fantasy” completely challenged what was then called “jungle music,” a negative term used to reference music inspired by the African diaspora. As a fusion of sacred and secular black culture, both the “Black and Tan Fantasy” composition and film combined the speaking traditions of black preachers with the humor and rhythms of black life.

‘Black and Tan Fantasy’ melded sacred and secular black culture.

Modern black variety shows such as “Wild ‘N Out” and “In Living Color” share a lineage with Ellington’s major stage production of 1941, “Jump for Joy.”

“Jump for Joy” combined comedy skits and music into a revue that featured African American stars of the mid-20th century, including actress, singer and dancer Dorothy Dandridge and poet Langston Hughes.

Ellington claimed that his production “would take Uncle Tom out of the theater and say things that would make the audience think.”

He used his music to showcase black excellence as a resistance tactic against the negative stereotypes of African Americans made popular in American blackface minstrelsy.

Ellington also used “Jump for Joy” to call out those who borrowed from black music without any credit or financial compensation to its creators.

Duke Ellington, Paramount Theater, New York, 1946. Library of Congress/William P. Gottlieb photographer

Melody’s other purpose

One of Ellington’s most powerful works is the orchestral piece “Black, Brown and Beige.”

This work shows his ability to infuse the blues into classical music and his commitment to tell the history of black America through song.

From the spirituals developed through the trials of slavery to the fight for civil rights and the modern rhythms of big band swing music, Ellington sought to tell a story about black life that was both beautiful and complex.

For Ellington, melody became message.

Michelle R. Scott, Associate Professor of History, University of Maryland, Baltimore County and Earl Brooks, Assistant Professor of English, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

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

Health is Wealth

Health is Wealth

In the middle of lively conversation over dinner with a friend recently, he paused, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath while placing his hand over his chest. The pain was evident on his face. When I asked what was wrong, he shared that he had been experiencing chest pains and fatigue with regular occurrence.

“Have you been to the doctor?” I asked.

“Nah. It’s probably anxiety. I’ve been stressed at work lately.”

We talked honestly about the severity of his symptoms and when they started. And because we’re cool, I asked about the results from his latest physical examination. Turns out, not only had he not seen a doctor about his recent episodes, he had not had a regular check-up in three years. I urged him to go to the doctor as soon as possible in the event that his symptoms were evidence of a significant illness.

Health is wealth.

African Proverb

If health is wealth, and it is, then many African Americans are guilty of not knowing the balance in our accounts. Meaning, annual check-ups and preventative care are not what we do. For my friend, it was a perceived lack of time that moved annual doctor’s visits to the bottom of his list of priorities. I can identify with him. While I do not skip my annual visits to my primary care physician and gynecologist, often when I am sick, I ignore the symptoms. My husband has to gently encourage me to call the doctor. Between keeping up home, shuttling our girls to their activities, ministry, and work, who has time to sit in a waiting room for hours?

For others, lack of insurance coverage, fear of disease, and historic exploitation of black bodies in medical science that fostered a distrust of doctors keeps them from scheduling preventative exams and following up on symptoms. The reality is that preventative care costs less than treating a preventable disease and browsing Dr. Google can invoke more fear that having concrete information and making informed decisions about your health. There is also the systemic racism, trauma and devaluing of our bodies that African Americans have and continue to face — experiences that have caused us to normalize pain to the point that we ignore the signs when our bodies are suffering. I am reminded of the woman recorded in Luke 13:10-17 who was bent over for eighteen years. The Bible does not tell us that at any point she sought healing. She went about her business living in chronic pain until Jesus saw her and healed her.

We are living in grind culture, where many of us skimp on sleep and spend countless hours scrolling on devices while eating conveniently packaged foods packed with sodium, fat, and sugar. And although African Americans are living longer in general, reports show that younger African Americans (18-49) are afflicted with and dying of treatable diseases like heart disease, stroke, and complications from diabetes at an alarming rate, according to the CDC. In fact, younger African Americans are living with diseases that commonly affected older adults. The stressors from unemployment, underemployment, poverty, and lack of access to healthcare negatively impacts their health. We are living longer, but we are getting sick earlier.

I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.

Psalm 118:17 (NRSV)

What are we to do? The first thing is to make a decision to live. Part of that decision is to make annual physical examinations a priority. As the proverb goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I schedule all of my appointments—annual physical, gynecological exam, mammogram, and eye examination around my birthday. Doing so helps me to remember my appointments and also helps me to recognize the blessed gift of life that God has given me to steward.  The other part of that decision to live is to listen to our bodies and to follow up with a doctor if even the slightest thing is off, with the recognition that we are worthy of care and that we do not have to live with chronic pain and disease.

Because our health is so valuable and important, I would suggest finding doctors that you feel comfortable with, that you can trust, and that are sensitive to your particular needs. Word of mouth from family, friends, and coworkers is the best way to find a good doctor. Developing a relationship with a doctor will also allow them to know your baseline levels, recognize patterns in your health, and know immediately when something needs additional attention.

The bottom line is that we have to see our doctors as if our lives depend on it…because they do. Whether you need to cram in a visit to the health center in-between college classes or you are scheduling your very first mammogram, here’s a list of the exams you need by decade, courtesy of Tri-City Medical Center:

For informational purposes only. The information in this article is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice.


Rev. Donna Olivia Owusu-Ansah is a preacher, chaplain, teacher, artist, writer, thinker, and dreamer who loves to study the Word of God, encourage others, and worship God. Rev. Owusu-Ansah holds a BS in Studio Art from New York University, an MFA in Photography from Howard University, and a Master of Divinity, Pastoral Theology, from Drew University. You can check out her website at https://www.reverendmotherrunner.com.

Nigerian Women’s interfaith network builds bridges

Nigerian Women’s interfaith network builds bridges

One of the participants receives her certificate after the two-week empowerment program. (Courtesy of Sr. Agatha Chikelue)

When Fatima Isiaka, a religious Muslim teacher, asked the cab driver to drop her off at St. Kizito Catholic Church in Abuja, the driver thought she was lost. “The cab man that took me to the church, a Muslim, was surprised to see me enter a church,” Isiaka recalled of the summer 2014 meeting. “He told me, ‘This is a church!’ I said, ‘Yes, I know.’ ”

Isiaka was part of innovative effort to bring Christian and Muslim women together in hopes of fostering religious tolerance and peaceful co-existence. The Women of Faith Peacebuilding Network was first started in 2011 by Sr. Agatha Ogochukwu Chikelue, of the Daughters of Mary Mother of Mercy congregation, and local Muslim businesswoman Maryam Dada Ibrahim.

Isiaka, an observant Muslim who wears a grey jilbab, a long head covering and robe, the traditional dress of some Nigerian Muslim women, is a respected Muslim leader in Abuja. Today, she serves as deputy director in the network’s Abuja branch.

She looks back fondly on her time at the St. Kizito Catholic Church. “It was an amazing experience and I loved every bit of my stay there,” said Isiaka. “In fact, I found a place in the church where I performed ablution [ritual washing before Muslims prayer], to set up my mat and pray.”

Since the group started in 2011, the Women of Faith Peacebuilding Network’s activities have reached more than 10,000 Muslim and Christian women across the country through seminars, meditations, presentations by religious leaders, and dialogue.

The peacebuilding network also offers vocational training in catering, bead making, fashion design, and soap production to a smaller group of women who participate in the annual 21-day seminar. “The empowerment [training] serves as bait to lure more women to the network so that they’ll learn peaceful coexistence,” said Isiaka. The Swiss Embassy provided seed money to get the vocational training started in 2014. Cardinal John Onaiyekan’s Foundation For Peace (COFP), an organization working for peace in northern Nigeria, has sponsored the vocational training in subsequent years.

Sr. Agatha Chikelue started thinking about how to build bridges between Christians and Muslims in 2008, as northern Nigeria disintegrated into violence. Nigeria’s population is evenly divided with 48 percent Muslims and 49 percent Christians. Northern Nigeria is majority Muslim, while southern Nigeria is majority Christian. Ensuring equal Christian and Muslim political representation at local, state, and national levels is an especially sensitive subject.

Since 2009, Boko Haram, a group of extremist Muslims whose name means “Western education is forbidden” has terrorized northeast Nigeria. The terror group murdered Christians and burned churches, hoping to clear the area of Christian influences and create an Islamic caliphate to rule under Sharia law.

Hajya Fatima Isiaka, left, is co-deputy director of the Women of Faith Peacebuilding Network in Abuja, Nigeria; right: Ekene Ofodili is a Catholic laywoman who oversees the six chapters in Abuja alongside Isiaka. (Festus Iyorah)

Later, Boko Haram began carrying out attacks in other parts of Nigeria and targeting moderate Muslims as well. In 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped 270 female students in Chibok, Nigeria, prompting the international social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls.

Chikelue knew that religious leaders would need to step up. “We don’t want to use our religion as barrier, rather we want to use it as stepping stone towards achieving common good,” she said. “The essence of an interfaith group is to break barriers, break the walls and build bridges.”

In Nigeria, some religious clerics forbid their members from even visiting a house of worship from the other religion. But Chikelue dismissed those notions, using the respect afforded to her as a Catholic sister to visit mosques and set up meetings with more moderate Islamic clerics to propose an interfaith network.

But Chikelue knew she couldn’t do it alone.

A parishioner recommended Chikelue contact Ibrahim, a respected leader in the Muslim community. Chikelue visited Ibrahim’s office, and within a few months the two started planning the first meeting between Christian and Muslim women in Abuja. As the capital of Nigeria, Abuja, a growing city with a population of 2.5 million, is more diverse and integrated than other parts of the country. The city is about 40 percent Christian, and the Christian population is growing quickly.

Chikelue and Ibrahim recruited Cardinal John Onaiyekan, the archbishop of Abuja, and Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III, the sultan of Sokoto and president-general of the National Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, to act as patrons of the organization.

“Getting the Muslim women was not as difficult as getting the Christian women,” Chikelue recalled. “We started during the early days of the insurgency [with Boko Haram in northern Nigeria]. The insurgents started with bombing churches and killing Christians before they started killing Muslims too. A lot of Christians were holding grudges against Muslims at the time. Anytime we planned a meeting with Muslims, the Christian women would withdraw. They’d say ‘All Muslims are Boko Haram.’ ”

It took time, patience, and weekly meetings after Sunday Mass to convince the first group of Christian women to sit down with Muslim women.

Women attend an empowerment program that was sponsored by Cardinal John Onaiyekan foundation for peace in 2017. (Courtesy of Sr. Agatha Chikelue)

“That first meeting in 2011 was one of the best meetings we’ve had,” said Chikelue. “The Christian women changed their perceptions about Muslims even after just one dialogue together. Everybody went home happy.”

The women’s meetings include presentations by clerics and priests, explaining basic tenets of each religion or challenging the view of religious extremists who say that Muslims and Christians should not interact with each other. Sometimes they discuss parts of their religions that overlap; for example, when Abraham plans to sacrifice Isaac, and how both religions interpret the story.

“Peace can be achieved through dialogue,” Chikelue said. “When Muslims and Christians sit together to explain how both religions operate it will aid understanding and put out any form of ignorance, stigma or hate that both parties have against one another.”

The women also visit each other for holidays. In 2017, a group of Christian women prepared the evening meal at the mosque to break the fast during the Muslim holiday of Ramadan. Muslim women have joined for special church programs, especially the annual end-of-the-year interfaith party organized by Onaiyekan.

The decision to create a women’s peace network was made after careful deliberation about which group would be most effective for fostering peace. Women have a unique a way of addressing conflicts, Chikelue explained. “In the family, women manage the home and are closer to their children, making it easy for them to preach peace,” she said. It can also be empowering for women, who are often marginalized, to suddenly have a leadership role in creating a more tolerant community. “We also want women to be aware of their role in peace building,” Chikelue added.

In 2014, with a special grant from the Swiss embassy, Chikelue began offering vocational training for the women as an added incentive. In a region where the female adult literacy rate is 41 percent, women welcome free empowerment training on sewing, soap making and catering. Basic communication skills, personal hygiene and training on financial literacy and how to start small businesses are also part of the free empowerment program. The training programs also help the women meet people from other religions, getting to know the “other” as well as combating poverty and gender-based violence.

“When there’s peace at home, we can achieve peace in the society. That is why we empower women in order to stop gender-based violence between women and their husbands,” Chikelue said.

The women who participate in the peacebuilding network are expected to pass on the information to the children in their communities by making presentations in their elementary and secondary schools about religious tolerance and talking about their experiences working with women from other religions.

Sr. Agatha Chikelue, left, presents catering equipment to women as part of the women of faith Network empowerment program in Abuja (Courtesy of Sr. Agatha Chikelue)

Participants of a Women of Faith Network empowerment program organized in 2017 learned catering and were given catering equipment afterward to try their businesses. (Courtesy of Sr. Agatha Chikelue)

“There is also violence that doesn’t carry a gun,” explained Chikelue. “There are situations whereby parents don’t allow their children to have interaction with children of a different religion, or when they instigate them to go for war against a different religion.”

The network has made it easier to gather Christians and Muslims to speak on certain issues with one voice, Chikelue told GSR. For instance, in 2015, the network protested against a bill proposed to ease restrictions on obtaining an abortion. Armed with banners scrawled with messages against the bill, both Muslim and Christian women marched under the scorching sun to Nigeria’s parliament. The bill was later dropped.

Isiaka, the Muslim teacher whose cab driver thought she was lost, oversees the six chapters in Abuja with Ekene Ofodili, a Catholic laywoman.

Ofodili was one of the people who believed that all Muslims were Boko Haram, and at first, she resisted any interaction with Muslim women. But after Chikelue’s encouragement in 2011, Ofodili started seeking out Muslim women to hear their stories.

In 2012, Ofodili was invited to Turkey as a guest of a Turkish government-sponsored peacebuilding tour. The program invited Christians and Muslims women working to fight religious violence in Africa, the United States, Asia and Europe to discuss peace, harmony and religious tolerance. Additionally, the Turkish government wanted to highlight its own peacebuilding efforts by visiting areas where minority Christians lived with Muslims in harmony. In Turkey, Ofodili mingled with Muslim participants and entered a mosque for the first time.

“It changed my mentality about Muslims, and that’s why I can move with them,” Ofodili said of her time in Turkey. “Often times, many of the Catholic women shy away [from meeting with Muslims], but I tell them never to use one person’s actions [like the Boko Haram insurgents] to generalize an entire religion.”

Ofodili owns an English version of the Quran, a gift she got in one of her visits to the Muslim community in Abuja, which she reads in her free time.

“I discovered that the Muslims also recognize the Blessed Mother Mary,” said Ofodili. “That was when I had a total change of mind about them. I am a Legionary [a member of the Legion of Mary, a lay Catholic organization focused on Mary and charitable work], and anyone who says something good about our Mother is endeared to me,” she said.

The women celebrate after receiving catering equipment from the network. (Courtesy of Sr. Agatha Chikelue)

In the Quran, an entire chapter (called Surah 19/Surah Maryam) is dedicated to Mary’s genealogy, childhood and her role as the mother of Jesus.

Isiaka, Ofodili’s co-deputy director in Abuja, said she did not face any opposition from her Muslim community regarding her interfaith work.

“We have been able to understand each other better and have also passed the message of religious tolerance to our children,” she said. While the group has worked hard to break down barriers and build friendships, she knows there is still much work to do. Still, Isiaka is optimistic.

“If we groom our children this way, I think in the next few years, we’ll have the peace we are all craving,” she said.


This article originally appeared on the Global Sister’s Report

Festus Iyorah is a Nigerian freelance journalist and photographer based in Lagos. He reports on global health, social innovation, gender equality, technology, development, conflicts and religion. He has been published in Al Jazeera, The Catholic Herald, The Guardian, National Catholic Reporter and World Politics Review.

How to avoid the mundane and dream with purpose

How to avoid the mundane and dream with purpose

The alarm goes off. Your eyelids crack open as your brain starts to register the piercing foreign and unwelcome sound chosen out of a list of stock options that came with the device. In that moment, you choose. You can attempt to acknowledge that another day has indeed started or you can prolong this inevitability with one of modern history’s greatest inventions: the snooze button.

Just like all other inevitabilities, it is time to face the fact that another day has come, and with it, your routine. A lot of times, you can pretty much predict or foresee what the day is going to look like. If you have a 9-to-5, you know that you need to get up to make sure you’re out the door in enough time to beat traffic and make it to work on time.

Then you work all day, unwind at home, eat something, go to sleep, and do it all over again. Before you know it, you’re caught in this cycle and your life has become the one word childhood dreams and imaginations dread: mundane.

The Drum Major Instinct

As Christians, we believe fundamentally that we are all created for a God-given purpose. We believe that there is a reason we are on this earth, that our lives mean something. Scriptures like Jeremiah 29:11 and Ephesians 2:10 reinforce this belief. We serve a great (i.e. massive, full of grandeur) God and He made us so surely we are meant to be great, right?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to this feeling of being meant for something greater in his sermon “The Drum Major Instinct.” He states, “We will discover that we too have those same basic desires for recognition, for importance. That same desire for attention, that same desire to be first… It’s a kind of drum major instinct—a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first. And it is something that runs the whole gamut of life.”

It is a natural inclination to want to be significant.

When we consider purpose, we must consider that which we were commanded. We’ve all heard them before: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Then, Jesus’ last instructions before He ascended to Heaven were, “Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

This is our purpose.

Love God, love people, make disciples. In everything we do, we can point back to these three things. It’s vague and specific at the same time. How can we do these things when we are just normal people?


A word on Purpose from the late Dr. Myles Monroe


Lyle’s Story

Most people will never know Lyle Gash. He was a boy with Downs Syndrome in a rural town in the foothills of North Carolina.

When he was born, his mother and father were told he would not make it through the night. Then, when he did, they were told he wouldn’t make it through the week. Then, when he did, they were told he wouldn’t see a year. And so on, and so forth for his 24 years of life.

Lyle survived multiple open heart surgeries, kidney failure, and various other health complications. He finally went home to heaven at 24.

One might ask, “What was the point of his life? He struggled for 24 years then died. Where’s the purpose?”

Well, one year, Lyle’s mother had an idea. Watching her baby boy suffer in pain, she wanted to do something to make him feel at least a little better.

She noticed whenever he received “get well soon” cards his mood was significantly better. She wrote a simple Facebook appeal to all who would read it: “Let’s collect 10,000 cards for Lyle.”

It seemed like an insurmountable feat. However, once word got out, cards came zooming in from all over the world. Lyle even got a special card from President Barak Obama and his family. All of a sudden, the story of a boy with Downs Syndrome in small-town North Carolina was impacting the lives of thousands of people that he never would’ve dreamed of meeting.

Lyle’s story serves as a very important lesson: as long as there is breath in your body, you have purpose. It’s up to us to seek out that purpose in our everyday lives.

It’s up to us to never lose our wonder. Whether we realize it or not, in our seemingly mundane lives, we have the opportunity to dream, to encourage others, to delight in creation, and to take advantage of every second of every day.

We can search out beauty and joy. We can take pause and acknowledge the miracle of every breath we take in. We can help others. Life becomes so much more meaningful when it becomes about more than just you. Don’t let the mundane steal your purpose.

How Black poets and writers gave a voice to ‘Affrilachia’

How Black poets and writers gave a voice to ‘Affrilachia’

‘Untitled’ from the series ‘Imaging/Imagining.’
Photo by Raymond Thompson, Jr.

Appalachia, in the popular imagination, stubbornly remains poor and white.

Open a dictionary and you’ll see Appalachian described as a “native or inhabitant of Appalachia, especially one of predominantly Scotch-Irish, English, or German ancestry.”

Read J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy” and you’ll enter a world that’s white, poor and uncultured, with few, if any, people of color.

But as Black poets and scholars living in Appalachia, we know that this simplified portrayal obscures a world that is far more complex. It has always been a place filled with diverse inhabitants and endowed with a lush literary history. Black writers like Effie Waller Smith have been part of this cultural landscape as far back as the 19th century. Today, Black writers and poets continue to explore what it means to be Black and from Appalachia.

Swimming against cultural currents, they have long struggled to be heard. But a turning point took place 30 years ago, when Black Appalachian culture experienced a renaissance centered around a single word: “Affrilachia.”

Upending a ‘single story’ of Appalachia

In the 1960s, the Appalachian Regional Commission officially defined the Appalachian region as an area encompassing counties in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and the entirety of West Virginia. The designation brought national attention – and calls for economic equity – to an impoverished region that had largely been ignored.

When President Lyndon B. Johnson declared his “war on poverty” in 1964, it was with Appalachia in mind. However, as pernicious as the effects of poverty have been for white rural Appalachians, they’ve been worse for Black Appalachians, thanks to the long-term repercussions of slavery, Jim Crow laws, racial terrorism and a dearth of regional welfare programs.

Black Appalachians have long been, as poet and historian Edward J. Cabbell put it, “a neglected minority within a neglected minority.”

Five Black children stand in the foreground while a white boy stands in the background.
A 1935 Farm Security Administration photograph of kids in Omar, West Virginia.
Library of Congress

Nonetheless, throughout the 20th century, Black Appalachian writers like Nikki Giovanni and Norman Jordan continued to write and wrestle with what it meant to be both Black and Appalachian.

In 1991, after a poetry reading that included Black poets from the Appalachian region, Kentucky poet Frank X. Walker decided to give a name to his experience as a Black Appalachian: “Affrilachian.” It subsequently became the title of a poetry collection he released in 2000.

By coining the terms “Affrilachia” and “Affrilachian,” Walker sought to upend assumptions about who is part of Appalachia. Writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has spoken of the danger of the single story. When “one story becomes the only story,” she said in a 2009 TED Talk, “it robs people of dignity.”

Rather than accepting the single story of Appalachia as white and poor, Walker wrote a new one, forging a path for Black Appalachian artists.

It caught on.

In 2001, a number of Affrilachian poets – including Walker, Kelly Norman Ellis, Crystal Wilkinson, Ricardo Nazario y Colon, Gerald Coleman, Paul C. Taylor and Shanna Smith – were the subjects of the documentary “Coal Black Voices.” In 2007, the journal Pluck! was founded out of University of Kentucky with the goal of promoting a diverse range of Affrilachian writers at the national level. In 2016, the anthology “Black Bone: 25 Years of Affrilachian Poetry” was published.

A unique style emerges

Roughly 9% of Appalachian residents are Black, and this renders many of the region’s Black people “hypervisible,” meaning they stick out in primarily white spaces.

Many Affrilachian poems explore this dynamic, along with the tension of participating in activities, such as hunting, that are stereotyped as being of interest only to white Americans. Food traditions, family and the Appalachian landscape are also central themes of the work.

Affrilachian poet Chanda Feldman’s poem “Rabbit” touches on all of these elements.

Her poem shifts from the speaker hunting for rabbits with their father to the hunt as a larger metaphor for being Black in Appalachia – and thus seen as both predator and prey:

        He told me
  of my great uncle who, Depression era,
  loaned white townspeople venison
  and preserves. Later stood off
  the same ones with a gun
  when they wanted his property.

An Affrilachian future

We reached out to Walker and asked him to reflect on the term, 30 years after he coined it.

Walker wrote back that it created a “solid foundation” that “encouraged a more diverse view of the region and its history” while increasing “opportunities for others to carve out their own space” – including other poets, musicians and visual artists of color throughout the region.

In her book “Sister Citizen,” journalist and academic Melissa Harris-Perry writes, “Citizens want and need more than a fair distribution of resources: they also desire meaningful recognition of their humanity and uniqueness.”

Affrilachian artistry and identity allows Appalachia to be fully seen as the diverse and culturally rich region that it is, bringing to the forefront those who have historically been pushed to the margins, out of mind and out of sight.

[You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can read us daily by subscribing to our newsletter.]The Conversation

Amy M. Alvarez, Assistant Teaching Professor, English, West Virginia University and Jameka Hartley, Instructor of Gender & Race Studies, University of Alabama

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

Easter Sunrise and the Risen Inmate

Easter Sunrise and the Risen Inmate

Early Easter morning, millions awaken before sunrise with a purpose. The dark skies give faint hint of the sunrise within the hour. A stretch of the arms, a wipe through the eyes, feet reaching downward for temporary covering against the floor terrain, and it is time to get moving. Slivers of remaining moonlight provide faint illumination through narrow openings above the bed. The millions have heard the call, and now respond! The time has come to join the line as men and women, even some boys and girls put their feet in the line to the appointed destination to which they are called this Easter Sunday. There they will see familiar faces, hear familiar sounds, and may even smell familiar odors. It is a dawn of a new day, and they are on their way.

Their destination? “Chow call” in the prison refectory or “Meds up!” to the cart the nurse brings on the unit for those requiring morning medication. The stretch of the arms relieves some of the tension from the cell’s hard cot, the eyes crusted literally and figuratively by biology and monotony, the floor’s terrain cold on even the warmest day when one’s address is prison. We do not know how many millions go to church on Easter–but we know how many awaken in state and federal prisons: an excruciating 2.1 million men and women arise at Easter’s sunrise to another day when they seem oblivious to anyone on the other side of the prison walls. Another several million arise in county jails, many not physically far from home but incarnations of “out of sight, out of mind” even to those who are descendants of those to whom Jesus spoke just before his arrest and incarceration “I was in prison, and you visited me.”

Yes, millions have arisen with a purpose: count down the days, occupy the mind, anticipate a visit, and perhaps even attend chapel — purpose is a precious commodity for them. They are inmates, prisoners, convicts peopling America’s jails and prisons in record numbers — over two million in state and federal prison alone — and they arise every morning about the time the Easter Sunrise service crowd shakes the cobwebs from their consciousness to face their annual celebration.

The Easter lens well fits any view of incarceration. After all, when Jesus Christ died on the cross, he was an inmate. We celebrate the truth that God raised his only begotten son from the grave — we overlook the fact that the body which breathed its last before burial belonged to a prisoner. He hung between two thieve or malefactors, but “was numbered” with them as well.

Shame and Stigma of Incarceration

Incarceration in America carries more than the punishment of “doing time.” Shame and stigmatization plague an inmate during incarceration and after release. Those twin maladies spread like a virus to relatives left behind, children separated from fathers and mothers, parents grieving for their children, grandparents serving as caretakers for a generation forty, fifty, and sixty years their junior while fathers stretch their arm in the cell and mothers wipe their eyes on the block. Shame and stigma, contagious and infectious as they manifest in symptoms of silence, rendering the affected loved one incapable of sharing the true hurt with anyone at the Sunrise service in celebration of the Risen Inmate!

It is Easter sunrise…. God listens for the praise of God’s people from the cathedrals and storefronts, the megachurch and mass choirs, parish priests and local pastors, pulpit and pew. But God also listens for the prayers of the prisoner, wrestling with past demons, present conditions, and future uncertainty, all with some hope of the transformation promised by the Risen Inmate who makes all things new. Millions arose this Easter morning to attend a sunrise service. Millions more arose to attend to the business of doing time.

An important connection exists between these two populations — this dual set of early risers on Easter morning. Many of them count people in the other crowd as kin — many who run with one crowd used to sit with the other. Many who heard the sound of the choir’s “Hallelujah Chorus” or “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” or “Praise is What I Do,” this morning once heard “Chow Up,” or the slow grind of motors turning to open a series of cell doors. The cymbal was the clanging of cages, the tambourine the rattling of chains. And some who this morning donned uniform orange, blue or tan jumpsuits once sported matching white or black robes on a morning such as this.

Preaching seldom reaches the pain felt by the incarcerated and their families. The separation traumatizes, the anger and disappointment of those left behind papered over by Sunday School memories of lessons on forgiveness. Many incarcerated parents long to see their children; some allow shame to hold their children at bay. Many who do seek the comfort of the Risen Inmate to dry their tears and encourage their hearts find disappointment in the prison chapel service when the local church sends well-meaning but poorly trained volunteers to preach sermons that the church’s pastor would never allow on a Sunday morning, especially an Easter Sunrise service.

Seldom do they hear that the Risen Inmate ministered to another convict before dying by telling him that he would be in paradise with him. They rarely hear that the Risen Inmate suffered brutally at the hands of the corrections officers, and was raised with evidence in his hands of eighth amendment violations of cruel and unusual punishment. They do not hear about the Risen Inmate’s long march up the Via Dolorosa to “endure the cross, despising the shame” as an encouragement for them to receive strength from knowing that “Jesus knows all about our struggles…” They hear an Easter message that rehearses the resurrection as saving act, but seldom as the sustaining act which brings “a living hope.”

Gospel of the Risen Inmate

The late Rev. Lonnie McLeod, who completed his first seminary degree in the New York Theological Seminary Sing Sing program said, “In all my time incarcerated, I really only heard one sermon: you messed up, you got caught, get saved …” But not only does salvation come by preaching, but also “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the “preaching of the Risen Inmate. After his release, McLeod’s preaching both in and out of prisons and jails acknowledged the pain caused by incarceration. At his passing in 2009, he was working on a Christmas sermon that dealt with the pain of incarceration. I asked him how he could make the connection between the manger and the penitentiary, and the good Dr. boldy remarked: “Trulear, this is Christmas. Everybody wants to talk about the first night of Jesus’ life. But no one wants to talk about the last night. And without the events of the last night, the first night loses its meaning! His incarceration, execution, and vindication make his birth worth celebrating!

This does not mean that prison preaching overlooks the responsibility of prisoners to own their sins. Accountability, indeed, signals a recognition of the humanity The Risen Inmate was executed to restore. The “Adam, where art thou” question lives in the Risen Inmate’s heart, for it is precisely for the sinner that he has come. He has come for the one who uses “wrong place, wrong time, wrong crowd” the same way Adam used “wrong crowd” to describe “the woman that You gave me.” He came for the violent defender of a friend’s honor, and will transform and use him even as he did Moses. He came for the popular musician who conspired to put out a hit on another man so he could have his wife, all while singing, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I see what I want.” He counted the transgressions of a contracted hit man, accessory to murder as his own- and that same man later wrote that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.” The Risen Inmate sees their humanity, and for precisely that reason calls the unrighteous, the violent offender to become a deliverer of his people, the lamp of Israel, and an apostle to the Gentiles.

Not only does the Risen Inmate have a word for those persons arising in America’s jails and prisons on Easter, the Risen Inmate seeks to be seen and heard of the families left behind. Families struggle to hear a word for them in the pain of separation. They sit on the Good Friday side of the sentencing of the Risen Inmate, and don’t always see the potential for a reunion in the garden on Easter Morning. “Touch me not” stares from signs in the visitation room. It wells up in the heads on visitors subjected to searches by the corrections officers before and after time with an inmate. It is not a phrase pointing to ascension, but a descent into deprivation, motivated by security and draped in dehumanization. They want a word that addresses the morning they came to visit with new prison clothes, like the women who cam that first Easter with new grave clothes for the Risen Inmate. But when these families are told “He is not here,” it does not point to the surprise turned joy of a resurrection, but disillusionment turned panic in the discovery of a transfer to another facility, or a confinement to solitary. Does the preacher, in the name of the Risen Inmate, have a word for them?

Reimagining Our Prison Ministry

My colleague Dr. Kenyatta Gilbert once asked me to post a sermon on his website The Preaching Project, with the subject being preaching to families of the incarcerated. The message, titled “Preacher, We Are Dying in Here,” makes the case that preaching to the families of the incarcerated is something we already do! They people our pews, tithe their treasure, sing their songs, pray their prayers every Sunday, but suffer in silence. The church may have a prison ministry, but it often does not touch them, or their incarcerated family member. Prison ministry is institution focused, unlike ministry to the sick. If we replaced ministry to and visitation of the sick with the prison model, we would stop visiting individuals and families connected with the church, and just train three volunteers to give a service and a sermon once a month at the local hospital. The Risen Inmate declared that the church “shall be witnesses unto me, in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.” For most, the jail of prison is the uttermost part of the earth; for the family of the incarcerated, it is Jerusalem.

Preaching often overlooks the scars of the formerly incarcerated, wounded by warehousing, roughed up in reentry. They looked forward to their release date as a time to step into the Promised Land, only to discover a wilderness of collateral sanctions limiting their ability to work, find housing, access education and exercise their franchise. The wilderness extends to congregations that either openly reject them, or buy into the world’s stigmatization process rendering them silent. Theirs is a tacit fellowship of frustration shepherded by shame, silence, and stigma. And the ones who come home to this stony reality find a wilderness where they had expected grapes in bunches for two men to carry.

The newspapers and other media champion the need for jobs for ex-offenders. Employment woes dot the pages of those outlets that give the formerly incarcerated coverage at all. Poor training and education wed the stigma and shame of incarceration in a double ring ceremony that morphs from ties that bind into chains that restrict. A word from the Risen Inmate can minister Easter hope beyond incarceration, and encourage the jobless soul on the other side of imprisonment. The Resurrection says that there is life beyond the dank jail, the taunts of guards and fellow inmates, the pain of separation from loved ones. “I have scars,” Jesus declares, “but I am useful, triumphant, compassionate and giving!” It is Jesus, post-release, who says “Fear not.” It is Jesus, post-release, who says “Feed my sheep.” The post-release Risen Inmate declares “All power has been given unto me in heaven and in earth.”

And he promises his presence “even to the end of the earth.” There is a word for the ex-offender! A promise of a transformative permanent presence that knows how to look at a former accomplice who turned scared on him to avoid arrest, and tell him to feed his lambs. The Risen Inmate knows something about change, and trusting the formerly untrustworthy. He anticipated the change when he told Simon Johnson that he was a rock. So too does he call the formerly incarcerated by names that spell hope and promise, like the term “returning citizens.” But most of all he calls them human, beloved, and even “fearfully and wonderfully made,” and that, the conspirator who put out a hit on Uriah the Hittite knew right well.

And Remembering the Victims

Is there a word from the Risen Inmate for those who have been victims of crime? What is a bold Easter message for families of victims, by walking toughs of town watch, by drive-by or beef, by violence domestic or street? Does God hear their pain on this Easter sunrise, and what evidence is there in the text expounded to let them know that the Healing God knows. The horrific screams heard on a Florida 911 tape may echo those of the sobs of a mother witnessing the unjust execution of her Son by alleged protectors of the common good. Is there no word for her?

“Woman, behold thy son, Son behold thy mother,” comes from the lips of the Preaching Inmate in a message that speaks hope and application in a moment of deep grief. When the Inmate’s visitors go home, they share space and possessions in a family reconfigured to provide care for her misery. The women received a word — but that word became flesh in the ministry of caregiving John supplied surrounding her, the victim of a horrific crime.

The Risen Inmate demonstrates in three days the woman’s vindication by virtue of the Resurrection. In the background, an Easter choir of formerly enslaved Africans, the old Jim Crow, sings: “I’m so glad trouble don’t last always.”

Grabbing Resurrection Hope

Easter brims with the fullness of incarceration and its implications. It celebrates the vindication of the life of a man who did the hardest of time in the shortest of time. It recognizes that the One whose life we celebrate understood the pain of incarceration. Easter brings to judgment our fear of the inmate, our stigmatization of the prisoner, our shunning of those who return for a second chance-or a third chance, or a fourth chance…Simon Johnson elicited a response from the man destined for incarceration of seven times seventy.

Early Easter morning, millions awaken before sunrise with a purpose. The dark skies give faint hint of the sunrise within the hour. A stretch of the arms, a wipe through the eyes, feet reaching downward for temporary covering against the floor terrain and it is time to get moving. Slivers of remaining moonlight provide faint illumination through narrow openings above the bed. The millions have heard the call, and now respond! The time has come to join the line as men and women, even some boys and girls put their feet in the line to the appointed destination to which they are called this Easter Sunday. There they will see familiar faces, hear familiar sounds and may even smell familiar odors. It is a dawn of a new day, and they are on their way.

Early on the first Easter morning, one was risen for all of them.

This essay originally appeared at The Living Pulpit. It is reposted here by permission.

Elevating Easter

Elevating Easter

Video Courtesy of Mario Moton


In the weeks and days leading up to Christmas, the average Christian spends a lot of money, time, and energy preparing for the holiday. While I’ve always considered that time of year to be a very special one, I’ve often wondered why we don’t elevate Easter–or Resurrection Sunday, to use the name that many believers prefer–to the same level. After all, didn’t Jesus come into the world for the very purpose of suffering, dying, and rising again to demonstrate His love and give us new life?

So why don’t we celebrate the day Jesus arose from the dead the way we celebrate the day He came into the world? Well, if I interviewed every believer I know, I’d receive a multitude of opinions. For example, some men and women of faith would say it’s because Resurrection Sunday is more somber than Christmas. When these Christians think about the horrific thing that was done to Jesus to save our souls, they can’t help but be sad. They don’t like thinking–or talking about–the demise of any human being, let alone the torture and death of the One they call Savior. So, while they honor the day Jesus was resurrected, they aren’t inspired to engage in the same type of festivities as the ones they deem appropriate for Christmas.

For other Christians, the difference in how they celebrate these two holidays stems from the fact that they aren’t constantly being courted by retailers that promise to provide just what they need to have a perfect holiday. In other words, as Resurrection Sunday approaches, they don’t feel the same kind of pressure or obligation to buy the right presents or hang the prettiest decorations. So, they don’t do anything special for the holiday. Still others would probably say that it’s simply because, other than Passion Plays or Sunday school programs put on at churches, there just aren’t that many religious traditions associated with the holiday.

But does it have to be this way? Couldn’t we begin today to create our own family traditions that recognize the fact that Jesus kept His promise that He’d die and then, on the third day, be alive again? Isn’t that very fact pivotal to our Christian faith? Isn’t that reason enough for a celebration or, even better, kicking off certain lifestyle changes that will last long after the holiday has come and gone?

Holiday traditions have a wonderful way of ushering in greater spiritual awareness and a renewed commitment to one’s faith. They can provide us with opportunities to fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as share our faith with non-believers. And they can also help us make our faith more tangible in the eyes of our impressionable children.

One way to do this is to set aside time to pray and read God’s Word every day, particularly reflecting on verses that remind us of His Son’s sacrificial love for us. Among the verses you may want to read and meditate on are the following ones: John 3:16; Romans 10:9; Luke 19:10; Romans 5:8; and I John 4:7-10. Don’t feel as though you have to do this alone. Invite your spouse, a prayer partner and even your children to join you. If you already set aside time for devotions, you may want to use the time to not only read them but memorize them. That way, they’ll not just be counted among the many that you perused this year, but listed among those that meant enough to you that you chose to engrave them into your heart and mind.

Reaching out to others during this time is another way to take your appreciation of the holiday to new level. Some people do this by inviting unsaved relatives, friends, or neighbors to go to church with them. Others may opt to host an event–such as a brunch, dinner party, movie night, or even a dessert party–in their home for relatives and friends who appreciate Christian fellowship as much as they do. In addition, those that love giving presents on holidays could consider making homemade gifts–such as sugar cookies made into shapes representative of various components of the Gospel message (e.g., a cross, sheep, stars, etc.)–or purchasing small gifts at their local Christian bookstore.

You also could fill your home, office, and car with sights and sounds that are symbolic of Christ’s life. Little figurines displayed on mantles or tables in your home, as well as small ornaments, hung on bedposts, doorknobs, or even your car’s rear-view mirror could serve as perfect reminders of what God did for us through His Son. If you’ve been thinking about incorporating more faith-based forms of entertainment into your life and home, this is the perfect time to start. Check your local library, video rental store, or favorite bookstore for inspirational titles and schedule a few movie nights. And don’t forget to set aside time to be blessed by the ministry of music, whether you enjoy the gospel, contemporary Christian, holy hip-hop, or sacred jazz. Let it play softly in the background while eating dinner with your family, as you complete chores, and as you’re commuting to and from various places.

Regardless of which traditions you decide to infuse into your life in the coming weeks, what’s important is that you hold on to why you’re adding them. Celebrate the good news of Easter unabashedly so that you, your loved ones, and anyone who crosses your path will have the opportunity to experience a renewed appreciation for Resurrection Sunday and all that it symbolizes for God’s children.

Gospel singer Deitrick Haddon commemorates pandemic’s ‘year of loss’ in new song

Gospel singer Deitrick Haddon commemorates pandemic’s ‘year of loss’ in new song

Gospel singer and pastor Deitrick Haddon has lost family and church members to COVID-19, as have many other Americans.

The star of the “Preachers of L.A.” and “Fix My Choir” reality shows has turned to his art form to express that shared sense of grief.

“Sick World” — a single featuring both gospel and trap, a form of hip hop music, premiered on the 2021 Inaugural Gospel Celebration and is available on various platforms, such as Spotify and Amazon Music.

Haddon, who has a Pentecostal background, leads Los Angeles’ Hill City Church, a nondenominational, predominantly Black congregation that is marking its fifth anniversary this month (March). The church hasn’t met in person for a year, due to COVID-19, but he plans to host an outdoor service on Azusa Street — known for being the historic site of a revival in the early 20th century — on Easter Sunday.

Haddon talked to Religion News Service about why he co-created “Sick World,” his personal and national losses from the pandemic and his plans to keep up pandemic practices long after it’s over.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why did you decide to create the new single “Sick World”?

I could see the world was grieving. I was grieving. I lost my Aunt Celeste (Folmar) last year in 2020. I lost one of my eldest brothers, Shawn (Derrick) Haddon, rest in peace. Even lost a member of my church. I just wanted to write a song that will bring some peace and comfort to people and help people realize there is life beyond this pandemic. We’ve all lost a significant amount of people in a short amount of time. I said, if I had the opportunity to speak to everybody, whether you were Black or white, rich, poor, a believer, or unbeliever, Democrat, Republican, what would I say to everybody? And that was the song that I wrote.

Why did you choose to use music that combines gospel and trap music, a form of hip hop, and work with record producer Zaytoven?

Zaytoven is like a brother of mine. He’s been supportive of my music for years. He’s had success in the trap world. He’s considered to be one of the originators of that sound. He’s produced hit records with (rappers) Gucci Mane, Future and a lot of artists. He has a love for gospel music, and we just brought it together. Gospel music can’t really be put in a box. You can place the message in any form. It just gelled perfectly. The lyrics flowed. Once I heard the music, the song wrote itself.

The lyrics include the words “can’t stand to lose nobody else.” Why did you choose to use those words?

First of all, it was a big blow to lose Kobe Bryant and his daughter at one time. And all the lovely souls that were in that helicopter crash. Then, in the midst of that pandemic, we lost great people like Chadwick Boseman. His career seems like it was just really taking off, skyrocketing, and he’s the king of (the mythical nation of) Wakanda, for God’s sake, in our minds. He’s too strong. We’ve seen how people had succumbed to COVID, and how powerful COVID-19 was. The only thing I can hear in my heart: Man, we can’t stand to lose anybody else. I mean, how much more can we take?

You wanted to capture a broader remembrance of lives lost at this time.

Yeah. Yeah. Just anybody whose lives were lost last year. It’s hard to separate it from the pandemic. It’s just a year of loss, great loss, whether through the COVID pandemic or not, just too many people. One of my favorite No. 1 gospel artists in the world — one of the best — was Rance Allen. I never thought in a million years that we would lose him. And I learned how to sing listening to him.

Have you had to officiate at funerals of church members who have died because of COVID?

We’ve only had one member that belongs to my church. We called her “Cookie.” I had to preach the service under a tent outdoors, outside of the actual funeral home building.

You also sing of the debates about wearing masks and say thousands have died because we cannot agree. Are there other ways you’re trying to move people beyond the debates other than your song?

Making people agree with you is a hard thing to do. But I put my opinion and my perspective in a song. This will all go down in history, that thousands have died ’cause we could not agree. I do believe we extended the pandemic. I do believe we made it worse than what it should have been because of our inability to unite and come together as one as a nation and agree on the simple things like wearing a mask. You asked the question: Am I doing anything outside of my song? No, I’m not doing anything outside of my song because I can’t force anybody to do anything. I put it in the song ’cause the song can go where I can’t go.

What was it like to present your musical message at the time of the inauguration, since it was both a new administration and an administration that’s been focusing on COVID-19 from the beginning?

I thought it was perfect for me because I’ve been an advocate for people wearing masks and keeping their hands clean. So I’m right in sync with Joe Biden’s administration’s calls to get this thing cleared up and get a unified effort as a nation to come together. I was also excited to be a part of such a historic event, where we had the first female vice president of the United States of America.

What are you looking forward to most when more people are vaccinated and the country may experience what everybody’s calling a “new normal”?

I love to take my three kids and my wife on trips to Disney World and everywhere. So hopefully we’ll be able to get back and feel comfortable with traveling and enjoying life and wonderful things that we do, like going to the movies, just the regular things we do that we’ve taken for granted, I believe. But I also hope we will understand the importance of keeping our hands clean and not just touching everything, and I hope we can keep some things going, because that’s how germs transfer. Hopefully, we can continue to comply a little bit with keeping our hands clean and wearing a mask. I think I’ll always keep that in place from now on.

Really? That’s a long time.

Michael Jackson knew something we didn’t know.

The Jilted Lover: A Reflection on the Sacrifice and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the Infamous Easter Bunny

The Jilted Lover: A Reflection on the Sacrifice and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the Infamous Easter Bunny

This article has been updated from a previous version originally published in 2019


The church is once again engaged in the celebration of the Easter season. It’s springtime, which is familiarly considered as a time of renewal and new beginnings. We are blessed with another opportunity to reflect on our lives and spiritual condition while embracing the idea of love and sacrifice. But, what is the real meaning of Easter to the church and its believers? While critically exploring the current moral issues and tolerance within the body of Christ, are we genuinely progressive enough to honor our faithfulness? Well, this commentary invokes one simple, yet soul-stirring stream of conscience and inquiry. For the sake of clarity, let’s define the biblical meaning of the church as described in 1 Corinthians 12:13 “we as believers have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit (NLT).” The key emphasis here is placed on the phrase “one body.” Now, hold that thought.

When we prepare for a wedding or marriage anniversary, our focus is on two bodies joined as one. The courtship has advanced to the desire for a lifelong union that includes faith and trust. We prepare for the celebration of the relationship. We declare our hope of endless love and a desire for a continuous commitment. We witness new or renewed vows. Of course, that comes with the anticipation that the lover of our soul will return the same level of truth and their unconditional vow and love to create an eternal bond.

Similarly to the biblical passage in Romans 5:8 “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners (NLT).” We celebrate this juncture with familiar traditions and the belief of future joy, happiness, and sincere appreciation. These events can be paralleled to the profession of our faith and acceptance of our new union with Christ and His biblical teachings.

During these occasions, there is little or no focus on the vague reality of betrayal and disappointment, nor its impact. But, what if you became a jilted lover whose promises are filled with hypocrisy? As Christians get underway to celebrate this Easter season, could we lose focus, leading us to become hypocritical lovers who are jilting Jesus Christ? Would we expect Jesus to honor His promises to give us another chance to win His confidence and love in the future or should He? Let’s ponder the truth of the matter that through His sacrifice, Jesus has offered us forgiveness for generations.

As we approach this Easter season and its true meaning, there is little debate about the fact that we should focus on the biblical perspective of our remembrance of the holy occasion. However, this is where things get a little sticky and please don’t blame the messenger. The portion of this dialogue is a real message to the followers of Christ. Regardless, many Christians will dedicate ample time preparing to spend enormous resources on physical items with far fewer thoughts of the spiritual restoration that this season should resonate for all. We live in a global society that successfully dictates the affairs that govern our lives and can compromise our beliefs. The world marketplace is unfortunately quite intentional. So the question we may ask ourselves is, do we have enough strength in our faith to honor truth despite the mere habit of performing learned behavior and supporting commercialism?

Sharing the truth of the gospel can have a significant impact on those who seek to become followers of Christ. Perhaps the following true story may help us gain a reasonable perspective. As a child minister mentored by older and more seasoned clergy, a young person began his walk of faith at the tender age of only 12-years-old. He enjoyed learning about God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. His mom was a devoted believer and raised all her children based on her genuine understanding of God and His principles. He grew up to become enthusiastic about his service in the church and blessed many through his ministry. However, due to his large family of siblings and obvious limited resources, he was not economically able to dress as well as he wished when called on to deliver his pulpit message. But, with his talent, love for the gospel, a dedicated family, and ministerial support, he persisted. Then something changed. He will not fully disclose any details even today, nearly 49 years later. He only mentioned a brief version of a visiting minister that witnessed his unique potential and offered him a promise of better clothes and shoes in exchange for favors. In his humble opinion, he was subject to hypocrisy. As a result, he did not abandon the entire gospel that he had learned, but his faith was shattered in many ways.

Yes, Christians can make unintentional mistakes, but Matthew 23:27-29 reminds us that “it is the same with you. On the outside, you seem to be doing what is right. But on the inside, you are full of what is wrong. You pretend to be what you are not (NIRV). Hypocrisy and deception still cause many unresolved questions today, especially within the church.

Whether you choose to call it disillusioned or heartbroken, the young adolescent came home and expressed to his mom that he “was never going back to that church!” Surprised, his mother asked for his explanation. He then explained that he had been disheartened by what grownups repetitious spoke about others including untrue things that were not in the bible. He went on to say that even she has not told the truth that “there was no Santa Claus and ask her why she had allowed him to believe in “an Easter bunny that lays eggs?” Perhaps disappointed, his mom’s eyes of understanding were opened to the effect on his spiritual and impressionable misguided journey. Long story short, today he still struggles with some spiritual truths.

Realistically, Christians love celebrations that align with biblical values. Our intentions are good. We believe and love the value of witnessing to non-believers that encourages them to embrace our faith in redemption and eternal salvation. However, if we are truly honest about our faithfulness in Christ’s sacrifice, we must admit that far too many believers are sitting on a fence of societal traditions. Regardless, marketing professionals depend on influencing us for their increased profits, while we provide a continuous financial stream that contributes more and more to support their mission.

There will be baskets, colored eggs, fake grass, new dresses with matching buttons and bows, new suits and shiny shoes, big dinners, and, oh yes, that infamous Easter bunny that will never lay an egg. Certainly, not everyone participates in all of these traditions, but many Christians worldwide will indeed in a number of ways. How many individuals within our faith community are sincerely committed to opening their hearts to confess the level of historical pagan practices included in numerous celebrations? To whom do we teach or what is conveyed to those who are new to our faith? In today’s times with the unbelievable amount of deception we hear, shouldn’t we as Christians have the courage to remain sharp and alert when educating biblical principles that teach our children and others? This issue does not only rest with Christ’s sacrificial efforts to save us from ourselves but in our vulnerability as believers to appropriately dismiss the distractions that the world presents to us. Can our well-intended practices become a source of confusion to the non-believer who is searching for clear answers and a better understanding of our belief in Jesus Christ?

Easter has a distinct meaning to the church as the one body of Christ. This meaning is described as all those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. Honestly speaking, the truthful bond in our Easter celebration is simple. Jesus should never become our jilted lover for He has demonstrated His true love to all believers and non-believers within the following passage of Scripture as we remain mindful that “this is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it and why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him (John 3:16-18 (MSG).”

Therefore, it is crucial to remain cognitive as we are directed in 2 Timothy 2:15, “the believers within the body of Christ are indeed obligated to “work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth (NLT).” The answer does not lie in the value of a bunny nor does it advocate that anyone discontinue celebrating Easter with all the bells and whistles that come with it. As we have learned in Psalm 40: 4-6, “Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord, who have no confidence in the proud or in those who worship idols. O Lord my God, you have performed many wonders for us. Your plans for us are too numerous to list. You have no equal. If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds, I would never come to the end of them… I take joy in doing your will, my God, for your instructions are written on my heart (NLT).” Hopefully, this holistic message encourages us to both celebrate and teach the true meaning of Easter to those who are seeking meaningful answers about Christ’s acts of love, sacrifice, and resurrection.

Faith groups celebrate Virginia’s death penalty ban

Faith groups celebrate Virginia’s death penalty ban


Video Courtesy of WAVY TV 10


Faith groups are celebrating Virginia’s decision to ban the death penalty, a move considered to be a victory for religious opposition to capital punishment.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed the ban — the first of any Southern state and the 23rd overall — into law on Wednesday (March 24), declaring it “the moral thing to do.”

“Over our 400-year history, Virginia has executed more people than any other state,” Northam said. “The death penalty system is fundamentally flawed — it is inequitable, ineffective, and it has no place in this Commonwealth or this country. Virginia has come within days of executing innocent people, and Black defendants have been disproportionately sentenced to death.”

The Rev. LaKeisha Cook, a lead organizer at the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, also spoke at the signing ceremony.

“Today I stand here representing many people of faith all throughout the commonwealth of Virginia,” Cook said. “Virginia Interfaith was very, very happy to join officially in this fight for abolition. Today we turn the page in the history books of this great commonwealth as we celebrate the end of the death penalty.”

Cook pointed to the activism of the state’s “amazing faith community,” such as those who held prayer vigils at sites of lynchings in January to highlight the historical link between early racist killings and the modern death penalty, or the nearly 430 faith leaders who signed on to a letter opposing the death penalty in February.

Cook noted the advocacy of the Virginia Catholic Conference, which also voiced support for the ban on Wednesday. Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of the Diocese of Arlington and Bishop Barry C. Knestout of Richmond released a statement citing Pope Francis, whose 2020 encyclical “Fratelli Tutti” included the line: “The firm rejection of the death penalty shows to what extent it is possible to recognize the inalienable dignity of every human being and to accept that he or she has a place in this universe.”

“Through our Virginia Catholic Conference, we supported this historic legislation as it progressed through the General Assembly because all human life is sacred,” read the statement from Burbidge and Knestout. “We are grateful to those who worked to make this a reality.”

Catholics in the U.S. have long opposed capital punishment, and Francis voiced support for abolishing the practice during his 2015 address to Congress.

But the pontiff made things even more explicit in 2018 when he changed the church’s catechism to declare the death penalty “inadmissible” and insist that the church will work “with determination for its abolition worldwide.”

The Virginia bishops were joined in their celebration by Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, who chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

“Virginia will become the twenty-third state to abolish the death penalty, and I urge all other states and the federal government to do the same,” Coakley said in a statement.

He praised the work of advocates such as the Catholic Mobilizing Network before adding: “We are reminded that God created and loves every person, and we can respond to this love with reverence for the dignity of every human life, no matter how broken, unformed, disabled, or desperate that life may seem.”

Opposition to the death penalty has grown over the past few decades and is common in several faith communities. A 2018 Public Religion Research Institute survey found that 55% of Americans preferred life in prison without parole instead of capital punishment for people convicted of murder, compared with 44% who preferred the death penalty. Majorities of Black Protestants (80%), non-Christian religious groups (57%) and white Catholics (54%) also favored life in prison.

Of those polled, only two groups expressed majority preference for the death penalty: white evangelicals (62%) and white mainline Protestants (54%).

Virginia Catholics were echoed by other stalwart faith-rooted opponents of the death penalty this week, such as Christian activist and author Shane Claiborne. He championed the ban when versions of it first passed both chambers of the state legislature in February, and he called on the federal government to do the same.

“President (Joe) Biden is poised to do the same thing Virginia just did: reckon with the mistakes of our past and use that past to help us envision a better future — one without the death penalty,” Claiborne wrote.

Biden, a Catholic, proposed eliminating the federal death penalty in 2019 during his campaign for president, but he has yet to take sweeping action regarding the promise — which would require support from the Supreme Court or Congress — since beginning his term.

Former President Donald Trump was widely criticized by faith leaders for his administration’s 2020 decision to renew the use of the death penalty in federal cases for the first time since 2003. Among various protests, more than 1,000 faith leaders signed a letter that summer demanding Trump and then-Attorney General William Barr end the practice.

Biden has already heard from fellow Catholics on the issue: During the first Mass he attended as president, the priest delivered a homily blasting the Trump administration’s renewed use of the death penalty and referring to the former commander in chief as an “execution president.”

When White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked during a press briefing on Monday whether Biden would support the Supreme Court if it reinstated the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, she noted that Biden has “grave concerns about whether capital punishment … is consistent with the values that are fundamental to our sense of justice and fairness,” but referred specific questions about the case to the Department of Justice.

Remembering Black Wall Street

Remembering Black Wall Street

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

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

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

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

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

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

And later, “To Lynch Negro Tonight.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Easter is called Easter, and other little-known facts about the holiday

Why Easter is called Easter, and other little-known facts about the holiday

Image 20170411 26706 ygcz2u.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
What is the origin of Easter eggs? Katie Morrow, CC BY-NC-ND

This is an updated version of an article published in April 2019.The Conversation

On April 4, Christians will be celebrating Easter, the day on which the resurrection of Jesus is said to have taken place. The date of celebration changes from year to year.

The reason for this variation is that Easter always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox. So, in 2022, Easter will be celebrated on April 17, and on April 9 in 2023.

I am a religious studies scholar specializing in early Christianity, and my research shows that this dating of Easter goes back to the complicated origins of this holiday and how it has evolved over the centuries.

Easter is quite similar to other major holidays like Christmas and Halloween, which have evolved over the last 200 years or so. In all of these holidays, Christian and non-Christian (pagan) elements have continued to blend together.

Easter as a rite of spring

Most major holidays have some connection to the changing of seasons. This is especially obvious in the case of Christmas. The New Testament gives no information about what time of year Jesus was born. Many scholars believe, however, that the main reason Jesus’ birth came to be celebrated on December 25 is because that was the date of the winter solstice according to the Roman calendar.

Since the days following the winter solstice gradually become longer and less dark, it was ideal symbolism for the birth of “the light of the world” as stated in the New Testament’s Gospel of John.

Similar was the case with Easter, which falls in close proximity to another key point in the solar year: the vernal equinox (around March 20), when there are equal periods of light and darkness. For those in northern latitudes, the coming of spring is often met with excitement, as it means an end to the cold days of winter.

Spring also means the coming back to life of plants and trees that have been dormant for winter, as well as the birth of new life in the animal world. Given the symbolism of new life and rebirth, it was only natural to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus at this time of the year.

The naming of the celebration as “Easter” seems to go back to the name of a pre-Christian goddess in England, Eostre, who was celebrated at beginning of spring. The only reference to this goddess comes from the writings of the Venerable Bede, a British monk who lived in the late seventh and early eighth century. As religious studies scholar Bruce Forbes summarizes:

“Bede wrote that the month in which English Christians were celebrating the resurrection of Jesus had been called Eosturmonath in Old English, referring to a goddess named Eostre. And even though Christians had begun affirming the Christian meaning of the celebration, they continued to use the name of the goddess to designate the season.”

Bede was so influential for later Christians that the name stuck, and hence Easter remains the name by which the English, Germans and Americans refer to the festival of Jesus’ resurrection.

The connection with Jewish Passover

It is important to point out that while the name “Easter” is used in the English-speaking world, many more cultures refer to it by terms best translated as “Passover” (for instance, “Pascha” in Greek) – a reference, indeed, to the Jewish festival of Passover.

In the Hebrew Bible, Passover is a festival that commemorates the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt, as narrated in the Book of Exodus. It was and continues to be the most important Jewish seasonal festival, celebrated on the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

At the time of Jesus, Passover had special significance, as the Jewish people were again under the dominance of foreign powers (namely, the Romans). Jewish pilgrims streamed into Jerusalem every year in the hope that God’s chosen people (as they believed themselves to be) would soon be liberated once more.

On one Passover, Jesus traveled to Jerusalem with his disciples to celebrate the festival. He entered Jerusalem in a triumphal procession and created a disturbance in the Jerusalem Temple. It seems that both of these actions attracted the attention of the Romans, and that as a result Jesus was executed around the year A.D. 30.

Some of Jesus’ followers, however, believed that they saw him alive after his death, experiences that gave birth to the Christian religion. As Jesus died during the Passover festival and his followers believed he was resurrected from the dead three days later, it was logical to commemorate these events in close proximity.

Resurrection. Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P., CC BY-NC-ND

Some early Christians chose to celebrate the resurrection of Christ on the same date as the Jewish Passover, which fell around day 14 of the month of Nisan, in March or April. These Christians were known as Quartodecimans (the name means “Fourteeners”).

By choosing this date, they put the focus on when Jesus died and also emphasized continuity with the Judaism out of which Christianity emerged. Some others instead preferred to hold the festival on a Sunday, since that was when Jesus’ tomb was believed to have been found.

In A.D. 325, the Emperor Constantine, who favored Christianity, convened a meeting of Christian leaders to resolve important disputes at the Council of Nicaea. The most fateful of its decisions was about the status of Christ, whom the council recognized as “fully human and fully divine.” This council also resolved that Easter should be fixed on a Sunday, not on day 14 of Nisan. As a result, Easter is now celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon of the vernal equinox.

The Easter bunny and Easter eggs

In early America, the Easter festival was far more popular among Catholics than Protestants. For instance, the New England Puritans regarded both Easter and Christmas as too tainted by non-Christian influences to be appropriate to celebrate. Such festivals also tended to be opportunities for heavy drinking and merrymaking.

The fortunes of both holidays changed in the 19th century, when they became occasions to be spent with one’s family. This was done partly out of a desire to make the celebration of these holidays less rowdy.

Children on an egg hunt. Susan Bassett, CC BY-NC-ND

But Easter and Christmas also became reshaped as domestic holidays because understandings of children were changing. Prior to the 17th century, children were rarely the center of attention. As historian Stephen Nissenbaum writes,

“…children were lumped together with other members of the lower orders in general, especially servants and apprentices – who, not coincidentally, were generally young people themselves.”

From the 17th century onward, there was an increasing recognition of childhood as as time of life that should be joyous, not simply as preparatory for adulthood. This “discovery of childhood” and the doting upon children had profound effects on how Easter was celebrated.

It is at this point in the holiday’s development that Easter eggs and the Easter bunny become especially important. Decorated eggs had been part of the Easter festival at least since medieval times, given the obvious symbolism of new life. A vast amount of folklore surrounds Easter eggs, and in a number of Eastern European countries, the process of decorating them is extremely elaborate. Several Eastern European legends describe eggs turning red (a favorite color for Easter eggs) in connection with the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Yet it was only in the 17th century that a German tradition of an “Easter hare” bringing eggs to good children came to be known. Hares and rabbits had a long association with spring seasonal rituals because of their amazing powers of fertility.

When German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries, they brought this tradition with them. The wild hare also became supplanted by the more docile and domestic rabbit, in another indication of how the focus moved toward children.

As Christians celebrate the festival this spring in commemoration of Jesus’ resurrection, the familiar sights of the Easter bunny and Easter eggs serve as a reminder of the holiday’s very ancient origins outside of the Christian tradition.

Brent Landau, Lecturer in Religious Studies, University of Texas at Austin

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

How to Judge Your Pastor’s Daughter

How to Judge Your Pastor’s Daughter

Because you will. We’re human. We’re sinners. It happens.

Some Christians desire and expect their pastor’s daughter to be nothing short of the congregation’s symbol of purity and righteousness. Virgin until married. Prayer warrior. Queen of hospitality. Others expect–even without evidence–for the pastor’s daughter to be a rebel; prone to pre-marital sexual exploits behind closed doors to escape the shackles of her father’s rules. There is prejudice and pressure attached to both identities, and no young woman is rigidly one persona or the other, despite the stereotype given in pop culture.

The following are four parameters by which I think one can reasonably formulate an impression of a pastor’s daughter.

Disclaimer: I am not using “judge” in a pejorative sense as in judge to condemn but  judge to evaluate or understand better.

What is the parental philosophy of her father?

The importance of the father-daughter relationship is heightened in the context of a church setting because her father isn’t just a man doing the best he can for his family, he’s the spiritual and moral leader of a community. His approach to fatherhood is – at least to those in his home – approved by God, the ultimate Father. His example has a lasting influence.

So if her father puts church business ahead of family business, what message does that send to his daughter about a man’s devotion to his family? What does it teach her about the compromise of time and attention in a relationship? And how will this sacrifice color her feelings for those who devote family time towards the ministry?

If her father works toward establishing a true balance between ministry at home and ministry at work, then how secure will that young girl be? How secure will she be in life knowing that this powerful, influential man makes time to ask about her day at school or attend events to support her interests? Will she be an extremely confident young girl? Will other women, with a different parental experience, confuse her confidence with arrogance? These are questions to ask when assessing the personality and perspective of a pastor’s daughter.

What type of “First Lady” is her mom?

But it’s not [only] the parenting style that is important, it’s the brand of First Lady exhibited that matters. Why? Because the behavior of the First Lady typically sets the standard for all women in the church. Now you may agree or disagree on whether this is a fair or old-fashioned practice, but it still happens in churches today. So what does this mean for the pastor’s daughter?

It means that her demeanor and personality may be inaccurately judged in comparison to her mother’s. Members of a church accustomed to a dynamic preaching, teaching First Lady who frequents the pulpit may think a more reserved, pastor’s daughter isn’t as “passionate for the gospel” or vice versa. An outgoing, extroverted daughter may be deemed “too much” for a congregation used to a quiet, seen but rarely heard from First Lady.

Even with the Pastor and First Lady urging the congregation not to expect their daughter (or son) to be just like them, some members still do. And for the pastor’s daughter, her role in the church can sometimes live in the shadow of her mother.

To what level is she given special treatment?

This question applies to all pastor’s kids, so we have to include it in this discussion. The downside to special treatment for pastor’s kids is obvious. It can breed selfishness and self-centeredness. Another, less spoken about side affect of special treatment, occurs when pastor’s kids are expected and/or eased into leadership positions in church.

This can make church a stressful and burdensome experience if a pastor’s kid is not a natural leader, but is still pushed into those roles. Conversely, some pastor’s kids may have a false sense of confidence and feel entitled to leadership positions because they were always “given” those responsibilities, though they never had the pleasure of earning them.

What is/was life like at home?

This is the most important and yet the most elusive question needed to judge a pastor’s daughter, and it too applies to all pastor’s kids.

The public versus private life of a believer can be as powerful and many times more influential than words from the sermon or even the Bible. When your parents lead the congregation on Sunday, the rest of the week is supposed to be the gospel lived out right in front of your eyes. This is where pastor’s kids learn whether or not a performance is more important than the truth. But if you’re not in a pastor’s home day in and day out – no matter the hit reality show or candidness of the bestselling book — you’ll never really know.

You won’t hear the arguments or the prayers; feel the love or the tension. And without this most integral element of pastoral offspring behavior analysis, your perception of your pastor’s daughter will always be lacking.

So when you see or meet a pastor’s daughter, skip the judgment and spend the mental calories to say a prayer.

Pray sharing her parents with scores of people doesn’t turn her against the work of the spreading the gospel.

Pray that her father’s inevitable failings as a man or minister don’t send her into the arms of Godless men who only have an appearance of what she missed at home.

Pray that she defines herself and her worth according to scripture and not the privileges she did or didn’t get as a member of the first family.

Pray that her family life isn’t flawless, but that it is full of God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness, so that no matter what happens in her home, good or bad, she will choose to develop and embrace her own relationship with God.

Ester Weithers is a 21st century storyteller, writing online as well as for film and television, with a frank and irreverent style that reflects her experiences as the daughter of a pastor and Caribbean immigrants. 

Prison Fellowship joins campaign to reform cocaine sentencing guidelines

Prison Fellowship joins campaign to reform cocaine sentencing guidelines

Prison Fellowship has joined forces with criminal justice and prosecutorial organizations to support bipartisan efforts to reduce disparities in sentences that punish Black Americans more harshly than white Americans.

The #EndtheDisparity campaign, a partnership with organizations such as Families Against Mandatory Minimums, has recently focused on the 18-1 ratio in federal sentencing for distributing crack cocaine versus the drug in powdered form. Advocates are pushing for a 1-1 ratio instead.

“We think this is so important an issue and that action is needed now to correct this now long-standing injustice,” said Prison Fellowship President and CEO James Ackerman at an online roundtable with journalists on Tuesday (March 9).

After reading from the biblical Book of Proverbs that “The Lord abhors dishonest scales but accurate weights are his delight,” Ackerman said the disparities in cocaine sentencing are unfair to all Americans but especially to African Americans.

RELATED: Evangelical leaders push for criminal justice reform

According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, 81% of crack cocaine trafficking offenders in 2019 were Black, when African Americans comprise a much lower percentage of the U.S. population.

“Think about it: the African American community represents 13.4% of the citizenry of America but 81% of the people convicted for crack cocaine distribution in 2019 alone were African American,” said Ackerman, leader of the 45-year-old evangelical prison ministry founded by former prisoner and Nixon aide Chuck Colson.

“That’s not right and this has existed too long.”

The campaign comes at a time when legislation is being discussed on Capitol Hill that would end the sentencing disparities.

In January, Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., introduced the EQUAL Act, whose acronym stands for “Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law.”

On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of House members — Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., Bobby Scott, D-Va., Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., and Don Bacon, R-Neb — introduced the House version of the bill.

Previously, Durbin introduced the Fair Sentencing Act, which passed in 2010 and reduced the disparity from 100-to-1, when someone sentenced for distributing 5 grams of crack cocaine served the same amount of time — five years in prison — as someone who was apprehended for distributing 500 grams of powder cocaine.

William Curtis, who was sentenced when the 100-to-1 disparity was in force, told reporters during the online roundtable discussion that he saw the differences in treatment while he was in prison for 20 years and six months for selling $20 and $50 rocks of cocaine.

“I sat in prison many a day and saw people sentenced under powder — white people sentenced under powder — get out of prison, go home, turn around and come back for doing the same thing and then they would get out of prison again, go home, turn around and come back and I’m still here,” he recalled.

Curtis, a Black man, is now continuing the rest of his 327-month sentence under home confinement in Tennessee due to COVID-19 precautions.

FAMM President Kevin Ring said the “political compromise” attained previously to reduce the disparity to 18-to-1 needs to be followed by a complete elimination of the difference in sentencing for distribution of two different forms of the drug.

“The crack powder disparity is the most obnoxious of the discriminatory aspects in our federal justice system,” he said. “Now it is time to finish the job and we think this is a matter of criminal justice and racial justice at a time where our country needs both.”

Heather Rice-Minus, Prison Fellowship’s senior vice president of advocacy and church mobilization, noted that more than 40 states already have laws with 1-1 ratios for punishments related to powder and crack cocaine.

Ring and roundtable participant Frank Russo, director of government and legislative affairs of the National District Attorneys Association, called the disparity a “moral issue” that needs to be addressed.

Russo said his association of local and state prosecutors endorses “common-sense reforms such as the EQUAL Act to improve our nation’s justice system and ensure that we are applying justice equitably.”

‘Painless’ Glucose Monitors Pushed Despite Little Evidence They Help Most Diabetes Patients

‘Painless’ Glucose Monitors Pushed Despite Little Evidence They Help Most Diabetes Patients

 

Trevis Hall, of Fort Washington, Maryland, credits a continuous glucose monitor with helping him get his diabetes under control. Makers of the device say that the instant feedback provides a way to motivate healthier eating and exercise. But experts point out that the few studies on the monitors show conflicting results. (LYNNE SHALLCROSS / KHN)

This story also ran on NBC News.


A continuous glucose monitor holds a tiny sensor that’s inserted just under the skin, alleviating the need for patients to prick their fingers every day to check blood sugar. The monitor tracks glucose levels all the time, sends readings to patients’ cellphone and doctor, and alerts patients when readings are headed too high or too low.

Nearly 2 million people with diabetes wear the monitors today, twice the number in 2019, according to the investment firm Baird.

There’s little evidence continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) leads to better outcomes for most people with diabetes — the estimated 25 million U.S. patients with Type 2 disease who don’t inject insulin to regulate their blood sugar, health experts say. Still, manufacturers, as well as some physicians and insurers, say the devices help patients control their diabetes by providing near-instant feedback to change diet and exercise compared with once-a-day fingerstick tests. And they say that can reduce costly complications of the disease, such as heart attacks and strokes.

Continuous glucose monitors are not cost-effective for Type 2 diabetes patients who do not use insulin, said Dr. Silvio Inzucchi, director of the Yale Diabetes Center.

Sure, it’s easier to pop a device onto the arm once every two weeks than do multiple finger sticks, which cost less than a $1 a day, he said. But “the price point for these devices is not justifiable for routine use for the average person with Type 2 diabetes.”

Without insurance, the annual cost of using a continuous glucose monitor ranges from nearly $1,000 to $3,000.

Lower Prices Help Propel Use

People with Type I diabetes — who make no insulin — need the frequent data from the monitors in order to inject the proper dose of a synthetic version of the hormone, via a pump or syringe. Because insulin injections can cause life-threatening drops in their blood sugar, the devices also provide a warning to patients when this is happening, particularly helpful while sleeping.

People with Type 2 diabetes, a different disease, do make insulin to control the upswings after eating, but their bodies don’t respond as vigorously as people without the disease. About 20% of Type 2 patients still inject insulin because their bodies don’t make enough and oral medications can’t control their diabetes.

Doctors often recommend that diabetes patients test their glucose at home to track whether they are reaching treatment goals and learn how medications, diet, exercise and stress affect blood sugar levels.

The crucial blood test doctors use, however, to monitor diabetes for people with Type 2 disease is called hemoglobin A1c, which measures average blood glucose levels over long periods of time. Neither finger-prick tests nor glucose monitors look at A1c. They can’t since this test involves a larger amount of blood and must be done in a lab.

The continuous glucose monitors also don’t assess blood glucose. Instead they measure the interstitial glucose level, which is the sugar level found in the fluid between the cells.

Companies seem determined to sell the monitors to people with Type 2 diabetes — those who inject insulin and those who don’t — because it’s a market of more than 30 million people. In contrast, about 1.6 million people have Type 1 diabetes.

Helping to fuel the uptake in demand for the monitors has been a drop in prices. The Abbott FreeStyle Libre, one of the leading and lowest-priced brands, costs $70 for the device and about $75 a month for sensors, which must be replaced every two weeks.

Another factor has been the expansion in insurance coverage.

Nearly all insurers cover continuous glucose monitors for people with Type 1 diabetes, for whom it’s a proven lifesaver. Today, nearly half of people with Type 1 diabetes use a monitor, according to Baird.

A small but growing number of insurers are beginning to cover the device for some Type 2 patients who don’t use insulin, including UnitedHealthcare and Maryland-based CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield. These insurers say they have seen initial success among members using the monitors along with health coaches to help keep their diabetes under control.

The few studies — mostly small and paid for by device-makers — examining the impact of the monitors on patient’s health show conflicting results in lowering hemoglobin A1c.

Still, Inzucchi said, the monitors have helped some of his patients who don’t require insulin — and don’t like to prick their fingers — change their diets and lower their glucose levels. Doctors said they’ve seen no proof that the readings get patients to make lasting changes in their diet and exercise routines. They said many patients who don’t use insulin may be better off taking a diabetes education class, joining a gym or seeing a nutritionist.

“I don’t see the extra value with CGM in this population with current evidence we have,” said Dr. Katrina Donahue, director of research at the University of North Carolina Department of Family Medicine. “I’m not sure if more technology is the right answer for most patients.”

Donahue was co-author of a landmark 2017 study in JAMA Internal Medicine that showed no benefit to lowering hemoglobin A1c after one year regularly checking glucose levels through finger-stick testing for people with Type 2 diabetes.

She presumes the measurements did little to change patients’ eating and exercise habits over the long term — which is probably also true of continuous glucose monitors.

“We need to be judicious how we use CGM,” said Veronica Brady, a certified diabetes educator at the University of Texas Health Science Center and spokesperson for the Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists. The monitors make sense if used for a few weeks when people are changing medications that can affect their blood sugar levels, she said, or for people who don’t have the dexterity to do finger-stick tests.

Yet, some patients like Trevis Hall credit the monitors for helping them get their disease under control.

Last year, Hall’s health plan, UnitedHealthcare, gave him a monitor at no cost as part of a program to help control his diabetes. He said it doesn’t hurt when he attaches the monitor to his belly twice a month.

The data showed Hall, 53, of Fort Washington, Maryland, that his glucose was reaching dangerous levels several times a day. “It was alarming at first,” he said of the alerts the device would send to his phone.

Over months, the readings helped him change his diet and exercise routine to avert those spikes and bring the disease under control. These days, that means taking a brisk walk after a meal or having a vegetable with dinner.

“It’s made a big difference in my health,” said Hall.

This Market ‘Is Going to Explode’

Makers of the devices increasingly promote them as a way to motivate healthier eating and exercise.

The manufacturers spend millions of dollars pushing doctors to prescribe continuous glucose monitors, and they’re advertising directly to patients on the internet and in TV ads, including a spot starring singer Nick Jonas during this year’s Super Bowl.

Kevin Sayer, CEO of Dexcom, one of the leading makers of the monitors, told analysts last year that the noninsulin Type 2 market is the future. “I’m frequently told by our team that, when this market goes, it is going to explode. It’s not going to be small, and it’s not going to be slow,” he said.

“I believe, personally, at the right price with the right solution, patients will use it all the time,” he added.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

‘Painless’ Glucose Monitors Pushed Despite Little Evidence They Help Most Diabetes Patients

‘Painless’ Glucose Monitors Pushed Despite Little Evidence They Help Most Diabetes Patients

 

Trevis Hall, of Fort Washington, Maryland, credits a continuous glucose monitor with helping him get his diabetes under control. Makers of the device say that the instant feedback provides a way to motivate healthier eating and exercise. But experts point out that the few studies on the monitors show conflicting results. (LYNNE SHALLCROSS / KHN)

This story also ran on NBC News.


A continuous glucose monitor holds a tiny sensor that’s inserted just under the skin, alleviating the need for patients to prick their fingers every day to check blood sugar. The monitor tracks glucose levels all the time, sends readings to patients’ cellphone and doctor, and alerts patients when readings are headed too high or too low.

Nearly 2 million people with diabetes wear the monitors today, twice the number in 2019, according to the investment firm Baird.

There’s little evidence continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) leads to better outcomes for most people with diabetes — the estimated 25 million U.S. patients with Type 2 disease who don’t inject insulin to regulate their blood sugar, health experts say. Still, manufacturers, as well as some physicians and insurers, say the devices help patients control their diabetes by providing near-instant feedback to change diet and exercise compared with once-a-day fingerstick tests. And they say that can reduce costly complications of the disease, such as heart attacks and strokes.

Continuous glucose monitors are not cost-effective for Type 2 diabetes patients who do not use insulin, said Dr. Silvio Inzucchi, director of the Yale Diabetes Center.

Sure, it’s easier to pop a device onto the arm once every two weeks than do multiple finger sticks, which cost less than a $1 a day, he said. But “the price point for these devices is not justifiable for routine use for the average person with Type 2 diabetes.”

Without insurance, the annual cost of using a continuous glucose monitor ranges from nearly $1,000 to $3,000.

Lower Prices Help Propel Use

People with Type I diabetes — who make no insulin — need the frequent data from the monitors in order to inject the proper dose of a synthetic version of the hormone, via a pump or syringe. Because insulin injections can cause life-threatening drops in their blood sugar, the devices also provide a warning to patients when this is happening, particularly helpful while sleeping.

People with Type 2 diabetes, a different disease, do make insulin to control the upswings after eating, but their bodies don’t respond as vigorously as people without the disease. About 20% of Type 2 patients still inject insulin because their bodies don’t make enough and oral medications can’t control their diabetes.

Doctors often recommend that diabetes patients test their glucose at home to track whether they are reaching treatment goals and learn how medications, diet, exercise and stress affect blood sugar levels.

The crucial blood test doctors use, however, to monitor diabetes for people with Type 2 disease is called hemoglobin A1c, which measures average blood glucose levels over long periods of time. Neither finger-prick tests nor glucose monitors look at A1c. They can’t since this test involves a larger amount of blood and must be done in a lab.

The continuous glucose monitors also don’t assess blood glucose. Instead they measure the interstitial glucose level, which is the sugar level found in the fluid between the cells.

Companies seem determined to sell the monitors to people with Type 2 diabetes — those who inject insulin and those who don’t — because it’s a market of more than 30 million people. In contrast, about 1.6 million people have Type 1 diabetes.

Helping to fuel the uptake in demand for the monitors has been a drop in prices. The Abbott FreeStyle Libre, one of the leading and lowest-priced brands, costs $70 for the device and about $75 a month for sensors, which must be replaced every two weeks.

Another factor has been the expansion in insurance coverage.

Nearly all insurers cover continuous glucose monitors for people with Type 1 diabetes, for whom it’s a proven lifesaver. Today, nearly half of people with Type 1 diabetes use a monitor, according to Baird.

A small but growing number of insurers are beginning to cover the device for some Type 2 patients who don’t use insulin, including UnitedHealthcare and Maryland-based CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield. These insurers say they have seen initial success among members using the monitors along with health coaches to help keep their diabetes under control.

The few studies — mostly small and paid for by device-makers — examining the impact of the monitors on patient’s health show conflicting results in lowering hemoglobin A1c.

Still, Inzucchi said, the monitors have helped some of his patients who don’t require insulin — and don’t like to prick their fingers — change their diets and lower their glucose levels. Doctors said they’ve seen no proof that the readings get patients to make lasting changes in their diet and exercise routines. They said many patients who don’t use insulin may be better off taking a diabetes education class, joining a gym or seeing a nutritionist.

“I don’t see the extra value with CGM in this population with current evidence we have,” said Dr. Katrina Donahue, director of research at the University of North Carolina Department of Family Medicine. “I’m not sure if more technology is the right answer for most patients.”

Donahue was co-author of a landmark 2017 study in JAMA Internal Medicine that showed no benefit to lowering hemoglobin A1c after one year regularly checking glucose levels through finger-stick testing for people with Type 2 diabetes.

She presumes the measurements did little to change patients’ eating and exercise habits over the long term — which is probably also true of continuous glucose monitors.

“We need to be judicious how we use CGM,” said Veronica Brady, a certified diabetes educator at the University of Texas Health Science Center and spokesperson for the Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists. The monitors make sense if used for a few weeks when people are changing medications that can affect their blood sugar levels, she said, or for people who don’t have the dexterity to do finger-stick tests.

Yet, some patients like Trevis Hall credit the monitors for helping them get their disease under control.

Last year, Hall’s health plan, UnitedHealthcare, gave him a monitor at no cost as part of a program to help control his diabetes. He said it doesn’t hurt when he attaches the monitor to his belly twice a month.

The data showed Hall, 53, of Fort Washington, Maryland, that his glucose was reaching dangerous levels several times a day. “It was alarming at first,” he said of the alerts the device would send to his phone.

Over months, the readings helped him change his diet and exercise routine to avert those spikes and bring the disease under control. These days, that means taking a brisk walk after a meal or having a vegetable with dinner.

“It’s made a big difference in my health,” said Hall.

This Market ‘Is Going to Explode’

Makers of the devices increasingly promote them as a way to motivate healthier eating and exercise.

The manufacturers spend millions of dollars pushing doctors to prescribe continuous glucose monitors, and they’re advertising directly to patients on the internet and in TV ads, including a spot starring singer Nick Jonas during this year’s Super Bowl.

Kevin Sayer, CEO of Dexcom, one of the leading makers of the monitors, told analysts last year that the noninsulin Type 2 market is the future. “I’m frequently told by our team that, when this market goes, it is going to explode. It’s not going to be small, and it’s not going to be slow,” he said.

“I believe, personally, at the right price with the right solution, patients will use it all the time,” he added.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

Faith leaders push back against proposed ‘Souls to the Polls’ voting restrictions

Faith leaders push back against proposed ‘Souls to the Polls’ voting restrictions

Video Courtesy of The Choice


To the Rev. Fer’Rell Malone of Waycross, Georgia, the actions by his state legislators that could curtail Sunday “Souls to the Polls” activities are akin to a form of apartheid.

“They are literally evil, and they’re coming from men and women who say that they are Christians,” the Black pastor told reporters Wednesday (March 10) in a virtual news conference.

He said the lawmakers are focused on reducing effective strategies Black churches have historically employed to mobilize voters.

“They’re trying, with the voter suppression laws, to create a system of apartheid where they who have the power will retain the power,” he said.

RELATED: Biden victory in hand, Black church get-out-the-vote workers assess the future

Malone’s is one of more than 500 signatures on a Faith in Public Life petition delivered to Governor Brian Kemp that condemns proposed changes in voting policies they say will particularly harm people of color.

The Georgia House bill, which passed the Republican-majority body by a vote of 97-72 on Monday, would permit at least one Saturday for voting near the time of a future Election Day but would allow registrars to choose whether to offer voters an additional Saturday or Sunday to vote.

In recent elections in the state, Black church leaders have spearheaded “Souls to the Polls” campaigns that led worshippers directly from their pews to their polling places.

The nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice reported this month that Georgia’s Black voters accounted for 36.5% percent of Sunday voters but only 26.8% of people who voted early on other days of the week.

Former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams said this week there are more than 250 bills related to voting restrictions being considered by state legislators across the country.

Georgia’s House and Senate proposals, which Abrams said would particularly harm people of color, relate not only to Sunday voting but also would eliminate automatic voter registration and no-excuses absentee balloting and would require a copy of a driver’s license with mailed-in ballots.

“Black people, people of color have always been the target of voter suppression because it is when we lift our voices, it is when we participate in elections, it is when we have the right to full citizenship that the trajectory of this nation changes,” Abrams, who has a United Methodist background, said Tuesday on a Facebook Live program hosted by the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s newspaper, The Christian Recorder.

In January, the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, her state’s first Black and Jewish senators, respectively, were sworn in, giving the U.S. Senate a Democratic majority. Two months before on Election Day, a record Black voter turnout helped flip the Peach State from red to blue for the first time since 1992.

The Georgia state legislators are also proposing limitations that would criminalize volunteers — who are often connected to faith groups — if they provide food and drink to voters waiting in line outside polling places.

“The lines were so incredibly long that we had multiple reports of people fainting in lines for having to stand up for too long,” said Fair Fight Action organizing director Hillary Holley of the 2020 election, speaking during the news conference. “We saw ambulances have to get called because our elders were passing out while trying to vote.”

The Rev. Cassandra Gould, an AME minister who is the executive director of Missouri Faith Voices, said in an interview that her group has been fighting laws restricting voting, including as a co-plaintiff in a suit against the secretary of state that was dismissed on Tuesday.

Though Missouri doesn’t have early voting as Georgia does, Gould said her organization continues to oppose other kinds of voting restrictions that she says disproportionately affect African Americans. In February, the Missouri House passed a bill that requires voters to provide a photo ID or cast a provisional ballot.

“For me it’s really egregious when there are concentrated efforts to minimize democracy, to actually shrink the electorate,” said Gould, who is also the religious affairs director for the state’s NAACP chapter.

The developments in Georgia came during the anniversary week of Bloody Sunday, when church leaders and other civil rights activists were attacked by state troopers as they fought and bled for voting rights in Alabama in 1965.

Min. Shavonne Williams, an Augusta-based organizing ambassador for Faith in Public Life, recalled that historic time and said voting has long been a unified front for Black church members.

But, in addition to concerns about Black voters, the legislators’ actions have prompted questions about constitutionality and religious freedom, according to Graham Younger, Georgia director for Faith in Public Life.

Early weekend voting opportunities are vital to many residents who are unable for various reasons to vote on a weekday. Limiting which weekend day polls may be open, however, can affect worshippers of a variety of faiths and racial/ethnic groups, including Jewish congregants and members of Seventh-day Adventist churches who cannot vote on Saturdays, due to Sabbath restrictions.

“The choice that counties will now be making is between different groups’ holy days,” Younger said. “Not everyone’s holy day is Sunday.”

Conservative religious groups, including Family Research Council, support “ election integrity ” state-level provisions such as ones that require voter identification and limit no-excuses mail-in voting.

Pastor Mike McBride, a Pentecostal minister based in California who was involved in 2020 Black church voter mobilization initiatives, said organizers are pushing back against legislators seeking to reduce “Souls to the Polls” and other activities.

As they work on signing letters and raising awareness about state proposals, they also will urge passage of the For the People Act, which he hopes will “take the teeth out of a lot of these very wicked Republican schemes.”

“I believe this is tantamount to the church bombings the Ku Klux Klan did to terrorize Black people from engaging in voter registration and engagement,” said McBride, a founder of the Black Church Action Fund, in an interview. “Rather than using church bombs, they’re trying to use these kinds of state policies.”

Faith leaders push back against proposed ‘Souls to the Polls’ voting restrictions

Faith leaders push back against proposed ‘Souls to the Polls’ voting restrictions

Video Courtesy of The Choice


To the Rev. Fer’Rell Malone of Waycross, Georgia, the actions by his state legislators that could curtail Sunday “Souls to the Polls” activities are akin to a form of apartheid.

“They are literally evil, and they’re coming from men and women who say that they are Christians,” the Black pastor told reporters Wednesday (March 10) in a virtual news conference.

He said the lawmakers are focused on reducing effective strategies Black churches have historically employed to mobilize voters.

“They’re trying, with the voter suppression laws, to create a system of apartheid where they who have the power will retain the power,” he said.

RELATED: Biden victory in hand, Black church get-out-the-vote workers assess the future

Malone’s is one of more than 500 signatures on a Faith in Public Life petition delivered to Governor Brian Kemp that condemns proposed changes in voting policies they say will particularly harm people of color.

The Georgia House bill, which passed the Republican-majority body by a vote of 97-72 on Monday, would permit at least one Saturday for voting near the time of a future Election Day but would allow registrars to choose whether to offer voters an additional Saturday or Sunday to vote.

In recent elections in the state, Black church leaders have spearheaded “Souls to the Polls” campaigns that led worshippers directly from their pews to their polling places.

The nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice reported this month that Georgia’s Black voters accounted for 36.5% percent of Sunday voters but only 26.8% of people who voted early on other days of the week.

Former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams said this week there are more than 250 bills related to voting restrictions being considered by state legislators across the country.

Georgia’s House and Senate proposals, which Abrams said would particularly harm people of color, relate not only to Sunday voting but also would eliminate automatic voter registration and no-excuses absentee balloting and would require a copy of a driver’s license with mailed-in ballots.

“Black people, people of color have always been the target of voter suppression because it is when we lift our voices, it is when we participate in elections, it is when we have the right to full citizenship that the trajectory of this nation changes,” Abrams, who has a United Methodist background, said Tuesday on a Facebook Live program hosted by the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s newspaper, The Christian Recorder.

In January, the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, her state’s first Black and Jewish senators, respectively, were sworn in, giving the U.S. Senate a Democratic majority. Two months before on Election Day, a record Black voter turnout helped flip the Peach State from red to blue for the first time since 1992.

The Georgia state legislators are also proposing limitations that would criminalize volunteers — who are often connected to faith groups — if they provide food and drink to voters waiting in line outside polling places.

“The lines were so incredibly long that we had multiple reports of people fainting in lines for having to stand up for too long,” said Fair Fight Action organizing director Hillary Holley of the 2020 election, speaking during the news conference. “We saw ambulances have to get called because our elders were passing out while trying to vote.”

The Rev. Cassandra Gould, an AME minister who is the executive director of Missouri Faith Voices, said in an interview that her group has been fighting laws restricting voting, including as a co-plaintiff in a suit against the secretary of state that was dismissed on Tuesday.

Though Missouri doesn’t have early voting as Georgia does, Gould said her organization continues to oppose other kinds of voting restrictions that she says disproportionately affect African Americans. In February, the Missouri House passed a bill that requires voters to provide a photo ID or cast a provisional ballot.

“For me it’s really egregious when there are concentrated efforts to minimize democracy, to actually shrink the electorate,” said Gould, who is also the religious affairs director for the state’s NAACP chapter.

The developments in Georgia came during the anniversary week of Bloody Sunday, when church leaders and other civil rights activists were attacked by state troopers as they fought and bled for voting rights in Alabama in 1965.

Min. Shavonne Williams, an Augusta-based organizing ambassador for Faith in Public Life, recalled that historic time and said voting has long been a unified front for Black church members.

But, in addition to concerns about Black voters, the legislators’ actions have prompted questions about constitutionality and religious freedom, according to Graham Younger, Georgia director for Faith in Public Life.

Early weekend voting opportunities are vital to many residents who are unable for various reasons to vote on a weekday. Limiting which weekend day polls may be open, however, can affect worshippers of a variety of faiths and racial/ethnic groups, including Jewish congregants and members of Seventh-day Adventist churches who cannot vote on Saturdays, due to Sabbath restrictions.

“The choice that counties will now be making is between different groups’ holy days,” Younger said. “Not everyone’s holy day is Sunday.”

Conservative religious groups, including Family Research Council, support “ election integrity ” state-level provisions such as ones that require voter identification and limit no-excuses mail-in voting.

Pastor Mike McBride, a Pentecostal minister based in California who was involved in 2020 Black church voter mobilization initiatives, said organizers are pushing back against legislators seeking to reduce “Souls to the Polls” and other activities.

As they work on signing letters and raising awareness about state proposals, they also will urge passage of the For the People Act, which he hopes will “take the teeth out of a lot of these very wicked Republican schemes.”

“I believe this is tantamount to the church bombings the Ku Klux Klan did to terrorize Black people from engaging in voter registration and engagement,” said McBride, a founder of the Black Church Action Fund, in an interview. “Rather than using church bombs, they’re trying to use these kinds of state policies.”

How civil rights leader Wyatt Tee Walker revived hope after MLK’s death

How civil rights leader Wyatt Tee Walker revived hope after MLK’s death

Civil rights leader Wyatt Tee Walker addresses a crowd at St. Phillips AME Church in Atlanta.
Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images

Four years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the novelist James Baldwin would write on the pages of Esquire magazine, “Since Martin’s death, in Memphis, and that tremendous day in Atlanta, something has altered in me, something has gone away.”

Baldwin wrote about how “the act of faith” – that is, his belief that the movement would change white Americans and ultimately America – maintained him through the years of the black freedom movement, through marches and petitions and torturous setbacks.

After King’s death, Baldwin found it hard to keep that faith.

Nearly two weeks after King’s funeral, in April of 1968, King’s confidant and former strategist Wyatt Tee Walker tried to renew this faith. Drawing on a tradition of black faith, Walker encouraged a grieving community to embrace hope even in the face of despair.

As a scholar of religion and American public life, I recognize the important lessons Walker offers for current times when America is deeply divided.

Faith in action

Black public faith has a storied place in American life.

The black church has been a place of fellowship and affirmation from colonial America to modern day, empowering individuals to undertake public acts to transform politics and society.

The 19th-century National Negro Convention movement, which ran from 1831 to 1864, demonstrated this black faith in action. Its leaders advocated for the abolition of slavery and full citizenship for African Americans. One activist reflected years later that the “colored conventions” were “almost as frequent as church meetings.”

The civil rights movement carried this faith in action forward. Theologian Dwight Hopkins has written how the sermons and songs of black faith empowered and sustained African Americans, even in bleak times.

These practices on Sunday morning, he noted served to “recharge the worshipers’ energy” so they could deal with the “rigors and racism of ‘a cruel, cruel world’ from Monday though Saturday.”

Civil rights and Union leaders sing ‘We Shall Overcome’ at the conclusion of the Selma to Montgomery civil rights march on March 25, 1965 in Montgomery, Alabama.
Stephen F. Somerstein/Getty Images

It was this faith that empowered many African Americans to maintain their faith in the possibilities of democracy while facing entrenched white opposition to their civil rights. Marches, sit-ins, demonstrations and mass meetings were all public displays of black faith.

The risk of faith

In the wake of King’s assassination, the words of his last published book, “Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community,” reverberated throughout the nation.

Urban rebellions erupted in the wake of King’s death. With parts of over 100 cities smoldering or in ruins, chaos seemed a more likely future in 1968 America than community.

In a sermon called “Faith as Taking the Risk,” delivered at Princeton Theological Seminary, Walker sought to address a question posed by a young theologian James H. Cone after King’s death: “Without King, where was the hope?”

Deftly navigating the tension between hope and despair, Walker based his message on the response of the Hebrew prophet Elisha in the Book of Kings who faced crisis and despair with an invading Syrian army, widespread famine and people ready to give up.

Drawing inspiration from the faith of the community, Elisha encouraged the community to keep faith in their nation.

Horizon of hope

Elisha’s example powered Walker’s message. At Princeton, Walker encouraged the black seminarians not to countenance a nostalgia for the past. In moments of deep discouragement, Walker said, distressed people tend to retreat into a romanticized past.

“In the jargon of the street,” Walker said, “it sounds like this: ‘Child, don’t you wish it was like it was back in the good old days… .”

“And yet,” he declared, “not by any wishing or hoping or praying or anything else can we find any day when things were better. There was no such day!”

Walker proceeded to caution his audience against maintaining the status quo. Walker proclaimed, “Whatever dream of life it is we envision for our children, ourselves, our community, our church, we will never bring it to our fingertips unless it begins first with some initial risk.”

For Walker, challenging the status quo was a fundamental aspect of existence.

“The elemental character of life is one that is moving and dynamic,” he said.

Walker closed his sermon by urging the audience to embrace hope-filled struggle. But he did not deny the desperate reality.

Instead, in the face of despair, he urged the young seminarians to take a risk of faith and build a future that has not been. For Walker, that meant “doing, trying, moving toward things which have never been tried before.”

Hope in democracy

Wyatt Tee Walker in Montgomery, Alabama on April 3, 1962.
Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images

The lasting testament of black public faith is its affirmation of new possibilities during moments of deep doubt. Rather than relying on a myth of the past or upholding the status quo, Walker offered the seminarians at Princeton a new vision of a political community.

“What I’m saying to you,” Walker declared, “is that I have the ultimate faith that we are going to find a tranquility with justice in this nation, in this world. We must! And it is conceivable it could happen in our time.”

Many Americans are angry with the state of the political system. And acts of racial bigotry and religious intolerance have become far too ordinary.

In such times, Wyatt Tee Walker’s words can remind people to muster hope and keep faith with the possibilities of American democracy while continuing the struggle for a just society.

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

Corey D. B. Walker, Visiting Professor, University of Richmond

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

How civil rights leader Wyatt Tee Walker revived hope after MLK’s death

How civil rights leader Wyatt Tee Walker revived hope after MLK’s death

Civil rights leader Wyatt Tee Walker addresses a crowd at St. Phillips AME Church in Atlanta.
Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images

Four years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the novelist James Baldwin would write on the pages of Esquire magazine, “Since Martin’s death, in Memphis, and that tremendous day in Atlanta, something has altered in me, something has gone away.”

Baldwin wrote about how “the act of faith” – that is, his belief that the movement would change white Americans and ultimately America – maintained him through the years of the black freedom movement, through marches and petitions and torturous setbacks.

After King’s death, Baldwin found it hard to keep that faith.

Nearly two weeks after King’s funeral, in April of 1968, King’s confidant and former strategist Wyatt Tee Walker tried to renew this faith. Drawing on a tradition of black faith, Walker encouraged a grieving community to embrace hope even in the face of despair.

As a scholar of religion and American public life, I recognize the important lessons Walker offers for current times when America is deeply divided.

Faith in action

Black public faith has a storied place in American life.

The black church has been a place of fellowship and affirmation from colonial America to modern day, empowering individuals to undertake public acts to transform politics and society.

The 19th-century National Negro Convention movement, which ran from 1831 to 1864, demonstrated this black faith in action. Its leaders advocated for the abolition of slavery and full citizenship for African Americans. One activist reflected years later that the “colored conventions” were “almost as frequent as church meetings.”

The civil rights movement carried this faith in action forward. Theologian Dwight Hopkins has written how the sermons and songs of black faith empowered and sustained African Americans, even in bleak times.

These practices on Sunday morning, he noted served to “recharge the worshipers’ energy” so they could deal with the “rigors and racism of ‘a cruel, cruel world’ from Monday though Saturday.”

Civil rights and Union leaders sing ‘We Shall Overcome’ at the conclusion of the Selma to Montgomery civil rights march on March 25, 1965 in Montgomery, Alabama.
Stephen F. Somerstein/Getty Images

It was this faith that empowered many African Americans to maintain their faith in the possibilities of democracy while facing entrenched white opposition to their civil rights. Marches, sit-ins, demonstrations and mass meetings were all public displays of black faith.

The risk of faith

In the wake of King’s assassination, the words of his last published book, “Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community,” reverberated throughout the nation.

Urban rebellions erupted in the wake of King’s death. With parts of over 100 cities smoldering or in ruins, chaos seemed a more likely future in 1968 America than community.

In a sermon called “Faith as Taking the Risk,” delivered at Princeton Theological Seminary, Walker sought to address a question posed by a young theologian James H. Cone after King’s death: “Without King, where was the hope?”

Deftly navigating the tension between hope and despair, Walker based his message on the response of the Hebrew prophet Elisha in the Book of Kings who faced crisis and despair with an invading Syrian army, widespread famine and people ready to give up.

Drawing inspiration from the faith of the community, Elisha encouraged the community to keep faith in their nation.

Horizon of hope

Elisha’s example powered Walker’s message. At Princeton, Walker encouraged the black seminarians not to countenance a nostalgia for the past. In moments of deep discouragement, Walker said, distressed people tend to retreat into a romanticized past.

“In the jargon of the street,” Walker said, “it sounds like this: ‘Child, don’t you wish it was like it was back in the good old days… .”

“And yet,” he declared, “not by any wishing or hoping or praying or anything else can we find any day when things were better. There was no such day!”

Walker proceeded to caution his audience against maintaining the status quo. Walker proclaimed, “Whatever dream of life it is we envision for our children, ourselves, our community, our church, we will never bring it to our fingertips unless it begins first with some initial risk.”

For Walker, challenging the status quo was a fundamental aspect of existence.

“The elemental character of life is one that is moving and dynamic,” he said.

Walker closed his sermon by urging the audience to embrace hope-filled struggle. But he did not deny the desperate reality.

Instead, in the face of despair, he urged the young seminarians to take a risk of faith and build a future that has not been. For Walker, that meant “doing, trying, moving toward things which have never been tried before.”

Hope in democracy

Wyatt Tee Walker in Montgomery, Alabama on April 3, 1962.
Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images

The lasting testament of black public faith is its affirmation of new possibilities during moments of deep doubt. Rather than relying on a myth of the past or upholding the status quo, Walker offered the seminarians at Princeton a new vision of a political community.

“What I’m saying to you,” Walker declared, “is that I have the ultimate faith that we are going to find a tranquility with justice in this nation, in this world. We must! And it is conceivable it could happen in our time.”

Many Americans are angry with the state of the political system. And acts of racial bigotry and religious intolerance have become far too ordinary.

In such times, Wyatt Tee Walker’s words can remind people to muster hope and keep faith with the possibilities of American democracy while continuing the struggle for a just society.

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

Corey D. B. Walker, Visiting Professor, University of Richmond

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

MUSIC DEVOTIONAL: SOUNDS AND SILENCES, #MondayMotivation

MUSIC DEVOTIONAL: SOUNDS AND SILENCES, #MondayMotivation

Music is composed of sounds and silences. The sounds are indicated by notes, the silences by rests. Sometimes when we most want the Lord to speak, He is silent, and when we most want Him to be silent, He speaks!

The desperate Syrophoenician mother made a fervent plea for her daughter, but Jesus answered her “not a word” (Matthew 15:23). David knew that the Lord was aware of his sins, but I think he was hoping the Lord wouldn’t tell anybody especially the outspoken prophet Nathan (2 Samuel 11-12).

The Syrophoenician mother was hoping the Lord would change the melody of her life from minor to major. And David was hoping he wouldn’t have to face the music of his messed up life. In music, the silences are often welcome intervals that enhance the rest of the composition. In life, silences are sometimes frustrating interruptions.

Both in music and in life, rests are pauses, not endings. The mother received her request for her daughter’s healing; David confessed his sins and received forgiveness. The pauses in our lives are temporary.

Are you having a “rest experience?” Be encouraged. After a rest, the music continues.

Thank You, dear Lord, that You are always with us. Help us to remember that Your silences are not absences. Amen.

 

Black sororities have stood at the forefront of Black achievement for more than a century

Black sororities have stood at the forefront of Black achievement for more than a century

Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority members at a get-out-the-vote event in 2020.
Octavio Jones/Getty Images

In her speech at the 2020 Democratic National Convention Kamala Harris saluted seven women who “inspired us to pick up the torch and fight on.”

All but two of them, one of whom was her mother, belonged to Black sororities. Harris also mentioned her own Black sorority, saying: “Family is my beloved Alpha Kappa Alpha.”

Many Americans may have wondered why Harris would invoke sororities on such an occasion. But not me. Like her, I am a proud member of a Black sorority: Delta Sigma Theta, which I joined as a student at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia. If I were in Harris’ shoes, accepting such an unprecedented leadership role, I, too, would have paid homage to my sorority as a way to thank those on whose shoulders I stand.

This shoutout also resonated with me because I have researched the history of Black sororities and fraternities, including their dedication to combat discrimination and the lifelong family-like bonds they create.

Kamala Harris speaks at the 2020 Democratic Convention.

The forerunners of Black sororities

The nation’s four Black sororities have always differed from white sororities in several ways, in part because of their historical roots.

Their origins are tied to the Black women’s clubs and mutual aid societies that first emerged with the Colored Women’s Progressive Association, established in 1880.

In 1892, after the author and activist Ida B. Wells-Barnett distributed her historic anti-lynching speech as a pamphlet, Black women’s clubs sprang up throughout the U.S. in major metropolitan areas and small cities.

These clubs focused on issues of interest to all American women at the time, including education, health and voting rights. But they also sought to combat racism and discrimination.

A call toward service

Young Black women who liked the groups’ insistence on equality and racial justice responded by creating Black sororities at their colleges. Students at Howard University in Washington, D.C. – Harris’ alma mater – created the first one, Alpha Kappa Alpha, in 1908. Female white students by then had begun to form similar groups on other campuses, many of which barred Black members.

Five of the “Divine Nine” Greek organizations Kamala Harris mentioned in her speech are fraternities, created in response to Black men not being included in traditionally white fraternities.

I believe that African American women created their own sororities as communities of resistance that would allow them to survive and achieve in an oppressive society, refute stereotypes, celebrate their own cultures and fight sexism and racism – including gendered racism.

A group of young African American women hold a sign that reads #StandWithBennet
Members of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
Paras Griffin/Getty Images

The 6 women Harris saluted

The historically significant Black women, aside from her mother, whom Harris thanked in her speech were:

Continuing a tradition

Even today, the core mission of Black sororities remains civic engagement and racial justice.

All members of sororities and fraternities may donate to social causes or volunteer as part of satisfying school community service requirements. A few make it their main focus.

But across the board, Black sororities emphasize consequential and sustained community service, while their members are students and also once they’ve graduated from college. This is also true of the few white women who have joined Black sororities over the years.

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A group of African American women pose for a photo.
Members of the Sigma Gamma Rho sorority.
Griffin/Getty Images

Like with biological families where members remain in the family no matter what, for Black women, sorority affiliation usually becomes a permanent part of their identity and an enduring source of pride and support.

Many members of Black sororities remain active and engaged for the rest of their lives. They join local chapters, changing their affiliation whenever they move. Through this practice, their bond of sisterhood remains intact.

When I moved to North Texas, for example, local sorority members reached out to me. They helped me acclimate and make connections so that I immediately felt welcome. I also remain engaged with the sorority chapter I joined at Longwood by mentoring students, donating to scholarship funds and through other means.

Several African American women dressed in blue walk together.
Members of the Zeta Phi Beta sorority.
Paras Griffin/Getty Images

As Harris made clear in her speech, she believes she stands on the shoulders of phenomenal women who, years after they blazed trails, taught today’s Black women how to be persistent in creating change that benefits our communities, and how to teach others to follow in our footsteps.

They taught us to lift as we climb.The Conversation

Tamara L. Brown, Executive Dean and Professor of Psychology, University of North Texas

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

Fighting school segregation didn’t take place just in the South

Fighting school segregation didn’t take place just in the South

School boycott picketers march across the Brooklyn Bridge to the Board of Education in 1964.
Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Whether it’s black-and-white photos of Arkansas’ Little Rock Nine or Norman Rockwell’s famous painting of New Orleans schoolgirl Ruby Bridges, images of school desegregation often make it seem as though it was an issue for Black children primarily in the South.

It is true that Bridges, the Little Rock Nine and other brave students in Southern states, including North Carolina and Tennessee, changed the face of American education when they tested the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that mandated the desegregation of public education. But the struggle to desegregate America’s schools in the 1950s and ‘60s did not take place solely in the South. Black students and their parents also boldly challenged segregated schooling in the North.

A group of African American students read books together in a small room.
The Little Rock Nine form a study group together after being prevented from entering Central High School in 1957.
Bettmann/Contributor via Getty Images

Mae Mallory, a Harlem activist and mother, serves as an example. Her name may not be the first one that comes to mind when it comes to 1950s school desegregation battles. Yet Mallory made history – and changed the face of public education – when she filed the first post-Brown suit against the New York City Board of Education in 1957.

Prompted by her children

Mallory got involved in education activism after her children – Patricia and Keefer Jr. – told her about the deplorable conditions of their segregated school, P.S. 10 in Harlem. Mallory joined the Parents Committee for a Better Education and became a vocal advocate of Black children’s right to a safe learning environment.

The turning point came when she indicted the racist school system in her January 1957 testimony before the New York School Board’s Commission on Integration. Mallory embarrassed the board by remarking that P.S. 10 was “just as ‘Jim Crow’” as the Hazel Street School she had attended in Macon, Georgia, in the 1930s. Her testimony was an integral part of the parental complaints that forced the board to construct a new building and hire new teachers.

A larger battle

Encouraged by this victory, Mallory began a fight to end the New York City Board of Education’s segregation practices. Existing zoning maps required her daughter, Patricia, to attend a junior high school in Harlem. Mallory argued that this school was inferior to others in the area and would not adequately prepare her daughter for high school. Instead, she enrolled Patricia in a school on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

The board blocked Patricia’s enrollment. Mallory took action. With the help of a young Black lawyer, Paul Zuber, she sued, claiming existing zoning policies relegated her daughter – and other Black children – to segregated, inferior schools. Filed three years after Brown, Mallory’s suit forced the Board of Education to face the fact that segregation was a persistent problem in New York City public schools. Eight other mothers joined Mallory’s fight. The press dubbed them the “Harlem 9.”

Making headlines

Once filed, Mallory’s suit became front-page news in The New York Times. A year later, however, the case stalled. In an effort to spur the suit along, the Harlem 9 instituted a boycott of three Harlem junior high schools. Zuber knew that the mothers would face charges of violating compulsory school attendance laws. This, in turn, would force a judge to rule on their suit.

In December 1958, Judge Justine Polier sided with the Harlem 9, declaring: “These parents have the constitutionally guaranteed right to elect no education for their children rather than to subject them to discriminatory, inferior education.” The Harlem 9 gained the first legal victory proving that de facto segregation existed in Northern schools. The decision galvanized local Black parents, causing hundreds to request transfers for their children to better schools.

A compromise

The parties reached a settlement in February 1959. The Harlem 9’s children would not enroll in the schools for which they were zoned. Nor would they be able to engage in “open choice” – the parents’ request to send their children to a school of their choosing.

Instead, they would attend a Harlem junior high school that offered more resources, including college prep courses, although it was still largely segregated. The Harlem 9 would be allowed to continue with their ultimately unsuccessful civil suit against the board. The mothers had also filed a million-dollar lawsuit seeking damages for the psychological and emotional toll their children endured in segregated schools. This was a compromise on all fronts. However, Mallory and the other mothers gained a substantial victory in forcing the court and the Board of Education to confront the segregation that existed in New York City public schools. Their boycott also became a unifying strategy for subsequent struggles, most notably for the 1964 New York City school boycott. During this boycott, hundreds of thousands of parents, students and activists engaged in a daylong protest of segregation and inequality in public city schools.

[Get the best of The Conversation, every weekend. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.]

The Harlem 9’s fight serves as an important reminder that school desegregation protests were popular and successful in the North as well as in the South. It also provides insight into the prominent role Black women had in these struggles and the diverse range of strategies they deployed – from championing “open choice” to school boycotts – to help their children have access to equal education.

Even more importantly, perhaps, their fight demonstrates the importance of appreciating the different ways in which Black women compelled schools to make good on the Brown decision – a fight that, nearly 70 years later, is still being fought. The Supreme Court’s mandate in the Brown decision that public schools desegregate with “all deliberate speed” is unfinished. Nationwide, Black children remain in schools that are segregated, underfunded and overcrowded – much as they were when Mallory began her fight.The Conversation

Ashley Farmer, Assistant Professor of History & African and African Diaspora Studies, The University of Texas at Austin College of Liberal Arts

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

We need school leaders who reflect the students they serve

We need school leaders who reflect the students they serve

Gerald Boyd, principal of IDEA Hardy, with some of his students. Courtesy of IDEA Public Schools

This article originally appeared on Chalkbeat


Most educators can pinpoint a moment in their lives when they realize what impact they want to make on their students’ lives. Many take inspiration from Nelson Mandela, who once said, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Those words continue to echo loudly, especially as we take a moment to reflect on Black History Month and celebrate the contributions and achievements made by those in our community and across the country.

Gerald Boyd  Courtesy of IDEA Public Schools

As the executive principal at IDEA Hardy, a high-performing Houston public charter school, I share the same sentiment as so many of my fellow educators: to help students achieve success and change the world. However, what is severely lacking in our education system is leaders in our schools who reflect the population of the students they serve.

Let me tell you why this is so important.

I am from Houston and was the first in my family to graduate high school and attend college. When I got to the University of Texas at Austin, alongside 10 of my high school classmates, I saw first-hand the inequities in access and quality of education. During my first semester, eight of us were put on academic probation, and four years later, only two of us — myself included — graduated. This showed me that we didn’t have the tools and resources to succeed, and without support, most of us had lost faith that we could be successful.

In my second year at UT Austin, I joined the elite Black Greek lettered organization, Kappa Alpha Psi. For the first time, I witnessed young, Black men achieve. One of our brothers graduated from Harvard Law School and another graduated from Nebraska Law. When I saw them succeed, I believed I could, too. This inspired me to join Teach For America after finishing college to teach in my hometown of Houston.

Fast forward a few years, I am proud to have been one of the first principals in IDEA Public Schools to achieve an “A” school rating from the Texas Education Agency, in San Antonio, Texas, at IDEA Mays.

I made the decision to run two schools 15-minutes away from where I grew up. Since this is where I was raised, I understand what many of the students in my community are up against because I’ve experienced much of it myself. Many students in second grade were reading at a kindergarten level, but I knew that with the right support and intervention, they’d be able to succeed. Part of that means being able to show my kids what success looks like, and that it is within reach for them, too.

However, few schools across the country have diverse teaching workforces that represent the student bodies they serve. For instance, recent federal data shows that 79% of public school teachers were white, and less than 7% were Black. Public charter schools in Texas, however, employ significantly more teachers of color than traditional district schools. For instance, about 1 in 4 charter teachers are Black compared to 1 in 25 teachers at district schools.

Students of color need to know that success is possible for them, which cannot happen if we are sidelining educators of color. It should be a top priority to support educators of color determined to pay it forward. That is how we can help the next generation of leaders of color thrive.

We need to make sure that educators of color have mentors who can uplift them and that our leadership teams are diverse. This past year, I was proud to train school leaders on what it means to lead a school and a community. Mentorship like this ensures more leaders of color can succeed and uplift others. Our educators should feel empowered to bring their identities and their stories to their jobs to show up for themselves and our kids. This means that our teachers can talk openly about difficult topics in their classrooms, and our students know that they can turn to their teachers and school leaders for guidance.

Additionally, flexibility around teacher certification — a long, expensive process that research shows doesn’t lead to higher student achievement — would also help more educators of color enter the profession. This would remove the barriers that make it more difficult for people of color to become teachers. Take a look at Texas. Public charter schools here, along with traditional school districts that apply to be Districts of Innovation, are able to hire non-certified teachers in certain subjects and provide them with high-quality training throughout their careers.

As this year’s Black History Month comes to an end and we think about ways to better foster equity in all parts of society, we cannot forget about the classroom. When our children walk into the school building, they should see themselves reflected in their teachers, their principals, and their school staff. But it is going to take more than individual educators to make systems change. We must all be committed to ensuring that every student has the necessary tools and opportunities to flourish.

The turning point in my college career was when I witnessed other Black students and leaders around me achieving things that I had not imagined possible for myself. We must prioritize our students of color by empowering educators who have walked in their shoes and whom they can look to for inspiration and guidance.

The future generation is counting on us.

Gerald Boyd is the executive principal, IDEA Hardy in Houston.

Fighting school segregation didn’t take place just in the South

Fighting school segregation didn’t take place just in the South

School boycott picketers march across the Brooklyn Bridge to the Board of Education in 1964.
Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Whether it’s black-and-white photos of Arkansas’ Little Rock Nine or Norman Rockwell’s famous painting of New Orleans schoolgirl Ruby Bridges, images of school desegregation often make it seem as though it was an issue for Black children primarily in the South.

It is true that Bridges, the Little Rock Nine and other brave students in Southern states, including North Carolina and Tennessee, changed the face of American education when they tested the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that mandated the desegregation of public education. But the struggle to desegregate America’s schools in the 1950s and ‘60s did not take place solely in the South. Black students and their parents also boldly challenged segregated schooling in the North.

A group of African American students read books together in a small room.
The Little Rock Nine form a study group together after being prevented from entering Central High School in 1957.
Bettmann/Contributor via Getty Images

Mae Mallory, a Harlem activist and mother, serves as an example. Her name may not be the first one that comes to mind when it comes to 1950s school desegregation battles. Yet Mallory made history – and changed the face of public education – when she filed the first post-Brown suit against the New York City Board of Education in 1957.

Prompted by her children

Mallory got involved in education activism after her children – Patricia and Keefer Jr. – told her about the deplorable conditions of their segregated school, P.S. 10 in Harlem. Mallory joined the Parents Committee for a Better Education and became a vocal advocate of Black children’s right to a safe learning environment.

The turning point came when she indicted the racist school system in her January 1957 testimony before the New York School Board’s Commission on Integration. Mallory embarrassed the board by remarking that P.S. 10 was “just as ‘Jim Crow’” as the Hazel Street School she had attended in Macon, Georgia, in the 1930s. Her testimony was an integral part of the parental complaints that forced the board to construct a new building and hire new teachers.

A larger battle

Encouraged by this victory, Mallory began a fight to end the New York City Board of Education’s segregation practices. Existing zoning maps required her daughter, Patricia, to attend a junior high school in Harlem. Mallory argued that this school was inferior to others in the area and would not adequately prepare her daughter for high school. Instead, she enrolled Patricia in a school on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

The board blocked Patricia’s enrollment. Mallory took action. With the help of a young Black lawyer, Paul Zuber, she sued, claiming existing zoning policies relegated her daughter – and other Black children – to segregated, inferior schools. Filed three years after Brown, Mallory’s suit forced the Board of Education to face the fact that segregation was a persistent problem in New York City public schools. Eight other mothers joined Mallory’s fight. The press dubbed them the “Harlem 9.”

Making headlines

Once filed, Mallory’s suit became front-page news in The New York Times. A year later, however, the case stalled. In an effort to spur the suit along, the Harlem 9 instituted a boycott of three Harlem junior high schools. Zuber knew that the mothers would face charges of violating compulsory school attendance laws. This, in turn, would force a judge to rule on their suit.

In December 1958, Judge Justine Polier sided with the Harlem 9, declaring: “These parents have the constitutionally guaranteed right to elect no education for their children rather than to subject them to discriminatory, inferior education.” The Harlem 9 gained the first legal victory proving that de facto segregation existed in Northern schools. The decision galvanized local Black parents, causing hundreds to request transfers for their children to better schools.

A compromise

The parties reached a settlement in February 1959. The Harlem 9’s children would not enroll in the schools for which they were zoned. Nor would they be able to engage in “open choice” – the parents’ request to send their children to a school of their choosing.

Instead, they would attend a Harlem junior high school that offered more resources, including college prep courses, although it was still largely segregated. The Harlem 9 would be allowed to continue with their ultimately unsuccessful civil suit against the board. The mothers had also filed a million-dollar lawsuit seeking damages for the psychological and emotional toll their children endured in segregated schools. This was a compromise on all fronts. However, Mallory and the other mothers gained a substantial victory in forcing the court and the Board of Education to confront the segregation that existed in New York City public schools. Their boycott also became a unifying strategy for subsequent struggles, most notably for the 1964 New York City school boycott. During this boycott, hundreds of thousands of parents, students and activists engaged in a daylong protest of segregation and inequality in public city schools.

[Get the best of The Conversation, every weekend. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.]

The Harlem 9’s fight serves as an important reminder that school desegregation protests were popular and successful in the North as well as in the South. It also provides insight into the prominent role Black women had in these struggles and the diverse range of strategies they deployed – from championing “open choice” to school boycotts – to help their children have access to equal education.

Even more importantly, perhaps, their fight demonstrates the importance of appreciating the different ways in which Black women compelled schools to make good on the Brown decision – a fight that, nearly 70 years later, is still being fought. The Supreme Court’s mandate in the Brown decision that public schools desegregate with “all deliberate speed” is unfinished. Nationwide, Black children remain in schools that are segregated, underfunded and overcrowded – much as they were when Mallory began her fight.The Conversation

Ashley Farmer, Assistant Professor of History & African and African Diaspora Studies, The University of Texas at Austin College of Liberal Arts

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

Faith leaders urge clemency for Okla. death row inmate, cite mounting evidence

Faith leaders urge clemency for Okla. death row inmate, cite mounting evidence

Faith leaders are ramping up their support for an Oklahoma death row inmate as his clemency hearing nears.

Julius Jones, 40, was sentenced to death in 2002, but his advocates say a different person committed the crime in which a prominent Edmond, Oklahoma, businessman was killed during a carjacking. The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board is expected to consider Jones’ case at a March 8 commutation hearing.

On Monday (March 1), Jones’ lawyers released a video in which a man imprisoned in Arkansas said that a former fellow inmate told him he was responsible for the killing instead of Jones. His comments follow the signing of sworn affidavits by two other people who support Jones’ claim of innocence.

Jones’ family has said he was home with them when the killing occurred.

In an online event held the day after the video was released, Bishop T.D. Jakes of Dallas megachurch The Potter’s House urged that the new information about Jones’ case be considered.

“We’re not even asking for mercy; we’re just asking for justice,” Jakes said in the video conference call hosted by Values Partnerships that also included reality TV star Kim Kardashian West speaking in support of Jones. “We as people of faith have a responsibility to make sure that we have done everything we could. If Jesus acquitted the guilty, then surely he would advocate for the innocent.”

The Rev. Cece Jones-Davis, founder of the Justice for Julius Coalition in Oklahoma, helped lead a Feb. 25 march and prayer rally in which a crowd of more than 100 gathered outside a United Methodist church in Oklahoma City to sing, advocate and deliver boxes containing more than 6.2 million signatures on a petition to the parole board’s office in support of Jones.

At the prayer rally, a friend of Jones played a taped message from the inmate expressing gratitude for his supporters, The Oklahoman reported. “God has not forgotten me,” he said.

Jones-Davis said in a statement she believes Jones’ innocence is clear.

“Julius Jones did not murder Paul Howell,” she said. “It is unthinkable to proceed with this execution knowing that the real killer is out there and has confessed, on multiple occasions, to his crime.”

During the summer, Jakes wrote a letter to Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt and members of the state’s parole board expressing his concern “that the perpetrator of the crime is still at large.”

Others who have signed letters include the Black Ministerial Alliance of Oklahoma City and Christian leaders Tony CampoloLisa Sharon HarperBrian McLaren and Shane Claiborne, who joined Kristyn Komarnicki of Christians for Social Action in a request.

Sojourners founder Jim Wallis expressed his concern that “the risk of false testimony, the evidence of racism, and the finality of a death sentence” are reasons for a commutation for Jones, a Black man convicted in the death of a white man.

Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater urged the board to deny Jones’ application for commutation and said the prisoner is “fueling a media circus with outright lies,” The Associated Press reported.

In his 2019 commutation application, Jones declared his innocence.

“(A)s God is my witness, I was not involved in any way in the crimes that led to Paul Howell being shot and killed on July 28, 1999,” he wrote. “I have spent the past twenty years on death row for a crime I did not commit, did not witness, and was not at.”

Depending on the outcome of the first commutation hearing, Jones’ case could advance to another stage that could lead to his sentence being commuted. If his application for commutation is denied, he is expected to receive a date of execution.