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]
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.
As Georgia’s top elections official runs for governor, a federal judge said the state has stalled too long in the face of “a mounting tide of evidence of the inadequacy and security risks” of its voting system.
Secretary of State Brian Kemp, a Republican, is in the midst of a closely watched race against Democrat Stacey Abrams, a former state House minority leader who’s trying to become the country’s first black, female governor. He has repeatedly insisted that Georgia’s current voting system is secure.
Voting integrity advocates sued last year, arguing that the touchscreen voting machines Georgia has used since 2002 are vulnerable to hacking and provide no way to confirm that votes have been recorded correctly because there’s no paper trail. They sought an immediate change to paper ballots for the midterm elections while the case is pending.
U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg declined to grant that request Monday, saying that although voting integrity advocates have demonstrated “the threat of real harms to their constitutional interests,” she worried about the “massive scrambling” required for a last-minute change to paper ballots. Early voting starts Oct. 15 for the Nov. 6 midterm elections.
Kemp said in an emailed statement that his office will continue to prepare for “a secure, orderly election in November” and will move forward “to responsibly upgrade Georgia’s secure — but aging — voting system.”
“As I have said many times over, our state needs a verifiable paper trail, but we cannot make such a dramatic change this election cycle,” he said.
Abrams, who was campaigning Tuesday with former President Jimmy Carter, did not specifically reference the judge’s ruling in an emailed statement.
“As the founder of a nonprofit dedicated to registering voters and as the former House Democratic Leader, I know Georgians are hungry for leaders who will make sure every voice can count at the polls,” Abrams said. She promised that as governor, she would “continue to ensure our elections are safe, secure, and accessible.”
Georgia is among five states, along with more than 300 counties in eight other states, that exclusively use touchscreen voting machines that provide no paper record, according to Verified Voting, a nonprofit group focused on ensuring the accuracy of elections.
Elections experts said the judge’s criticism is unlikely to influence voters’ decisions in the gubernatorial race. Democrats will likely use it in mailers or television ads, perhaps even adopting some of the judge’s language, but most voters have already made up their minds, said Emory University political science professor Alan Abramowitz.
“It certainly doesn’t help Brian Kemp,” he said, but added, “I don’t think it’s going to have a big effect one way or the other.”
Kemp campaign spokesman Ryan Mahoney didn’t respond to an email Tuesday seeking comment on what the ruling says about the two-term secretary of state’s leadership abilities at a time when he’s seeking a higher leadership position.
Totenberg chastised the state, saying it had been slow to respond to “serious vulnerabilities of its voting system,” as well as software and hardware issues that have long been evident, and said “further delay is not tolerable …”
The judge noted a general consensus among cybersecurity experts and federal officials about the insecurity of electronic voting machines with no paper record. She pointed to a Sept. 6 report from the National Academy of Sciences that says all elections should be conducted with “human-readable paper ballots” by 2020, with every effort made to use them in this year’s general election.
“Advanced persistent threats in this data-driven world and ordinary hacking are unfortunately here to stay,” she wrote, adding that state elections officials “will fail to address that reality if they demean as paranoia the research-based findings of national cybersecurity engineers and experts in the field of elections.”
Kemp, who rejected federal offers of assistance with election system security in 2016, established a commission earlier this year to look into a change. Last month he called for proposals to implement a system with voter-verifiable paper records in time for the 2020 presidential election.
Meanwhile, lawyers for the state filed a notice Tuesday that they intend to appeal Totenberg’s denial of their request to dismiss the case entirely.
Coalition for Good Governance executive director Marilyn Marks and attorney David Cross, who represents a small group of voters, said that even though the judge declined their paper ballots request they were encouraged by the tone of her ruling. Both said they’re reviewing the decision to decide whether to appeal.
Totenberg also said the state did not seriously address the impact of a breach of a state election server in its arguments.
Security experts last year disclosed a gaping hole that exposed personal data for 6.7 million Georgia voters, as well as passwords used by county officials to access election-staging files. That hole still wasn’t fixed six months after it was first reported to election authorities.
Kemp’s office blamed the Center for Elections Systems at Kennesaw State University that managed the system. Ultimately, officials there reported to his office.
KAMPALA, Uganda (RNS) – On a recent Sunday morning, hundreds of worshippers gathered at Jehovah Pentecostal Church in Kisenyi, a slum on the outskirts of Kampala, to pray against their government’s intensifying crackdown against opposition politicians, journalists and supporters.
Pastor David Mukasa condemned, in particular, the brutal treatment of Ugandan lawmaker and popular Afropop singer Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, also known as Bobi Wine, who had been detained by the government and allegedly tortured before seeking medical help in the United States last week.
“I’m very deeply concerned about the brutal torture inflicted on the people of Uganda including (Bobi Wine),” he said. “This shows how our leaders are merciless and inhuman(e). We need God to save our country from such leadership.”
But Mukasa could have added religious leaders to the list of those caught up in the crackdown. Uganda’s government is trying to prevent faith groups from becoming another voice in the country to speak out against President Yoweri Museveni’s human rights violations.
Last month, Museveni’s aides warned religious leaders not to interfere with government matters.
“They should leave the matters to the police, the army and other security organs,” said Persis Namuganza, state minister for lands. “If religious leaders have started investigating how tension rose on the eve of the by-election, then what will police, the army and other security organs commissioned for crime investigation do?”
Earlier this year, after religious leaders criticized the constitutional amendment that allows Museveni, 73, to rule for life, Museveni warned religious leaders.
“The religious leaders have been provoking us and me in particular. It should stop,” he said in February while commissioning a new chapel in western Uganda. “Instead of working for the independence of Africa, they are always in cahoots with foreigners – encouraging the latter to meddle in our affairs. I don’t want people to lecture me about what to do for Uganda.”
Worshippers attend a Pentecostal church service in Eastern Uganda, near the border with Kenya, on July 21, 2018. RNS photo by Doreen Ajiambo
Last month, while campaigning for a parliamentary by-election, Wine was allegedly detained and tortured by armed forces on grounds of illegal possession of firearms. Observers said he was targeted because of his harsh criticism of Museveni.
“They pulled my manhood and squeezed my testicles while punching me with objects I didn’t see,” Wine said in a statement from the United States. “They wrapped me in a thick piece of cloth and bundled me into a vehicle and they did to me unspeakable things in that vehicle.”
Rights groups have long accused Uganda’s leaders of detaining opposition figures without legal justification, intimidation of the country’s media, beatings and other forms of torture by security personnel to help Museveni consolidate his power. Before ascending to power in 1986, Museveni had led a bloody civil war for six years that left thousands dead.
Faith leaders who criticize the president face threats of intimidation and violence.
“We are afraid to speak our minds or protest. If you speak bad things about the government then you are arrested. If you protest you are shot dead by police. Only God can save Uganda. We need to keep on praying,” said Richard Mayega, a student at Makerere University in Kampala.
The Uganda Joint Christian Council has called for the establishment of an independent panel of inquiry by Parliament to investigate the recent violence and other cases where citizens have been arrested and tortured without trial.
“The truth regarding what sparked off the violence on the eve of the by-election can only be established by an independent panel of inquiry established by the Parliament of Uganda or through a judicial process presided over by the ordinary courts of law,” the Rt. Rev. Archimandrite Constantine Mbonabingi, executive secretary of the Uganda Joint Christian Council, told the press.
The Inter-Religious Council of Uganda also condemned the violence and urged Museveni to respect the law of the country and tolerate those with different political orientations.
“We should all remember that violence begets violence and it is ultimately a lose-lose situation for all parties,” the group said last week. “The government should ensure that the members of Parliament, their supporters and other persons arrested during the by-election are treated with dignity in accordance with their rights and that they access justice through open courts of law.”
Mukasa also said Museveni was acting dishonestly. “We love our country, but the president should follow the law,” he said. “We don’t want to see our people being killed by our own security officers and detained without trial. We don’t want more blood to be shed.”
Asale Chandler holds a picture of her son, Yalani Chinyamurindi, who was murdered at age 19. Now, Chandler is a running for the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco. (Alex Leeds Matthews/California Healthline)
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — More than three years have passed since Asale Chandler’s teenage son was murdered in San Francisco. But Chandler said it feels as though it has been only three days.
The anguish doesn’t get better, said Chandler, a 55-year-old community activist from San Francisco at a recent rally. “It gets worse.”
Chandler’s 19-year-old son, Yalani Chinyamurindi, was one of four young black men who were shot and killed in January 2015 while sitting in a Honda Civic in the city’s Hayes Valley neighborhood. One man has been arrested in connection with the shooting.
Chandler prayed, protested and communed with other mothers — and brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles — who have lost their loved ones to violence.
The “Mothers Fight Back!” rally came amid ongoing unrest over the police shootings of unarmed black men, including Stephon Clark, who was killed in his grandmother’s backyard in Sacramento in March. His death sparked large-scale protests that blocked traffic and disrupted Sacramento Kings basketball games.
But attendees of the rally noted they were speaking out against violence of all kinds, not just police brutality. They said they took to the Capitol steps to grab the attention of lawmakers and journalists.
A poster commemorating Stephon Clark, who was killed by Sacramento Police in March, sits on the Capitol’s steps during the Mothers Fight Back! rally. (Alex Leeds Matthews/California Healthline)
A few, like Chandler, are running for public office. Others participated to support their loved ones and join in solidarity with other mothers.
“You do want to connect to a mother or a father who’s been through it,” Chandler said. She hasn’t found solace through therapy or medication, but said being around other mothers whose lives were also transformed by violence is “the true medicine.”
The rally was passionate, but it wasn’t as pugnacious as its name might suggest. The moms came bearing snacks, handcrafted posters and children’s books. They sang and said prayers.
Participants said they are facing a dire mental health crisis fueled by violence, trauma and uncertainty.
“It’s traumatic for all of us. … We’re scared to death. We don’t know what to do, we don’t know how to act,” said Leia Schenk, 40, a social services worker in Sacramento, who is close with Sahleem Tindle’s family. Tindle was shot and killed by BART police near the West Oakland BART station in January.
Asale Chandler’s son was murdered more than three years ago in San Francisco. At a recent rally, the community activist participated in a Hebrew “mother’s prayer” at the Mothers Fight Back! rally at the Capitol. (Alex Leeds Matthews/California Healthline)
Schenk said she struggles with the emotional fallout from the violence and fears for her children, particularly her two black sons. “It’s a helluva way to live,” she said.
Black children die from gun-related homicides at a rate nearly 10 times higher than that of white children, according to a 2017 study in the American Academy of Pediatrics. Another study published a few weeks ago showed that black men are at risk of being killed by police at a rate about triple that of white men.
The statistical differences are important, said Chet Hewitt, president and CEO of the Sierra Health Foundation, which awards grants to reduce health disparities.
However, the numbers don’t reveal the mental and physical pain that afflicts victims and their communities contending with violence, said Hewitt, who did not attend the rally.
“You are constantly on high alert, and you are constantly in a state of mourning,” said Cat Brooks, an Oakland mayoral candidate and a co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project.
Brooks, who has a 12-year-old daughter, attended the gathering to address the struggle many black parents encounter trying to protect their children from violence.
“Because there is no rhyme or reason to our people getting killed, that means there’s no one to tactically figure out how to avoid it,” said Brooks, 41. “We teach our children everything we can about how to stay alive.”
A poster commemorating Stephon Clark, who was killed by Sacramento police in March, sits on the Capitol’s steps during the Mothers Fight Back! rally.
That trauma, fear and uncertainty has measurable effects on health.
Community cohesion can help people heal from acts of violence, but violence can also erode that sense of togetherness, said Flo Cofer, director of state policy for Public Health Advocates, a nonprofit organization that works to address health disparities.
Many of the communities most affected by violence also face other physical and social challenges like poverty, hunger and educational obstacles, she said.
“That’s part of the reason why the violence is so devastating. This is happening in a place where trauma is the air they breathe,” Cofer said in a phone interview.
At the rally, the low-key gathering of approximately 50 people consisted mainly of women and children. Moms parked strollers under a tent while their former occupants munched on crackers or toddled on the Capitol steps.
As one little girl, dressed in flowery overalls and shimmery sandals, danced to the “Circle of Life” song, adults and older children, dressed in white, surrounded her, clapping to the beat.
When the mothers gathered for a Hebrew “mother’s prayer,” Chandler stood near the front with her arms stretched above her head.
She is running for the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco to address the violence in her Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood. “I’ve seen nothing but yellow tape, and it messed me up so badly,” she said.
Yolanda Banks Reed led the prayer.
Banks Reed’s son was the young man who was killed nearly seven months ago near the BART station. She said she knows the mental toll will be lifelong.
“It’s a life sentence for a mother,” she said. “A mother should not lose her children.”
From the late-nineteenth century to the present, the most popular stories of Appalachia have been simplistic tales of white mountaineers. Those stories have infused everything from culture to politics and media. Despite importantcounter–examples, these stories continue to be the starting place for most Americans’ understanding of Appalachia — one that erases a complex history of race, racism and Black resistance. Placing Black people in Appalachia’s history is not simply a matter of recognizing diversity. Rather, it forces a different angle, a truer way of seeing the region and its relationship to the South and the United States.
If Black people have been difficult to see in Appalachian history, Black women have been virtually invisible. They can be hard to find in institutional archives that, until the 1970s, did not preserve the history of Black Appalachians with any consistency. And they have been marginalized in a region defined historically by its relationship to whiteness and embodied by white men.
Mary Rice Farris, a Black woman who lived her whole life in Madison County, Kentucky, where the knobby hills meet the bluegrass, worked much of her life to demand that Black Appalachia be seen and heard. Her story, preserved in oral history interviews and other documents at the Berea College Special Collections and Archives, reveals the intersections between African American, Appalachian and women’s history, and how one Black woman from Appalachia fought for Black civil rights and economic justice.
Slavery and Emancipation in Appalachia
In 1914, Mary White, a Black midwife, caught Mary Rice Farris at her birth. Mary White was a former slave who built an illustrious career after Emancipation. Calling her generation the “second after slavery,” Farris narrated her historically Black community’s history through the story of Mary White.
White was born in 1835 to the enslaved couple Metilda Elder and Mitchell Walker. The man who owned the family sold infant Mary White to slave owner Wash Mopkin.
When White was 11 years old, Mopkin sold her for $14 to Durke White, who placed her in a cabin behind his house before “he took her to the big house as his mistress,” according to Farris.
Farris used the coded language of her day — “took her … as his mistress” — that made clear the reality of the stealing Black women’s bodies. This white man bought a girl named Mary and raped her. She bore two children, raised them and kept Durke’s house. Historian Shannon Eaves has called this confluence of reproductive, domestic and emotional labor “sexual servitude.”
Durke died at the hands of “night riders,” the term given to vigilante groups. Farris guessed that they disliked how he carried on with a Black woman. White ended up in another slave cabin on the estate of Robert Cochran. He soon “took her as his mistress” and “after slavery, kept her on as his mistress,” according to Farris.
In 1880, White headed her own household and raised her eight children. At some point in the late nineteenth century, Robert died, leaving his estate to Mary White and her children.
At that point White fashioned a new identity, one staked on freedom. She chose her own profession, adopted a little rat terrier she named Ruth (her “constant companion”), and placed a white picket fence around her house.
White entered a nursing program at Berea College, where in 1855 the abolitionist John G. Fee had organized an interracial community and opened the doors of the college to Black and white students. Carter G. Woodson is among the most celebrated alumnus. “An intellectual pioneer in Appalachian studies,” as Cynthia Greenlee recently argued, Woodson, who hailed from West Virginia, would go on to attend the University of Chicago and Harvard.
White also had an illustrious career. She graduated and became a midwife in the region. According to Farris, “Most all of the Black and many of the white babies in and around southern Madison County and around Berea were delivered by Mary White.”
Embodying a story of resistance and resilience, White delivered babies and cared for families up until the day before her death in 1924, when Farris was ten years old.
The Second Generation Since Slavery
Mary Farris. Photo courtesy of the family.
White’s story was evidence of what Black women could do and achieve despite a state of deprivation, as Farris called slavery. Growing up during the nadir, when white southerners restricted Black civil rights and terrorized Black communities, Farris would face a different kind of deprivation.
As a child Farris grew up near Berea College’s campus and knew that community leaders like Mary White had been educated there. She desired what it had to offer. But in 1904 Governor J. C. W. Beckham had signed the Day Law, “An Act to Prohibit White and Colored Persons from Attending the Same School.” She would attend the Lincoln Institute, an all-Black boarding school created in the aftermath of the Day Law.
Farris remembered, “I walked through (Berea) as a little girl, barefooted and dusty, and sold blackberries and bought me some cheese and crackers and sat on that campus and watched those girls, hopping and skipping, and looked at those buildings and wished and prayed that I might be able to prepare myself for a better life. But I wasn’t able to because I couldn’t go there because of the Day Law.”
Neither could her own children. And her husband, Moss, could not get a job there, even though he was as qualified, often times more, than the poor white people who were hired.
Farris married the farmer Moss G. Farris and had four children with him. She helped her husband in the tobacco fields and, when her family needed more income, worked as a hotel maid, a packager at a munitions factory and as a cosmetics saleswoman.
Farris emerged as a leader in the First Baptist Church of Berea, where she served in a variety of capacities and became a well-known speaker throughout Kentucky and Ohio. She joined and was elected vice president of Church Women United of Madison County, an inclusive Christian women’s movement that worked to improve the lives of women and children.
Understanding the importance of political power in the quest for full civil rights, Farris rose in the ranks of the Republican Party of Madison County and became the area coordinator, running the local polling booth. She became so well known in Madison County that white politicians began courting her for endorsements. Her granddaughter, Ms. Cheryl Farris, recalls watching her grandmother go head-to-head with politicians at her dining room table. “She could talk to anyone,” she said.
By the late 1960s, she sought full-time work that brought together her interests in politics and improving her community.
The Struggle for Civil and Human Rights
“All my life done political and community work,” Farris wrote in a 1967 application for a job in a War on Poverty program. “The people have been deprived of what they should have received, and I would like to see that something is done for them.” Like many middle-aged Black women across the country, she saw federal resources as a right of citizenship, a way to enact freedom.
War on Poverty programs relied on networks that women like Farris had been building for years. Farris used the too-often scant resources to expand programs in her community: cultural and social programs for African American youth, information sessions on welfare for poor people and events for senior citizens. She helped to organize a library of 2500 books for local kids to use. She took one group of youth for a tour at Berea College, where African American students were finally admitted, and she took others to Frankfort, the capital of the state, for protest marches.
In February 1968, Farris took her political skills to a new arena when she went to the heart of Appalachia to confront Senator Robert F. Kennedy and Congressman Carl D. Perkins.
Vortex was the first stop on Kennedy’s eight-stop tour of eastern Kentucky. On the verge of announcing his presidential campaign, Kennedy was there to document the effectiveness of President Johnson’s War on Poverty programs and whether citizens had “enough to eat.”
Farris arrived at a one-room schoolhouse in Vortex. Inside, almost solely white people crowded the building. They were there to testify about their lives, to tell an Appalachian story before powerful white men who seemed to care.
Farris was prepared to tell a story of Appalachia, too. A story of Black Appalachia — and Black America — at an event that recreated the story of Appalachian whiteness, a cornerstone myth of white America.
Congressman Carl D. Perkins, who represented the eastern Kentucky district, joined Kennedy. Both men gushed about how much they loved and admired the people of Appalachia, and when they said “people,” they meant “white.” They are the “best people in the world,” Perkins exclaimed, before identifying himself as one of them. “We love our country.”
Five other people besides Farris testified that day — two white men, three white women, all of them identified by the conveners as Mr. and Mrs. except for Farris, despite her decades-long marriage.
Farris testified last, and her words packed a punch. “I am Mary Rice Farris, representative of a delegation of Madison County,” she began.
Perkins’ embrace of white Appalachia wasn’t simply semantics but had real consequences in policy decisions. The War on Poverty programs in Appalachia flowed mainly to white people in Appalachia, despite the fact that Black people were disproportionately poor and, of the impoverished population, were the poorest. Farris noted this when she pointed out that white communities throughout Appalachia had begun to get food stamps, which allowed people access to a wider range of foods, while Black communities continued to have access only to commodities food programs, in which foodstuff was rotting or full of worms.
Farris then articulated the connection between racism, injustice and poverty:
(Why are we) spending $70 million dollars a day in Vietnam, plus loss of life, when (there) are millions of people in our area hungry, without homes and decent housing, or without clothing. And we would also like to know why the Negro is having to fight for a decent place in society as a rightful citizen? Why we, as American Negroes, are having to fight and speak out for a right to take decent responsibility in this great nation?
Her line of questions raised the hackles of Perkins, who refused to address her by name, instead referring to her as “this lady here.”
Kennedy and Perkins stalled and blurted out hollow statements.
Farris asserted, “I want an answer.” While they could not answer, that wasn’t the point; her statement underscored that the crises of the moment would demand an answer. And by her presence, she insisted on telling a story of Black Appalachia.
With Eyes Open to the Future
Farris continued community work when she returned home. In 1969, she attended the White House Conference on Food and Nutrition, and she supervised the emergency food and medical services of the Kentucky River Foothills Development Council in the late ’60s.
She also joined the board of the prominent reform organization Council of the Southern Mountains. For most of its history, it had ignored the needs of Black Appalachians. Farris was part of a group of leaders who led efforts to make the council more inclusive, including establishing a Black Appalachian Commission that, in the words of one of its members, Jack Guillebeaux, “was the first recognition of the fact that the plight of black people is an integral part of the definition of Appalachia and its problems.”
Farris wrote of the new Council, “It has condemned second-class citizenship and deepened its fellowship with all the people. I have confidence and hope that the Council now has a new opportunity to serve Appalachia in the coming years with eyes open to the future.”
Farris’s reference to the “future” was no coincidence. The common perception of Appalachia as a white enclave and a place of nostalgia had erased the complex histories of Black men and women and had led to a false history of Appalachia. She understood how incomplete histories cut off paths to the future. Lacking a true history, policymakers and activists would continue to ignore the experiences of Black Appalachians. The council’s transformation signaled the possibility for new understandings of the region and a new frontier in the struggle for democracy.
We remain far from Mary Farris’s future. Stories like hers continue to be erased every time Appalachia is cast as a region of poor whites. Bringing her story to light, and others like it, is necessary in order to fully reckon with our history and to imagine paths toward a more just future in Appalachia
In 2016 the Richmond-Madison County branch of the NAACP recognized Mary Rice Farris for her commitment to civil rights, nearly forty years after her death. Her legacy continues, and her words — spoken in 1973 as the backlash to the Civil Rights Movement gathered steam — still carry power today: “Because we still have people … who would like very much to put us back. Of course, that will never happen. We’ll never stand for that.”
Jessica Wilkerson is an assistant professor of history and Southern studies at the University of Mississippi. She is currently completing her first book, To Live Here, You Have to Fight: How Women Led Appalachian Movements for Social Justice (forthcoming, University of Illinois Press).
NeDina Brocks-Capla sits in her kitchen in San Francisco. Her son Kareem Jones died at age 36 from sickle cell disease. (Jenny Gold/KHN)
For more than a year, NeDina Brocks-Capla avoided one room in her large, brightly colored San Francisco house — the bathroom on the second floor.
“It was really hard to bathe in here, and I found myself not wanting to touch the walls,” she explained. The bathroom is where Brocks-Capla’s son Kareem Jones died in 2013 at age 36, from sickle cell disease.
It’s not just the loss of her son that upsets Brocks-Capla; she believes that if Jones had gotten the proper medical care, he might still be alive today.
Sickle cell disease is an inherited disorder that causes some red blood cells to bend into a crescent shape. The misshapen, inflexible cells clog the blood vessels, preventing blood from circulating oxygen properly, which can cause chronic pain, multi-organ failure and stroke.
About 100,000 people in the United States have sickle cell disease, and most of them are African-American.
Patients and experts alike say it’s no surprise then that while life expectancy for almost every major malady is improving, patients with sickle cell disease can expect to die younger than they did 20 years ago. In 1994, life expectancy for sickle cell patients was 42 for men and 48 for women. By 2005, life expectancy had dipped to 38 for men and 42 for women.
Sickle cell disease is “a microcosm of how issues of race, ethnicity and identity come into conflict with issues of health care,” said Keith Wailoo, a professor at Princeton University who writes about the history of the disease.
It is also an example of the broader discrimination experienced by African-Americans in the medical system. Nearly a third report that they have experienced discrimination when going to the doctor, according to a poll by NPR, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Dr. Elliott Vichinsky examines Derek Perkins at the sickle cell center at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, which sees both children and adults. (Jenny Gold/KHN)
“One of the national crises in health care is the care for adult sickle cell,” said leading researcher and physician Dr. Elliott Vichinsky, who started the sickle cell center at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland in 1978. “This group of people can live much longer with the management we have, and they’re dying because we don’t have access to care.”
Indeed, with the proper care, Vichinsky’s center and the handful of other specialty clinics like it across the country have been able to increase life expectancy for sickle cell patients well into their 60s.
Vichinsky’s patient Derek Perkins, 45, knows he has already beaten the odds. He sits in an exam room decorated with cartoon characters at Children’s Hospital Oakland, but this is the adult sickle cell clinic. He’s been Vichinsky’s patient since childhood.
“Without the sickle cell clinic here in Oakland, I don’t know what I would do. I don’t know anywhere else I could go,” Perkins said.
When Perkins was 27, he once ended up at a different hospital where doctors misdiagnosed his crisis. He went into a coma and was near death before his mother insisted he be transferred.
“Dr. Vichinsky was able to get me here to Children’s Hospital, and he found out what was wrong and within 18 hours — all I needed was an emergency blood transfusion and I was awake,” Perkins recalls.
Kareem Jones lived just across the bay from Perkins, but he had a profoundly different experience.
Jones’ mother, Brocks-Capla, said her son received excellent medical care as a child, but once he turned 18 and aged out of his pediatric program, it felt like falling off a cliff. Jones was sent to a clinic at San Francisco General Hospital, but it was open only for a half-day, one day each week. If he was sick any other day, he had two options: leave a voicemail for a clinic nurse or go to the emergency room. “That’s not comprehensive care — that’s not consistent care for a disease of this type,” said Brocks-Capla.
Brocks-Capla is a retired supervisor at a worker’s compensation firm. She knew how to navigate the health care system, but she couldn’t get her son the care he needed. Like most sickle cell patients, Jones had frequent pain crises. Usually he ended up in the emergency room where, Brocks-Capla said, the doctors didn’t seem to know much about sickle cell disease.
When she tried to explain her son’s pain to the doctors and nurses, she recalled, “they say have a seat. ‘He can’t have a seat! Can’t you see him?’”
Studies have found that sickle cell patients have to wait up to 50 percent longer for help in the emergency department than other pain patients. The opioid crisis has made things even worse, Vichinsky added, as patients in terrible pain are likely to be seen as drug seekers with addiction problems rather than patients in need.
NeDina Brocks-Capla stands in her living room in San Francisco. She made a shrine filled with memories of son Kareem Jones, who died of sickle cell anemia in 2013. (Jenny Gold/KHN)
Despite his illness, Jones fought to have a normal life. He lived with his girlfriend, had a daughter and worked as much as he could between pain crises. He was an avid San Francisco Giants fan.
For years, he took a drug called hydroxyurea, but it had side effects, and after a while Jones had to stop taking it. “And that was it, because you know there isn’t any other medication out there,” said Brocks-Capla.
Indeed, hydroxyurea, which the FDA first approved in 1967 as a cancer drug, was the only drug on the market to treat sickle cell during Jones’ lifetime. In July, the FDA approved a second drug, Endari, specifically to treat patients with sickle cell disease.
Funding by the federal government and private foundations for the disease pales in comparison to other disorders. Cystic fibrosis offers a good comparison. It is another inherited disorder that requires complex care and most often occurs in Caucasians. Cystic fibrosis gets seven to 11 times more funding per patient than sickle cell disease, according to a 2013 study in the journal Blood. From 2010 to 2013 alone, the FDA approved five new drugs for the treatment of cystic fibrosis.
“There’s no question in my mind that class and color are major factors in impairing their survival. Without question,” Vichinsky said of sickle cell patients. “The death rate is increasing. The quality of care is going down.”
Without a new medication, Jones got progressively worse. At 36, his kidneys began to fail, and he had to go on dialysis. He ended up in the hospital, with the worst pain of his life. The doctors stabilized him and gave him pain meds but did not diagnose the underlying cause of the crisis. He was released to his mother’s care, still in incredible pain.
At home, Brocks-Capla ran him a warm bath to try to soothe his pain and went downstairs to get him a change of clothes. As she came back up the stairs, she heard loud banging against the bathroom walls.
“So I run into the bathroom and he’s having a seizure. And I didn’t know what to do. I was like, ‘Oh come on, come on. Don’t do this. Don’t do this to me.’”
She called 911. The paramedics came but couldn’t revive him. “He died here with me,” she said.
It turned out Jones had a series of small strokes. His organs were in failure, something Brocks-Capla said the hospital missed. She believes his death could have been prevented with consistent care — the kind he got as a child. Vichinsky thinks she is probably right.
“I would say 40 percent or more of the deaths I’ve had recently have been preventable — I mean totally preventable,” he said, but he got to the cases too late. “It makes me so angry. I’ve spent my life trying to help these people, and the harder part is you can change this — this isn’t a knowledge issue. It’s an access issue.”
A nurse takes patient Derek Perkins’ blood pressure at the sickle cell center at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland — one of only three places in California that offer specialized services for adults with sickle cell disease. (Jenny Gold/KHN)
Vichinsky’s center and others like it have made major advances in screening patients for the early signs of organ failure and intervening to prevent premature death. Patients at these clinics live two decades longer than the average sickle cell patient.
Good care for sickle cell requires time and training for physicians, but it often doesn’t pay well, because many patients are on Medicaid or other government insurance programs. The result is that most adult sickle cell patients still struggle even to access treatments that have been around for decades, Vichinsky said.
The phenomenon is nothing new — the disease that used to be known as sickle cell anemia has had a long and sordid past. It was first identified in 1910 and helped launch the field of molecular biology. But most of the research was used to study science rather than improving care for sickle cell patients, Vichinsky said.
In the 1960s and ’70s, sickle cell became a lightning rod for the civil rights movement. At the time, the average patient died before age 20. The Black Panther Party took up the cause and began testing people at their “survival conferences” across the country.
“I’m sure we tested over four-and-a-half-thousand people for sickle cell anemia last night — and I think that the voter registration is running neck and neck with it,” Black Panther Party Chairman Bobby Seale told news crews at an event in Oakland in 1972.
The movement grew, and Washington listened. “It is a sad and shameful fact that the causes of this disease have been largely neglected throughout our history,” President Richard Nixon told Congress in 1971. “We cannot rewrite this record of neglect, but we can reverse it. To this end, this administration is increasing its budget for research and treatment of sickle cell disease.”
For a while, funding did increase, newborn screening took hold and by the 1990s, life expectancy had doubled, with patients living into their 40s. But over time, funding waned, clinics closed, and life expectancy started dropping again.
Vichinsky pushes against that trend for patients like Derek Perkins. The father of four looks healthy and robust, but like most sickle cell patients, he has episodes of extreme pain and has problems with his kidneys, heart, hips and breathing. Keeping him thriving requires regular checkups and constant monitoring for potential problems.
“The program Dr. Vichinsky is running here, I feel I owe my life to [it],” said Perkins. “If it wasn’t for him and the things that he did for me, my family wouldn’t have me.”
A health care worker takes the body temperature of a man in Mangina, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Aug 8, 2018. Health experts began Ebola vaccinations in Congo’s northeast village of Mangina for the latest deadly outbreak. (AP Photo/Al-hadji Kudra Maliro)
Thousands of faithful in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are staying home from church services to avoid contracting or spreading Ebola.
“We are staying in our homes. We can’t go to church and worship together as Christians,” said Daniel Sango, who spoke to Religion News Service by phone from Mangina, 24 miles southwest of the town of Beni in North Kivu. “People are afraid of contracting the virus. Many are listening to the gospel of God on radio stations.”
Thousands of churches remain closed in the country’s eastern regions as the Ebola virus continues to spread. Since August, when the latest outbreak was declared in eastern Congo, 137 confirmed or probable cases have been registered, including 92 deaths, according to the country’s health officials.
In a bid to contain the virus, religious leaders and officials have urged residents not to meet in big numbers.
Earlier this year, three Ebola patients left a treatment center in the northwestern city of Mbandaka and attended a church service, where they came into contact with other congregants. The three patients were later found dead in their homes.
“People should not meet in big number either in church or elsewhere,” said pastor Sarah Kalenga of the Church of Jesus Christ in a telephone interview from Mangina. “We are finding ways to end the spread of the virus. People should pray from their houses and God will answer those prayers. We are trusting in God, but we should not tempt him.”
Ebola, which is spread through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of those infected, is highly contagious and can kill within days. The virus returned to Congo only days after a previous outbreak that killed 29 people was declared over in July.
The Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa. Map courtesy of Creative Commons
Two new cases were reported in Butembo last week, according to UNICEF.
“Butembo is an important commercial city and has nearly one million inhabitants. So there is a real risk the virus could spread quickly in such a large population center,” Gianfranco Rotigliano, UNICEF representative, said in a statement last week. “The number of confirmed Ebola cases in Butembo remains limited, but we have to ensure that everything is being done now to ensure that the outbreak is controlled at this early stage.”
Religious leaders in May suspended sacraments during the Ebola outbreak to help protect worshippers from contracting the disease.
“Although Masses are continuing, sacraments such as baptism and confirmation have had to be suspended,” Monsignor Jean-Marie Bomengola, secretary of the church’s Social Communications Commission, told Catholic News Service during the summer.
The Rev. Lucien Ambunga, a Catholic pastor, was quarantined after being infected with Ebola in Mbandaka town. The priest survived after being taken to a treatment center in Bikoro, a small town in northwestern Congo. The government said the priest became infected while praying as he placed his hands on an Ebola patient in his parish.
Measures have now been taken to help prevent the spread of Ebola virus in this central Africa republic. The government and the World Health Organization said an Ebola vaccination program is underway for high-risk populations in the eastern part of the country, including North Kivu.
“Vaccines are an important tool in the fight against Ebola,” said Oly Ilunga, the country’s minister of health. “This is why it has been a priority to move them rapidly into place to begin protecting our health workers and the affected population.”
A health care worker wears virus protective gear at a treatment center in Bikoro, Democratic Republic of Congo, on May 13, 2018. (AP Photo/John Bompengo)
Officials are doing what they can to encourage locals’ cooperation with prevention measures.
“We have decided to make treatment free to remove the financial barrier that could dissuade the population from going to the health center,” said Bathe Tambwe, an official in charge of coordinating the fight against the disease in eastern Congo.
However, some locals have dismissed use of the Ebola vaccine, saying it does not work. Many said they are prevented from mingling with others or even going to church after being vaccinated.
The mystery of the Ebola virus has left some locals believing that it is a curse or the result of evil spirits and that it can only be solved by prayers and fasting.
“I don’t think this is normal disease that doctors can handle. It’s brought by evil spirits as a punishment to the community,” said Sango, 30, a father of two who owns a butchery in Mangina. “We need to come together as a community and ask God for forgiveness for the sins we committed.”
Meanwhile, Christians in the eastern part of the country continue to pray at home for the end of Ebola and also to keep up the faith.
“Some of us have turned our houses to be churches. We sing, dance and pray to move closer to God. We read our Bibles and pray so that the Holy Spirit can guide us,” said Sango.
Nearly two years out of the White House, former President Barack Obama is facing another political test.
To the delight of many Democrats, he’s stepped back into the fray that former presidents often try to avoid, campaigning for Democratic candidates ahead of the midterms and blasting the political culture of the Trump era. He attracted a large, adoring crowd this past week in Ohio and will be in Pennsylvania on Friday campaigning for Democratic Sen. Bob Casey.
But Obama’s return poses challenges for both the former president and his party. For one, Obama has struggled to turn admiration for him into votes when he’s not on the ballot. Democrats lost significant ground in the 2010 and 2014 midterms and his enthusiastic campaigning for Hillary Clinton didn’t carry her across the finish line in 2016. Perhaps more importantly, Obama’s public re-entry into politics could serve as a motivating factor for Republicans, potentially handing the GOP a gift at a time when they face an uphill battle to maintain their grip on Congress.
“This is perfect for us,” said Rep. Lou Barletta, the Republican challenging Casey for the Senate seat. “It will energize Republicans as a reminder.”
The former president will also “energize those blue-collar Democrats who worried about their jobs under Obama and went out to vote for Donald Trump,” Barletta added.
For their part, Democrats say an Obama visit is a huge boon. Massive crowds give candidates and the party a chance to organize, update contact lists, motivate new donors and boost volunteerism.
Michael Halle, the campaign manager for Richard Cordray, the Democratic candidate for governor in Ohio, said Obama’s visit sent a message about the stakes of the race, which could have implications for redistricting and voting rights in the future.
“First and foremost, it’s important for the people who live in Ohio,” he said. “But secondly, there are also significant national implications, and I think the (former) president weighed those in making the decision.”
An aide to the former president said Obama is aware that he does not have a strong record of aiding Democrats in midterm elections and that his presence can have the effect of galvanizing Republican voters. The aide said Obama would take a strategic approach to the midterm races and pointed to the light footprint that the former president kept earlier in his post-presidency. That’s when he recorded a get-out-the-vote robocall for Democrat Doug Jones, rather than travel to Alabama to appear with Jones ahead of his upset Senate victory. The aide cast the decision as an example of how Obama could still lend his voice in a part of the country where he is less popular.
The aide lacked authorization to discuss publicly Obama’s thinking and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Scott Mulhauser, who served as Vice President Joe Biden’s deputy chief of staff during the 2012 election, said Obama left office as the “most admired man in the country, and his popularity has only increased since.”
“Part of his success is being strategic in his approach to campaigning — coordinating with campaigns to maximize his impact and minimize any blowback, stumping where it makes sense and avoiding where it doesn’t,” Mulhauser said, noting Obama’s role in the Jones campaign. “He’s rightfully out on the trail for certain campaigns, taking a pass on others and recording calls and sending emails on behalf of those that want to use him and his popularity in a targeted manner.”
In Pennsylvania, Obama returns to a state he carried twice but that swung to Trump in 2016. The state features critical contests for Congress and governor. Rep. Dwight Evans of Philadelphia, where Obama will campaign, said that the former president’s presence will be important for his ability to motivate African-American voters, college-aged voters and the poor.
“I think that he can help Democrats, and I think it needs to be really targeted,” Evans said.
Both African-Americans and college-age voters were crucial to Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012, and because Obama was the first black president, Evans said, “he can say some things to the African-American community that cannot be said by anybody else.”
While in Philadelphia, Obama will fundraise for Senate Democrats in general and in particular, Casey, who was among Obama’s earliest Senate backers when he sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008.
While Obama’s full schedule is taking shape, aides say he is weighing how to best engage on behalf of Democratic candidates across the nation. Earlier this year, he endorsed more than 80 Democrats across more than a dozen states, and aides say a second wave of endorsements is expected this fall.
Brenda Boots, 42, who attended the Ohio rally, said Obama is a welcome presence and hoped he would inject the governor’s race with new life.
“How could he hurt?” she asked. “I don’t think he could hurt.”
In April, a 25-year-old black woman named Chikesia Clemons was violently arrested by police at a Waffle House restaurant in Alabama.
A video of the arrest that went viral shows police pulling Clemons from her chair and throwing her to the floor. In the process, her breasts are exposed and her dress rides up in the back. When she attempts to cover her breasts, the two officers on top of her threaten to break her arm for “resisting.”
Clemons’ experience is not uncommon. In the U.S., black women are not afforded the same regard for bodily privacy as white women.
Another example: In an investigation of the Baltimore City Police Department, the Department of Justice found that the Baltimore Police Department frequently engaged in unjustified strip searches of African-Americans. In one instance, Baltimore police conducted a strip search of a black woman, including an anal cavity search, on a sidewalk in broad daylight and in full public view. The woman’s pleas to not be forced to disrobe in public were ignored. Her offense? A broken headlight.
While the #MeToo movement has been successful in bringing down several high-profile assailants, critics continue to argue that it has been monopolized by middle- and upper-class white women, particularly white Hollywood actresses. This, despite the fact that a black woman, Tarana Burke, created the Me Too campaign more than a decade ago. These criticisms reflect the fact that black women have experienced sexual violence differently than white women.
As a philosopher of race and gender who has written about sexual harassment, I offer historical context on the ways that black women experience sexual abuse, often by the authority of the state, as a way to think about black women’s contemporary experiences as the kinds of experiences that #MeToo should address.
In this Dec. 8, 2017, file photo, Anita Hill and Fatima Goss Graves join a discussion about sexual harassment in Beverly Hills, Calif. The sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh recall Hill’s accusations against Clarence Thomas in 1991, but there are important differences as well as cautions for senators considering how to deal with the allegations. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP, File)
History of black women’s bodies on display
As early as the 17th century, European men wrote travel narratives about their trips to West Africa to capture, enslave and trade African people. Their writings offer a window into how they perceived African women and what they thought primarily European male readers would find titillating.
In particular, their descriptions of West African women’s style of dance played a role in shaping European perceptions of black women’s sexual immorality and availability.
These travel accounts were the popular media of their day and offered some of the first reports of continental Africa to average Europeans. For example, Frenchman Jean Barbot wrote of African men and women “knocking bellies together very indecently” while “uttering some dirty mysterious words.” Meanwhile, naval officer Abraham Duqesne characterized African women as desiring the “caresses of white men.”
Because African women differed from European women both in attire and bodily movement, European travel writers regarded African women as sexually available and immoral. European settlers carried these attitudes to the United States where enslaved black women were subjected to violent sexual abuse and forced nudity as routine social practice, in ways that would have been unthinkable toward white women.
Sexual violence and the father of gynecology
By the 19th century, treating black and white women differently was firmly entrenched in society. Nowhere was this more evident than in the practice of J. Marion Sims, the physician widely regarded by gynecologists as the “father of modern gynecology.” The convention of the period was for physicians to conduct gynecological examinations of white women with averted gazes while the patients remained as clothed as possible.
However, Sims also conducted medical experiments on enslaved black women that ultimately resulted in a technique to repair vesicovaginal fistula, an opening that can develop between the vaginal wall and the bladder or large intestine, sometimes as a result of childbirth. The enslaved black women were stripped completely naked and examined on all fours, as Sims and other physicians took turns using a specially created speculum that enabled full viewing of the vagina. Private citizens were also allowed to watch these experiments and they, too, were invited to witness the full exposure of enslaved women’s vaginas.
Sims conducted his experiments without anesthesia, despite the fact that ether was known and in use by the time he performed later surgeries. Black women were denied anesthesia on the grounds that black people did not feel pain in the same ways that white people felt pain, a perception that still exists today. For example, one study found that when people viewed images of blacks receiving painful stimuli, like needle pricks, they responded with less empathy than when they viewed similar images of white people in pain.
Sexual violence in a court of law
In New York in 1925, another historical example shows how black women’s exposed bodies have been treated with indifference. Kip Rhinelander, a member of New York’s high society, was set to wed Alice Beatrice Jones, a working-class biracial woman. Their union drew national attention.
Although New York did not legally prohibit interracial marriage as other states did at that time, society strongly disapproved of interracial marriage.
Once their marriage was made public, Kip filed for divorce on the grounds of fraud. The salient question in the divorce hearing was whether Kip knew that Alice was black at the time of their marriage.
In order to answer that question, Alice’s attorney suggested that Alice bare her breasts in front of the all-white male jury, judge and attorneys in order to prove her racial identity. By viewing the shading of her areolas and legs, he said, the jurors could assess whether Kip – who had admitted to premarital sex with her – should have known her racial identity.
The judge directed Alice to follow through. Neither Alice Rhinelander’s tears nor her connection to a prominent white family could save her from the indignity of forced nudity in front of strangers. Ultimately, the jury decided that Alice was, in fact, “of colored blood” and that she did not conceal or misrepresent her racial identity.
The past is present
The hostility to black women’s bodily privacy and dignity in these examples isn’t accidental. Rather, it is part of the history of how black women have been cast in U.S. society.
In the Sims and Rhinelander examples, the legal status of enslavement and weight of the court validated the coercive display of black women’s bodies. The Department of Justice found that the Baltimore police used the weight of their badges to force compliance with public strip searches. Likewise, in the Waffle House example, although Clemons’ initial exposure may not have been intentional, the police responded to her cries and her attempts to cover herself by using their authority to threaten her with further harm.
This is a unique form of sexual violence experienced by black women. The convergence of race and gender in black women’s lives has created the social conditions in which black women are coerced and often expected, under threat of punishment by the government, to suffer the exposure of intimate body parts.
Race and gender converge in black women’s lives and have created the social conditions under which black women are coerced and expected to suffer the exposure of intimate body parts, or else face punishment. If movements like #MeToo are serious about combating sexual violence, then they have to also understand these practices as sexual violence.
The four girls killed when a bomb placed by Ku Klux Klan members ripped through a Birmingham church in 1963 were remembered in a Saturday memorial service on the 55th anniversary of the deadly attack.
Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, and Carole Robertson were killed in the Sept. 15, 1963 bombing of Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. The four girls, between the ages of 11 and 14, were getting ready for Sunday services when dynamite that had been placed under the church stairs detonated. The service also honored two young boys killed in separate incidents, Johnny Robinson Jr. and Virgil Ware, shortly after the bombing.
Local news outlets report that memorial service speakers spoke of remembrance and reconciliation and to guard against the hateful beliefs and rhetoric that led to the bombing.
“Birmingham is bigger than the angst and the pain of our past,” Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said during the service. “Our true legacy is hope. Our true legacy is reconciliation, unity, and probably most important, justice.”
The viciousness of the bombing shocked a nation and brought national attention to Birmingham, the same city where police dogs and fire hoses had been used to turn back civil rights marchers.
U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, who prosecuted two of the four men responsible for the 1963 bombing, gave the keynote address during the Saturday service.
People surround “The Four Little Girls”, a sculpture memorial honoring Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley in Birmingham, Ala. Saturday Sept. 14, 2013. Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of the 16th Street Church bombing. (AP Photo/Hal Yeager)
“They remind us of what Dr. King said that we must substitute courage for caution and that we must be concerned with not merely about who murdered them but the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produce their murders,” Jones said
He urged attendees to speak out against hateful rhetoric when it occurs, saying that it was the hateful rhetoric of segregationist politicians in the 1960s that emboldened attacks on African Americans.
There was a fifth little girl in the room that day. Sarah Collins Rudolph survived but lost her sister, Addie Mae Collins, in the bombing. Rudolph lost an eye in the blast.
“I feel that, when we love, we’re doing what God wants us to do and when we hate, we’re doing what the devil wants us to do,” Rudolph said. “We should take off the hate and just continue to love each other.”
In the book, legal scholars Devon Carbado and Mitu Gulati argue that in the “post-racial” era, white-controlled organizations prefer to hire “‘good blacks’ who will think of themselves as people first and black people second.”
“They will neither ‘play the race card’ nor generate racial antagonism or tensions in the workplace,” the book contends. “They will not let white people feel guilty about being white; and they will work hard to assimilate themselves into the firm’s culture.”
This lets an employer realize the benefits of diversity without having to deal with issues of race, Carbado and Gulati argue.
Their critique made me wonder: Do America’s colleges and universities act the same way toward black students in the admissions process?
What I found is that historically and predominantly white institutions are more likely to embrace black students who don’t profess interest in racial justice.
Preferences at play
In other words, similar to how the authors of “Acting White” argue that white employers like black employees who see themselves as people first, and black people second, my study found that white colleges like black students who see themselves as students first, and black students maybe second or third or fourth, if at all.
My research suggests that black students who state that they plan to fight for these kinds of things might never get the chance to set foot on campus of the college of their choice.
Racial hostility on campus
It also matters because this is a time when black students are facing hostile environments on campus. At Yale, for instance, earlier this year a white student called police on a black student who was napping in a common area. I would argue this is a time when America’s college campuses need more students eager to fight racism, not just acquiesce.
It’s not that white colleges don’t want black students – many do. A 2014 report showed that nearly all enrollment leaders at hundreds of public and private historically and predominantly white institutions indicated a goal to enroll “diverse students.” Research shows this often means black students.
However, what my study shows is that these institutions are more likely to screen out black students who vocalize opposition to racism.
To investigate whether white admissions counselors were screening black high school students who don’t adhere to the color-blind imperative, I conducted a nationwide audit study. I began by generating and testing a list of distinctly black names, such as Lakisha Lewis and Keshawn Grant, that would signal to white admissions counselors that the students who were emailing them were black. I then created an email account for each name.
Next, I created four email templates that represented black students interested in 1) math and English, 2) environmental sustainability, 3) African-American history and culture, and 4) anti-racism. In each one the fictitious student asked if he or she would be a good “fit” for the school based on their interests and activities.
I sent a random sample of 500-plus white admissions counselors at the same number of private, historically and predominantly white colleges across the United States, two of the four emails from two fictitious black high school students approximately one month apart. I selected small or medium-sized colleges and universities from U.S. News & World Report’s 2013 list of best colleges.
To identify white admissions counselors, a research assistant and I used profile pictures from college websites or websites such as LinkedIn and Facebook. Only those counselors who both of us independently agreed appeared white were classified as white.
My findings revealed that white admissions counselors were, on average, 26 percent less likely to respond to the emails of black students whose interests and involvements focused on anti-racism and racial justice. The gender of the counselor and the student also mattered. White male counselors were 37 percent less likely to respond to anti-racist black students. And when black women students committed to anti-racism were emailing white male counselors, they were 50 percent less likely to receive a response.
The most extreme finding was the difference in the response rate for white male counselors responding to black women. Black women interested in environmental sustainability got a response rate of 74 percent, while those who presented the anti-racist narrative got a response rate of 37 percent. Stated differently, white male admissions counselors were twice as likely to respond to black women if they were committed to fighting environmental degradation instead of white racism. This indicates that it was not activism that depressed the response rate of anti-racist black students, but rather the focus of their activism.
Degrees of race consciousness
Noteworthy, too, is the finding that white admissions counselors were just as responsive to moderately race conscious black students who participated in culturally resonant activities, such as a jazz band and gospel choir and who mentioned the phrase “cross-cultural understanding,” as they were to black students who revealed no interest in racialized involvements. This suggests, in other words, that it was not simply race consciousness, but a critical race consciousness – one that unequivocally challenges the validity of color-blind ideology – that seemed to be unappealing to some white admissions counselors.
Importantly, the screening pattern I uncovered doesn’t necessarily show that admissions counselors are purposefully discriminating against anti-racist black students, but it doesn’t preclude it, either. Whatever the case may be, there are clear, concrete and immediate steps that administrators can take to curtail this racially discriminatory practice.
Some may think the solution is for black students who actively fight racism to masquerade as something that they are not. One problem with that approach is it’s difficult, if not impossible, to be vocal against racism and not leave evidence of one’s anti-racist activism in their digital footprint. For that reason, I focus my solutions on what institutions can do, not how black students should comport themselves to fit into a white environment.
Second, schools should institute policies requiring admissions counselors to respond to all inquiry emails. Currently, the National Association for College Admission Counseling doesn’t have any best practices for email or inquiry response, according to an association official I spoke with for this article.
Third, the chief admissions administrator should develop a system whereby all admissions staff emails are randomly audited for responsiveness, content and tone.
Fourth, and most importantly, as with employment discrimination, there must be appropriate sanctions and consistent enforcement to maximize compliance. Such a system would incentivize admissions counselors to act in a non-discriminatory manner toward not only black students but all students committed to fighting against white racism and white supremacy.
Might this intervention come at a financial cost to colleges and universities? Perhaps. But it should not be a prohibitive one. Either way it is necessary. If some white admissions counselors don’t even respond to an inquiry email due to a black student’s commitment to racial justice, how can they be trusted to treat these students fairly at the application stage?
Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham, right, and moderator Marilyn Pettes Hill attend a gubernatorial candidate forum organized by the NAACP and an associated sorority in Albuquerque, N.M., on Friday, Sept. 14, 2018. Lujan Grisham and Congressman Steve Pearce are competing to become the state’s next governor, amid campaigning about solutions to poverty and improving public schools. GOP Gov. Susan Martinez cannot run for a third consecutive term. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)
Candidates for governor of New Mexico responded to concerns about a limited opportunity for African Americans in state government and the private sector, at a Friday-night forum organized by the NAACP and an associated sorority.
Republican Congressman Steve Pearce and Democratic Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham are competing to become the state’s next governor in November elections, amid campaigning that has focused on solutions to poverty and improving the state’s public education and criminal justice systems.
Hundreds of spectators packed into a hotel ballroom to hear the candidates field questions about pay disparity for African-American women, equal access to jobs among racial and ethnic communities, and the dearth of African Americans in Cabinet-level positions and on the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.
Pearce highlighted the need to “make sure women of color — that everyone — has access to the best education possible.”
Lujan Grisham said new legislation may be needed to ensure pay parity.
“It’s doesn’t have to do with the educational status, it has to do with the fact that we allow discrimination in the workplace,” said Lujan Grisham, followed by sustained applause from the audience.
Pressed for solutions to New Mexico’s low rankings on student achievement, Lujan Grisham reiterated her support for increasing teacher pay, tapping the state’s sovereign wealth fund and following the guidance of a state district court ruling in July that found insufficient state spending to provide an adequate education for students from low-income and non-English speaking families.
Pearce acknowledged the importance of the judge’s decision, which has been appealed by the administration of GOP Gov. Susana Martinez, but said pay is not the only issue.
“I will do everything in my power to enforce the judge’s decision,” he said. “Let us make no mistake, pouring money into the classroom is not going to cure a lot of the ills that face us.”
Questions at the forum came from a panel of NAACP members and alumnae of the African-American sorority Delta Sigma Theta. They raised concerns about African-American children being disciplined at higher rates in school and of the African-American community being lost in the dominant tri-cultural narrative about Hispanics, Native Americans and non-Hispanic whites in New Mexico.
Fewer than 3 percent New Mexico residents identify themselves as black or African American.
Lujan Grisham seized on the forum as an opportunity to condemn the Trump administration’s policy of separating immigrant children and parents when families illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border. The policy has been stopped.
Pearce said he disagreed with Trump’s handling of the situation, but that President Barack Obama “made some mistakes that were just about as bad,” referring to the past treatment of unaccompanied minors from Central America detained at the U.S. border.
The forum came amid a flurry of negative political advertising that paints both candidates as corrupt or beholden to special interests. But Pearce and Lujan Grisham were both cordial and exchanged compliments when asked to name a positive aspect of the other’s political platform.
Pearce complimented Lujan Grisham on her tenacity, while Lujan Grisham praised Pearce’s work in Congress on affordable housing initiatives.
Republican Gov. Susana Martinez cannot run for a consecutive third term.
Insurgent Democratic women running for Congress are pushing the party to rethink its approach to politics if they retake control of Capitol Hill in the fall.
At the annual meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus Friday, black female candidates who prevailed in primaries over established incumbents said it’s time for a conversation about how the party is structured. They expressed frustration that the party is tilted against rising politicians — especially those of color — and argued that if Democrats flip the House in November, it would be the result of organization and turnout amount black voters, particularly women.
If that happens, the candidates said, gratitude won’t be enough. They want a seat at the leadership table and a role in re-examining how the party works.
“It is not enough to just talk about a blue wave and Democrats being in the majority,” said Ayanna Pressley, the Boston city councilwoman now poised to become Massachusetts’ first black congresswoman. “What matters is who are those Democrats? We have to have a conversation about the guts and the soul of this party.”
Pressley won her primary last month by 18 points after challenging a 10-term incumbent initially endorsed by the Congressional Black Caucus. Without a Republican challenger in the general election, she appears to have a clear path to Congress. Her comments foreshadow the challenges that lie ahead if Democrats regain control of the House in November. The party will have to reconcile the anti-establishment energy of a diverse set of freshmen with a leadership structure dominated by lawmakers who are mostly white and have held office for decades.
Connecticut House Democratic nominee Jahana Hayes also challenged a state political veteran to win her shot at becoming the state’s first black congresswoman. The former National Teacher of the Year told the CBC audience that she lacked support during her primary.
“Everyone said, ‘You don’t have the network, no one knows you.’ I had never run for political office, I had no money,” Hayes said. “I’m doing this for the people who don’t have a voice.”
Since her recent win with 62 percent of the vote, Hayes said, “it’s popular to support me now.”
After black women “showed up and showed out” this primary season, they are taking their rightful place, said Rep. Terri Sewell, who in 2010 was elected Alabama’s first black congresswoman. The Selma Democrat was instrumental in Sen. Doug Jones’ special election last winter, when he became the first Democrat to represent Alabama in the Senate in 25 years.
“We’ve been the backbone of the Democratic Party for a long time and we’re finally getting our due,” said Sewell. “There were a whole bunch of people he doesn’t even know that did a whole bunch of work to help him get there.”
Those people were the black women who often work with little or no financial support for infrastructure, she said.
“We need to activate the people on the ground who have been doing this work for free,” Sewell said. “They need resources. It’s not just about a seat at the table.”
LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter Fund, agreed, noting that grassroots groups like hers have long filled the gap when the official party apparatus was absent.
“It’s our table,” said Brown, who galvanized black women to support Jones. “We have to have some really deep conversations about how the landscape has changed.”
That also includes addressing priorities within the party, Pressley said.
“I reject the notion that this is about working class white folk and everyone else!” Pressley told the cheering crowd. “I reject the notion that we’re going to have an actual debate about if we are the party of jobs and the economy, or of criminal justice reform. I’m not choosing.”
Some CBC meeting attendees noted the party has made efforts this cycle. This summer, the Democratic National Committee launched an initiative aimed at black women. After voting overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton in 2016, many black women said they felt ignored or taken for granted by the party. Instead of being looked to as saviors, black women are calling for roles as decision and agenda makers.
This week’s gathering of black lawmakers also spotlighted black women’s political influence and impact. Much of the CBC agenda was focused squarely on black women and their issues, with black women as panelists, honorees and framers of much of the discussion.
“They’re not leading this nation in health care or pay, but when it comes to the democracy of this nation, black women are leading the way, and we need to be talking about those issues and more,” said New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who along with California Sen. Kamala Harris — the Senate’s only black woman — served as the convention’s honorary co-chair.
New York Congresswoman Yvette Clark, echoed his sentiments Thursday evening at an awards event honoring CBC women.
“The sisters on the Hill are definitely running things,” said Clark, one of 21 women in the caucus.
“When I think about the blue wave hitting and seeing Congresswoman Maxine Waters bring down the gavel, as chair of financial services, I get excited,” said Clark, currently the ranking Democrat on the committee. “When I think about Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson bringing down that gavel, as chair of the committee on science and technology, I get excited.”
Waikinya Clanton, the DNC’s African-American Outreach Chair, encouraged the pressure to change the party dynamic toward black women candidates and voters.
“We need you all’s support, whether that comes in the form of criticism or whatever,” said Clanton. “One of the reasons I came to the party was because that was valid. I believed that I could only make the change that I needed by being there. All these people who haven’t for a long time felt like this was their party, feel like this is their party now because I’m there and I’m doing the work every single day.”
Chicago police Officer Ray Tracy opened the September community meeting for police beats 815 and 821 the way he does every month, by going over the good news and bad news in the area’s recent crime statistics.
Tracy noted that crime in the two beats, which make up much of the Archer Heights and Brighton Park neighborhoods on the city’s Southwest Side, remains relatively low.
But the totals had ticked up in a number of areas, Tracy told the 20 residents gathered in a Catholic school classroom, many sitting in kid-size chairs. Several garages had been burglarized. And in the second half of August, there had been three shootings — none fatal, though still troubling.
“We’re on it,” he said.
It happened to be the day after Mayor Rahm Emanuel rocked the city’s political establishment by announcing he wasn’t running for re-election, and hours after jury selection began in the first murder trial of a city police officer in decades. Although neither of those topics came up at the meeting, it was held just blocks from where Officer Jason Van Dyke shot and killed teenager Laquan McDonald four years earlier — a case that continues to roil Chicago and surely contributed to Emanuel’s decision.
The issues Tracy and residents discussed at the meeting — involving crime, disinvestment and inequality — offered glimpses of the challenges the next mayor is going to have to address in neighborhoods around the city, and that many Chicagoans never felt Emanuel fully took on.
Former downtown alderman Burton Natarus used to say, proudly, that he was the janitor of his ward, the one who took care of all the little things, starting with making sure the garbage was picked up.
Chicago mayors, by contrast, have widely been viewed as monarchs ruling over their city-state with nearly unchecked power. Even if that’s not strictly true, mayors reign over the massive bureaucracies that run the local schools, social services, streets and public safety apparatus.
Still, Chicago residents expect their mayors to sweat the small stuff, too, before it becomes bigger stuff. They want them to know what’s going on in their neighborhoods, and to use their clout to get those things fixed.
Emanuel’s predecessor, Richard M. Daley, crushed or co-opted his opponents and often ruled as a despot. But people also believed he was all about Chicago. I saw this up close many times. I once visited a social service agency based in a storefront office in the Englewood neighborhood on the South Side. A picture of Daley with the agency’s leader hung on the wall, right next to a shot of Harold Washington, the city’s first black mayor.
Emanuel was born in Chicago and worked for Daley, but he spent most of his political career in Washington, D.C. After surviving a court challenge over whether he was even an official resident of Chicago, he was elected mayor twice, and with millions of dollars to spend attacking his rivals, he might well have won a third term.
His backers note that Emanuel’s Washington connections yielded federal money for the transit system, and his tireless promotion resulted in tourism and jobs. They argue that he elevated Chicago’s status as an international city, and that he’s not popular because he made tough decisions to cut budgets, hike taxes and hire more police while improving accountability.
But to most long-time residents, Emanuel has never fully become Chicago’s mayor.
His penchant for D.C.-style spin — “governing by press release,” as I’ve heard it described — left many in Chicago feeling he was performing for a national audience.
Some of his announcements were tone deaf. Others were simply misleading.
He was on a ski vacation in 2013 when aides announced a list of 50 schools that would be closed, which he alternately said was to save money and improve student performance. After the 17-year-old McDonald was shot 16 times by Van Dyke in 2014, Emanuel’s administration fought releasing the video and other details until ordered to do so by a judge. The mayor then went on an apology tour of black churches and soul food restaurants, even as police and mayoral aides secretly monitored Black Lives Matter and others protesting police shootings.
Part of this story unfolded in police beat 815, which is where Van Dyke killed McDonald as the troubled teen walked down South Pulaski Road holding a knife.
In a sign of how the Southwest Side has been changing, about half the residents at the community meeting were white, mostly middle-aged or older, while the others were younger and Hispanic. A few minutes into the meeting, Silvana Tabares introduced herself to the group as the new alderman of the 23rd Ward, which includes some of the area covered by the police beats. In June, Emanuel picked Tabares, then a state representative, to replace the retiring Michael Zalewski. Tabares is the ward’s first Hispanic alderman after a long line of predecessors with Polish or Eastern European backgrounds.
Tabares took notes as residents talked about illegal apartment conversions and overcrowding. One woman said her street light kept going out, plunging her block into darkness, and she couldn’t get the city to deal with an infestation of rats. And then it was back to crime.
Among the good news, Tracy said, was that a burglar was arrested. “His car ran out of gas,” Tracy said, drawing laughs.
After the meeting, Hector Ayala, a 20-year resident of Archer Heights, said he and his neighbors team up to keep their streets and alleys clean. But his garage has been broken into repeatedly and he worries that crime is rising.
Ayala said that as a Mexican-American, he appreciates the need for better relationships between the police and the community. But he also thinks Emanuel failed to lead the way.
“I think the mayor turned his back on most of the police,” Ayala said.
Michael Kovac, a retired firefighter who now serves as a community liaison for beats 815 and 821, said Emanuel has been held back by the city’s deep indebtedness.
“I think his strongest focus has been on redevelopment in the Loop area,” Kovac said. “I have to say, I don’t think he considers himself a real Chicagoan.”
For all of his political maneuvering, Emanuel could never convince many Chicagoans — of widely varying political views — that he was invested in them or their neighborhoods.
Anyone who wants to replace him should have another plan.
ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom.
Religion’s role in politics and public policy is in the spotlight heading toward the midterm elections, yet relatively few Americans consider it crucial that a candidate be devoutly religious or share their religious beliefs, according to a poll released Tuesday by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Just 25 percent of Americans say it’s very or extremely important that a candidate has strong religious beliefs, according to the poll. Only 19 percent consider it very or extremely important that a candidate shares their own beliefs, and nearly half say that’s not very important or not important at all.
Still, most Americans see a role for religion in shaping public policy. A solid majority of Americans, 57 percent, want the influence of religion on government policy to extend beyond traditional culture war issues and into policies addressing poverty. Americans are more likely to say religion should have at least some influence on poverty than on abortion (45 percent) or LGBT issues (34 percent).
There is little public support for the campaign by some conservative religious leaders, backed by President Donald Trump, to allow clergy and religious organizations to endorse political candidates while retaining their tax exempt status. Such a change is opposed by 53 percent of Americans and supported by 13 percent. The rest expressed no opinion.
Trump’s stance on political endorsements by clergy is one of many reasons he has retained strong support among white evangelical Christians, despite aspects of his behavior and personal life that don’t neatly align with Christian values. The AP-NORC poll found that 7 in 10 white evangelical Protestants say they approve of Trump, a Republican.
The importance of a candidate’s religious faith varied across religious and political groups.
Among white evangelical Protestants, 51 percent consider it very or extremely important that a candidate has strong religious beliefs. An additional 25 percent think it’s moderately important. Far fewer Catholics and white mainline Protestants considered this important.
Roughly two-thirds of Republicans said it’s at least moderately important that a candidate has strong religious beliefs, compared with 37 percent of Democrats.
Jack Kane, an accountant from Key West, Florida, was among the Republican-leaning poll participants who said it wasn’t important to him whether a candidate was deeply religious.
“I’d much rather have a guy run the government and not spend all our money, instead of sounding off on what’s going on in the church or on things like abortion,” said Kane, 65, who describes himself as nonreligious. “Who is Catholic, Jewish, Southern Baptist — I could care less, as long as they’re going to carry the torch of freedom.”
Kent Jaquette, a Republican-turned-independent and a former United Methodist pastor who lives near San Antonio, said he does not base his choice of candidates on their religious faith.
“In politics, you need to look at a person where their morals are, where their values are,” he said. “It may or may not have anything to do with their religion.”
Jaquette also questioned the motives of evangelicals who support Trump.
“To me, it’s supporting someone who gives no indication he intends to live a Christian life,” said Jaquette, 63. “I believe that Christians should do things that Christ taught — feed the hungry, visit people in jail, help immigrants.”
Veronica Irving, a 55-year-old Roman Catholic Republican who lives near Chicago, says it’s extremely important to her that a politician has strong religious beliefs. She’s disappointed that Trump doesn’t demonstrate this more clearly through his behaviors and actions.
“It’s not about what faith you come from — it’s just important that you have faith,” she said.
At the highest levels of political office, it’s still rare for a politician to profess that he or she is an atheist; surveys indicate that roughly 10 percent of Americans do not believe in a higher power. In recent years, only a small handful of members of Congress have identified themselves as nonbelievers.
However, there is some evidence of increasing acceptance of religious diversity — for example, the recent victories by Muslim-American women in Democratic congressional primaries in Michigan and Minnesota.
The AP-NORC poll found broad interest in religion having at least some influence on a range of policy issues.
In addition to the concern about poverty, 49 percent of Americans want to see religion have some influence on education, 44 percent on health care policy, 43 percent on immigration, 38 percent on gun policy, 36 percent on income inequality, 34 percent on foreign policy and 32 percent on climate change.
From each of the largest religious groups, there was strong support for greater religious influence on poverty policy — 71 percent of white evangelical Protestants, 54 percent of white mainline Protestants, 75 percent of nonwhite Protestants and 67 percent of Catholics.
The Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of the Christian social justice organization Sojourners, said the poll findings signaled a potentially broader and more vibrant role for organized religion in U.S. politics.
“Religious issues are much broader and deeper and different from the issues chosen by the religious right,” he said. “The issues like poverty, immigration, what happens to the homeless — those are becoming the moral and political and voting issues for more and more Christians.”
The findings were welcomed by Maureen Malloy Ferguson, a senior policy adviser for The Catholic Association, which depicts its mission as “being a faithful Catholic voice in the public square.”
“It’s encouraging to see that so many Americans recognize that religion can be a force for good in society,” she said.
However, attorney Emilie Kao, a religious-freedom expert with the conservative Heritage Foundation, questioned whether faith-based organizations might face roadblocks in trying to expand their role in social services. Some jurisdictions, she noted, have sought to exclude religious organizations from various activities, such as adoption and foster care, because of opposition to same-sex marriage and other beliefs.
Associated Press Polling Editor Emily Swanson and AP writer Hannah Fingerhut in Washington contributed to this report.___
The AP-NORC poll of 1,055 adults was conducted Aug. 16-20 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.
Until the 21st century, the contributions of African-American soldiers in World War II barely registered in America’s collective memory of that war.
The “tan soldiers,” as the black press affectionately called them, were also for the most part left out of the triumphant narrative of America’s “Greatest Generation.” In order to tell their story of helping defeat Nazi Germany in my 2010 book, “Breath of Freedom,” I had to conduct research in more than 40 different archives in the U.S. and Germany.
When a German TV production company, together with Smithsonian TV, turned that book into a documentary, the filmmakers searched U.S. media and military archives for two years for footage of black GIs in the final push into Germany and during the occupation of post-war Germany.
They watched hundreds of hours of film and discovered less than 10 minutes of footage. This despite the fact that among the 16 million U.S. soldiers who fought in World War II, there were about one million African-American soldiers.
They fought in the Pacific, and they were part of the victorious army that liberated Europe from Nazi rule. Black soldiers were also part of the U.S. Army of occupation in Germany after the war. Still serving in strictly segregated units, they were sent to democratize the Germans and expunge all forms of racism.
It was that experience that convinced many of these veterans to continue their struggle for equality when they returned home to the U.S. They were to become the foot soldiers of the civil rights movement – a movement that changed the face of our nation and inspired millions of repressed people across the globe.
As a scholar of German history and of the more than 70-year U.S. military presence in Germany, I have marveled at the men and women of that generation. They were willing to fight for democracy abroad, while being denied democratic rights at home in the U.S. Because of their belief in America’s “democratic promise” and their sacrifices on behalf of those ideals, I was born into a free and democratic West Germany, just 10 years after that horrific war.
Fighting racism at home and abroad
By deploying troops abroad as warriors for and emissaries of American democracy, the military literally exported the African-American freedom struggle.
Beginning in 1933, when Adolf Hitler came to power, African-American activists and the black press used white America’s condemnation of Nazi racism to expose and indict the abuses of Jim Crow at home. America’s entry into the war and the struggle against Nazi Germany allowed civil rights activists to significantly step up their rhetoric.
“You jim crowed me / Before hitler rose to power- / And you are still jim crowing me- / Right now this very hour.”
Believing that fighting for American democracy abroad would finally grant African-Americans full citizenship at home, civil rights activists put pressure on the U.S. government to allow African-American soldiers to “fight like men,” side by side with white troops.
The military brass, disproportionately dominated by white Southern officers, refused. They argued that such a step would undermine military efficiency and negatively impact the morale of white soldiers. In an integrated military, black officers or NCOs might also end up commanding white troops. Such a challenge to the Jim Crow racial order based on white supremacy was seen as unacceptable.
The manpower of black soldiers was needed in order to win the war, but the military brass got its way; America’s Jim Crow order was to be upheld. African-Americans were allowed to train as pilots in the segregated Tuskeegee Airmen. The 92nd Buffalo Soldiers and 93rd Blue Helmets all-black divisions were activated and sent abroad under the command of white officers.
Despite these concessions, 90 percent of black troops were forced to serve in labor and supply units, rather than the more prestigious combat units. Except for a few short weeks during the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944 when commanders were desperate for manpower, all U.S. soldiers served in strictly segregated units. Even the blood banks were segregated.
‘A Breath of Freedom’
After the defeat of the Nazi regime, an Army manual instructed U.S. occupation soldiers that America was the “living denial of Hitler’s absurd theories of a superior race,” and that it was up to them to teach the Germans “that the whole concept of superiority and intolerance of others is evil.” There was an obvious, deep gulf between this soaring rhetoric of democracy and racial harmony, and the stark reality of the Jim Crow army of occupation. It was also not lost on the black soldiers.
Post-Nazi Germany was hardly a country free of racism. But for the black soldiers, it was their first experience of a society without a formal Jim Crow color line. Their uniform identified them as victorious warriors and as Americans, rather than “Negroes.”
Serving in labor and supply units, they had access to all the goods and provisions starving Germans living in the ruins of their country yearned for. African-American cultural expressions such as jazz, defamed and banned by the Nazis, were another reason so many Germans were drawn to their black liberators. White America was stunned to see how much black GIs enjoyed their time abroad, and how much they dreaded their return home to the U.S.
By 1947, when the Cold War was heating up, the reality of the segregated Jim Crow Army in Germany was becoming a major embarrassment for the U.S. government. The Soviet Union and East German communist propaganda relentlessly attacked the U.S. and challenged its claim to be the leader of the “free world.” Again and again, they would point to the segregated military in West Germany, and to Jim Crow segregation in the U.S. to make their case.
Newly returned veterans, civil rights advocates and the black press took advantage of that Cold War constellation. They evoked America’s mission of democracy in Germany to push for change at home. Responding to that pressure, the first institution of the U.S. to integrate was the U.S. military, made possible by Truman’s 1948 Executive Order 9981. That monumental step, in turn, paved the way for the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education.
The veterans who had been abroad electrified and energized the larger struggle to make America live up to its promise of democracy and justice. They joined the NAACP in record numbers and founded new chapters of that organization in the South, despite a wave of violence against returning veterans. The veterans of World War II and the Korean War became the foot soldiers of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Medgar Evers, Amzie Moore, Hosea Williams and Aaron Henry are some of the better-known names, but countless others helped advance the struggle.
About one-third of the leaders in the civil rights movement were veterans of World War II.
They fought for a better America in the streets of the South, at their workplaces in the North, as leaders in the NAACP, as plaintiffs before the Supreme Court and also within the U.S. military to make it a more inclusive institution. They were also the men of the hour at the 1963 March on Washington, when their military training and expertise was crucial to ensure that the day would not be marred by agitators opposed to civil rights.
“We structured the March on Washington like an army formation,” recalled veteran Joe Hairston.
For these veterans, the 2009 and 2013 inaugurations of President Barack Obama were triumphant moments in their long struggle for a better America and a more just world. Many never thought they would live to see the day that an African-American would lead their country.
Florida’s midterm Senate election is a race to watch this November – and not just because it will be a tight match pitting a sitting governor, Republican Rick Scott, against a sitting senator, Democrat Bill Nelson.
Florida is home to the country’s largest foreign-born black population. One in three black Miami metropolitan region residents today is an immigrant, according to the Pew Research Center. Many are from the Caribbean.
I have studied voting patterns of African-Americans, Cape Verdeans and West Indians in four cities: Boston, Chicago, Miami and New York City.
I discovered that while these populations are mostly Democratic, foreign-born black communities in all four cities are more willing than African-Americans to put aside partisan differences and vote Republican.
Haitians, in particular, lean in a more conservative direction than African-Americans and other Caribbean communities. My research found that Haitian voters in Boston, Chicago, Miami and New York City are more likely to identify as moderate or conservative than African-Americans.
Haitians are also more likely to be members of the Republican Party and to run for office as Republicans. The first and only Haitian-American in Congress, Mia Love of Utah’s 4th district, is a Republican.
In Florida, almost 4 percent of the Haitian-born population is Republican, according to University of Florida political scientist Daniel Smith. Just under 20 percent of Florida’s Haitian Americans are Democrats. Many others are not registered voters in the U.S., though they may remain active in Haitian politics.
As I outline in my book, Celestin’s campaign appealed directly to Haitian voters in this municipality of 60,000, by arguing that they needed their own political representation in a largely African-American city historically governed by white elected officials.
The 2001 election brought not just Celestin to power but also put a Haitian-American majority onto the five-member city council, ushering in a new era in North Miami politics. Haitian voters had successfully replaced the city’s old white political leadership with new black leadership.
All of this means that neither Florida Senate candidate should take black voters for granted in November.
Nelson, the Democratic sitting senator, has tradition on his side. Black Floridians – like African-Americans nationwide – have voted overwhelmingly Democratic in every election since 1948. In 2012, higher-than-usual black turnout for Barack Obama helped Nelson handily secure his second Senate term.
Florida’s Trinidad-born Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll was the first black female Republican elected to the Florida legislature and the first black Republican woman on a statewide ticket when she ran as Scott’s running mate in 2010.
Scott alienates black voters
Carroll resigned in 2013 amid accusations of financial impropriety. She later wrote a book accusing Scott of treating her like an “unwanted stepchild” and using her to win black and female votes.
Clergy and faith leaders march to counter protest the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, 2017. RNS photo by Jordy Yager
An old question has recently found new energy among Christians.
“What does the gospel have to do with justice, particularly social justice?”
Justice has been a frequent topic these days — in the face of a stream of cellphone videos capturing instances of police brutality, conflict over the presence and future of Confederate monuments and racially charged responses to the nation’s changing demographics.
Christians, both as people of faith and citizens of this country, have pondered what to do in this current social climate. They have called for Christians to join or start movements for change as an explicit expression of discipleship and obedience to the prayer that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).
And they have called for the church to make amends for the racial divisions of the past and present.
Others take a different view.
Where some see calls for biblical justice, they see heresy.
This week a group of Christians published “The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel,” a response to what they call “questionable sociological, psychological, and political theories presently permeating our culture and making inroads into Christ’s church.”
The statement comes just after a short blog series posted by well-known Christian preacher and teacher John MacArthur, warning of the dangers of social justice.
MacArthur calls social justice a distraction from the gospel.
“Evangelicalism’s newfound obsession with the notion of ‘social justice’ is a significant shift — and I’m convinced it’s a shift that is moving many people (including some key evangelical leaders) off message, and onto a trajectory that many other movements and denominations have taken before, always with spiritually disastrous results,” he wrote.
MacArthur is one of the initial signatories of The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel, which echoes his blog posts.
While Christians from many traditions, races and ethnicities have displayed a concern for social justice, it is a topic that particularly concerns black and brown folks. We have endured a long history of race-based discrimination that did not simply disappear after the March on Washington, the passage of the Civil Rights Act or the election of the nation’s first black president.
The Rev. Pamela Lightsey, center, leads advocates from the Black Lives Matter movement as they disrupt proceedings of the 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Ore. The demonstrators marched into the plenary session chanting slogans and gathered around the central Communion table. Photo by Maile Bradfield, courtesy of UMNS
Statements that dismiss social justice send a message that the ongoing marginalization many minorities still experience and struggle against is of no concern to their fellow Christians.
Or to God.
Or to the Bible — despite ample scriptural evidence that demonstrates God’s concern for the poor and the powerless and anger toward those who create oppressive conditions (Amos 5:24, Micah 6:8, Psalm 103:6, Isaiah 10:1, Luke 1:52-53, Luke 4:18).
Although much about this statement needs discussion, I will highlight one section in particular.
It reads: “We affirm that some cultures operate on assumptions that are inherently better than those of other cultures because of the biblical truths that inform those worldviews that have produced these distinct assumptions.”
The best word to describe the assertion above is “ethnocentric.”
Who gets to decide which cultures and which assumptions are closer to biblical truth? For most of American history, white Christians have claimed that privilege. That privilege is now being challenged.
I’m tempted to refute the recent statement on the gospel and social justice point-by-point — showing how it falls short of the Bible’s call for justice. But I think our time would be better spent on other pursuits. There’s too much work to be done — work that will be delayed by endless debates.
Here’s my advice.
Many of the people who authored and signed this statement have large ministries and platforms.
Find other authors, preachers and teachers from whom you can learn. People like Austin Channing Brown or the podcasters and bloggers at Truth’s Table or The Witness, where I am a contributor. Or read Howard Thurman, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Bryan Stevenson, James Baldwin or the other writers who have explored issues of justice.
If the supporters of statements that dismiss social justice as a distraction from the gospel headline a major conference, state your concerns to the organizers. If nothing changes, then don’t go.
If they do an interview on a podcast, find another episode to listen to. If they write more blogs to state their case, share other ones instead.
Statements like these are a distraction. They siphon off energy and attention that could be used to create new organizations and initiatives that help bring about justice and equality.
Instead of writing a rebuttal to the statement on social justice, why not write a proposal for a new scholarship to help underrepresented groups go to college and stay out of debt? Why not donate money to support ministries run by and geared toward racial and ethnic minorities? Why not research a cause and find out how you can get involved?
Refusing to give more attention to the people who oppose social justice is not a statement on their standing with God. This does not mean they are not sincerely attempting to follow Christ. It does not mean that they have not said helpful things on other topics in the past.
It simply means that in this case, they have made statements so troublesome that we must register our objections in visible ways.
Christians should never give up hope that people can change. Yet going back and forth, especially online, about social justice with those who see it as a dangerous intrusion into the church often does not alter anyone’s opinions and may lead to more frustration.
In the end, I think more people will be persuaded to change their minds about social justice by looking at the fruit of the people who engage in it rather than by arguing on social media about the validity of doing so.
Half a century after the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, it’s easy for people to claim that they would have been among the protesters and marchers and those who risked it all for the cause of justice. Well, the struggle for civil rights never ended. Now is your chance to get involved for love of God and love of neighbor.
NEW JERSEY STAR: Newark Mayor Cory Booker is often compared to President Barack Obama because of his youthful charisma, Ivy League pedigree, and post-racial persona. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Newscom)
Fueling speculation about his White House ambitions, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker will headline a Democratic fundraiser in South Carolina, which hosts the South’s first presidential primary.
The Orangeburg County Democratic Party told The Associated Press that Booker is scheduled to attend its annual fundraising gala Oct. 18. That will put him in front of more than 1,000 South Carolina Democrats, including many of the state’s most prominent black leaders and activists.
The event will mark Booker’s first trip to South Carolina since President Donald Trump took office. South Carolina is the first early voting state with a significant black population.
Booker, one of three African-American senators, sought to frame his South Carolina trip in the context of the November midterm election, and a Booker aide said the South Carolina trip would involve additional appearances on behalf of Democratic candidates running this year.
“As I’ve traveled across the country campaigning, I’ve seen unprecedented enthusiasm for a new generation of Democratic candidates,” Booker said in a statement. “Now, we must turn that energy into action.”
Indeed, Booker and other speculative presidential hopefuls like fellow Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have confined their travel itineraries mostly to midterm battlegrounds, and Warren has her own re-election campaign this year.
But South Carolina Democrats face an uphill battle this November, with gubernatorial nominee James Smith being a decided underdog against incumbent Republican and Trump ally Henry McMaster.
The Orangeburg event coincides with fall homecoming festivities of South Carolina State University, the local historically black campus.
Orangeburg Democratic Chairman Kenny Glover, who issues the invitation, said he simply wanted “a national figure” for the event, but he stopped short of declaring Booker a 2020 favorite. “Oh, we do not endorse,” he said.
Barack Obama in 2008 and Hillary Clinton in 2016 swept South Carolina and other Southern primaries, with their support in the black community fueling early delegate leads that propelled them to the Democratic nomination. In fact, both Obama and Clinton lost the national cumulative white vote, according to primary exit polls, but captured the nomination anyway because of margins among non-whites.
Certainly, the expected crowded field in 2020 isn’t likely to play out exactly as those previous nomination fights that settled quickly into two-candidate races, and leading black Democrats say African-Americans may not coalesce clearly behind a single candidate at all.
Besides Booker, the potential African-American candidates include Harris, former Attorney General Eric Holder and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. Former Vice President Joe Biden also has deep ties in the black community and the appeal of having served as top lieutenant to Obama, the nation’s first black president.
Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric Richmond said in a recent interview that the allure of history and kinship won’t be the same as it was for black voters during Obama’s 2008 campaign.
Richmond praised Booker’s life story, “growing up in a working-class family and going on to the Ivy League. He also extolled Harris and Warren for their work on Capitol Hill, while noting Biden’s “long track record.”
For some people speaking up when they know they’re right, or when they see an injustice, is just part of who they are. They feel compelled to take action. Not me. I spent a big part of my younger years screaming inside about things that frustrated me at work, church, and even in my personal life, but the outrage never escaped the audience in my head. In real-time, I was just sitting there…silent…paralyzed with fear over whether I would be hurt professionally or personally if I faced the conflict head-on and said something out loud. I was well into my thirties before I realized how liberating it can be to use your voice while fighting for a cause bigger than yourself.
That’s why Kathy Khang’s latest book, Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up, resonates with me. Khang offers practical advice and forward-thinking leadership from a Christian perspective on how to find your own personal voice for the good of the community and sharing God’s Word — particularly when race, ethnicity, and gender are at play. But even for her, it took time to get to the place where she is now.
“As a Korean American woman, I really wrestled with whether or not it was appropriate to raise my voice, whether I had anything worth saying,” Khang says. “Maybe if I had something worth saying, would anyone listen? Would anyone care?”
Khang, a columnist for Sojourners magazine and a writer for Duke University’s Faith & Leadership, the online magazine of leadership education at Duke Divinity, talked with Urban Faith about her new book, the politics of race and evangelism, being a woman of color with something to say, and why many people don’t speak up.
You mentioned that finding your voice has been part of a 10-year process. Can you tell me more about what you were struggling with and how your faith helped you push through it to complete the book?
This wasn’t, you know, a 10-year process in my twenties. This is my late thirties, early forties, where I’ve already been a professional journalist. There aren’t a ton of examples of Korean-American, Asian-American women, women of color in safe circles writing books. There are more now, but definitely not when I was in my formative years. And those were not the authors I read to shape my faith, to shape my Christian worldview. Those books were all written by white men, by and large, and a lot of white women. And so, I just had to really work through why is it that I feel like I have nothing worth saying when clearly there are tons of people who have no problem figuring out that they have something to say. Having to walk through that with myself and with God. Spending time listening to God with the help of a spiritual director and some great Christian mentors, and supervisors who were encouraging me and saying, “You know, you do have something to say.”
If you could go back in time and talk to the 24-year-old you, what would you tell her about race?
I would say to her, “Keep doing what you are doing and learning vocationally.” So in my twenties, I was a newspaper reporter and I’d say ‘Don’t be afraid of talking with your editors and fighting for the story or fighting for the wording because it matters.’ I think there were a lot of times where I thought, ‘Well, this isn’t the fight I wanna fight.’ And there’s wisdom to that. But I think that there were other times where I was just so worried I would get fired. I would also tell that 20-something self that it’s important to care for yourself in order to care for your community. I learned that later — the idea of being a self-sacrificing Godly woman is communicated in various ways in different cultures and in different churches. I certainly felt it. I wish I had heard that more consistently in my twenties to encourage me, you know?
What is it that is holding people back from speaking up and being who God called them to be?
Fear. And some of that fear is rooted in a fear of a failure. For me, I’m a bit of a recovering perfectionist. I would encourage people to not only think about the cost of speaking up and raising your voice, but also the cost of continually remaining silent. What does that do? What does that say about what you say you believe in? What does that do to your soul and who God is encouraging you to become?
You’ve been outspoken about racism in the church, especially on social media. How we can come together when we see the world so differently?
You raise your voice mindful of the backlash. I don’t wanna be overly dramatic, but I also don’t want to ignore the fact that I know many, many people of color, myself included, and particularly women of color, who speak out against racism in the church and we get the most horrifying and disgusting responses. You get an email. You get a direct message. You get a tweet back at you. I will be very honest, I’m not sure on this side of heaven we will see a time where that gap is fully bridged. However, I think it is very important that the work is not left up to people of color to raise their voices. We need teachers, preachers, authors, artists to continue to speak into those spaces, to call that out and to present the various alternatives. What would this world look like? What would the church look like if we were able to bridge that divide? What will the world and the church look like if we do not? Because it can’t be left to people of color. We need our white allies and we need them not to be afraid of making mistakes and offending and screwing up.
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.
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:!8 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 2018, the church doesn’t need more soldiers of fear, it needs more servants of peace.
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The Latest on the New Hampshire primary election (all times local):
A candidate endorsed by the Trump administration has won the Republican nomination for a U.S. House seat in New Hampshire, and he’d be the state’s first black congressman if elected in November.
Eddie Edwards, of Dover, won a six-way race in Tuesday’s GOP primary for the 1st Congressional District.
Edwards is a Navy veteran who also served as a police chief and as chief enforcement officer for the state liquor commission.
He sought to make the campaign about character and integrity and criticized his main rival, state Sen. Andy Sanborn, for Statehouse behavior that included making a sexually explicit comment to an intern. Edwards, who was endorsed by Trump administration attorney Rudy Giuliani, said he wants to bring public virtue back to politics.
The 1st District seat covers much of the eastern half of the state. It’s being left vacant by Democrat Carol Shea-Porter, who is stepping down after four non-consecutive terms.
Merlin, 38, left Cameroon last year due to violence. But as a black immigrant, his experience in America has been a unique challenge. Rachel Zein for The Texas Tribune
Editor’s note: Some language in this story may not be appropriate for the faint of heart. Consider yourself warned.
After a months-long journey across the Atlantic Ocean, into Central America and through Mexico, Merlin arrived at the U.S. port of entry in Laredo full of hope. The 38-year-old who worked in hotel management said he fled violent political unrest in Cameroon to seek a new life in America, a country he viewed as a bastion of safety and freedom.
But after legally crossing the border and asking for asylum, Merlin was detained by federal officials for 11 months. He lived at the South Texas Detention Complex along with people who didn’t look like him or speak his native language, French.
Merlin, who asked to be identified only by his first name because he’s fleeing political persecution, was frequently frustrated with how the reality of life as a refugee in America conflicts with the country’s image as a haven for immigrants while he struggled through an asylum process experiencing fundamental shifts under the Trump administration.
This wasn’t the United States he thought would be welcoming him with open arms and opportunity. Some days, he questioned why he came.
“I was a bit disappointed for what we were thinking,” Merlin said last week. “In Africa, you thought [America] was paradise.”
As the Trump administration implemented its now-reversed “zero tolerance” immigration policy and narrowed previous paths to asylum , thousands of Mexican and Central American immigrants became the faces of chaotic changes that federal agencies made in how they treat people legally and illegally crossing the border.
But asylum seekers like Merlin who fled African countries have also been ensnared in the bureaucratic tumult. And those black African immigrants arriving in Texas are finding a litany of racial, cultural and practical challenges that can be different from — and overshadowed by — the experiences of Latino immigrants who flood into Texas each year, advocates and experts say.
“We become frustrated with the single story pushed out,”said Deborah Alemu of the UndocuBlack Network, an organization that advocates for black, undocumented immigrants.
The number of African immigrants in the U.S. has roughly doubled every decade since 1970, according to the Pew Research Center. The original plaintiffs at the heart of what is now a class-action lawsuit that the American Civil Liberties Union filed against Immigration and Customs Enforcement over federal officials separating families seeking asylum are from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Texas, the second-most populous state in the country, has more than 235,000 foreign-born African residents. That is more than any other state, according to 2016 U.S. Census data. But those immigrants represent only 5 percent of the state’s total foreign-born residents, thanks mainly to the large number of immigrant Texas residents born in Latin America.
Alemu said that historical racism and discrimination directed at black people in America can exacerbate the difficulties African immigrants already face for being an asylum seeker.
“You won’t be recognized as Ghanaian, Congolese or Jamaican,” Alemu said. “You’ll be recognized as black.”
A “resting place of hope”
Four houses sit in a cul-de-sac in East Austin, forming what is almost a small town. Children outside run from house to house. Doors slam as squeals of laughter and chatter fill the air. These homes belong to Posada Esperanza, which roughly translates to “resting place of hope,” a transitional housing program for immigrant mothers and their children who are escaping cultural or domestic violence. The organization provides immigrant women and their children with temporary housing and resources to find jobs and permanent homes.
Patti McCabe, the shelter’s director, said Posada’s population was once majority Latino residents. But now, nearly half of the women housed at Posada are from African countries. Most of them fled the Democratic Republic of Congo — a country dealing with violent fallout from the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which triggered a wave of weak governance, exposing Congolese civilians to sexual violence and rape, extreme poverty and human rights violations by rebel groups.
McCabe said Africans often travel as family units. But once they reach American soil seeking asylum, the husbands are detained and the women and children are often released while they wait for court dates. Posada receives many immigrant women who are pregnant or have given birth without their spouses by their side. One Congolese woman currently at Posada was within days of her due date this month while her husband remained detained at a facility in New Jersey.
“When you think of family separation, you think of children being separated from their parents — that’s what everyone has been talking about,” Posada case manager Laura Messenger said. “But what we’ve seen a lot this year and what we have been seeing for the past two is our women and children here being separated from their husbands and fathers who are still in detention.”
Posada’s staff teach women how to ride the city buses, find health clinics and research work and housing options during their stay. But the goal is to teach the women to financially sustain themselves and their children on their own — which can be incongruous to the traditional gender roles some of the women were taught. Yet for the women of Posada, being financially independent single mothers while their husbands are detained has been empowering, McCabe said.
“It would be they might have input, but the husband always makes the ultimate decision,” McCabe said. “But now, like it or not, they’re the ones who need to make the decisions.”
Still, basic activities like riding public transportation or going to the grocery store can be a difficult task for those who don’t speak Spanish and English — the two most predominant languages in Texas.
“I just can’t imagine how that must feel from their perspective — to not be able to communicate even simple things about what they need in the facilities, let alone their asylum claim and conveying that in an application that’s in English,” said Priscilla Olivarez, an attorney with American Gateways, an organization that has asylum-seeking clients from Africa.
Then U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month issued a ruling that made it tougher for victims solely escaping domestic or gang violence to seek asylum in the U.S. — leading to more deportations before seekers have the opportunity to argue their cases in front of an immigration judge. Sessions had previously criticized what he called widespread abuse of the asylum system and said in October that the asylum process “has become an easy ticket to illegal entry into the United States.”
Olivarez, who sees many asylum claims from African immigrants based on religious reasons or gender-based violence, said she’s seen an increase in asylum denials after Sessions’ June ruling. Olivarez has also seen an uptick in cases where people are being required to pay a parole bond so they can be released while awaiting a final determination of their asylum request. And she’s noticed more parole bond requests denied, meaning asylum seekers are being detained as the process winds through federal courts.
“Before the administration change, we wouldn’t see that,” Olivarez said. “Generally we wouldn’t see parole bonds and they wouldn’t be as high as we’re seeing.”
Immigrations and Customs Enforcement reported that 35,070 bonds have been posted so far this year, compared to 48,199 for all of 2017 and 42,384 for all of 2016.
An ICE spokesman said there have been no changes to the bond policy and that “custody decisions are made on a case-by-case basis taking into account multiple factors, including immigration history, criminal history, medical history and ties to the community.”
Olivarez said her African clients have been “shocked” when they are detained after seeking asylum at the border — especially those who were imprisoned in their home countries for being political activists and must now deal with what she called the “retraumatization” of being detained.
“Many clients tell me they did not think they would be treated this way,” Olivarez said. “For many of them, America was a country that valued freedom, which is why they made the dangerous journey to come to the U.S. They believed the U.S. was the only country that would provide them with sufficient protection. However, when they arrive in the U.S., they feel as if they are treated as a criminal.”
From African jail to American detention
Merlin left Cameroon after violence erupted between the country’s French-speaking population, which dominates the government, and English-speaking separatists, who have reportedly been marginalized by the French-speaking majority.
Since 2016, scores of civilians on both sides have been killed, with the government accused of torturing suspected separatists and separatists accused of kidnapping and extorting civilians and state workers, according to Human Rights Watch.
Merlin, who grew up farming with his parentsand is now a single dad, saw the country he loved rapidly change before his eyes. After being arrested with hundreds of others during a protest, Merlin’s mother begged him to go to America for his safety.
He was surprised that he was detained for so long, but he said he’s grateful that it was only 11 months. He met other detainees who had been there for years.
“Why allow people in and detain them?” Merlin said.
Racism, discrimination linger beyond asylum process
Merlin was released in February and then stayed at Casa Marianella, another Austin-based immigrant adult shelter, where he connected with other French-speaking African immigrants. As he awaits a judge’s ruling on his asylum case, he is slowly adjusting to life in America.
“When you get out of [detention], you put your hand on your chest and say, ‘thank God,’” Merlin said. “I’m more safe today.”
But even those black African immigrants who are allowed to stay while their asylum requests are processed — and those who successfully immigrate to the United States — face racial bias and discrimination both inside and outside the immigration enforcement system, according to a 2016 report by the NYU Immigrant Rights Clinic and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.
In antebellum America, operatic and concert songs were very popular forms of entertainment. European concert sopranos, such as Jenny Lind and Catherine Hayes, drew huge crowds and rave reviews during their U.S. tours. Lind was so popular that baby cribs still bear her name, and you can now visit an unincorporated community called Jenny Lind, California.
Greenfield, however, was different. She was a former slave. And she was performing songs that a burgeoning field of American music criticism, led by John Sullivan Dwight, considered reserved for white artists. African-American artists, most 19th-century critics argued, lacked the refined cultivation of white, Eurocentric genius, and could create only simple music that lacked artistic depth. It was a prejudice that stretched as far back as Thomas Jefferson in his “Notes on the State of Virginia” and was later reinforced by minstrel shows.
But when Greenfield appeared on the scene, she shattered preexisting beliefs about artistry and race.
‘The Black Swan’
Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield was born into slavery in Natchez, Mississippi, around 1820. As a girl, she was taken to Philadelphia and raised by an abolitionist.
Largely self-taught as a singer, she began her concert career in New York with the support of the Buffalo Musical Association. In Buffalo, she was saddled with the nickname “the Black Swan,” a crude attempt to play off the popularity of Jenny Lind – known as “the Swedish Nightingale” – who was wrapping up one of the most popular concert tours in American history.
In 1851, Colonel Joseph H. Wood became Greenfield’s promoter. Wood, however, was an overt racist and inhumane promoter known for creating wonderment museums in Cincinnati and Chicago that featured exhibits like the “Lilliputian King,” a boy who stood 16 inches tall. With Greenfield, he sought to replicate the success that another promoter, P.T. Barnum, had with Jenny Lind.
In a letter to Frederick Douglass, Martin R. Delany, a physician, newspaper editor and Civil War hero, wrote that Wood was a fervent supporter of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and would not admit black patrons into his museums or at Greenfield’s concerts.
For Greenfield’s African-American supporters, it was a point of huge contention throughout her career.
Critics reconcile their ears with their racism
In antebellum America, the minstrel show was one of the most popular forms of musical entertainment. White actors in blackface exploited common stereotypes of African-Americans, grossly exaggerating their dialect, fashion, dancing and singing.
For example, the popular song “Zip Coon” portrayed African-Americans as clumsily striving for the refinement of white culture. The cover of the sheet music for “Zip Coon” shows an African-American attempting to mimic refined fashions of the day and failing. The song goes on to mock its subject, Zip Coon, as a “learned scholar,” while putting him in situations where his apparent lack of intelligence shows.
Greenfield’s performances, however, forced her critics to rethink this stereotype. The Cleveland Plain Dealer described the confusion that Greenfield caused for her audiences:
“It was amusing to behold the utter surprise and intense pleasure which were depicted on the faces of her listeners; they seemed to express – ‘Why, we see the face of a black woman, but hear the voice of an angel, what does it mean?’”
Critics agreed that Greenfield was a major talent. But they found it difficult to reconcile their ears with their racism. One solution was to describe her as a talented, but unpolished, singer.
For example, the New-York Daily Tribune reported that “it is hardly necessary to say that we did not expect to find an artist on the occasion. She has a fine voice but does not know how to use it.” (We see a similar phenomenon today in sports coverage, in which black athletes are often praised for their raw physical athleticism, while white athletes are praised for their game intelligence.)
By performing repertoire thought too complex for black artists – and by doing it well – Greenfield forced her white critics and audiences to reexamine their assumptions about the abilities of African-American singers.
A star is born
On Thursday, March 31, 1853, Greenfield made her New York City premiere at Metropolitan Hall.
Originally built for Jenny Lind, it was one of the largest performance halls in the world. The day before the concert, the New-York Daily Tribune carried an ad that read, “Particular Notice – No colored persons can be admitted, as there has been no part of the house appropriated for them.” The ban resulted in a citywide uproar that prompted New York City’s first police commissioner, George W. Matsell, to send a large police unit to Metropolitan Hall.
Greenfield was met with laughter when she took to the stage. Several critics blamed the uncouth crowd in attendance; others wrote it off as lighthearted amusement. One report described the awkwardness of the show’s opening moments:
“She was timidly led forward to the front of the stage by a little white representative of the genus homo, who seemed afraid to touch her even with the tips of his white kids [gloves], and kept the ‘Swan’ at a respectful distance, as if she were a sort of biped hippopotamus.”
Despite the inauspicious beginning, critics agreed that her range and power were astonishing. After her American tour, a successful European tour ensued, where she was accompanied by her friend Harriet Beecher Stowe.
A singer’s legacy
Greenfield paved the way for a host of black female concert singers, from Sissieretta Jones to Audra McDonald. In 1921, the musician and music publisher Harry Pace named the first successful black-owned record company, Black Swan Records, in her honor.
But these achievements are byproducts of a much larger legacy.
In Stowe’s novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” one of the slave children, Topsy, is taken in by a northern abolitionist, Miss Ophelia. Despite her best attempts, Ophelia can’t reform Topsy, who continues to act out and steal. When asked why she continues to behave as she does – despite the intervention of implied white goodness – Topsy replies that she’s can’t be good so long as her skin is black because her white caregivers are incapable of seeing goodness in a black body. Her only solution is to have her skin turned inside out so she can be white.
Stowe’s argument was not that we should begin skinning children. Rather, Topsy is a critique of the act of “othering” African-Americans by a dominant culture that refuses to acknowledge their full humanity.
After Greenfield’s New York concert, the New-York Daily Tribune recognized the monumental nature of Greenfield’s heroics. The paper urged her to leave America for Europe – and to stay there – the implication being that Greenfield’s home country wasn’t ready to accept the legitimacy of black artistry.
But Greenfield’s tour did more than prove to white audiences that black performers could sing as well as their European peers. Her tour challenged Americans to begin to recognize the full artistry – and, ultimately, the full humanity – of their fellow citizens.
About 700 to 900 women die each year from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. And for every death, dozens of women suffer life-threatening complications. But there is a stark racial disparity in these numbers. Black mothers are three to four times more likely to die than white mothers. Nevertheless, black women’s voices are often missing from public discussions about what’s behind the maternal health crisis and how to address the problems.
It is estimated that up to 60 percent of maternal complications are preventable. One way to prevent them is to talk to and learn from women who have nearly died from these complications. So, we reached out to nearly 200 black mothers or families that shared stories of severe complications as part of our maternal health investigation Lost Mothers.
Since this disparity has existed for decades, we were interested in learning how it might have affected generations of black women — and maybe even women in the same families.
We also know difficult conversations can sometimes be easier with a loved one. We asked women if they would be willing to discuss their near miss with their mother or daughter.
To help navigate these tough conversations, we gave each pair of women a tailored set of questions and got out of the way (you can download a copy of the questions here). We spent an hour recording them, some in their living rooms and others over the phone. We’ve organized these conversations by the complications each woman faced. We included several generations of women from 6 to 64 years old.
A postpartum hemorrhage (PPH) occurs when a woman experiences heavy blood loss after giving birth. In developed countries, pregnant women nearly die from this complication more than any other. The most common cause of PPH is uterine atony, which means the uterus isn’t contracting effectively after delivery. However, having fibroids (benign tumors in the uterus), any kind of infection or a systemic blood clotting disorder can also cause PPH.
Heather Dobbs was 41 weeks pregnant when she went into a prolonged labor. Eventually she was induced and had an emergency cesarean section at a hospital near her home at the time in rural Texas. Dobbs, 37, an educator and editor now living in Covington, Georgia, says there were no further complications. After the C-section, both Dobbs and her new son Cameron were fine and went home.
Two years later, in 2016, Dobbs was pregnant again. Because of her emergency C-section with Cameron, she was scheduled for another C-section and could plan the birth of her second child. She picked Feb. 8. It was two days before her own birthday. Dobbs was excited and felt prepared to welcome her first daughter, Claire, into the world.
Then came the uterine atony. During her C-section, her doctors said her uterus was “boggy” — it was soft, enlarged, floppy and would not contract as it was supposed to. It also wouldn’t stop bleeding.
Heather:Listen They were just bringing fluid after fluid, after fluid bag, and I finally said to myself: You cannot die on this table before you get to hold your daughter. And that’s the last thing I remember.
Claire was born healthy. But Dobbs’ postpartum hemorrhaging — as a result of uterine atony — forced the doctors to perform a full hysterectomy.
Heather:Listen And then, the doctor came in to talk about the hysterectomy with me. And, I just remember … you know how you watched Charlie Brown, and it’s like, womp womp womp womp womp womp. It’s like, what is she saying? I knew it was serious, but they had to eventually call her back in to re-explain. “You were bleeding out. You lost a tremendous amount of blood, and you had to … We had to take your uterus.”
The emotional toll of the hysterectomy and the complication that caused it led to postpartum depression. The support of her mother — Avis Glover, 63, a career nurse, who had two C-sections herself — has been important in her recovery.
Avis: How do you manage, you think, with the long-term effects of your experience?
Heather: Listen At my darkest hour, it was like why plan anything? Everything’s just going to go however it goes anyway. You don’t have any control, so that was really difficult. But then at the same time, it made me aware, you have two kids that you have to care for now. And in caring for them, you must care for yourself, so you can’t have the anxious mom, and the depressed mom, you have to treat it.
Fibroids are benign tumors in the uterus. They are most common in 30- to 40-year-old women. Fibroids, however, are three times more likely to occur in black women than white women. They also tend to occur at younger ages and grow more quickly in black women, causing more severe symptoms — like heavy menstrual bleeding and pelvic pain — contributing to complications such as postpartum hemorrhage.
Preeclampsia occurs when a woman with normal blood pressure develops high blood pressure during pregnancy and when protein is found in the urine. Left untreated, preeclampsia can lead to other serious complications for both the mother and the baby. Preeclampsia affects at least 5 to 8 percent of pregnancies. When black women have preeclampsia, it presents earlier than in women of other races.
Asha Ivey-Stephenson, 37, and Wanda Irving, 64, became friends through Wanda’s daughter, Shalon Irving. The three first met in Michigan in 2002 while Asha and Shalon visited graduate school programs they were interested in attending. Years later the friends reconnected in the Atlanta area where they both settled. Close in age, both wanted to become mothers. Ivey-Stephenson would be the first. She got pregnant in 2015 when she was 35 years old. Ivey-Stephenson has fibroids, a complication that affects 80 percent of black women. No one knows what exactly causes fibroids or why black women are so susceptible.
Ivey-Stephenson’s fibroids kept her in the high risk perinatal unit for a month and a half. Her stay was so long that Ivey-Stephenson had her baby shower at the hospital. In mid-December she delivered a healthy baby boy.
Asha:Listen This is something that Shalon and I actually bonded over. She helped motivate me through as well. My challenges that I was referring to primarily stemmed from my uterine fibroids and it’s something that African-American women deal with. The majority of my friends have, whether it’s small, large, multiple fibroids. It’s something that my mother had, so I knew that most likely I’d have it.
Five days after she delivered, just as she was about to leave the hospital, Ivey-Stephenson’s blood pressure skyrocketed.
Asha:Listen There were points where [my blood pressure] got so high, we were all not sure what was going to happen. When I got home, I had to have physical therapy, occupational therapy and regular nursing. Occupational therapy and regular nursing came to the house because I had lost so much muscle tone. Basically I couldn’t walk. So I had to learn all that over again. And it was just, trying to do that plus trying to breastfeed, trying to do all these different things was challenging.
During all of this, Irving was part of her network of supportive friends.
A little over a year later, in January 2017, Irving celebrated the birth of her first child — a baby girl she named Soleil. But Irving was a mother for just three weeks. Her postpartum complications became increasingly serious. She ultimately died due to complications from high blood pressure. Soleil was left in the care of Irving’s mother, Wanda. Ivy-Stephenson has stayed close to the family. Wanda sat down with Ivey-Stephenson to share this conversation, and her advice for other expectant black women.
Wanda:Listen My one regret is that Shalon told me once, she says, “I know my body. I know there’s something wrong,” and that’s what I would recommend to every black woman, if you know there’s something wrong, please don’t stop until you find someone who will help you figure out what’s wrong, and not just take a lot of the paternalistic kinds of answers or the general answers, “Oh well it’s nothing. It comes along with pregnancy,” or “It’s part of childbirth,” or it’s part of whatever. You know your body better than anyone else. You live in that body. If there is something you’re feeling that’s wrong, then do something.
A uterine rupture is a tear in the wall of the uterus. While rare, this complication is dangerous not just for the mother but for the child. When the uterus tears, the unborn baby can be expelled into his or her mother’s abdomen. The baby can be deprived of oxygen and the mother can experience severe blood loss. A well-known risk factor for a uterine rupture is a uterine scar. Most uterine scars arise from a prior cesarean delivery.
In March 2014, Heather Lavender was 32 and nine months pregnant when she went into labor. Her mother, Brenda Bagby, her sister, Melissa, her doula, and her son’s father rushed Lavender to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore where she was also an intensive care nurse.
After many hours of labor, she had a pain in her abdomen, which gradually became unbearable. That pain turned out to be a uterine rupture. After an emergency C-section to deliver the baby, doctors had to perform a hysterectomy to stop the massive blood loss.
Heather:Listen You know as long as my baby is OK, you know … God can’t be that cruel to have me lose my uterus and my baby all at the same time. So at that point I was just really hoping and praying that my son would be OK.
The rupture, however, was catastrophic for her son. Cruz ended up outside of the womb and without oxygen. As a result, he suffered severe brain damage. When Cruz was born he never moved, opened his eyes or cried.
Brenda: How are you different now than before your complication?
Heather:Listen I think for most of my life I’ve been a pretty positive person and I just don’t feel that way about myself anymore. I feel purposeless, I don’t feel that I have like true joy in my life, I don’t care. I pray for an early death. I don’t want to live to be an old person … and I know it’s wrong.
Cruz lived nine days on a ventilator in the neonatal intensive care unit before Lavender and her family decided to remove him from life support.
Heather: How do you remember my son Cruz, your grandson?
Brenda:Listen It’s hard sometimes, I couldn’t stand the sound of the machinery after a while. I just wanted it to stop, I didn’t want to hear more beeping. No more alarms. So I am glad we got to have a little bit of time without all of that. And when they extubated him, when they removed him from the breathing tube it was clear that he wasn’t going to be able to be with us for very long. So being able to go home and have that quiet time with him that we wouldn’t have had otherwise was really a blessing and having the pictures that we have from that helps me every day.
In 2016, Lavender moved from Baltimore, Maryland, to Farmington, New Mexico. This conversation was recorded during a visit from her mother who lives in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Lavender continues to practice as a nurse.
Spontaneous coronary artery dissection, or SCAD, often occurs late in the pregnancy or during the postpartum period. It’s when a tear forms in one of the blood vessels in the heart. It can slow or block blood flow, causing a heart attack, abnormalities in heart rhythm or sudden death. Hormonal changes during pregnancy are thought to trigger this complication. Despite treatment, it may recur soon after the initial tear or even years later.
As in most SCAD cases, Candice Williams, a high school teacher, was healthy throughout her pregnancy. She was 30 at the time. She did not have a heart condition or a previous history of hypertension. But five days after giving birth to her first child, Aniston, in 2011, she nearly died.
Aniston is now 6 years old and wanted to ask her mother this:
Aniston: How did you get your heart attack?
Candice:Listen That’s a good question baby, doctors aren’t really sure. I’ve seen at least four doctors related to the heart attack and all they can tell me is that it is a rare occurrence and that it has something to do with my hormones so when I had you my hormones were unstable as women’s hormones are after they give birth so I guess that caused my heart to start hurting baby but it wasn’t your fault.
Williams, now 37, was home from the hospital when her chest started to hurt. The pain got so bad that her mother, LaVerne Maynard, rushed Williams to a nearby hospital in El Centro, California. Because that hospital wasn’t equipped to treat Williams, she was airlifted more than 100 miles to a hospital in San Diego.
LaVerne: What is the hardest moment for you?
Candice:Listen The hardest moment was probably being life-flighted and I only remember parts of it, I guess I was really scared and I kept thinking about Ani and if I … if something happened to me, I had no idea what was going to happen to my baby. So that was the hardest moment. It’s still the hardest moment.
After more tests, doctors concluded that she had experienced a SCAD. Rather than operate on her, they gave her blood thinners, beta blockers and aspirin to prevent another attack and help heal the heart on its own. She was hospitalized for four days and released.
Candice:Listen I had a relatively good diet, I was not overweight and SCAD often happens to women who don’t have any prior health issues. So people think because I had a heart attack that I had high blood pressure or I didn’t eat right or didn’t exercise but I was actually the opposite of that.
After surviving this SCAD, her doctors advised against a second pregnancy. But, five years later, in March of 2016, Williams gave birth to a second daughter, Leah. This time, she had no complications. Williams pays more attention to her body now. She takes blood pressure medication once a week, sees her cardiologists every six months, exercises, and watches what she eats.
Peripartum cardiomyopathy (PPCM) is a form of maternal heart failure. It’s when the heart isn’t strong enough to pump enough blood to the vital organs so they can function properly. A mother may experience PPCM up to six months postpartum. On average, PPCM affects black women at a younger age (27.6 years old) than non-black women (31.7 years old). And despite similar rates of treatment, the recovery time for African-American women was at least twice as longas that of other women. Little research has been done to understand the differences in severity and recovery.
In 1992, about a month after Anner Porter gave birth to her second child — a boy she named Norris — she was at the OB-GYN complaining of exhaustion and numbness. She said she was told to eat some beets to improve a low iron count. Two days later, Porter nearly died. Her heart failed to pump enough blood to keep her vital organs going. This is called postpartum cardiomyopathy (PPCM).
That was the first time Porter had heard of PPCM — from an emergency room doctor diagnosing it as her organs started to shut down. Ever since that postpartum heart failure 25 years ago, Porter has suffered heart complications.
Jennifer: Tell me what happened in the postpartum period that changed your life?
Anner:Listen Oh wow, OK. Twenty-eight days later I still found it extremely difficult to function. I was extremely fatigued. Was constantly experiencing shortness of breath. Coughing all the time unable to lie down, heart palpitations, I had significant weight gain, excessive swelling in my legs, belly, feet, ankles. I remember each day became unbearable and each night became a nightmare. At that point I knew something was wrong with my body.
In the years since the cardiomyopathy, she has needed two separate heart procedures: a defibrillator implanted in 2010, and open-heart surgery after a silent heart attack in 2012.
Anner: Do you look at your own life differently?
Jennifer:Listen Yes, I do. Seeing how something simple can — like childbirth — put so much stress on your body and seeing everything that you went through in terms of how you drastically had to change your diet, how you were going from no medication to five to six different medications, how your body reacted. Seeing how different stress in certain activities in life you couldn’t do in terms of like walking up the stairs, you couldn’t do. How little things like driving, you used to lose your breath and you used to have that plastic bag … not plastic … paper bag in your purse in case something happened, you had that, so yeah it has changed my life.
While the cause of PPCM remains unknown, Porter believes awareness among women and clinicians can save lives.
Anner:Listen I don’t want any other woman to experience a near-death pregnancy like I did, I feel that I must continue to bring awareness about this deadly disease that actually has no cure in sight.
These vignettes are snippets of hours-long conversations. The women talked with each other about their formative years, their painful memories of death or near death, and the advice they would give to expectant and new mothers. Often, what they heard from their loved ones surprised them.
If you’d like to facilitate your own conversation with your mother, daughter or granddaughter, we have written a list of questions. We encourage you to use them and record your own conversations.
Download or print out this form with our suggested questions. But also feel free to make it your own.
Find a quiet space to record. We encourage you record this conversation using your phone or a digital recorder.
Feel free to share anything with us at [email protected]. Privacy note: nothing will be published without your permission.
ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom.
“The Storm,” taken six months after Kimberly’s dad passed. She’s standing in a storm. You can see more of Kimberly’s work on her website.
A personal tribute from a daughter about her selfless father, a man of unwavering faith who cared deeply for his family and ingrained a ministry of caring for others in his children.
I grew up in Triangle, VA, with my two sisters, Emily and Olivia, and my brother, Gregory. Every night we would have dinner as a family. Afterward, my father would read the Bible. To motivate us to listen he’d put pudding cups, yogurts and sometimes even money in the middle of the table. If you answer the questions right, you win. Out of all my memories, my most precious memory of my childhood is when my father would get up early in the morning and walk around the house and praying. One by one we’d wake up and trickle into the living room. I’d find him kneeling there, and I’d kneel beside him. By the time he was done praying the whole family would have made their way into the living room and be on their knees.
My parents made us volunteer at homeless shelters, food banks, and nursing homes. They had a heart for people and made sure that we did too. My father was always bringing strangers home he had met on the street to live with us. It became second nature for my siblings and me to dig into own closet and find clothes for them to wear. Sometimes we would even give up our beds. We celebrated birthdays, weddings, and mourned losses together. My father would employ the men and teach them his trade. While my mother would drive others around town and help them find stable jobs and file paperwork. Those two were truly a dynamic duo. I cannot count how many people have come to our house, but I thank God for all of them.
Kimberly Coopwood’s family.
At one point our house became too small, so my father built an addition doubling our house size. The community kids would call the house mini-mansion. Our dining room was massive. We had one table that fit 20 people and another table that fit six. During the holidays, my father would invite everyone that he knew who didn’t have families over and mom would cook. Both tables would be filled with additional chairs added. It was a sight to behold.
The thing I loved most about my father is that through all of this he never forgot about his children. He was still at our football games, basketball games, he would come to the track and help us train for meets. The official unofficial coach. Anything and everything we wanted to do, my parents were always right there.
About My Challenges and Dreams
Growing up, I was considered illiterate and took special education classes until the seventh grade. I was bullied and beat up by my classmates. My father, “God bless him” would sit at the kitchen table with me until my homework was complete. There were nights I’d be in tears crying over my papers, but my father never gave up on me. I remember the times were I felt meaningless and wanted to take my life but, “God loves me and Daddy loves.” I promise those words have saved my life many times.
Growing up I was a shy child. Being with my father and helping people gave me confidence but when I was alone, I’d lock myself in my room. In my safe place, I began to talk to God and write.
I could not read what I was writing, but I filled journals. Soon I started having dreams and ideas. I found myself dismantling my electric toys and playing with their engines and batteries. I’d dismantle cereal boxes and design playgrounds and pools with the material. The most lavished thing I ever made was a two-story house completed with a bathroom, living room, dining room, a winding staircase, and an upstairs bedroom all by hand. In the corner of my room doing math equation on a whiteboard became my thing. My teachers would get so upset. I’d never write out my equation because I did the math in my head. Seventh grade marked the end of special education for me, but it also marked the beginning of advanced mathematics.
In middle school, I decided I was going to become an engineer. I went to my guidance counselor and researched all of the schools in the nearby cities, and decided to attend Woodbridge Senior High because of their engineering program. From there, I went to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and studied Civil Engineering.
My father was also an engineer, and he and I would bounce ideas and concepts off of each other. We had developed a filtration system that I was pushing my university to sponsor. We wanted to implement it in Tanzania.
In 2014, my father passed. I remember on the day of my father’s wake there was a snowstorm and almost everybody he helped came back, and if they couldn’t come they called. My siblings and I just stared at all of the faces my father had touched; we were overwhelmed. They were coming in waves; had they all came at the same time it would have filled the church three times over. After my father’s passing, I could no longer stomach an engineering class. Neither could my mother afford it for we had lost our house and the money sharks were after us.
Film and Photography
One day while my mother was cleaning up the rest of my father’s things, she gifted me all 11 of my father’s cameras. I prayed and asked God to teach me about them. I rented books from the library, watched online seminars, YouTube videos, and at the time Harvard had put their entire digital media course on Alison.com, and I studied until my body shut down. Then two days later I would be right back at it. During this time my mother was very concerned because she could not understand how I could stay locked in a room for so long. Until one night during a snowstorm, I came to her and said, “I have an idea, and I need your help.” In her PJ’s she grabbed her coat and snow boots, and we ventured out into the cold. I set up my camera, posed on a light pole, and she took my picture. This photo describes everything we had been through, a frozen hell surrounded by waves of grief and tragedy. Whenever I look at this picture, I see the storm, but I also see my father’s Queen my mother weathering the season it with me.
A year in a half later my older sister Emily took her inheritance and paid off my old University bills so that I could attend Liberty University. The University blessed with nine scholarships and grants. When I first came to Liberty I did not like it, I tried doing engineering again and ended up with a 1.4 GPA. For the first time in my life, I was placed on academic probation. In my ear, I kept hearing in my ear “film, photography.” So I made a wager with God. “God I’ve worked my whole life to be an engineer, I will try cinematic arts for one semester and if I make straight A’s this is where I’m supposed to be.” I switched my major to cinematic arts the following semester and made straight A’s. I fell in love with the staff, the students, and the environment. They have truly enriched my life. Since attending Liberty, I have worked on seven short films, one actively running commercial and one feature film.
Even though my father’s death was tragic, it incubated something inside of me and gave birth to a gift I never knew I had. So with this gift, I would like to open a production studio that embodies both filmmaking and commercial photography. If companies can do it all in one place, why not…! But most importantly I want my work and work atmosphere to be a medium to win souls. To give hope and provoke a curiosity that would lead someone to a life-changing conversation about Jesus. Like father like daughter. The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.
My Last word to my Father: It is an honor to be your daughter in every way. Even though you will not be able to walk me down the aisle, I am so grateful that God chose you to be my Daddy. I am also thankful that he gave me your eyebrows. I love the fact that I carry a piece of you everywhere I go.
In this Sept. 6, 2018, photo, Michelle Jagodzinski, left, and Mary Reczek, right, of the West Rutland Historical Society in Vermont stand next to a new historical marker honoring Lemuel Haynes, first ordained black minister in the U.S. in West Rutland, Vt. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke)
More than 220 years after the first ordained black minister in the U.S. became a pastor in a small, predominantly white community in Vermont and preached about brotherly love, freedom and unity, people there are honoring his life and work with an historic marker.
Lemuel Haynes ministered in the Parish of West Rutland for 30 years starting in 1787, drawing people from neighboring communities and hours away, with sermons that historians say at times touched on racial equality.
Local historians say now is an apt time to celebrate the popular preacher and author and inspire others with an historic marker near where the church once stood. The West Rutland Historical Society is holding a public dedication ceremony Saturday.
“I think it is so timely in the fact that we have this African American person that was here so many years ago speaking out for interracial peace and acceptance … And that’s what this whole nation is crying out for that now,” said Michelle Jagodzinski, treasurer of the West Rutland Historical Society.
Haynes was born to a white mother and black father in West Hartford, Connecticut and indentured to a devout churchman at the age of 5 months.
He read everything he could and became well versed in the Bible, Jagodzinski said.
After leaving his adopted family at 21, Haynes joined the Revolutionary War but arrived too late for the battle at Lexington and Concord. He later wrote a poem about the skirmish, including a line about Americans not wanting to be enslaved by the British. He later penned “Liberty Further Extended” in 1776, making the case that liberty should be extended to all, said William Hart, an associate professor of history at Middlebury College.
“There he begins to connect Republican liberty and virtue with abolition,” Hart said.
Vermont, where Haynes made his home, was the first state to abolish adult slavery.
“He was one of not too many men at the time who believed … that the Declaration of Independence was meant for all people — not just the landed gentry who could vote but also for the blacks,” said Mary Reczek, vice president of the historical society, who lives just down the road from where the church once stood next to a cemetery.
Nine years later Haynes was ordained a minister and served in a church in Torrington, Connecticut for three years before being called to minister in Vermont where other Connecticut residents had moved. He’s widely acknowledged to be the first African American ordained minister in the U.S.
Not only was he extremely well versed in the Bible but he also had a humility and wit, Reczek said.
He was let go from the congregation in 1818, but the accounts differ on why. Some historians believe it was about a doctrinal dispute within the church and others say it was because of his race.
He later served as a preacher in Manchester, Vermont, and then in South Granville, New York, where he’s buried. His contributions were noted at the time by Middlebury College, which granted him an honorary master’s degree in 1804.
Now local historians hope his legacy will gain new attention.
“Here’s a man and a group of people who were principled and worked hard to develop not just their families and their community and their land, and they stood for something. And they all worked together. And the fact that he was of a different race didn’t seem to bother them at all,” said Reczek.
“He’s important. People should know his name. And his contributions should be remembered,” Jagodzinski said.
A black pastor’s controversial eulogy at Aretha Franklin’s funeral laid bare before the world what black women say they have experienced for generations: sexism and inequality in their houses of worship every Sunday.
In eulogizing the beloved artist known as the Queen of Soul, the Rev. Jasper Williams Jr. declared that as “proud, beautiful and fine as our black women are, one thing a black woman cannot do — a black woman cannot raise a black boy to be a man.”
The backlash was immediate, given Franklin’s role as a mother and a pillar for women’s rights.
Franklin’s grieving family said Williams’ eulogy, which also included references to stopping black-on-black crime, was offensive because it did not focus on her. Social media lit up with criticisms of his remarks as sexist and misogynist.
For many black women, Williams’ eulogy reopened wounds and sternly reminded them that black churches remain male-dominated institutions, where old-school resistance to women holding leadership roles is still alive.
“Women are hurting about this issue,” said the Rev. Barbara Reynolds, an elder at Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church in Washington, D.C.
“It’s like we are still not equal. Women fight in every cause for everybody else, but we are not celebrated or even tolerated in sacred spaces,” Reynolds said.
Women not only fill the pews in many black churches, they also serve as church nurses and ushers, and work behind the scenes. Some are trustees, keeping an eye on church finances and making sure bills get paid. Others are evangelists, or are ordained as deacons. But many are denied true leadership roles — and in some cases, women are asked to deliver sermons from the church floor, rather than the pulpit.
Some male ministers “actually deeply believe that men are supposed to be in charge,” said the Rev. Cheryl Townsend Gilkes (JILL-kz), assistant pastor for special projects at Union Baptist Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a sociology professor at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.
“Their reading of the Bible does not have a vision of gender equality,” Gilkes said. “Black women are very conscious of how important they are to the survival, growth and continuity of the church. Very often, to become effective, prominent leaders, they have formed their own organizations and exercised that leadership outside the pulpit.”
Williams, pastor of Salem Bible Church in Atlanta, had also eulogized Franklin’s father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, in 1984. He prefaced part of his eulogy for Aretha Franklin on Aug. 31 by saying “70 percent” of black households are led by black women.
Williams apologized later, but defended his choice of topics. He said he was trying to highlight the struggles that single mothers face and his words were taken out of context.
But even during Franklin’s funeral, the absence of black women in the pulpit was evident. The front row was occupied by Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and primarily other black male pastors. No black female pastors were featured on an early speakers’ list for the funeral.
Shirley Caesar, a gospel music legend and senior pastor of Mount Calvary Word of Faith Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, sang during the service, but also seized the moment to squeeze a little preaching in. Most of the individual singers were prominent female performers.
“There are male leaders in some black churches that don’t allow women to preach from the pulpit and, if they do, it’s typically on special occasions like Women’s Day,” said the Rev. Horace Sheffield, pastor of New Destiny Christian Fellowship of Detroit.
“Some denominations are more stringent and less likely to affirm women than others,” Sheffield said. “That’s part of our Christian tradition and that has always bothered me. We can be discriminated on the color of our skin and we can discriminate against women because of their gender. It still exists by virtue of the fact that you have churches that don’t allow female ministers as pastors. It … renders us in a lesser position to challenge discrimination in any form or any place when we’re part of it.”
About 70 percent of the 500 members at Sheffield’s church are women. Sheffield said two women serve as associate pastors. Some of the deacons are women and the head of the steward board is a woman.
He said the roles of women in black church leadership are changing, “but we’ve got to open it up some more.”
The Rev. Maidstone Mulenga, communications director for the United Methodist Church Council of Bishops, says having only men in leadership and pastoral roles is part of the theology taught in some churches.
“If it comes from a background that says only male preachers can be in the pulpit, then (the church members) will resist a female preacher — whether white or black,” Mulenga said.
Mulenga said the United Methodist Church is very supportive of female leaders in churches and has a number of female bishops. The church’s Baltimore-Washington Conference is led by Bishop LaTrelle Easterling, a black woman. But he said female black preachers have to work twice as hard as male black preachers.
“For a female black preacher it is almost like standing in the middle of the highway and getting hit by traffic from both directions because they are black and because they are female,” Mulenga said.
For predominantly black denominations, there are smaller gains. The African Methodist Episcopal Church currently has two women bishops.
The National Baptist Convention says on its website that it leaves the matter to its member churches because interpretations about who can serve in the ministry “tend to be particularly emotional and divisive.” Its most recent roster of state presidents, from January 2017, is all male.
The Church of God in Christ, based in Memphis, Tennessee, on its website identifies only black male pastors as members of its general board and its board of bishops.
Last year, the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World promoted two women to bishop and gave them responsibility over churches in Sierra Leone and South Africa. The presiding bishop at the time, Charles Ellis, told the Tennessean newspaper in Nashville that the two women, whose home churches are in the U.S., would “actually oversee and they will govern male pastors.”
Ellis’ church in Detroit hosted Franklin’s funeral.
But some male pastors and preachers wield so much power in their churches that they rarely are confronted, said Reynolds, of Washington, D.C., who was ordained in 1996.
“We don’t really challenge the pastors,” Reynolds said. “We either go home and don’t go back to church or some brave women start their own church.”
Last May, Stacey Abrams, an African-American, 44-year-old former attorney, Georgia General Assembly House minority leader and Yale Law graduate beat former attorney white Georgia state legislator Stacey Evans in the Georgia Democratic gubernatorial primary. While the race was hard-fought, the outcome was lopsided with Abrams winning 423,163 (76.5 percent) votes over Evans’ 130,234.
Although Georgia is known for infamous, segregationist governors like Lester Maddox, this campaign which pitted a white woman against a black woman was largely absent of overt racial appeals. The campaigns of both women appealed to liberals and moderates. Evans’ campaign strategy heavily focused on building a coalition among African-Americans, Latinos, women, youth and other progressives by emphasizing issues such as educational and job opportunities, voting rights and an end to crime.
Abrams campaign platform was remarkably similar, but she also emphasized the need for LGBTQ rights, energy jobs, veterans’ rights and small business development. Abrams benefited from the “linked fate” philosophy among African-Americans that influences them to prefer black candidates because of their interests in advancing their individual and group interests. She also had more experience registering voters than Evans did, after having served as the director of the New Georgia Project that registered thousands of black, Latino and Asian-American Georgia residents who usually don’t vote.
History in the making?
This “battle of the two Staceys” was historic because two women competed as major contenders in a Georgia gubernatorial primary for the first time in its history.
Abrams becomes the first female nominee and the first black nominee of a major party for a Georgia governor’s race. If she wins in November, her victory will add to the small number of women who have served as state governors, the even smaller number of African-Americans, and she will become the first black female governor of any American state.
There have only been four black governors in American history. In 1872, Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback, a Republican, served as Louisiana governor for 34 days while incumbent governor, Henry Warmoth, faced impeachment.
Nearly half of American states have never had a female governor. Forty-six women are running for governor this year, which is much more than the previous record of 34 female gubernatorial candidates in 1994.
In the 2017 Alabama U.S. Senate race, the 98 percent black female vote for Doug Jones tipped the scales of the election in his favor and allowed him to defeat Roy Moore.
The key question that remains after the euphoria over the historic significance of having a serious black female contender for governor is, “What does this mean for Donald Trump?” If Georgia elects a black female governor who has the ability to mobilize black, female, progressive, young and other minority voters, will it tip Georgia’s scales from the red side to the blue side?
Rwandans sing and pray at the Evangelical Restoration Church in the Kimisagara neighborhood of the capital, Kigali, Rwanda, on April 6, 2014. Rwanda’s government has closed numerous churches and mosques in 2018 as it seeks to assert more control over a vibrant religious community whose sometimes makeshift operations, authorities say, have threatened the lives of followers. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
KIGALI, Rwanda – Grace Umutesi has secretly been conducting services in her house in the Bannyahe slum on the outskirts of the capital since officials shut down her church in July for failing to comply with building safety standards and other regulations.
“I’m very disappointed by the decision of the government to close our church,” said Umutesi, 35, a mother of four. “But we cannot stop to pray and praise God because our church has been closed. God is everywhere and he listens to our prayers.”
Umutesi, an elder at Joy Temple Ministries, said her church was closed because the pastor had no theological degree from an accredited institute as the government requires. She also said her church lacked proper toilets and bathrooms for guests and congregants — and can’t afford to comply with government regulations.
“It’s expensive for the church and it’s wrong for the government to tell us not to worship,” she said.
Joy Temple Ministries is one among thousands that authorities have shut down in recent months. An estimated 8,000 churches and 100 mosques have been closed across this East Africa nation of 12 million people, according to the government’s latest figures. Muslims comprise around 5 percent of the Rwandan population.
At the beginning of this year, Rwandan lawmakers enacted new laws requiring pastors to be educated and church buildings to be renovated, offer two bathrooms for men and women and provide paved access to churches on a half hectare of land or more.
Critics of President Paul Kagame said the crackdown is an extension of his long record of disregarding human rights. They say he has been clamping down on freedom of expression since he took power in 2000.
But the government has defended the move, saying it wanted to bring sanity in religious institutions and that it was not targeting any religion or church.
Rwanda President Paul Kagame in Dublin on March 23, 2014. Photo by John Ohle/Creative Commons
“We have freedom of worship in our country but that does not mean that you keep worshippers in a substandard house of worship that is likely to fall next day,” said Justus Kangwagye, a government official responsible for overseeing faith-based organizations in the country.
“We simply require churches to meet modest standards and all preachers to have theological training before opening a church.”
The new rules led to the closure of most Pentecostal churches where charismatic preachers draw huge followers because of purported miracles. Kagame has long accused Pentecostal pastors of using “fake” miracles to lure locals and enrich themselves. The authority arrested six pastors earlier this year for trying to defy government orders to close down churches. Those pastors were later released.
In response to the shutdowns, numerous worshippers have decided to conduct their worship services in their homes.
“Thousands of faithful are now secretly praying in their houses for fear of government crackdown,” said one senior pastor who did not want to be mentioned for fear of arrest.
“When the government arrested the six pastors,” he said, “it was like a stern warning to others not to resist the new laws on churches. We are feeling pain as pastors but we can’t talk about or discuss the issue. … How can leaders deny their people the right to worship freely?”
Rwanda, circled in red, in central Africa. Map courtesy of Creative Commons
Some faithful are walking for miles away from their homes every Sunday to look for other churches to worship in after their own were closed.
Esther Umohoza, who lives in Nyamirambo estate in the southwestern corner of Kigali, walks nine miles every Sunday to worship. She sometimes attends a Bible study at her neighbor’s house every Wednesday to keep close to God.
“Life has become hard, especially for Christians in this country,” she said. “You have to travel for a distance to seek God. But we are not going to give up on seeking God. I pray that the government revises these rules. We need churches to be everywhere so that people can pray freely.”
But Umutesi believes prayer will lead to changes in government policy. She hopes churches will reopen soon.
“We are praying God to change the government’s mind so that they don’t completely shut down churches,” she said. “We believe no leader can go against God, and if he does so, our country will be cursed.”
In this Aug. 24, 2018 photograph, LaTosha Brown, right, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, breaks out with an organizing song at a meeting of several Mississippi grassroots organizations at MACE, Mississippi Action for Community Education, headquarters in Greenville, Miss. Brown said the time is now for black women to lead again. She pointed to incidents like the attempt to close a majority of polling places in Randolph County, Ga., in August, as proof of the need for the kind of continued vigilance black women have long provided. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Meeting on the campus of Jackson State University on a recent Friday afternoon, dozens of black women came together to strategize about the upcoming midterm elections, opening the gathering with a freedom song.
“The revolution done signed my name,” they moaned, invoking the names of the ancestors whose strength has willed them to persevere: Harriet Tubman. Shirley Chisholm. Aretha Franklin. Two were like them, daughters of Mississippi: Ella Jo Baker. Fannie Lou Hamer.
“All of us who are in the room right now are midwives for transformation,” said Rukia Lumumba, daughter of the late Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, and co-founder of the Electoral Justice Project.
The impact of such targeted work is evident. Black women went to the polls in record numbers last December to elect Doug Jones as the first Democratic senator from Alabama in 25 years. As of this week, 39 black women are nominees for the U.S. House in the November midterms, including 22 women who aren’t incumbents.
The meeting soon shifted to strategy as the women plotted how to harness the energy of black female voters this fall. Scenes like these are playing out across the country as black women convene at schools, churches and homes to plan how to make sure that black voters — particularly women — are aware of the upcoming elections, registered and planning to vote and that their family members will do the same.
It’s all part of an effort to reshape the politics of the Trump era when many black voters feel threatened by the country’s increasingly racially polarized climate, with concerns ranging from access to the ballot box to the president’s hostility to protesting NFL players and the violent demonstrations last summer in Charlottesville, Virginia.
In California, volunteers spent last weekend working at phone banks and texting for Ayanna Pressley, whose upset victory Tuesday put her on track to become Massachusetts’ first black female congresswoman. Others have started political action committees to provide financial resources to candidates such as Stacey Abrams, the Democratic nominee for governor in Georgia. If she wins in November, Abrams would become the first black female governor elected to lead a U.S. state.
The Mississippi gathering was part of a stop on a tour across the Deep South organized by LaTosha Brown, co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund, which aims to increase political power in black communities.
Brown said the time is now for black women to lead again. She pointed to incidents like the attempt to close a majority of polling places in Randolph County, Georgia, last month, as proof of the need for the kind of continued vigilance black women have long provided.
“This is what we do,” she said. “We want to take it to another level. We see what’s happening in this country. . We know how to fight, we know how to win, we know how to transform, we know how to build power. We have everything we need.”
Headed into November, black female organizers are hoping to elect more African-Americans to power and not simply be a reliable voting block for white Democrats.
In Alabama, “black women were looked to, to bail out Democrats and the state from a very problematic candidate,” said Glynda Carr, co-founder of Higher Heights for America, which focuses on electing black women and galvanizing them as voters. “Alabama was this tipping point around black women’s leadership, when we woke up to our Twitter feed going crazy. The broader community recognized black women are the building blocks to a winning coalition.”
Rhonda Briggins has long worked in politics but never considered herself “a money person” until this year. Briggins co-founded R.O.S.E.-PAC, short for Raising Our Sisters’ Electability, and started the Sisters Supporting Sisters campaign this summer, with the goal of getting 100 women at a time to donate $100 each.
Her pitch is simple: When black women go to the hair salon, she asks them to talk to other women about the midterms and about the importance of voting.
Along the Black Voters Matter Fund tour, Briggins told a crowd of black women organizers in Stockbridge, Georgia, “This is not a time for us to play.”
“So many times we have good sisters on the ballot and they don’t have the resources,” she said. “We’ve come together . we need people to educate everyone. We’re just trying to find grassroots ways to organize African-American women. We have been always behind the scenes.”
Fallon McClure, who was sitting in the audience, agreed.
“For the longest time, there’s been a lot of white-led organizations, and there’d be a sprinkling of women of color, but now it’s starting to be women of color-led organizations,” said McClure, state director for Spread the Vote, started by a black woman, which is working in states with voter ID laws to get free identification cards.
“Even in organizations that are still white-led, we’re seeing their whole organizing crew is starting to be black women and other women of color,” she continued. “They’ve been doing the work for a long time but weren’t necessarily getting the credit, or they had a regular, full-time job, and they were just kind of doing the work on the side because they cared about their community and wanted to make a difference, but now they’re getting the recognition for it.”
Black women are also collaborating across states and across the country to maximize their efforts. Many have worked together on previous campaigns or on other grassroots projects in black communities, bringing a familiarity to the work they now share.
As the Black Voters Matter Fund tour rolled through Mississippi, Kenya Collins and Cassandra Overton Welchlin chatted easily in their seats, each tooting the other’s horn and finishing the other’s sentences. Because there are so few black women on the ground, Collins explained, they have no choice but to stick together.
“In Mississippi, black women have always been about community,” said Overton Welchlin, co-convener of the Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable. “If we can shift the power to get black women to show up for every election, we can do some amazing things. The Bible says that in the multitude of counselors, plans succeed.”
For nearly two hours after the bus rolled into Jackson for the final meeting of the day, Brown listened to her sisters in the struggle discussing their work around issues from education to nutrition to reproductive rights. When it was her turn to speak, she ended her remarks by echoing Baker’s most famous line with a renewed urgency:
“We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”
Nigeria recently surpassed India to become the country with the highest number of people living in extreme poverty: 87 million. Nigeria is oil-rich and boasts Africa’s fastest growing economy. Yet six of its people fall into extreme poverty every minute.
This is the continent’s paradox: vast natural resources and mineral reserves alongside extreme poverty.
Historically, poverty has been predominantly dealt with as a lack of material resources or an income deprivation issue. Development work has focused on pushing resources to poor communities. Many have criticised the availability of “free money” through international aid, which they say has created a “dependency syndrome”, dishonest procurement and white elephant projects. Aid work has also been accused of fostering paternalism rather than partnership.
Without contextual knowledge, education and adaptation, foreign or imposed practices or resources cause new sets of problems. This is seen again and again across countries that depend on aid. For example, where food poverty was causing under-nutrition in parts of Malawi, financial aid has alleviated it. But that problem is quickly being replaced by diabetes and hypertension – because of a narrow financial solution to a complex problem.
We argue that tackling poverty requires a different focus, rather than just money. It requires partnerships and practices that promote learning, particularly in relation to cultural and self-knowledge. Having communities identify their own problems, then collaborate to find solutions, is also crucial. Money has a role to play in partnerships, but projects shouldn’t default to depending solely on it.
Many of the factors that are blamed for contributing to poverty are not measurable in dollar terms or connected to income. These include people’s lack of choices, restriction of freedom, lack of skills, gender castes and barriers.
Understanding these issues and their complexities require looking at poverty through a sustainability lens. This is a perspective that focuses on ethical and innovative ways to look at and use resources, share knowledge, and build a community to affect positive change.
Our work with the Sustainable Futures in Africa Network has shown the importance of this lens. We’re an interdisciplinary collective of researchers, educators, and communities of practice that aims to build understanding, research, and practice in socio-ecological sustainability (which recognizes the interconnection between social and ecological systems) in Africa.
We work from the understanding that because poverty is multifaceted, solutions to alleviate it must be multifaceted, too.
A number of the community projects we work with are engaged in poverty reduction practices but don’t focus solely on generating income. These projects are driven by communities on their own with existing resources; they rely on their own abilities and efforts that are not externally funded.
One example is ECOaction, which works in a slum community on the outskirts of Kampala in Uganda. Residents largely rely on collecting and selling discarded plastic bottles collected from across the city for small amounts of money.
With no resource other than time and vision, residents have built a community hall from recycled water bottles and an urban garden that grows food for residents and a chicken farm. Colorful murals and sculpture can be found around every corner.
In Botswana, the Sustainable Futures in Africa team is working with a community in Mmadinare to develop a project that will protect their farmland from wild elephants. This will not rely on or generate, external funding. But it will protect the farmers’ and the wild animals’ interests.
There are other ways to build strong sustainable communities without external financial resources. In Taba Padang, a village in Indonesia, sustainable community forestry is helping improve human well-being. There’s also Boomu African Village in Uganda, where a women’s group participates in eco-tourism and invests back into the community. They have built a nursery school and trained other residents in their village to get involved in eco-tourism.
Other self-reliance projects centre on health. For example in Lesotho, volunteers participate in community home-based health care and fill the gap in the community health care chain.
A new lens
There is, of course, no one-size-fits-all solution that will end poverty. But aid in the form of donated money, from one place to another, is culturally, practically, and ethically problematic.
Money is not the currency of well-being, sustainability, and community cohesion. More often, it’s a tool for influence and power dynamics that will favor the creditor. That’s why partnerships that rely on different types of resources and bring people together to design and act on context-relevant solutions can be such powerful drivers of change. That’s why for resource-rich Africa, promoting self-reliance would be key to eliminating poverty.
This article was co-authored by Dr. Deepa Pullanikkatil, who recently completed a residency at the University of Glasgow funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, UK. She is the co-founder of Abundance (www.abundanceworldwide.org).
At an inner-city stable in one of the grittiest areas of Baltimore, a vanishing breed of urban horsemen prepares for its weekly visit to Pennsylvania Dutch country, where Mennonite farmers are helping to carry on a merchant tradition handed down through generations of African-American families.
On this recent morning, a few of the remaining practitioners of an obscure trade and folk culture known as arabbing are taking ponies to get shod in New Holland, Pennsylvania, where horse-drawn buggies clip-clop along rural blacktops and craftsmen still make wooden wagon wheels, carriages and leather harnesses.
It’s an unlikely cross-cultural bond: a tight community of African-American horsemen in impoverished West Baltimore and rural Old Order Mennonites who shun most modern conveniences. Their worlds come together via a dependence on horses and a determination to live proudly on the margins of modern society.
“We rely on Mennonite know-how because we don’t have the knowledge and the tools to do some of this stuff anymore. It’s the way we found to keep this life going,” said James “Fruit” Chase, the leader of a roughly 20-horse stable that’s the strongest remnant of Baltimore’s old arabbing tradition.
Selling fruit and vegetables from horse-drawn carts — which took root with black families in Baltimore after the Civil War — persists in this city not through nostalgia but through need. Baltimore’s remaining arabbers — a name derived from an old term for peddlers of 19th century London and pronounced AY-rabbers — work out of three licensed stables tucked away in areas where healthful food is scarce among corner markets and greasy takeout joints.
In recent decades, the street peddlers managed to forge a sustaining link with Pennsylvania’s tradition-bound Mennonites — generally less austere cousins to the Amish.
Daniel Van Allen, the head of Baltimore’s Arabber Preservation Society, describes the little-known connection between the arabbers and Old Order Mennonites as “the meeting of two subcultures.”
“They’re not involved with the same big-budget, big-money economy that the modern people are,” said Van Allen, adding that Baltimore is the last U.S. city to have functional horse-cart vending.
Chase, a charismatic man with an easy smile, has developed warm friendships with conservative Mennonites, young and old. What was once a culture clash for him has become a weekly visit full of common ground. Two Associated Press journalists accompanied Chase and two arabbing colleagues on a recent visit to an Old Order Mennonite family’s 35-acre (14-hectare) farm, where water is pumped by hand and Scripture verses are read by candlelight.
The West Baltimore horseman — in a camouflage cap, jeans and sneakers — presented a striking contrast with patriarch Leon Hoover’s family. The bearded farmer and his four boys dressed alike in straw hats and pants hitched up by suspenders. His wife and eldest daughter wore long dresses and bonnets.
“You can’t really go a lot of places and not see people arguing, fighting and fussing. But up here, it’s like a piece of heaven,” said Chase, relaxing on the porch of the Hoovers’ rambling farmhouse after picking strawberries with the Mennonite youngsters he’s introduced to his own.
Hoover, whose family has farmed an electricity-free patch of New Holland for generations, said he valued Chase’s friendship. His children break out into wide grins every time they see West Baltimore’s arabbers coming.
“We trust James. We don’t travel much and the children like to hear his stories from the city,” Hoover said as he inspected tomato vines.
In this June 20, 2018 photo, boys watch as arabber Bilal Yusuf Abdullah prepares his horse-drawn cart full of produce outside a stable in Baltimore. At one time, numerous stables could be found scattered across Baltimore and other U.S. cities. But by the 1960s, urban renewal, supermarkets and other developments reduced Baltimore’s number to about 25. When the city’s wholesale produce markets closed to make way for downtown developments, arabbers were pushed further to the margins. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Pretty much every Monday, Chase also stops at a Mennonite auction that provides affordable horses, some for as little as $700. Mennonite men outside the auction did the hard work of shoeing the arabbers’ ponies and filing their back teeth on a blazingly hot afternoon.
Like many old traditions, arabbing has greatly diminished in Baltimore due to development and urban renewal. At one time, stables were scattered across the city. But by the 1960s, their number had decreased to 25. Arabbers were pushed further toward the margins when the city’s wholesale produce markets closed.
Now, Chase is one of a dozen people who still tenaciously cling to the trade, loading up bounties of wholesalers’ produce on canopied red-and-yellow painted carts pulled by horses with bells and feather plumes. Harnesses are embellished with heart-shaped brass rivets.
Faithful customers, often elderly people, emerge on blocks marred by boarded-up properties to buy from arabbers’ carts. It’s the only option many citizens in Baltimore’s poorest areas have to purchase fresh food that doesn’t involve a lengthy bus trip or two.
Baltimore’s arabber clans say they’ve got no choice but to put in the hard hours to sustain the life they love. They are “horse crazy,” they say, and are deeply proud of family legacies stretching back over a century in some cases.
The highlight of their week? Traveling to Pennsylvania Dutch country.
“I let my city stress fade up there until I cross that Maryland line again,” said Chase, as the sun rose over the Fremont Street stable decorated with colorful murals honoring his family’s arabbing heritage.
A Jerusalem museum is breathing life into the ancient city with a new virtual reality tour that allows visitors to experience how archaeologists believe Jerusalem looked 2,000 years ago.
The Tower of David Museum, which is housed in the Old City’s ancient stronghold, plans to launch the high-tech guided tour this month ahead of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.
The virtual reality guide, “Step into History,” offers visitors a chance to “walk in the streets of Jerusalem and enjoy the present and take a look back to the past,” said Tower of David Museum director Eilat Lieber.
Working with archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority, Lithodomos VR created 360-degree simulations of how Jerusalem’s citadel, palaces, streets and ancient Jewish temple are believed to have appeared during its heyday under King Herod in the first century B.C. and during the life of Jesus.
Herod, a Roman vassal who ruled Judaea from 37-4 B.C., invested heavily in large construction projects across his realm, including a major expansion of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and the fortress and palace where the Tower of David stands today. His monuments, including the mountaintop fortress at Masada and the port city of Caesarea, are among the most visited sites in Israel.
“Especially with Jerusalem, I think the biggest challenge was getting it right,” said Simon Young, founder of Lithodomos VR, an Australian startup. “There’s a lot of different opinions about how Jerusalem looked in the ancient world… Of course, we want to do justice to Jerusalem and to make it as accurate as possible.”
Lithodomos VR’s team of archaeologists and artists has produced similar projects in London, Rome, Athens and other cities.
The Tower of David Museum also houses an innovation lab in a chamber at the top of a Herodian-era keep that once served as the chambers of Jerusalem’s Ottoman governor. The lab, launched in October 2017, hosts startups such as Lithodomos VR that are developing technologies to enhance visitor experience, with a particular emphasis on virtual and enhanced reality. The site also holds an elaborate light show that projects moving images in intricate detail on the ancient walls of the Old City.
Accompanied by a guide, visitors will be able explore nine different vantage points in the city, starting at the citadel — an Ottoman-era fortress built atop remnants of several earlier bastions — then meandering through the Old City’s Jewish Quarter down toward the remains of the Second Jewish Temple. In order to keep from crashing into modern Jerusalem, visitors carry the goggles between sites, then put them on once they are stationary.
At each point, a narrator explains the historical significance of the structures they can see in the goggles: the columned marketplace of the Cardo, the heart of the ancient city; the soaring towers of Herod’s citadel; the opulent pools of his pleasure palace; and the temple. The VR tour around the Old City takes approximately two hours, the museum said.
The tour is confined to the Old City’s Jewish Quarter. The Old City lies in east Jerusalem — an area captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war and claimed by the Palestinians as their future capital. Israel rejects any division of the Old City — home to Jerusalem’s most sensitive Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites.
Young says the Lithodomos VR team would be interested in adding additional historical layers to the virtual reality guide that would allow people to explore Jerusalem during other periods, such as the Crusades.
Judy Magnusson, an Australian tourist who previewed the tour on Monday ahead of its launch, said the virtual reality-enhanced experience “brings history to life” and makes the stories about the city “more real.”
The months ahead of midterm elections, often a time of lower turnout among African-Americans and others, have become a focus of passionate activity by black Christian leaders.
“The attacks on the Voting Rights Act and other setbacks in civil rights have alerted the faith community that we need to take action,” said the Rev. Barbara Williams-Skinner, co-chair of the National African American Clergy Network. “We need to be proactive and not reactive.”
It’s been five years since the Supreme Court invalidated a key provision of the VRA, and voters in almost two dozen states face stricter rules. In response, black denominations and networks focused on people of color and the poor are gearing up in hopes of getting more people to the ballot box in November:
This week, leaders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church plan to continue their “AME Righteous Vote” initiative with mobilization briefings, Capitol Hill meetings and a “Call to Conscience” vigil at Lafayette Square across from the White House.
Faith in Action, the grassroots organization formerly known as PICO National Network, hopes to reach more than a million people in 150 cities with phone calls and door-to door visits before Election Day on Nov. 6.
A “Lawyers and Collars” program co-led by the Skinner Leadership Institute and Sojourners plans to train clergy on voter protection, hold meetings with state elections officials and spend Election Day at the polls with lawyers to assist voters.
Stricter rules at polling places — such as ID laws — could lead to people being turned away on Nov. 6. Pastors and other leaders can serve as advocates on their behalf, said Williams-Skinner, who is also CEO of the Maryland-based institute.
Willie Barnes II and Marlaa MeShon Hall Reid participate in an AME #RighteousVote Empowerment Seminar in Atlanta on June 25, 2018. Photo courtesy Bishop Frank M. Reid III
“We’re saying that vulnerable voters need to have protection and we believe that the most respected leaders (and) the influential stakeholders should be there,” she said. “As they stand in line with people, people will stay in line no matter what happens.”
Before its Washington-area activities this week, the AME Church held an “annual empowerment seminar” in June in Atlanta to encourage its leaders to be involved in educating prospective voters in the upcoming elections. In one announcement, Bishop Frank M. Reid III, chair of the denomination’s Social Action Commission, stressed the need for turnout “in this important spiritual and political season.”
In an interview, Reid explained that the call to elective action relates directly to the desire of church members to address social justice issues.
“We’re concerned about voter registration and voter turnout because without those things we cannot make America fair for the elderly who need affordable health care, our children, especially poor children,” he said, “who in the past received health care and food.”
Likewise, Faith in Action is talking with prospective voters about issues they care about, from the alleviation of poverty to mass incarceration. As the midterms near, the network is partnering with historically black denominations and justice-centered evangelical organizations to focus on minority communities that generally get little attention in get-out-the vote efforts.
“Our work is really about making sure that our communities have access to resources, to skills, to tools that can maximize the vote,” said the Rev. Michael McBride, director of Faith in Action’s Live Free campaign.
Although pre-election activity is reaching a new volume with the election just two months away, some groups shone attention on the issue earlier in the year.
At the annual convention of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network in April, U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., was among the speakers on a panel about the black church and voter mobilization. He explained that congregants can’t knock on doors as representatives of their congregation and advocate for a particular candidate. But they can be involved in a range of nonpartisan activities.
“If the church is engaged in a get-out-the vote effort, you can use a church van, church bus, church resources as long as it’s not a partisan activity,” said Butterfield, a lifelong Baptist who co-moderated the panel featuring clergy and political action committee leaders.
Church of God in Christ Bishop Talbert Swan, who was one of the NAN panelists, said in a recent interview that the changes in voting rules that often affect African-American communities — such as reductions in early voting opportunities — have made the initiatives more necessary.
“I think there’s a renewed sense of urgency because it seems that the nation is trying to go back to a time prior to voting rights of African-Americans,” said Swan, who cited the Supreme Court’s nullification of a key provision of the VRA. “While it’s still on the books, we essentially right now don’t have a Voting Rights Act, which is the reason why states across the nation can opt to put in place voter suppression regulations and laws.”
Bishop Talbert Swan, the leader of the Church of God in Christ’s Nova Scotia jurisdiction, addressed a summit of the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 21, 2018. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks
The Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas said that in the past, the Supreme Court was seen as an ally, handing down dramatic civil rights court decisions, such as the Brown v. Board of Education ruling that declared school segregation unconstitutional.
Now, she said, with the Supreme Court turning more conservative, congressional races are crucial.
“Particularly when we talk about civil rights and people of color and African-Americans, our progress has come because we’ve had the court on our side,” said Douglas, dean of the Episcopal Divinity School and canon theologian of Washington National Cathedral. “We don’t have that. We’ve lost that.”
Black Protestants made up 7 percent of voters in the 2016 election, according to Pew Research. Ninety-six percent voted for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while only 3 percent voted for Donald Trump.
The Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, dean of New York’s Episcopal Divinity School and canon theologian of the Washington National Cathedral, at the Poor People’s Campaign rally in Washington on June 23, 2018. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks
Overall, African-Americans made up 10 percent of voters, according to Pew. Ninety-one percent supported Clinton, while 6 percent supported Trump. Pew also reported their turnout was down compared with the 2012 election.
But, citing how the black faith community was credited with helping defeat Roy Moore in his bid to become an Alabama senator, Douglas said it is possible to have successful get-out-the vote campaigns that remain nonpartisan.
“You don’t have to tell people who to vote for,” she said. “You don’t have to be partisan. You just have to tell them to vote and you trust your constituency.”
Ma Rainey was one of Paramount Records’ most popular artists. JP Jazz Archive/Redferns
In the 1920s and 1930s, record sales of black artists were very lucrative for the music industry. As a June 1926 article from Talking Machine World explained:
The Negro trade is…itself…an enormously profitable occupation for the retailer who knows his way about…. The segregation of the Negro population has enabled dealers to build up a trade catering to this race exclusively.
Yet record companies routinely took advantage of the more unschooled, vernacular performers – especially black ones, who were already denied access to broader markets. It was standard operating procedure back in the days of “race music” – the name given to recordings by black artists that were marketed to the black buying public.
“Some will rob you with a six-gun…and some with a fountain pen.” So said Woody Guthrie in his song “Pretty Boy Floyd.”
Bottom line: if record companies could get away with it, there was no bottom line. No negotiated contract to sign. No publishing. No royalties. Wham bam thank you man. Take a low-ball flat fee and hit the road. Anonymity was also implicit in the deal, so many black artists were forgotten, their only legacy the era’s brittle shellac disks that were able to withstand the wear of time.
One of the most prominent early race labels was Paramount Records, which, between 1917 and 1932, recorded a breathtaking cross-section of seminal African-American artists.
In 2013 I learned that Jack White of Third Man Records (in partnership with Dean Blackwood’s Revenant Records) would be putting together a compilation of Paramount’s historic recordings. The project would be a grand collaboration of two deluxe volumes that would contain a stunning 1,600 tracks.
I was part of a team of researchers and writers tasked with unearthing new information about the featured artists and their songs. For me, it was an opportunity to put a face on some of Paramount’s more enigmatic artists. Listening to track after track, a zeitgeist began to coalesce. As voices from the grooves accrued to tell a story of a collective black experience, I came to see these performances as cumulative cultural memory – each track a brushstroke in a painting of a long-forgotten landscape.
The Pullman quartets, I learned, were a franchise: multiple configurations of singers performing concurrently under the company banner. They put on concerts, either performing live on the radio, or on long haul train routes as a form of passenger entertainment. The men who made the records were billed as the “President’s Own” – the working Pullman porters considered the company’s premier lineup.
In the late 1920s, The Pullman Porters Quartette of Chicago recorded a number of sides for Paramount. One tune was “Jog-a-Long Boys,” where they sang of sad roosters and being turned down by widow Brown, the “fattest gal in town.” The chorus went:
Jog-a-long, boys, jog-a-long, boys,
Be careful when you smile,
Do the latest style,
But jog-a-long, jog-a-long boys.
Jog-a-long, boys, jog-a-long, boys,
Don’t fool with google eyes,
That would not be wise,
But jog-a-long, jog-a-long boys.
At first, it seemed as if it were no more than a silly ditty performed in upbeat counterpoint harmony. Then it hit me: they were making light of a horrific reality – specifically, that a black man who dared to smile or even look askance at a white woman was putting himself in grave danger.
Look your best, but don’t forget your place…and just jog along, boys.
Horace George of Horace George’s Jubilee Harmonizers was a showman and an opportunist, a versatile musician who performed in whatever style sold, whether it was novelty gospel, blues, comedy or jazz.
His gospel group cut one record for Paramount in 1924, but he first surfaced as early as 1906, advertised in the Indianapolis Freeman as “the great clarinetist, comedian, and vocalist.” A few years later, George found himself in Seattle as the “Famous Colored Comedian…who gives correct images,” and later as the “Man with the Clarinet” in a touring black vaudeville troupe, the Great Dixieland Spectacle Company.
In the late 1910s, a black newspaper – the Indianapolis Freeman – called Horace George “a novelty on any bill.” The novelty? He could play three clarinets at once!
Rev TT Rose
Beyond the rollicking piano-driven gospel sides he cut for Paramount in the late 1920s, nothing was known of Rev T T Rose. Rose’s “Goodbye Babylon” was the title track of Dust-to-Digital’s 2004 Grammy-nominated collection, Goodbye, Babylon. It was also inspiration for a rock ‘n’ roll tune by the Black Keys. And Rose’s recording of “If I Had My Way, I’d Tear This Building Down” – later performed by artists ranging from Rev. Gary Davis to the Grateful Dead – is one of the earliest known recorded versions of that song.
Rev Rose’s personal story was the most heartening of all. He lived in Springfield, Illinois, and I located his 90-plus-year-old daughter Dorothy, who described her father as a man on a mission to end racism and institutionalized segregation.
As a child, Rose had witnessed the aftermath of the infamous 1908 Springfield Race Riots, an event that precipitated the formation of the NAACP. In the late 1920s Rose moved from Chicago to Springfield, in order to minister the city’s black community.
In an oral history recording, Rev Rose described Springfield as “just really a type of Southern town” with an “overpowering resentment of the Negro…distrust and the fear that the Negro might someday become stronger.” When he returned to Springfield, he observed that the time that had elapsed since the race riots was “a very short span of time to erase all the scars and the prejudices and the hate that was engendered…in that very unfortunate affair.”
It was a hate, he continued, that “Kind of hung like a cloud from an atomic bomb over the whole neighborhood” causing the black citizens of Springfield to go “into themselves quite a bit.”
After his short recording career with Paramount in the late 1920s, Rev Rose went on to become a regional bishop in the Church of God in Christ. He recorded because he thought songs could both uplift and spread messages of hope and perseverance in the struggle for Civil Rights. When he sang “If I Had My Way,” it’s clear that the building he wanted to tear down was no less than the edifice of racism.
A fiery, old-school pastor who is under fire for saying black America is losing “its soul” at Aretha Franklin’s funeral stands firm by his words with the hope critics can understand his perspective.
Rev. Jasper Williams Jr. told The Associated Press in a phone interview Sunday he felt his sermon was appropriate at Franklin’s funeral Friday in Detroit. He felt his timing was right, especially after other speakers spoke on the civil rights movement and President Donald Trump.
“I was trying to show that the movement now is moving and should move in a different direction,” he said. “… What we need to do is create respect among ourselves. Aretha is the person with that song ‘R-E-S-P-E-C-T’ that is laid out for us and what we need to be as a race within ourselves. We need to show each other that. We need to show each other respect. That was the reason why I did it.”
Williams, who is the pastor of Salem Bible Church in Atlanta, said his words about black women being incapable of raising sons alone were taken out of context. He described as “abortion after birth” the idea of children being raised without a “provider” father and a mother as the “nurturer.”
Many thought Williams took a shot at Franklin, who was a single mother of four boys. But the pastor said a household can become stronger with two parents rather than one.
“Here’s the root of what I’ve been talking about: In order to change America, we must change black America’s culture,” he said. “We must do it through parenting. In order for the parenting to go forth, it has to be done in the home. The home.”
Williams also received backlash for his thoughts about the Black Lives Matter movement.
Some called Williams’ eulogy a “disaster” as his speech caused an uproar on social media and in the funeral crowd, including Stevie Wonder who yelled out “Black Lives Matter” after the pastor said “No, black lives do not matter” during his sermon.
“I think Stevie Wonder did not understand what I said,” Williams said. “I said blacks do not matter, because black lives cannot matter, will not matter, should not matter, must not matter until black people begin to respect their own lives. Then and only then will black lives matter. That’s what I said, and again, and again, and again. We need to have respect for each other. Once we start doing that, then we can begin to change.”
Some questioned why he was chosen to honor Franklin. The pastor, who eulogized Franklin’s father, minister and civil rights activist C.L. Franklin, 34 years ago, said he was appointed by the family to handle the eulogy at her funeral. The pastor said the last time he spoke with Aretha Franklin was a few months ago.
Williams was blasted on social media for misogyny, bigotry and the perpetuation of false science on race. He blamed integration and the civil rights movement for ripping the heart out of black micro-economies that once relied on black-owned small businesses such as grocery stores, hotels and banks.
Williams said he hasn’t heard “one way or another” from the Franklin family, but knows about the social media criticism of him.
“I’m sure much of the negativity is due to the fact that they don’t understand what I’m talking about,” he said. “Anybody who thinks black America is all right as we are now is crazy. We’re not all right. It’s a lot of change that needs to occur. This change must come from within us. Nobody can give us things to eliminate where we are. We have to change from within ourselves. It is ludicrous for the church not to be involved. The church is the only viable institution we have in the African-American community. We must step up and turn our race around.”
Even though Williams spoke for nearly 50 minutes of the eight-hour funeral, the pastor said he didn’t have enough time to delve deep into his sermon. He said he will expound more on his sermon and how Franklin was originally named the “Queen of Soul” for the next two Sundays at his church.
“I think if she’s immortalized, she should be immortalized,” he said. “If we can turn black America around, it would be the greatest and best immortalization we could properly give to her for what she did for black America and the world when she lived.”
There’s a story in the Old Testament about the king of Babylon, Belshazzar, who hosted a dinner for his religious leaders and royal elites. The blindingly arrogant king, surrounded by adoring sycophants, hauled out the holy articles stolen from the temple in Jerusalem to swank up his party.
The lesson of Belshazzar is that co-opting the things of God for the purpose of arrogant power is dangerous business. God showed up in a puzzling display of divine judgment — a great hand appeared and began to write on the wall.
On Monday night (August 27), the White House hosted something like a state dinner to honor the leadership of American evangelicals. Many cabinet members were present, along with the president, the first lady and dozens of members of the group of informal evangelical advisers who enjoy unique access to President Trump.
It’s the latest puzzling contradiction raised by evangelicals working in the service of a president whose character and so many of his policies stand in direct contradiction to the words of Jesus.
As evangelicals not invited to the party — and not likely to be anytime soon — we are astonished that none of these leaders seem to have brought before the president and his cabinet the justice issues so pressing in our day.
Speaking to David Brody on the Christian Broadcasting Network prior to the dinner, Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Dallas, declared the real reason for the event, saying the White House is “cognizant of the fact that the midterms are coming up. And they’re facing the possibility of a Democrat Congress that, if they take control of the legislature, are going to either impeach this president from office or at least paralyze him while he’s in office. … He knows he’s got to have his evangelical base behind him.”
Pastor Robert Jeffress introduces President Trump during the Celebrate Freedom event at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, on July 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Pastor Robert Jeffress introduces President Trump during the Celebrate Freedom event at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, on July 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Jeffress isn’t even hiding the partisan political role he is actively playing. Instead of showing up on God’s terms he’s all about the midterms!
What is the cost of this wholesale evangelical sellout? Among other concerns is the plight of persecuted Christians and other religious minorities around the world, who have been all but abandoned by the president’s near shutdown of the long-standing U.S. refugee resettlement program.
The numbers are stark. Over the past decade, according to the State Department’s Refugee Processing Center, the U.S. welcomed more than 280,000 persecuted Christians to enjoy religious freedom and rebuild their lives. Some 42,000 Christians found refuge here in 2016 alone.
Since coming into office, the Trump administration has dramatically slashed the number of refugees entering the U.S. through a combination of executive orders, historically low ceilings on refugee admissions and intentional slowdowns of processing overseas.
Christians have been harmed alongside Muslims and others. With just one month left in the current fiscal year, the U.S. is on track to receive fewer than 14,700 Christian refugees and fewer than 22,000 total.
Many of those admitted in recent years have been persecuted particularly for their Christian faith, fleeing brutal governments that have no respect for religious liberty in countries such as Myanmar, Iran and North Korea and terrorist groups like the so-called Islamic State and al-Qaida in Iraq and Syria. Were these fellow Christians mentioned at the White House?
Resettlement of persecuted Christians from Iran and Iraq – which together accounted for about 60,000 Christian refugees over the past decade – are down by roughly 99 percent: Just 46 Christian refugees have been allowed to arrive this fiscal year from these two countries, among those where advocacy group Open Doors says that Christians face the “most extreme” persecution in the world.
President Trump bows his head as pastor Paula White leads the room in prayer during a dinner for evangelical leaders in the State Dining Room of the White House on Aug. 27, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Other religious minorities have been kept out as well: just one Jewish refugee has been allowed in from Iran (compared to more than 70 in 2016), and only five Yazidis from Iraq (compared to hundreds in 2016). Any mention of these needy people of faith Monday night?
We’re not only concerned about the plight of Christians or other religious minorities: We’re equally troubled by the decline in resettlement of Muslim refugees, whose arrival numbers are down to fewer than 3,000 thus far this fiscal year, on track for a decline of more than 90 percent compared to two years ago. As Christians, we believe that Muslims are among the “neighbors” whom Jesus explicitly commands his followers to love.
After all, when Jesus responded to the clarifying question “who is my neighbor?” he told the story of a man — the Good Samaritan — who provided help to someone of a different religious tradition who was in desperate need. Where was the advocacy for our Muslim friends?
To be honest, we’re not surprised that most of the president’s evangelical supporters are not lobbying on behalf of Muslim refugees. Some of them were calling for a Muslim ban before Donald Trump did. Fully three-quarters of white evangelicals supported the president’s initial executive order barring refugees and Muslims from entering the country.
But we had hoped that the White House’s guests would show concern about the plight of fellow Christians, as even the president seemed to be as he entered office: In an interview recorded the day he signed his first executive order barring refugees Trump said he would be doing more to help persecuted Christians fleeing Syria. “We are going to help them,” the president pledged in a CBN interview. “They’ve been horribly treated. Do you know if you were a Christian in Syria it was impossible, at least very tough to get into the United States?”
It’s true that the share of Syrian refugees admitted to the U.S. in fiscal 2016 was small, but at least 120 Syrian Christians were admitted that year. In the past eight months, only nine Syrian Christian refugees have been able to come to the U.S., on track for an annual decline of about 90 percent. Were the traumas of Syria spoken of on Monday evening?
There are evangelical Christians concerned about this dynamic. A letter released earlier this month by the leaders of several influential evangelical organizations, including the National Association of Evangelicals, the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, World Relief, and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, urged the administration to consider an annual ceiling of at least 75,000 refugees for the upcoming year, consistent with historical norms. We were proud to add our names to the letter.
“Belshazzar’s Feast” by John Martin circa 1821. Image courtesy Creative Commons
We wonder if the invited evangelical “advisers,” while mingling with the president and his cabinet, considered these numbers worth mentioning. We genuinely hoped that these leaders would advocate for them behind the scenes, even if few have spoken publicly. Did they take these concerns to the president in secret?
If Trump further reduces the refugee numbers next month as expected, we’ll know the true price of a White House dinner.
At the end of the biblical story, Daniel, the faithful servant of God, was summoned to decipher the writing on the wall:
Oh King, your days are numbered
You’ve been weighed and found wanting
Your kingdom will be divided and given to your enemies
If we take the lessons of the biblical prophet Daniel seriously, what came true for King Belshazzar threatens this president too.
(Shane Claiborne is founder of The Simple Way in Philadelphia, and co-founder of Red Letter Christians. Don Golden is executive director of Red Letter Christians and a former executive at World Vision and World Relief. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)
More than a dozen years ago I was a finalist for a reporting job at a small newspaper. All I needed to do was survive an interview with the top editor. The other editors warned me, saying their boss took perverse pleasure from smashing the hopes of naive reporters. I braced myself as he studied my resume. His lips curled into a sneer.
To be fair, my job history was a tad unusual. I had spent five years in full-time ministry, including three as an evangelical Christian missionary in Kenya. Then there was my master’s degree in theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. There didn’t seem to be a lot of churchgoing, Bible-believing, born-again Christians like me working at daily papers.
The editor scowled and said, “So what makes you think that a Christian can be a good journalist?”
He emphasized “Christian” as if it were some kind of slur.
I liked that he spoke his mind, but I was taken aback. I explained what I saw as a natural progression from the ministry to muckraking, pointing out that both are valid ways of serving a higher cause. The Bible endorses telling the truth, without bias. So does journalism. The Bible commands honesty and integrity. In journalism, your reputation is your main calling card with sources and readers.
Obviously, many people have succeeded as reporters without strong religious beliefs. But I told him my faith had made me a better, more determined journalist. He replied with a noncommittal grunt. But I got the job.
My response to that editor is more relevant than ever today. It has become popular for some conservative leaders to argue that people like me don’t exist in America’s newsrooms or that journalism is immoral. Just the other day, a Washington State lawmaker called journalists “dirty, godless, hateful people,” according to The Seattle Times. President Donald Trump seems to take delight in taunting reporters and has referred to members of the media as “lying, disgusting people.”
It’s estimated that about a third of Americans attend a regular church service. From my experience, most newsrooms don’t come close to that. But in 17 years, I’ve never had a colleague suggest that my religious beliefs kept me from hard-nosed reporting. In fact, my convictions give me a foundation to be demanding.
After a few years, I moved on to the Las Vegas Sun. Yes, it occurred to me that God must have a sense of humor, if not irony, if his plan for me involved Sin City. I became a health care reporter and began gathering statistics that showed the local hospitals were not as safe as advertised. The articles we published led to new state laws that favored patients and jolted powerful institutions in Las Vegas.
Journalists, particularly those who do investigative reporting, tend to annoy people in powerful positions. Some people might think that Christians are supposed to be soft and acquiescent rather than muckrakers who hold the powerful to account. But what I do as an investigative reporter is consistent with what the Bible teaches.
The mission statement of ProPublica, my employer, says we want to use the “moral force of investigative journalism to spur reform.” If you go through my work, you may sense a bit of “moral force.”
The Bible teaches that people are made in the image of God and that each human life holds incredible value. So when I learned that medical mistakes are one of the leading causes of death in America, I called attention to the problem.
The Apostle Paul points out that God comforts us so that we can be a comfort to others. So since 2012 I’ve moderated the ProPublica Patient Safety Facebook group, so people who have been harmed by medical care have a place to turn.
Proverbs talks about how hearing only one side of a story can be misleading: “The first to speak in court sounds right — until the cross-examination begins.” At ProPublica and many other journalism outlets, reporters go to great lengths to get all sides of every story.
Another basic tenet of fairness is refusing to accept any gifts, of any amount. Our readers need to trust that our work is untainted by any reward. “Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent,” Deuteronomy says.
Most journalists admit their mistakes and run corrections. This is consistent with biblical teaching about humility.
God didn’t direct the writers of the Bible to avoid controversy. I love how Luke describes his mission in the first few verses of his Gospel: “I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning,” he wrote, “so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”
Luke’s goal was to tell the truth about Jesus, which upset many people. Luke didn’t airbrush the early Christians. He named names. Luke told the story of Judas betraying Jesus. He exposed Peter denying Jesus three times. He verified the facts and then told the truth. If it was good enough for Luke, it’s good enough for me.
The biblical mandate is to tell the truth. But some conservative Christians don’t seem to understand that. I started out in the Christian media and had run-ins with editors because of my interest in reporting about Christian leaders, even if it made them look bad. Administrators recently censored student journalists at Liberty University, a conservative Christian institution, for, in their view, making the school look bad. But God calls us to publish the truth, not propaganda.
The biblical prophets were the moral conscience of God’s people. Today, in a nonreligious sense, journalists are the moral conscience of the wider culture. We live in a fallen world, so there’s no shortage of material.
It takes some sinners a while to repent, and some never do. That means the influential people we expose might criticize us or call us names. They might even think we’re godless. But journalists are called to keep digging until we find the truth — and then proclaim it.
ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom.
Louis Farrakhan, from left, Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson and former President Bill Clinton attend the funeral service for Aretha Franklin at Greater Grace Temple, Friday, Aug. 31, 2018, in Detroit. Franklin died Aug. 16, 2018 of pancreatic cancer at the age of 76. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Former presidents and preachers joined a parade of music stars and other speakers Friday in a singing, hip-swaying, piano-pounding farewell to Aretha Franklin, remembering the Queen of Soul as a powerful force for musical and political change and a steadfast friend and family member.
“Aretha’s singing challenged the dangling discords of hate and lies and racism and injustice,” the pastor William J. Barber II said. “Her singing was revelation and was revolution.”
In a send-off both grand and personal, a celebrity lineup of mourners filled the same Detroit church that hosted Rosa Parks’ funeral and offered prayers, songs and dozens of tributes. Guests included former President Bill Clinton, former first lady Hillary Clinton, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson.
Robinson, the Motown great, remembered first hearing Franklin play piano when he was just 8 and remained close to her for the rest of her life. They talked for hours at a time.
“You’re so special,” he said, before crooning a few lines from his song “Really Gonna Miss You,” with the line “really gonna be different without you.”
Bill Clinton described himself as an Aretha Franklin “groupie,” saying he had loved her since college. He traced her life’s journey, praising her as someone who “lived with courage, not without fear, but overcoming her fears.”
He remembered attending her last public performance, at Elton John’s AIDS Foundation benefit in November in New York. She looked “desperately ill” but managed to greet him by standing and saying, “How you doing, baby?”
Her career, Clinton noted, spanned from vinyl records to cellphones. He held the microphone near his iPhone and played a snippet of Franklin’s classic “Think,” the audience clapping along.
“It’s the key to freedom!” Clinton said.
Lasting more than six hours, the service at Greater Grace Temple encompassed many elements, emotions and regal entrances that were hallmarks of Franklin’s more than six decades on sacred and secular stages. She was remembered as the pride of Detroit and a citizen of the world.
Actress Cicely Tyson reworked the Paul Laurence Dunbar poem “When Malindy Sings” to “When Aretha Sings.” Music mogul Clive Davis, who helped revive Franklin’s career in the 1980s, described her as a loving friend and a dedicated and unpredictable artist, whose passions ranged from soul to ballet. He remembered her turning up at a tribute to him in a tutu.
“There was the Queen of Soul, accompanied by members of the City Center Ballet Company,” he recalled, with Franklin “doing well-rehearsed pirouettes and dancing with most impressive agility and dignity. It was wonderful.”
Jennifer Hudson, whom Franklin said she wanted to play her in a movie about her life, brought the crowd to its feet with a rousing “Amazing Grace.” Ariana Grande sang one of the Queen’s biggest hits, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” and Faith Hill performed “What a Friend We Have In Jesus.”
The Aretha Franklin Orchestra opened the funeral with a medley featuring “I Say a Little Prayer,” ”Angel” and other songs she was known for, along with such gospel numbers as “I Love the Lord” and “Walk in the Light.”
A statement from former President George W. Bush that was read to the crowd said Franklin would “continue to bring joy to millions for generations to come.” The Rev. Al Sharpton read a statement from former President Barack Obama, who wrote that Franklin’s “work reflected the very best of the American story.”
Sharpton received loud cheers when he denounced President Donald Trump for saying that the singer “worked for” him as he responded to her death. “She performed for you,” Sharpton said of Franklin, who had sung at Trump-owned venues. “She worked for us.”
“She gave us pride. She gave us a regal bar to reach. She represented the best in our community,” Sharpton said.
Many noted her longtime commitment to civil rights and lasting concern for the poor. The Rev. Jesse Jackson urged attendees to honor her memory and register to vote. Her friend Greg Mathis, the reality show host and retired Michigan judge, recalled his last conversation with her. They talked about the tainted water supply in Flint. “You go up there and sock it to ’em,” she urged Mathis, paraphrasing the “sock it to me” refrain from “Respect.”
Franklin died Aug. 16 at age 76.
Her body arrived in a 1940 Cadillac LaSalle hearse. She wore a shimmering gold dress, with sequined heels — the fourth outfit Franklin was clothed in during a week of events leading up to her funeral.
The casket was carried to the church that also sent Franklin’s father, the renowned minister C.L. Franklin, to his and Parks’ final resting place at Woodlawn Cemetery, where the singer will join them. Pink Cadillacs filled the street outside the church, a reference to a Franklin hit from the 1980s, “Freeway of Love.”
Program covers showed a young Franklin, with a slight smile and sunglasses perched on her nose, and the caption “A Celebration Fit For The Queen.”
Detroit plans to honor one of its most famous residents. Mayor Mike Duggan announced during the service that the city would rename the riverfront amphitheater Chene Park to “Aretha Franklin Park.”
Family members, among them granddaughter Victorie Franklin and niece Cristal Franklin, spoke with awe and affection as they remembered a world-famous performer who also loved gossip and kept pictures of loved ones on her piano.
Grandson Jordan directed his remarks directly to Franklin, frequently stopping to fight back tears.
“I’m sad today, because I’m losing my friend. But I know the imprint she left on this world can never be removed. You showed the world God’s love, and there’s nothing more honorable.”
Prisoners in 17 U.S. states went on strike on Aug. 21 by refusing to eat or work to call attention to a number of troubling issues, including dilapidated facilities, harsh sentences and other aspects of mass incarceration in America.
As we approach Labor Day, the strike places a spotlight on the questionable practice of putting prisoners to work for very low or no wages. Examples of what incarcerated people do or have done include answering customer service phone calls, fighting wildfires, packaging Starbucks coffee and producing consumer goods such as lingerie.
But this practice may run afoul of several U.S. legal commitments – including the 13th Amendment ending slavery – and even violates voluntary codes of conduct of some of the companies involved.
I belong to a group of scholars of U.S. constitutional law, labor law and history from several universities, who see the 13th Amendment as about more than 19th-century slavery, even if that was its primary genesis.
Rather, we consider it a continuing obligation on governments and private companies to root out all forms of economic exploitation, even when it is done within prison walls.
Prisoners at work around the world
Prison labor is widely used in many countries throughout the world on every continent, involving an estimated 36 million people.
Proponents of forcing inmates to work justify it as a way for prisoners to repay their debt to society and to provide skills that will be useful at the end of prison sentences. They say it also partially offsets the high costs of mass incarceration, recently estimated at US$182 billion a year nationwide.
The U.S. government has often admonished other countries such as Burma and China for using forced labor to build pipelines or make goods or in times of national emergency. Yet the truth is, it’s just as prevalent in the U.S. as elsewhere, with the Department of the Navy and Minnesota among the governmental entities sued for minimum wage violations in prisons.
In fact, a 2004 economic analysis of labor in both state and federal prison estimated that in the previous year inmates produced more than $2 billion worth of commodities, both goods and services.
Unlike other countries, however, forced prison labor in the U.S. must be reconciled with the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which is most famous for forbidding the practice of slavery.
The 13th Amendment, ratified in 1865, states in full:
“Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime for which the person has been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States or any place subject to its jurisdiction. Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this Article by appropriate legislation.”
The first section of the amendment makes clear that people convicted of a crime can be forced to work as punishment but says nothing about whether they have to be compensated.
And according to the second, Congress clearly has the power to regulate inmate labor in federal prisons but has not done so. Lawmakers have, however, passed other laws that may already apply to prisoners with jobs, such as the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which guarantees a minimum wage and overtime to all of those employed in the U.S.
While some U.S. courts have suggested that prisoners working for private companies be paid like other employees, there’s been no definitive decision on this issue.
Expanding its meaning
The group to which I belong, known as the Thirteenth Amendment Project, aims to find ways to use the Amendment to reduce economic injustice in the U.S. and tackle problems such as minimum labor standards and mass incarceration.
In our view, the meaning of “involuntary servitude” in the amendment has a wider reach than simply the abusive arrangements that were in place in 1865. We believe it should also include modern conditions facing immigrant workers, detainees and workers bound to abusive contractual work arrangements – the kind that the Supreme Court struck down in the 20th century.
In addition, the Reconstruction-era drafters of the Amendment sought to prevent the newly freed slaves from becoming unfair competition in the labor force. So they instituted labor protections into the infrastructure of the Freedman’s Bureau, which Congress set up in 1865 to help former black slaves as well as poor whites in the South in the aftermath of the Civil War.
The Freedmen’s Bureau offers evidence of the role that Congress envisioned under the amendment to protect freed slaves and others against exploitation and unfair competition – which, in my view, are both at issue today in the context of unpaid prison labor.
Beyond domestic law, there’s the issue of the United States’ obligations under international human rights conventions.
The U.S. is a member of the International Labor Organization, which as a core principle requires the elimination of forced and compulsory labor within its borders.
The organization also established a convention on forced labor in 1930. It makes clear that while governments in some circumstances can use forced labor, the work cannot be “hired or placed at the disposal of private individuals, companies or associations.”
The U.S. is one of only nine countries that have not ratified this convention, putting it in the company of countries like Afghanistan, China and Brunei. The reason often given is that the 13th Amendment already covers forced labor. But as I’ve shown, the question of compensation is an open one.
The strike’s legacy
The prisoners currently protesting their poor treatment and conditions probably may not expect that it will lead to the end of prison labor.
And whether or not the 13th Amendment or international conventions ultimately limit or end the practice – or at least require fair compensation – will likely depend on the United States Supreme Court.
The real success of the prison strike, set to last through Sept. 9, may be whether consumers become more aware that some of the coffee, clothing and even school supplies they buy may have passed through the hands of inmates, who were paid little to nothing for the work.
Bishop Talbert Swan, the leader of the Church of God in Christ’s Nova Scotia jurisdiction, addresses a summit of the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 21, 2018. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks
An African-American bishop of the Church of God in Christ and frequent critic of President Trump said his personal Twitter account has been permanently suspended, apparently for using a racially sensitive term.
Bishop Talbert Swan, a Massachusetts pastor and a Nova Scotia jurisdictional leader for the predominantly black Pentecostal denomination, said he received an email from Twitter on Friday (Aug. 24) informing him of the suspension.
“Your account has been suspended and will not be restored because it was found to be violating Twitter’s Terms of Service, specifically the Twitter Rules against hateful conduct,” the company told him.
Swan, who said he had more than 70,000 followers, suspects the specific cause of the suspension is his use of the word “coon,” a term the website etymonline.com says is sometimes used as an insult about a black person. The word in this sense stems from the word “barracoon” and is based on the Portuguese word “barraca” that refers to an enclosure for slaves who were transported in West Africa, Cuba and Brazil.
But Swan says the meaning of the word depends on the context.
“I think Twitter needs to be educated culturally to understand that when black people use that term they mean it in the context of someone who’s African-American that they consider to be a traitor or a sellout or someone who is speaking or doing things that is not in the best interest of the African-American community,” he said. “And, in my instance, those who parrot alt-right, racist ideology.”
On June 2, Swan tweeted in response to a suggestion that he follow someone with whom he disagreed, “No thanks I’m on a no coon diet.”
Last week, more than half a dozen Twitter users noted that they had reported Swan and posted screenshots of responses they had received confirming that @TalbertSwan had violated Twitter’s rules of discourse.
One, @Gerald_Anzano, specifically connected Twitter’s notice of suspension with Swan’s “coon” tweet, adding, “Using God as a shield to promulgate spewing hatred? Expect to be called out.”
Swan, who is president of the NAACP’s Springfield, Mass., chapter, said he first got wind of his suspension from these posts. He calls those users “my detractors”; several describe themselves on Twitter as supporting Trump.
Swan provided Religion News Service with recent tweets from his account that were critical of Trump and the president’s Christian supporters.
“Real Christians don’t make excuses, support, dismiss, or defend pathological lying, sexual deviancy, malignant narcissism, white supremacy & bigotry,” he wrote in an Aug. 19 tweet that received more than 26,000 likes. “I don’t give a hell how many conservative judges you get, you cannot be a Christian & defend @realDonaldTrump. Plain and simple.”
Swan recently used his account to post an open letter criticizing pastors who met with Trump. Swan said he has also complained that liberal Democrats take blacks’ votes for granted. A fan of the Boston Celtics and Pittsburgh Steelers, he also posted his musings about sports.
Twitter did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the matter.
In its email message to Swan, the company wrote, “It is against our rules to promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease.
“Additionally, if we determine that the primary purpose of an account is to incite harm towards others on the basis of these categories, that account may be suspended without prior warning.”
Others questioned Swan’s suspension, including @ReignOfApril, who tweeted: “He’s a COGIC bishop, for goodness sakes.”
Swan himself said he doesn’t understand why the personal Twitter account of conservative radio host Alex Jones was recently suspended for a week for violating rules about inciting violence, while his account appears to have been suspended permanently.
“When you get the president calling a black woman a dog or Roseanne (Barr) calling a black woman a gorilla and they still have their accounts on the forum,” the bishop said, “to say that me making a reference to a coon is the catalyst for a permanent suspension, then you have to question how they enforce their terms of service.”
Thousands of Catholics sing as they prepare to welcome Pope Francis to Nairobi, Kenya, on Nov. 24, 2015. Africa is a deeply religious continent. RNS photo by Fredrick Nzwili
NAIROBI, Kenya — When the doors swing open every Sunday morning, churches in Africa welcome thousands of new followers.
On this deeply religious continent, both Christianity and Islam are on the rise. But small groups of determined atheists are challenging Africa’s grip on faith while seeking recognition and more followers.
Across Africa, groups have emerged stressing science and critical thinking as a better way of understanding the natural world.
Harrison Mumia, president of Atheists in Kenya, in Nairobi. RNS photo by Fredrick Nzwili
One such group, Atheists in Kenya, has gained prominence and is now campaigning for a public holiday, Atheist Day, on February 17.
“We are asking the government to declare a public holiday as a way of raising awareness of atheism in Kenya,” said Harrison Mumia, the group’s president.
“We want to promote science and skepticism, and have an approach to morality that is rational and humanistic,” Mumia said.
Atheists in Nigeria are also becoming more vocal, pushing for public policies that are not influenced by religious belief but by critical thinking and science-based evidence.
“We have formed a legal body — the Atheist Society of Nigeria — to push for the vision of secular Nigeria,” said Calistus Igwilo, the group’s president.
Atheists have organized in most sub-Saharan African countries, including Ghana, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Uganda.
The groups say their numbers are on the rise, but membership is still relatively small.
Atheists in Kenya estimates it has 650 members in 2018, up from 60 in 2014, and boasts a social media following of more than 10,000. The Atheist Society of Nigeria counts about 5,000 members.
“This is quite remarkable, considering that very few atheists are willing to come out due to the stigma associated with being an atheist,” said Mumia.
Clerics and scholars are confident atheists will face an uphill battle in attracting a wider following. The future of Christianity lies in Africa, and by 2060, more than 4 in 10 Christians will call sub-Saharan Africa home, up from 26 percent in 2015, according to Pew Research Center.
In addition, 27 percent of all Muslims will live in sub-Saharan Africa by 2060, according to Pew. By contrast, atheists compose about 2 percent of the continent’s population.
Jesse Mugambi, professor of philosophy and religious studies at the University of Nairobi, said atheism and agnosticism are shunned in traditional African thought.
“Many Kenyans consider Kenya to be a God-fearing country,” added Mumia. “Atheists are therefore considered devil worshippers.”
Some atheists have been laid off from work for refusing to participate in religious practices. Others are disowned by their families.
“They look quite strange (on) the continent where the concept of God spreads wide, even to the heart of African traditional communities,” said Wilybard Lagho, vicar general of the Catholic Archdiocese of Mombasa, in Kenya. “It is a very difficult task.”
“If they build the first story, blow it up. If they sneak back at night and build three stories, burn it down. And if they get nine stories built, it’s yours. Take it over, and maybe we’ll let them in on the weekends.”
They were there to protest Columbia University’s construction of a gymnasium in Morningside Park, the only land separating the Ivy League university from the historic black working-class neighborhood. The gym, along with the discovery that Columbia was affiliated with the Institute for Defense Analysis – a national consortium of flagship universities and research organizations that provided strategy and weapons research to the U.S. Department of Defense – stirred students to protest for more decision-making power at their elite university.
Everything came to a head on April 23, 1968 – just weeks after the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. That was when members of the Columbia chapter of Students for a Democratic Society hosted a rally on campus to decry the war – and, what many considered the racist gym in Morningside Park. Members of the Students’ Afro-American Society, or SAS, and Columbia varsity athletes – known as jocks – were in attendance as well. SAS followers showed up to resume an earlier fight they had with the jocks who supported the construction of the gymnasium.
Some students had been working with Harlem community groups. They saw the gym as a symbol of the university’s “power” over a defenseless and poverty-stricken black neighborhood. They joined local politicians who opposed the gym for a myriad of reasons, including its concrete footprint in a green park and the inability of the community to have access to the entire structure once built.
The situation was, of course, complex. Columbia had long been a contentious neighbor to Harlem and Morningside Heights. The campus gym was decrepit and prevented the university from competing with its Ivy peers effectively in terms of facilities and space. Regarding the park, Columbia had constructed softball fields that initially community members could use. By 1968, however, only campus affiliates could access the fields. Then, white faculty members had been mugged in the park.
The university, seeking to expand in the postwar period, purchased US$280 million of land, mortgages and residential buildings in Harlem and Morningside Heights. That resulted in the eviction of nearly 10,000 residents in a decade, 85 percent of whom were black or Puerto Rican.
Columbia acted in coordination with Morningside Heights, Inc., a confederacy of educational and religious institutions in the neighborhood that also sought to “renew” the area to serve their mostly white patrons. David Rockefeller, grandson of oil magnate John D. Rockefeller, acted as MHI’s first president. Columbia was the lead institution.
Despite being close to a black neighborhood, the university admitted few black students and employed a handful of black instructors. For instance, as I report in my book, in the 1964-1965 school year, there were only 35 black students out of 2,500 students enrolled in Columbia’s College of Arts and Sciences, and just one tenured black professor. By spring 1968, there were more than 150 black students enrolled.
On April 23, protesting students attempted to take over the administration building but were repelled by campus security. Then, they walked to the gym construction site where they tore down fencing and physically confronted police. From the park, they returned to campus where they finally succeeded in taking over a classroom building, Hamilton Hall. In doing so, they surrounded the dean of the college, Henry Coleman, who chose to stay in his office with his staff. To “protect” Coleman, several jocks stood guard outside his door.
Clashes with police
What started as a racially integrated demonstration of students took a turn in the late night when H. Rap Brown and several community activists showed up at the invitation of the Students’ Afro-American Society. The student group, Brown and the community activists agreed that black people solely should occupy Hamilton Hall and that white activists should commandeer other buildings. The white demonstrators accommodated, leaving Hamilton and taking over four other buildings. That forced Columbia officials to contend with not just a student protest but a black action on campus at that height of Black Power Movement. Incidentally, the community activists removed and replaced the jocks as sentries of the dean’s office.
To the ire of many white university administrators of the period, Stokely Carmichael of SNCC and the Black Panthers fame showed up to explain – through the press – that the university deal either with the student activists on campus or militants coming from Harlem. This insinuated the tone of the demonstrations would change drastically. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated less than three weeks before. From offices in Morningside Heights, Columbia administrators had watched Harlem burn as residents mourned and reacted to the black leader’s death. The only thing that separated the elite white institution from angry black rebels was the park in which the university was building a gymnasium against the will of many community members.
In consultation with New York Mayor John Lindsay, Columbia administrators chose to end the demonstrations by calling 1,000 New York police officers to clear the five occupied campus buildings on April 30. Chaos and brutality prevailed. As the NAACP and other Harlem community organizations stood watch, black students vacated Hamilton, which SAS had renamed Malcolm X Hall, and were arrested peacefully. In the building that national Students for a Democratic Society leader and Port Huron Statement author Tom Hayden occupied, police and demonstrators collided physically. One of the most iconic documents of the postwar period, the 1962 Port Huron Statement outlined the need for young people to be in the vanguard of the movement to eradicate racism and grind the military-industrial complex to a halt; it centered the notion of participatory democracy, which called for greater inclusion of the citizenry in decision-making. In other buildings, students found themselves on the hurt end of police batons when they resisted arrest.
In opening the door to violence, the university turned what was a local matter into an international story and radicalized moderate students and neighborhood residents. Young radicals abroad learned of “Gym Crow” and university-sponsored defense research. In solidarity, they supported the Columbia student activists’ causes and chanted “two, three, many Columbias” – a refrain that gained popularity among American student protesters.
In my view, elements of the 1968 Columbia rebellion are inspiring and instructional for today’s students, protesters and community residents. As gentrification threatens the homes of poor black people in urban areas today, activists should recall that 50 years earlier young people believed they could cut their university’s ties to war research and prevent a prestigious white American institution from expanding into black spaces at the same time. They succeeded.
Our new podcast “Heat and Light” features Prof. Bradley and Columbia University’s Michael Kazin discussing this issue in depth.
Mourners began pouring into Detroit’s Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History on Tuesday to pay their final respects to Aretha Franklin.
They approached her gold-plated casket to the sounds of her gospel recordings. She was in repose, dressed in red from head to high-heeled shoes, legs crossed at the ankles.
As they approached, people who came from as far away as Las Vegas and Miami cried, crossed themselves, bowed their heads or blew kisses.
Museum board member Kelly Major Green said the goal was to create a dignified and respectful environment akin to a church, the place where Franklin got her start.
“What we wanted to do is be reflective of the Queen,” Green said. “It’s beautiful. She’s beautiful.”
Aretha Franklin lies in her casket at Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History during a public visitation in Detroit, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018. Franklin died Aug. 16, of pancreatic cancer at the age of 76. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, Pool)
With her legs crossed at the ankles, Green said Franklin communicates both power and comfort, as she did in life.
The shoes, in particular, show “The Queen of Soul is diva to the end,” Green said.
Tammy Gibson, 49, of Chicago said she arrived about 5:30 a.m. She came alone but made fast friends with others who sang and reminisced.
Growing up, Gibson said she heard Franklin’s music “playing all the time” by her parents, who “told me to go to bed — it’s an adult party.”
Outside the museum, she said: “I know people are sad, but it’s just celebrating — people dancing and singing her music.”
Franklin has been a constant in her life.
“I saw the gold-plated casket — it dawned on me: She’s gone, but her legacy and her music will live on forever.”
The setting for the two days of public viewings could not be more fitting, according to Paula Marie Seniors, an associate professor of Africana studies at Virginia Tech.
“I think it’s incredibly significant — she is being honored almost like a queen at one of the most important black museums in the United States,” said Seniors, who visited the museum several years ago when she was in Detroit doing research.
The Queen of Soul, Seniors said, was “a singer of the universe.” Yet she added that Franklin, who died Aug. 16 of pancreatic cancer at the age of 76, also was “so unapologetically black — she was so proud of being a black woman.”
To be sure, Franklin did not consider herself a catalyst for the women’s movement or on the front lines of the fight for civil rights. But she represented and pushed for both in ways big and small — none, perhaps, more prominently or simultaneously as her mold-breaking take on the Otis Redding song, “Respect.” She later said that with her interpretation — which even Redding acknowledged became the standard — sought to convey a message about the need to respect women, people of color, children and all people.
The museum, which had been the largest black museum in the U.S. until the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened in Washington, D.C., in 2016, also hosted similar viewings for civil rights icon Rosa Parks after her 2005 death. In further symbolic symmetry, Franklin sang at Parks’ funeral, which was held at the same Detroit church as Franklin’s, and the singer will be entombed in the same cemetery as Parks.
The women came to their activism from different places and used different techniques, but “in the long run, they were both fighting for the same cause, which is freedom,” Seniors said.
Seniors said if she could attend the viewings, she would bring her 8-year-old daughter, Shakeila, who has sung along with Franklin’s videos.
“I want my daughter to know anything and everything about African-American culture and history,” said Seniors, whose father, Clarence Henry Seniors, was roommates at Morehouse College with Franklin’s brother, Cecil. “I would want my daughter to know of the people like Aretha Franklin — to be able to listen to that voice … and hear that there is something special about it.”
For more than 30 years, costume designer Ruth E. Carter’s creations have brought the African-American experience to life on the big screen, from 19th century slave ships in “Amistad” to 1980s Brooklyn in “Do the Right Thing,” to the Afrofuturistic land of Wakanda in “Black Panther.” Now, she’s bringing the spectrum of her work to Pittsburgh for a new exhibit called “Heroes & Sheroes: The Art & Influence of Ruth E. Carter in Black Cinema.”
The show opens Saturday at the Senator John Heinz History Center, showcasing more than 40 costumes from nine movies, and runs through Dec. 2.
“I’d been thinking about doing a retrospective for some time, and I really do love Pittsburgh, so it seemed like a comfortable place to test the waters for the exhibit,” Carter said in a recent phone interview.
Carter has worked on more than 50 films since she made the switch from designing for theater companies and dance troupes in the early 1980s, when Spike Lee hired her as a costume designer on “School Daze.” They’ve since collaborated on more than a dozen movies.
She’s also earned two Academy Award nominations for best costume design, first for Lee’s “Malcolm X” in 1993 — which made her the first African-American nominated in that category — and for Steven Spielberg’s historical slave ship drama “Amistad” in 1998. She also was nominated for an Emmy for the 2016 reboot of “Roots.”
The exhibit will celebrate her extensive career, and showcase sketches and movie clips alongside the costumes from films including “Amistad,” ”Sparkle,” ”What’s Love Got to do With It,” ”The Butler,” ”Malcolm X,” ”Selma,” ”Do the Right Thing” and of course “Black Panther.”
“I think that costume design is somewhat of a mystery to people, and this is an opportunity to learn about the costume designer as an artist and a storyteller,” Carter said. “In the 35 years that I have been doing costumes, I’ve found there is a narrative and a voice to my creative process and the films that I have done, which have lined up to tell the story of African-Americans in this country.”
Carter was approached about bringing a retrospective to Pittsburgh by Demeatria Boccella, whose organization FashionAFRICANA focuses on art and fashion in the African diaspora for shows around the city. She learned about Carter from their mutual friend, the late actor Bill Nunn, who broke through in Spike Lee movies in the late 1980s.
“I was just so impressed with her; she’s done so much work in the industry, and the depth of that work is really amazing,” Boccella said.
Nunn, who died of cancer in 2016, was a longtime Pittsburgh resident who appeared in “Do the Right Thing” as Radio Raheem, who dies when choked by police during a street brawl in Brooklyn.
Carter said that among her favorite pieces in the retrospective is Radio Raheem’s hand-painted “Bed-Stuy Do or Die” T-shirt.
For Boccella, bringing Carter’s work to Pittsburgh was twofold: to honor the designer and to inspire young visitors.
Boccella said she knew she wanted to get into the fashion industry ever since she was a child, but couldn’t find fellow African-American role models in her community.
“I wanted to see people who looked like me, doing work I aspired to do and it was very hard,” she said. “It is my passion and part of my journey to create and present those opportunities for the next generation.”
Carter says she hopes visitors take away from the exhibit something they didn’t know before, and perhaps find inspiration from her own personal backstory.
“It’s the story of a girl who had a dream and she pursed her dream and went all the way, and look what she was able to create from a single-parent household,” she said. “If I can do it, they can do it. You can live out your dream.”
Could your medical treatment one day be tailored to your DNA? That’s the promise of “personalized medicine,” an individualized approach that has caught the imagination of doctors and researchers over the past few years. This concept is based on the idea that small genetic differences between one person and another can be used to design tailored treatments for conditions as diverse as cancer and schizophrenia.
In principle, “personalized” is not meant to mean one person but not another, though that may not turn out to be the case. Existing genetic and medical research data conspicuously underrepresent certain populations.
This finding turned long-held assumptions about racial imbalances in mental illness on its head. It could not be explained by economic circumstances, suggesting that there are other factors at play, perhaps even genetic factors. Suicide is a complicated personal act, but science has shown that genes play an important role.
This unexpected result may have implications for prevention and treatment based on genes – in other words, personalized medicine. But the state of current genetic research suggests that African-Americans will likely miss out on many of the potential future benefits of personalized medicine.
Few experts have studied the possible genetic causes for African-American suicide, focusing instead on environmental and social reasons.
While most mental illnesses such as depression are first diagnosed in adulthood, they actually have their origins early in development, as genes and the environment interact to shape the brain of a growing fetus. For example, my colleagues and I published a study in May showing that genes and pregnancy problems combine to increase the likelihood of schizophrenia.
This should cause some alarm, because African-American women have much higher rates of pregnancy complications. Black infants die at twice the rate of white infants. Again, this is not explained by socioeconomic reasons.
In short, a higher rate of pregnancy problems likely puts African-Americans at increased risk of developing mental illnesses, perhaps explaining the noticeable increased rate of suicides. Additional genetic data on this population could potentially illuminate the issue.
To better understand genes that increase the risk for mental illness, researchers study the brains of people who have died. They examine how genetic differences could have led to changes in the brains of people who developed these conditions. This is one of the best ways to understand any brain disorder at a biological level.
But African-Americans are underrepresented in large-scale genetic and neuroscience studies. One 2009 analysis revealed that 96 percent of participants in large genetic studies were of European descent. When researchers looked at the matter a couple of years ago, they found that the proportion of people with African ancestry in these studies had increased by only 2.5 percent. Similarly, studies of African-American brains are almost nonexistent.
Why the low participation rate? One reason is that researchers favor populations that are genetically more homogeneous to ensure a study’s accuracy. Individuals of European ancestry are more alike genetically than are African-Americans.
Some experts have posited that African-Americans are less likely to participate in genetic studies due to a lack of trust with the medical community.
At the Lieber Institute for Brain Development, where I work, people can donate the brains of family members who wished to contribute to scientific research. We have the largest collection of African-American brains donated to study mental illness, though it’s relatively small in comparison to the availability of Caucasian brains. In our experience, the donation rate for African-American families is comparable to that of white families, suggesting that lack of trust may not be as widespread as believed.
Without studies focused on the African-American brain, scientists will struggle to fully understand how any possible unique genetic risk in the African-American population translates into prevention and treatment for virtually all disorders that involve the brain, including suicide.
Researchers have to invest in correcting this shortcoming before the personalized medicine train is so far out of the station that the African-American community cannot get on it.
For many, the past two years of the Trump presidency have felt like twenty. Tensions surrounding every issue, from police brutality and immigration regulation to our education system have seemed to be on a constant, and sometimes spiking incline. However, despite the increased feelings of distress and actions of contempt among Americans, there are still people working to combat this country’s general state. Citizens of all ages understand now more than ever the power of their voices, especially the youth. Whether it’s organizing and speaking out at rallies for gun reformation, marching for black visibility, or educating their peers on the vitality of voting, young people are increasingly aware of their power to change the future.
Hundreds of faith-based social justice organizations across the country are working for the betterment of all people, battling systemic racism, sexism, classism, or an intersection of the three. The missions are all the same at their core — to make a difference with the time we’re given by leaving the world better than we found it, keeping faith at the center.
If you’re ready to get active and involved, consider volunteering for one of the organizations listed below that speaks to your own personal values or seek one out with a similar mission in your area. We’re just getting started on this list and will continue to build it out on UrbanFaith.com. If you have one in mind that we should add, please email us at [email protected].
Mission: To “inform and bring people of faith and congregations together…to intentionally and decisively transform society toward greater social justice at the intersection of racism and poverty.” They affect this refinement of perspective and policy through engagement within their communities, holding policymakers accountable, and helping the public understand that their income is not a restriction on their right to be fully participating members of society.
Mission: Founded in 1997 by the Very Reverend James Parks Morton, this organization has been working to mend the gaps between the various faith communities in New York in order to create beneficial programs for its citizens. In the 21 years they’ve been active, they’ve developed education programs for students, teachers, social workers, and young parolees. Through faith-based retreats, local partnerships, and the recognition of outstanding team members, this amalgam of belief systems, from Christian to Buddhist to Shinto, are able to fulfill ICNY’s mission to “overcome prejudice, violence, and misunderstanding by activating the power of the city’s grassroots religious and civic leaders and their communities.”
Mission: Sponsored by the Morningside Presbyterian Church out of Atlanta, this group is dedicated to “engaging communities of faith in stewardship of Creation…as a religious response to global climate change, resource depletion, environmental injustice, pollution, and other disruptions in Creation.” Since its founding in 2003 by Reverend Woody and Carol Bartlett, GIPL has supplied bodies of faith across Georgia with the tools necessary to combat humanity’s affliction on the planet. By standing on their principles of faith including Justice, Community of Life, and Stewardship, they have been able to decrease the energy consumption and cost of their 500+ partners, while also providing them with new earth-friendly initiatives.
WATER is an education center “committed to theological, ethical, and ritual development by and for women.” Their mission is “to use feminist religious values to create social change.” Their work of the past thirty years has included ensuring women’s right to exercise their humanity and spirituality. WATER has implemented a variety of programs, such as WATERtalks, which is a monthly free and open to the public presentation featuring female scholars and religious leaders who create a dialogue with the audience through sharing their experiences in a specific field as a woman. WATER also hosts various collaborations, such as Women Crossing Worlds (WCW), which is an engagement with women from Spain to Mexico through reciprocal visits and teachings intended on strengthening their study of effective enactments of theology.
MOSES is a community organizing nonprofit that works to help everyday people, particularly in marginalized communities, get the skills they need to effectively address what concerns them most. The organization is “guided by faith-based principles of social justice and fellowship” and believes in developing grassroots leaders. They do this through training leaders in places of worship, showing them how to explain their shared values in the public arena and work together with area residents.
Finally, Los Angeles is home to California Faith for Equality (CFE), spreading the message of loving they neighbor by helping to bridge the gap between communities of faith and nonreligious LGBTQ+ groups, both on a local and national level. Started in 2005, CFE is a growing network that builds upon other organizations and efforts in order to serve their mission of “educating, supporting, and mobilizing California’s communities of faith for LGBTQ+ people and to safeguard religious freedom.” They are an influential factor is California’s growingly diverse community, serving the members of their community through and for faith.
Jeremiah Chapman prays during a 16th Street Baptist Church service on Dec. 10, 2017, in Birmingham, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Devi Brown, a Los Angeles-based radio personality and author, said she prays and talks to God regularly.
But then she adds: “I have found absolutely beautiful life-changing things in the Christian faith, in the Hindu faith, in Buddhism. So, for me, I believe in being Christ-like, being kind, being of service so I kind of let that lead who I am.”
On Friday (Aug. 24), she’ll explain her faith at a pilot event in Los Angeles that explores new ways black people born between 1981 and 1996 are embracing religion and spirituality at a time when the black church is no longer the central organizing force for some African-Americans.
Teddy Reeves, a specialist in the museum’s Center for the Study of African American Religious Life, said the project’s nontraditional treatment of the word “God” is intentional, in hopes that the conversations will include blacks with Judeo-Christian perspectives, adherents of Islam and African spirituality, and humanists and atheists.
“The ‘g’ is allowing everyone to come to the table,” said Reeves, 31, who is set to moderate the discussion for which more than 700 people have registered. “We’re really kind of transgressing traditional orthodox boundaries of what we consider sacred.”
Besheer Mohamed, a Pew senior researcher, said African-American young adults stand out from others in their age group as well as their racial group.
“Black millennials are sort of at the intersection of two broad patterns of American religiosity,” said Mohamed, who plans to present research as the project holds events across the country. “Black millennials on average are more religious and also more spiritual than other millennials and less religious and less spiritual than other blacks.”
Devi Brown. Photo by King David Photography
While fewer than 4 in 10 African-American millennials say they attend services weekly, far more — 61 percent — say religion is very important to them. Six in 10 of them also say they pray daily and “feel spiritual peace and well-being at least weekly.” More than a third meditate at least once a week.
Brown, who did not grow up in a religious household but has enjoyed attending Christian churches since high school, uses crystals for meditation, explaining that they don’t replace God but instead serve as a way of “being grounded and being connected to my source, which is the earth that God created.”
Reeves, who is also an ordained minister of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, said the Pew findings reflect both a historical connection to the divine for African-Americans that dates to the time of slavery and the influence of rising secularism within the “brunch culture” of millennials.
Some of the disengagement may come from a sense of frustration that traditional black churches are not sufficiently addressing justice issues that are a priority for many of these young adults — LGBTQ rights, violence in urban African-American communities and inclusion of women’s ordination and leadership, he suggested.
Black millennials also have more secular and spiritual options, and often no longer keep weekend worship services as standing appointments on their calendars.
“Whether it is protesting, whether it is feeding the homeless, whether it is creating programs and nonprofits,” Reeves said, the “definition of sacredness” is expanding.
“Moving forward, I wonder what that means for our traditional religious spaces.”
Black church leaders are mulling that too. It was one of the questions raised during a summit of the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies held at the Museum of the Bible in Washington on Tuesday.
One participant was applauded when she implored pastors to train the younger people in their congregations and give them something to do.
“These young people are leaving the church,” she warned. “They don’t even believe in Jesus anymore. They call him Baby J.”
The Rev. Beverly Frazier, a fellow of the University of Pennsylvania who pastors Morning Star Church in New York’s Harlem neighborhood, told summit participants her church recently put up colored lights and held a concert for several hours.
“That was the largest service we’ve had since I’ve been at the church,” she said, as she spoke on research about the value black churches add to neighborhoods. “For four hours, people just coming and going. Why? ’Cause you have to meet the needs. You have to be relevant.”
Pew researchers found that 53 percent of African-Americans said they were affiliated with historically black denominations in 2014, but significantly fewer (41 percent) of black millennials claimed such a tie. Mohamed said the share of black millennials who say they are non-Christian has increased from 3 percent in 2007 to 5 percent in 2014.
There is no Pew data available for the percentage of black millennials who fall into the “spiritual but not religious” category.
But Mohamed said “there is no reason to assume black millennials would not follow the broader societal trend of more Americans saying they’re spiritual but not religious.”
He is scheduled to be a panelist at the California African American Museum event along with other scholars and people of a variety of faiths, including Christians, a Muslim, a former Buddhist and a practitioner of Ifa, a Nigerian spiritual tradition. Other gOD-Talk events, to be held through 2020, are planned for Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, New York and Baltimore.
Police stand guard after the confederate statue known as Silent Sam was toppled by protesters on campus at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C., Monday, Aug. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Three Confederate monuments on the North Carolina Capitol grounds will feature signs with historical context about slavery and civil rights, following a decision by a state historical panel that said a monument honoring African-Americans also should be added
The state Historical Commission decided Wednesday against moving the monuments, despite Gov. Roy Cooper’s request to do so. Members said even if they supported relocating the monuments, a state law means they must stay in place.
The commission voted 10-1 to reinterpret the three monuments with adjacent signs about “the consequences of slavery” and the “subsequent oppressive subjugation of African American people.” It urged construction of a memorial to black citizens, which has been discussed for years, as soon as possible. The group of academics, amateur historians and preservationists also acknowledged that the monuments erected decades after the Civil War near the old 1840 Capitol are imbalanced toward the Civil War and the Confederacy.
After the decision, Cooper decried a 2015 law passed by the GOP-controlled state legislature that sharply restricts where state and local government officials can relocate such memorials and all but bars their permanent removal. He also said the toppling of the Confederate statue known as “Silent Sam” on Monday night at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was an example of what happens when people feel their leaders won’t act on their concerns.
“The actions that toppled Silent Sam bear witness to the strong feelings many North Carolinians have about Confederate monuments. I don’t agree with or condone the way that monument came down, but protesters concluded that their leaders would not – could not — act on the frustration and pain it caused,” Cooper said.
Commission member Samuel Dixon, part of a five-member committee that recommended the added context, said the 2015 law limited what the commission could do.
“I believe the monuments need to tell the truth and based upon the law that we have today I do not think we can move them,” said Dixon, an Edenton lawyer. “But I think we can … tell a better story and tell a full and inclusive story.” Dixon voted with the majority.
But commission member and Bennett College professor Valerie Johnson, who is black, said removal would be appropriate because of the monuments’ links to the Jim Crow era.
“The monuments represent the commitment of North Carolina to uphold the Confederacy. These monuments are a continual visual presence of the ideology of white supremacy,” said Johnson, who voted against portions of the commission resolution. “Removal is not erasure. It is creating a space that reflects all North Carolinians and their contributions to our state.”
The commission’s vote came about 36 hours after the “Silent Sam” statue was toppled. The bronze figure of an anonymous soldier was pulled down from its stone pedestal by protesters who used banners to mask their action.
The statue had been under constant, costly police surveillance after being vandalized in recent months. Many students, faculty and alumni argued that “Silent Sam” symbolized racism and asked officials to take it down.
Republican legislative leaders praised the committee’s recommendations and its civil discourse in contrast to what Senate leader Phil Berger called “mob rule” in Chapel Hill.
The 2015 law “provides for collaborative solutions to use our state’s history to unite, rather than divide, our citizens,” House Speaker Tim Moore said in a release.
One woman who interrupted Wednesday’s meeting by shouting was led out and put in a police car. Police kept a heavy presence around the building and the monuments.
Frank Powell with the Sons of Confederate Veterans in North Carolina couldn’t say whether the group would support the “contextualizing” of the monuments, saying he had concerns about the possible wording. Commissioners repeatedly emphasized that slavery caused the Civil War, but Powell said that oversimplifies what were its many causes.
Still, Powell said, the commission’s decision was “the best outcome we could have hoped for under the circumstances.” The commission and a state department will decide on the re-interpretation language.
The monuments on the Capitol grounds include the Capitol Confederate Monument, dedicated in May 1895; the Henry Lawson Wyatt Monument, dedicated in June 1912; and the North Carolina Confederacy Monument, dedicated in June 1914.
Cooper asked last September that they be moved to the Bentonville Battlefield site about 45 miles (72 kilometers) away. His request followed a violent white nationalist rally over a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the toppling of a Confederate statue outside a Durham County government building by demonstrators.